Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Are You Sure Kasey Done It This Way?

More Country Stars Emerge from Down Under

Reuters article about Australian country artists trying to make it in the USA.

But Australian country music executives acknowledge that domestic sales do not automatically translate to American success.

"The problem is that many Australian singers tend to sing about Australian themes," says Clive Hodson, managing director of Sydney-based ABC Music, the most prominent Oz country music label.

Insiders agree that U.S. country music audiences and radio formats can have a problem with strong Australian accents and peculiarly Australian names. "We sing about 'utes,' but (in the United States) they have 'pickups,"' Hodson notes. "We have a syntax problem in some of the material. So (artists) have to learn to write generically, without using slang."

Of course "insiders" and execs would say that but I disagree. If the song is good enough, is the use of "ute" not "pickup" really going to be a barrier to success? No. The accent thing is maybe a bit more significant but it's not make or break and neither is the syntax if the hook is catchy enough. What does having a syntax problem mean anyway, using more subjunctive tenses to make the Yanks feel at home?

And what "Australian themes" are these? The MacIntyre system of working out the NRL finals? The Pacific solution? Richard Butler's payout? Duckworth Lewis? The Melbourne gangland war? Sitting in the front seat of taxis? Latham's man boobs? I believe most Australian country songs are about such staples as love, regret, lost love, hard times on the land, I'm glad it's the weekend and let's get drunk tonight, I love my horse and my dogs, my friends are also great, people in the city aren't half as real as people from the country, the Anzac spirit, don't fence me in and the drought really sucks. In short, exactly what the Yanks sing about.

The fact is, mainstream chart Australian country acts are really doing the same thing as the mainstream chart American acts, except not as well. Why are you going to seek out Lee Kernaghan when you have a Wal Mart full of Tim McGraw, Alan Jackson and George Strait on every corner. Why are the record companies, promoters and radio jocks going to push so-so MOR Australian country when they get a bazillion so-so MOR American CDs thrown at them each week. Of course that argument also goes for American singers trying to break into the market.

Keith Urban and Sherrie Austin moved to Nashville and toiled away there for years before becoming overnight successes, so their situation can't be compared to an established Aussie star trying to launch from here. Adam and Troy, what are you waiting for?

One of the reasons Kasey Chambers has had success in the US is that she is pitching to a niche market of "alternative country" (whatever that is) fans who are more likely to seek out new things themselves (because if you want that kind of music, CMT isn't going to hand it to you on a platter) and is hooked into the tight knit incestuous (in a good way) world of OKOM; record a Fred Eaglesmith song, do a duet with Lucinda Williams, praise Miss Emmylou in interviews, get Steve Earle to say you are a fuckin' great girl hillbilly singer and bang you're in the club. Next thing you know you're doing a shoot for the front cover of No Depression, Village Records stocks your album and the word gets round. Kick arse female country singer-songwriters are not the dime-a-several-dozen the Garth clones are.

Of course one of the other reasons is that she has a bucket load more talent and personality than the rest of them.

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