Kasey Chambers

ARIA Hall of Fame inductee 2018

The Australian Music Vault is proud to honour this year’s ARIA Hall of Fame inductee, Kasey Chambers; the youngest female recipient to ever be inducted.

The daughter of two musicians, Bill and Diane Chambers, Kasey Chambers grew up listening to the sounds of Hank Williams, Emmylou Harris, Johnny Cash and other country greats whilst living and travelling around outback Australia. Born in Mt Gambier in 1976, Chambers spent most of her childhood between the Nullarbor Plain and the tiny fishing village of Southend in South Australia. Each year the family would spend several months fox hunting and living off the land on the Nullarbor, and the rest of the year at their home in Southend.

Nullarbor Plains c. 1980s.

Courtesy of Kasey Chambers and Family

Chambers recalls music being a part of her life from a very young age. At ten years old she was fronting the family’s Dead Ringer Band with her parents and brother, Nash. By her teenage years she had formed a jam band, the Brown Smelly Shits, with Nash and her close friends Kym Warner (who has since gone on to become a founding member of the American bluegrass band The Greencards) and Beccy Sturtzel (now better known as the singer Beccy Cole). Chambers also frequented the talent quests at the Port Pirie Festival and elsewhere in South Australia, both with the Dead Ringer Band and as a solo act.  Her relentless determination to always remain true to herself can be traced back to these early years.

Dead Ringer Band with her father, Bill, mother, Diane, and brother, Nash. c. 1990s.

Courtesy of Kasey Chambers and Family

“If you were going to sing country, you had to look country and we didn’t look the part. It would have been the same if we’d shown up at, say, a rock music try-out, in big hats and cowboy boots instead of a leather jacket, jeans and deathlike gaze: they wouldn’t have taken us seriously either. At the country music talent quests, our typical teenage grunge wear looked out of place among all the belt buckles and Western shirts.”

Despite several setbacks, the Dead Ringer Band went on to become one of Australia’s leading country acts of the 1990s, releasing four albums and collectively earning two ARIA Awards and seven Golden Guitar Awards at the annual Country Music Awards in Tamworth.

In 1998 the divorce of her parents signalled the end of the Dead Ringer Band, but the beginning of Chambers’ solo career.  Chambers had been writing music throughout her teenage years, but it was not until she embarked on what she describes as a coming-of-age trip with her mother to Africa, that she found the creative impetus to produce her debut solo album. Produced by Nash Chambers and recorded in a makeshift studio on Norfolk Island, The Captain was released in 1999 to much critical acclaim. According to reviews at the time, songs such as ‘Cry Like a Baby’, ’These Pines’ and the title track boasted a maturity beyond her years. The album went on to reach double-platinum sales and led Chambers to pick up her first ARIA Awards as a solo artist for Best Country Album in 1999 and Best Female Artist in 2000.

The Captain, 1999.

Courtesy of Kasey Chambers.

The success of The Captain was closely followed by her second album, Barricades and Brickwalls (2001). The album featured her most successful single, Not Pretty Enough and became her greatest mainstream success. Ironically, it was singing about the challenges she faced as a country singer trying to make it in the popular music industry which finally earned her mainstream attention.

“I wrote ‘Pretty’ as a song about feeling invisible. I had had success on my own terms with The Captain, but it was obvious that out in the music industry there was only one path for most young women: over-sexualised and over-made up.”

Not Pretty Enough by Kasey Chambers (Official Video)

In a single year, Barricades and Brickwalls was awarded the ARIA Award for Best Album, Best Female Artist and Best Country Album.Not Pretty Enoughalso topped the charts in Australia, the United Kingdom and significantly raised Chambers’ profile in the United States, eventually going double-platinum. In 2002, the album achieved sales of 7x platinum in Australia earning Chambers the second best-selling single and album by an Australian artist behind Kylie Minogues single ‘Can’t Get You Out of My Headand album Fever.

Chambers’ success continued with her next two albums Wayward Angel (2004) and Carnival (2006). Both albums debuted at No. 1 on the ARIA Charts and Wayward Angel won the ARIA Award for Best Country Album and Best Female Artist in 2004.  In 2008 Chambers married fellow musician and songwriter, Shane Nicholson; a partnership which extended into the recording studio. The couple released Rattlin' Bones (2008), a heavily acoustic, more stripped-back album, and Wreck and Ruin (2012).

Almost as impressive as her list of awards is the calibre of the musicians Chambers has collaborated with over the years, many of whom inspired her as a teenager. For Barricades and Brickwalls, The Living End featured on ‘Crossfire’, while Paul Kelly sang on ‘I Still Pray’ (a song she wrote after jamming with him in a Sydney bar one evening). For Carnival, a more rock-oriented album, she collaborated with Tim Rogers of You Am I and Powderfinger’s Bernard Fanning. Kelly also produced material for her ambitious, double-set album, Dragonfly (2017) which features a portrait of Chambers by Australian artist David Bromley on the cover.

I Still Pray by Kasey Chambers (Official Video)

Throughout Chambers’ career, family has continued to play a central role in her music making. Bill Chambers has contributed as a multi-instrumentalist and occasional co-writer, Nash Chambers as producer, tour sound technician and manager, and Diane Chambers, as merchandiser. Since having children of her own, Chambers has also ventured into publishing, producing a children’s book, Little Kasey Chambers & The Lost Music (2009). In 2009 three generations of the Chambers family were brought together to form the band Kasey Chambers, Poppa Bill and the Little Hillbillies.

“I feel that every record really represents me at the time I make it. When we made Rattlin’ Bones, Shane and I were recently married, and that was my whole life at that point. Now, my life is about being a mum, first and foremost, rather than being a musician, and the Little Hillbillies record gave me the chance to be both in one project.”

For many people the sound of Chambers is synonymous with Australia. She is the Australasian Performing Right Association’s (APRA) most awarded Australian songwriter. Her talent as a songwriter was further acknowledged in 2011 when she won the Grand Prize at the International Songwriting Competition for ‘Beautiful Mess’ off her sixth album, Little Bird (2010); an album which she describes as the strong and secure version of Not Pretty Enough.  In 2017 that now classic track was inducted into the National Film and Sound Archives Sounds of Australia Collection for having cultural, historical and aesthetic significance and relevance, which inform or reflect life in Australia”.

Throughout her 25-year career Chambers has remained true to her roots, whilst continuing to expand the definition of what a female country musician can achieve.  In 2018 she became the youngest inductee into the Australasian Country Music Roll of Renown for outstanding contribution to the Country Music Industry, while her most recent album, Campfire (2018) continues to draw accolades winning this year’s ARIA Award for Best Country Album and nominations for seven Golden Guitar Awards.

The Campfire, 2018.

Courtesy of Kasey Chambers

“My own feeling is that like any art form, country music is constantly changing and, while I love it, I want to push its boundaries. There’s an argument that says, before doing that you need to understand its roots - well I agree. But I also felt that I’d earned that right. I’d grown up with country, I had an instinct for it. It was part of who I was."



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