Aussies At Americana #1 – Kym Warner of The Greencards

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“People are just doing it because that’s just what is true to their heart and that’s what they love.”

By Brian Wise

Hot on the heels of their new album Sweetheart of The Sun, The Greencards – featuring Aussies Kym Warner and Carol Young – are in Nashville for the Americana Conference and Festival.

From the first appearance in 2002, through tours with Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson, The Greencards carried the Australian roots music flag in the USA. Co-founders Kym Warner and Carol Young have based themselves in Austin, Texas. Their debut album, Movin’ On, earned them a deal with Nashville-based Dualtone Records, so they headed east. Weather and Water, Viridian, Fascination and The Brick Album (financed by fans) followed, along with two Grammy nominations, a 2006 Americana Honors & Awards win as New/Emerging Artist Of The Year, and a number one position on the Billboard Bluegrass Chart.

The Greencards have just recorded their latest album with Gary Paczosa (John Prine, Alsion Krauss, Sarah Jarosz). The guest list contains some of Nashville and Austin’s finest musicians –  Sons of Fathers, Aoife O’Donovan and Gusters’ Luke Reynolds. it’s also a short-list of The Greencards favorites – purposely gathered together as a gift of sorts to their supportive fans.

I caught up with Kym Warner as he was about to leav Austin and head back over to Nashville (where the new album was recorded). The Greencards play a showcase gig at The Station Inn on Wednesday, September 18.

You’re heading off to the Americana Conference next week and festival and doing a couple of gigs there.

Yeah, exactly. It’s going to be fun. I’m looking forward to it actually.  We’ve been nominated twice for Americana awards. We won it once and we didn’t win it another time, so I guess it’s not new to us, going there and playing. I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be a good week. It’s going to be great. Friends and other artists from all over the world. I’m looking forward to it. Singing and hanging out and that’s as much of it to me as anything, you know?

Americana is an interesting term, isn’t it?  Where do you fit into the Americana genre?

The thing about Americana, is it’s just got to be roots in music. It’s not just a lot of really commercial pop stuff, things that you could throw under the Americana umbrella. There are people that have become popular but they aren’t in a top 40 pop band. They are Americana bands that have broken out.

Where do we fit? I don’t know. I guess we feel comfortable in the contemporary acoustic area of Americana. That’s where I feel that we kind of fit in. I find it difficult with genres, to be honest, on a lot of things, and ourselves included, but I think that the Americana one is probably the one that we feel most comfortable with if we have to go ahead and do that, to put labels on things. I feel good about it.

I heard Jim Lauderdale last year say that the definition of Americana was just all the good stuff, which is a pretty good definition of it, isn’t it?

I think so too. We might be a little biased saying that. There’s so many people out there that would go, ‘Hey what are you talking about?’ I feel that way. It’s just roots in music. The great thing about Americana music and the industry is the people never really are there to try and make money, to be honest. You’re never going to be wealthy doing it, but people are just doing it because that’s just what is true to their heart and that’s what they love. I think that’s what’s so great about the genre. And the conference itself is just such great music. Great, great, true, honest, heart-felt music. So, I think that’s how I feel about it.

You’ll be doing a couple of showcase gigs. I guess you’ll be highlighting the brand new album – and congratulations on that, by the way.

Yeah, but we haven’t really spoken about the set that we’re going to put together, or the sets, but I would say we’re certainly going to play a bunch of new stuff. You can never go out and play the whole new record – or we don’t anyway, go and play the whole new record. We don’t feel we can do that, just play everything.

There’s people that have been following us for 11 years or so now, so we have to scatter it out with the songs from all throughout the history of the band. This is a short set so I think it will be heavily around the new stuff for sure. And it’s been really fun to play the new stuff. It always brings in new energy when you have new material within the group, within the playing and the singing. It’s just a good kick in the ass, if you will, every time you bring out a new record. It’s good fun.

Your last record, The Brick Album, was financed by your fans largely, kind of on a pledge music type of thing. What about your new one, Sweetheart of the Sun, how did you go about getting the money for that? Or did you make enough money off the last one to finance this?

We just didn’t feel we wanted to go down that path again, I think was more the point. We felt that fans got behind us on that record and enabled us to do it and we just didn’t feel right about going down that avenue again. We wanted to give back a little more this time. We got some really nice collaborations on this record with some of our musical friends, and we figured that this was our way of giving back really after truly a fan-funded album enabled us to do it. We probably wouldn’t have been able to make The Brick Album, or we wouldn’t have if we didn’t get those people behind us. I think it was from the point of we just didn’t feel comfortable doing it again. That’s what it came down to.

Well, you can take The Greencards out of Australia, but you can’t take Australia out of The Greencards. It has some very Australian themes on it, including an ode to the River Torrens as well.

That’s true. It’s a themed record, heavily based around water, travel mostly, and that’s the theme of the record. I guess we were just writing from experiences and what we remember and how we feel and I guess we just can’t get away from it, growing up in Australia. That’s what we know.

