The West

Family fortunes
Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson. Picture: Supplied.

The battle of baby versus baked cake was not a fair fight. Little Poet absolutely obliterated the poor muffin, most of which now lies in a million crumbs across the carpet of Mushroom Group's Melbourne boardroom.

"She's made a massive mess down there," her mum, country singer Kasey Chambers laughs. "She's so rock'n'roll."

Mixing family and business is nothing new for Chambers, who sits alongside husband and Poet's dad, Shane Nicholson, at a long table strewn with coffee cups and half-mashed muffins.

In 2008, they decided to test their relationship by writing and recording the country/bluegrass album Rattlin' Bones, which was produced by Kasey's brother Nash.

Not only did the marriage survive, but Rattlin' Bones became a chart-topping, award-winning success. The album scored the ARIA Award for best country album, collected five Golden Guitars in Tamworth and fuelled two years' worth of touring.

Chambers and Nicholson returned to the well in March, when they surprised themselves by quickly making the follow-up, Wreck and Ruin, released next week.

"I knew when we were recording (Rattlin' Bones) that we would do it again, maybe even when we were writing," Chambers says as she wipes muffin wreckage off Poet's beaming face.

"I certainly don't think the success of the record changed our view on what we do with the project," the heavily caffeinated Nicholson chimes in.

"We were surprised by it. To us, Rattlin' Bones was successful before it was released. The whole point was to write a record together. So, the fact that we even made and loved it - that was kind of the point of doing it."

Despite being friends for years before their 2005 marriage, Chambers reveals that the title track of Rattlin' Bones was the very first song they wrote together.

"It was almost like a bit of a challenge. Let's see if we can be married and be stupid and be creative.

"We were surprised at how well we did work together," she says, before shooting her hubby a loaded glance. "I mean, we had our moments."

The challenge this time around was finding time in their busy lives to write another batch of songs. Poet has two older brothers, five-year-old Arlo and Kasey's son Talon from her previous marriage.

While the debut was written in their home on the Central Coast of New South Wales, for Wreck and Ruin they retreated to a small cabin in the foothills of the Hunter Valley. There was, as Chambers says, "nothing much to do but write songs", and songs like The Quiet Life flowed directly from their isolated environment.

In her 20s when she scored hits with The Captain and Not Pretty Enough, Chambers says that once she could pen songs just about anywhere.

"That was back when I was 20 and I had no kids and I had no responsibilities and I could just drop everything at any given moment and write a song if I wanted to," the 36-year-old says.

The Brisbane-born Nicholson, who began his musical life far away from country music fronting rock band Pretty Violet Stain, says it only took three trips out to the Hunter Valley to write the 13 songs on Wreck and Ruin.

The album features the hymn-like renewal of vows, Til Death Do Us Part, equally loaded Adam and Eve, and the riotous bluegrass stomp of Sick as a Dog, which was inspired by a bout of flu that swept through the family.

"When you've got three young kids it's impossible not to be sick and when it hits one, it hits everyone," Nicholson says.

"The whole house was just plundered and we couldn't write anything, so we wrote that."

As with Rattlin' Bones, they penned exactly enough tracks for the album, which was again recorded with Nash Chambers in his Foggy Mountain Studios, although the production credits are shared equally between the three.

Nicholson and the Chambers siblings were joined in the studio by a new four-piece band assembled especially to give Wreck and Ruin a distinct sound inspired by old time acts such as the Louvin Brothers, Pete Seeger and Bill Monroe. The result is a collection of folk, gospel, country and bluegrass that sounds like they've been recorded live on the studio floor - and that's because most of them were.

"We want whoever buys this record and listens to it to feel like they're sitting in our lounge room when we have just played a little gig to a few people," Chambers says.

Speaking of gigs, while the Wreck and Ruin band will join the couple on their Australian dates, from October to December, Chambers and Nicholson will perform as an acoustic duo in the US next month.

The Stateside visit will see them spearhead the Australian presence at the 13th annual Americana Music Festival. Both find it very odd that their music is considered Americana.

"I guess I personally wouldn't call it Americana just because that seems a bit weird to me - we're Australian," Chambers says.

"I don't mind either way," Nicholson adds. "The only problem with the term Americana now is that it's so broad that I don't even know what it means."

"Alt-country was like that," Chambers says. "For a start, what is it alternative to? Johnny Cash became alt-country. George Jones was alt-country."

Nicholson opines that the term is used to sell country music to people who don't usually listen to it.

"We're still country but we don't suck as much as most of it," he offers.

"Maybe we'll go with that from now on," Chambers laughs. "It's non-s… country. That's what we'll call it."

Perhaps stickers can be made for the CDs: Wreck and Ruin - 100 per cent, genuine, non-crap country.

"I love it, I so want those stickers," Chambers says, laughing even harder.

Nicholson, for once, has the final word: "There can be a non-s… country section at JB HiFi."

Wreck and Ruin is released September 7. Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson play the Albany Entertainment Centre on December 5, Esperance Civic Centre on December 6, Goldfields Arts Centre on December 7, Mundaring Weir Hotel on December 8 and Drakesbrook Hotel, Waroona on December 9. See the venues for tickets.

The West Australian

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