Lee Kernaghan was raised on music and country life. His grandfather was a drover, his father was a singer and his mother was a dairy farmer’s daughter so ‘country’ was very much in the blood. And the singer has successfully managed to weave elements of the country life that he loves into the music that he makes. Kernaghan has been singing about life on the land for over twenty years now and has notched up an incredible thirty one No. 1 hits, and twenty eight Golden Guitar Awards along the way. ‘Beautiful Noise’ is his tenth studio album and is already rapidly approaching gold status. I spoke to Lee recently about the album and his big year of touring ahead. “That’s the real test,” he admits. “When you get out there and play the songs ‘live’. The tour goes through til November so I’m going to have a good year. It will be a lot of fun.” Lee describes the current show as ‘kind of like a greatest hits show’. “There are so many songs now that people want to hear. I do rely on Facebook and social media and websites for feedback on what songs people want to hear. I try to make everyone happy. It’s a fairly dynamic show. There’s some of the new and a lot of the old and I’ve got a fabulous band called The Wolfe Brothers that I discovered on Australia’s Got Talent and they’re coming out as support on this. They’ve just released a new album called ‘It’s Gone’ which is flying up the charts so it will be a great night out.”
Lee says that it was a lengthy process to complete ‘Beautiful Noise’. He spent two years working on writing songs with producer Garth Porter and Colin Buchanan and, out of about thirty songs, only eleven made it on to the record. “The songs are the foundations of the home,” he explains, “so they’ve got to be good. They’ve got to be strong and stand the test of time. That’s the main thing for me; to create songs that people will come to know and hopefully love and remember for years to come. A lot of these songs are autobiographical and that’s where the inspiration comes from – life experiences. There’s a song on the ‘Hat Town’ album called ‘Getting Gone’ about a young bloke, living out in the sticks. He’s got a V8 out back in the shed, up on blocks and a dream that one day he’ll get it together and leave the town and head for the coast and the girls. It’s called ‘Getting Gone’. He’s dreaming about getting gone. Now, ‘Beautiful Noise’, for me, is kind of like he’s grown up. He’s got the girl now and around sunset she joins him on the passenger seat and they head out under the black top and open up the big V8. It’s a song about freedom, love, life and cars.”
“A lot of the songs on ‘Beautiful Noise’ are road songs,” says Lee. “I really think about people, and how it’s going to feel to them when they put the CD into the machine, if they are on a big road trip. I want those songs to flow together and burn up those miles so you don’t really feel you’ve done the distance, although you’ve got to be careful,” he laughs. “Some of these songs can really make you put your foot down!”
Not all the songs on the album are about cars and driving, of course. There is one track, in particular, that Lee is especially fond of singing and that is a track called ‘Flying with the King’. “I flew across the country with Slim Dusty,” he explains. “The memories of the flight and the experience will stay with me for life. It’s one song that really resonates deeply in my heart. It will be the next single from the album.”
There are a couple of other experiences that will stay with the singer for life as well.
According to Lee, the big turning point came when he won his first Golden Guitar in Tamworth in 1993 for Album of the Year with ‘The Outback Club’. “I was on the road pretty well nonstop all through the nineties, playing big cities and little country towns.” The smallest place he played was a town called Yaraka in western Queensland, about two hundred kilometres southwest of Longreach. “We went out there to raise money for the local medical clinic to buy a defibrillator. When I got out there, it was such a long way out and it doesn’t have a large population. I thought it might have been over ambitious trying to do a show out there.” Lee recalls that the population of the town at the time was ‘about twenty seven’ and it was home to the Bush Medical Clinic that looked after people within a one hundred mile radius. ‘They relied on the Flying Doctor out there so the Bush Medical Clinic was critical,’’ he explains. “Anyway, at around about six o’clock on the night of the concert, the population had extended from twenty seven to about forty five and I thought ‘We’re in trouble!’ but just as the sun started to go down, to the north, the south, the east and the west, there were clouds of dust and there were heaps of people coming in from all over the outback and that little town had their first traffic jam that night. Over three thousand people turned up. I think we raised over $100,000 and we were able to buy the medical clinic their defibrillator.”
The singer has not only won a plethora of awards for his music but, in 2008, he was bestowed with the honour of Australian of the Year. “That was the greatest honour of my life,” he tells me. “And it was such a privilege to be able to serve in that role for the year 2008. It was a really tough time on the land. A lot of people were struggling to survive after ten years of drought. So, for me, a big part of that year was just to spend time out there in the bush, travelling through the drought affected communities and showing my support. I just wanted to let them know that they weren’t forgotten. The award was not about recognition for Lee Kernaghan. The way I thought of it was that it was just recognition for the bush and the community spirit that’s so important to daily life in the country communities and there’s a lot of people who work behind the scenes: the volunteers who do so much and, for me, they’ll always be the Australians of the Year.”
If you think that Beautiful Noise has a somewhat different feel to Lee’s previous albums, you’d be right. “It’s a little less predictable,” he says. “The last thing that I want to be is boring so with each new album, I’ve always tried to push the boundaries and come up with new music. On ‘Beautiful Noise’, there are a lot of new production techniques and sounds from the country and from outside of the country so it’s a bit of a melting pot of different styles. I think the common thread through all of that though is that it is songs about Australia and about our way of life and our culture.”
“So, yes, it is a bit different. It’s easy to say ‘Well, it worked like this last time so we’ll just keep doing it that way.” That’s something that I’ve tried to resist over the last twenty years of making records. We’re always trying to come up with something new or raise the bar. The only thing that goes against that theory is that probably my biggest hit song was my first single, ‘Boys from the Bush’ so some might say that it’s all been downhill from there,” he laughs. “But it’s been a bloody good ride.”
by Sharyn Hamey
Copyright © 2013 Sharyn Hamey All Rights Reserved
For more info on Lee Kernaghan’s ‘Beautiful Noise’ tour dates and how to book, visit our Touring page.