We wrote a lot of songs with Jed Hughes, again another South Australian boy, a great friend of ours and another one of the most prolific writers would be Kai Welch. He’s from California, but again, very similar to growing up in Australia. He spent his whole time either on the river or on the ocean and so he got it.

I guess the whole thing was as honest as we could be. We had to write from things that were natural. We also got to work with John O’Brien. You know from John Patrick & The Keepers there in Melbourne?  Well, John, the guy that sings in that band and writes the songs, he was over in town and we’ve become friends. So we wrote a song together with him.

There’s a lot of Australian influence in this record, for sure. Probably more so that any record we’ve done.

Where did you record it?

We recorded it in Nashville, at the producer/engineer’s house, Gary Paczosa. They’ve got a great little home studio, that’s just a great studio that’s in his house and we were there with him. We spent about 5 weeks, nearly 6 weeks, in Nashville, touring on the weekends, recording all week and playing on the weekends, and just there with Gary who is a world class engineer and producer – a sonic genius really when it comes to acoustic instruments. We stayed with him and did the record in Nashville. It was great. We had a great time.

He’s worked with John Prine and others.

Yeah, he’s worked with John Prine, Dolly Parton and Alison Krauss. He’s just worked with all the biggest in acoustic music. He’s just done all the great records in the last 10 or 20 years. Everything. A frontrunner. He shapes the sounds. He’s a pioneer when it comes to acoustic music. He’s the best, really, maybe the best there’s ever been at this sort of stuff. So we were in good hands. And he’s a really good mate of ours. We’ve known each other for probably 8 years or so, Gary, Carol and myself.

One of the groups that help you out are Sons of Fathers, on the track ‘Forever Mine.’ Can you tell us, who are the Sons of Fathers?

They’re an Austin band. They’re a new band, the last couple of years, and just amazing; they’re just amazing. Their singing together is outrageous and their songs are incredible. Certainly my favorite new band for a long, long time. So, they’re here in town. The bass player in that band, the lead singer plays upright bass; I’ve known his father for a long time. We’ve written together for years and then I got to know him well. They’re brilliant. They’re just really a great band to watch. They’re going to be something, I think.

You recorded the video for ‘Black Black Water’ back in Australia, didn’t you? When was that done?

That was done by Duncan Toombs. It was done on the East Coast, the Central Coast, by our friend Duncan Toombs, who’s a great guitar player in his own right. He’s got a company called Filmery. He’s really quite prolific in the music video world, in the country scene for sure. So anyway, we just spent the time and we spoke about maybe doing something. It’s a fantastic film work, just brilliant. He did an amazing job. He worked really hard on it for us. So that’s how that came about.

Well, you’re doing quite an extensive American tour. When are we likely to see you back here? At the end of the year or early next year?

Early next year. In March, we’re going to come and play CMC Rocks The Hunter. That’s in March. And we’re looking to get another a couple of things, which we’re hoping, fingers crossed, really hoping that we come to Port Fairy again. We’ll see how that goes. Hopefully they’ll have us down. I love that festival. It’s an amazing festival.

You’re [living in]Austin at the moment. Now, for a musician it would be a fantastic place to live in Austin, wouldn’t it?

Yes, it is. It’s a fantastic place. I really enjoyed the move back from Nashville. I’ve had much more opportunity to play live when the band is off the road because I love playing with the Greencards and we tour quite extensively, but when I’m home, I feel the urge to see and I like to play. It’s been a really great opportunity to play with some fantastic artists here. I’ve really enjoyed the nightlife and it’s been great.

So, is the life then in Austin a little bit more lively than what you find in Nashville? I mean, we know Nashville is the country music center, but are there more gigs for you to play in Austin?

Oh, yeah, there’s way more. There’s no comparison, you know. They call it the live music capital of the world and I can’t imagine too many places having more of a vibrant music scene than Austin. Every night you can go to 20, 25 clubs that will have live music until 2AM. It’s pretty amazing. There’s just a lot of great places to go and see music, and then to get to play it as well. So, yeah, it’s far more prolific life than Nashville, that’s for sure.

Hey, well, Kym, thanks for catching up and taking the time to talk.

It’s been nice talking to you. Thank you.

Sweetheart of The Sun is available now on iTunes of Darling Street Records.

Brian Wise

Brian Wise was the Editor of Addicted To Noise‘s Australian site from 1997 – 2002. The site won two ONYA Awards as Best Online Music Magazine in 1999 & 2000. He has also been Editor since its reincarnation in 2013. He also presents the weekly music interview program Off The Record on 102.7 Triple R-FM (rrr.org.au) in Melbourne. It is networked to 45+ stations across Australia on the Community Radio Network and is a four-time winner of the Best Music Program Award from the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia. In 2012, it was nominated as a finalist in the Excellence in Music Programming category. Brian was also the Founding Editor & Publisher of Rhythms Magazine and is now its Senior Contributing Editor.

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