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‘Cos I’m Country’: Interview with Australian singer Steve Eales (Includes interview)

“Bold,” “brave” and “enterprising” are three adjectives that could certainly be used to describe Steve Eales, particularly in relation to the story of how he first made his name; something that happened 15 years ago when he and his band turned up unannounced at the Tamworth Festival in a fancy tour bus – with no prior knowledge of how the industry works – and played their songs by the side of the road.

This outrageous act of bravado led to a flurry of attention from country fans and people involved in the music business and it would be safe to say that their little escapade did more to establish Steve, the APRA Songwriter of the Year 2010, as a professional musician – first with his band Sovereign and then as a solo act – than anything else.

The artist, a possible future addition to Nashville’s ever-expanding Aussie contingent (he travels to Music City every year) takes up the story: “That was in 1999… I’d written the first Sovereign album, which was called Too Hot to Handle, and I’d sent the songs out to a couple of the main radio stations.

“They said, ‘We love your product, but we’re not going to play it until you choose what single you want us to play.’ That’s how green I was – I had no idea how things worked. Tamworth is the major country music festival, so I knew I wanted to be there but didn’t know how to book a gig and I didn’t have a name.

“We had a tour bus that we were touring the country in and we just rocked up to the main street and plugged into a pizza restaurant – plugged into their power – and we were busking on the main street. That was my humble beginnings.

“It was really random because the main street of Tamworth, Peel Street, has a busking area and they’ll be like 50, 60 acts all competing for sound because they’re only spaced about three metres apart. Everyone’s cranking their volume so that they can be louder than the guy next door, but we didn’t know this was going on and we were like a kilometre away from the main action…

“That ignorance actually worked in our favour because we weren’t amongst the meleé – we were totally isolated. Sometimes a couple of hundred people were gathered around us listening to what we were doing and we had promoters and producers and managers coming up and handing us their business cards and wanting to get to know us. That started a big tide of things to come for the next seven years – and it hasn’t stopped.”

As a precursor to the release of The Open Road (his third solo effort to date), the album’s first single “Cos I’m Country” came out two weeks ago. Its writer elaborated on the thinking behind it: “Well, part of farm culture is that you teach your kids to do what you do and eventually they’ll take over your role of running a farm.

“There’s a lot of influence coming through from the media now to kids – they don’t want the farming life. So it’s an eight year old asking his dad, ‘How come we don’t live like they do in the city – why can’t we go and get another job and live like that?’ And the dad’s response is: ‘Cos I’m country.’ Then the son takes over the same role and he’s answering the same kind of questions.”

Discussing The Open Road, the proud country boy, who grew up in South Australia and whose grandfather was a farmer, states, “From 2000 through to 2007, I had a band called Sovereign…

“We split up in 2007 and the guys that I hired to be my new band have worked with me since then. So 18 months ago, I said to them, ‘Listen, we record together, we tour together, why don’t we just become an actual band?’

“So it became Steve Eales and the Open Road because we mostly meet on the open road. Being the first album written and recorded that way, we decided to call it the same as the band – seemed logical to us.”

“My style of writing is fairly eclectic,” says Steve, attempting to define his sound, “because my career in country started 15 years ago, but prior to that I was playing rock and pop, so there’s a bit of everything in my writing style.”

I asked the talented tunesmith, who wrote all but two of the album’s 12 tracks by himself, what topics he chose to address this time around. “I kind of collect things as I go, like ideas and stories as I’m out there touring on the road,” he explains. “Things will occur, like a guy that I performed with years ago was getting married and he asked me to be one of the groomsmen.

“He was marrying someone that already had kids and he already had kids, so they had everything. They had two houses – everything you could possibly imagine. What can you give a couple like that for a gift?

“So I wrote them a song called ‘Stay with Me Forever’ that’s about the old adage, ‘The family that plays together, stays together.’ That’s just one example of how things come about when I’m writing.”

The Open Road is available now.

For more information on Steve Eales, visit his official website.

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