Country music stars The McClymonts have a connection that could only possibly come from growing up together. Hailing from Grafton in New South Wales, the siblings (Brooke, Samantha and Mollie) have spent their lifetimes honing their harmonies, live performances and infectious songs, enjoying phenomenal success along the way. It all culminated in a No.2 debut on the ARIA albums chart last month with their new LP ‘Wrapped Up Good’. It remains the highest debut for any album so far this year.
We plopped down for a natter with the girls over a couple of Snickers bars and started by congratulating them on their No.2 album debut.
B: We couldn’t believe it. We’re definitely shocked. As a country artist, we went ‘what are we on the country chart? Wonder if we got a number one, that’d be great.’
S: That was literally how we were. We were thinking top 30.
B: I said top 50.
S: Didn’t we say top 30?
B: I said 50 – I had no expectations – I said ‘Oh we might come in at top 50.’
S: That’s totally where we thought, so number two… we definitely questioned it. We were like ‘Are you sure?’
M: We had them double check.
S: And then we had to wait ‘til we could look it up online.
Of course, if it hadn’t been for Susan Boyle’s incredible dominance of the ARIA album chart over the Christmas/New Year period, the girls would have had themselves a No.1 album. We ask if they were tempted to send a letter-bomb to Scotland.
S: I know – a Susan comes around only every now and then. People don’t come around and sell what she’s selling these days.
B: Even if Susan wasn’t around, we’d never even think we’d get to number two. Even top ten was…
M: We were still in the top ten four weeks later.
B: We thought ‘okay, our fans have gone out and bought it, we’re number two… I thought we’d be out.
M: Then we’d be out of the 50.
B: Then the week after it was what, six? That’s a lot and that’s why we were like ‘wow – this is really going great guns for us.’
S: And I think that once you hit that initial number two, we always think that means we’re on the wall at the record stores. In the top 20 and it does draw people’s attention to it because a lot of the public do go in and check out the new music.
The McClymonts have had a phenomenal four years, releasing their self-titled debut EP in 2006, their first full length album ‘Chaos & Bright Lights’ in 2007 and winning the ‘Best Group Or Duo’ award at the Country Music Awards in Tamworth for three years running. And even though the support is now coming in thick and fast from their peers, the girls credit their parents for instilling in them passion and an incredibly strong work ethic.
S: All up and down the east coast of Australia every weekend. I think mum drove us two and a half days to get us to a festival. And then we sang for two days.
B: For a trophy.
M: And we didn’t realise back then just how much work they’d put into it.
B: And we don’t know how much money – I mean dad was working in a butchers shop giving the cash to mum to get us up to sing. ‘Cause that was our hobby. We thought ‘this is really fun – we’re meeting kids our age who like to sing.’ And sometimes we’d change and we’d say ‘I don’t really want to go away this weekend, I’d really like to go to a party or hang out with my friends.’ And mum was like ‘fine… don’t do it. I won’t take you out on the road’ and then we were ‘(GASP) What? No! I want to go out and sing!’
But the girls insist, even though their mum was virtually their roadie, she was far from the stereotypical stage mum.
M: No, quite the opposite.
S: It’s quite funny – we’d get off stage and we’d be like ‘How was that mum?’ and she’d reply with ‘Yeah… wasn’t your best.’
We protest that that’s an awful thing to say.
B: No it was good!
M: No, because when we did well…
S: She was like ‘you know what? That was great.’ But she would also tell us if we were crap.
B: And many more parents should do it. But we’re very judgemental of our performances because of that.
S: We come off stage and go ‘you did that, you did that, that was crap and change that tomorrow.’ This is in the first five minutes of getting off stage.
M: We’re just honest with each other. And we can tell each other what we’ve got to fix and how to make it better.
S: Like when we watch Australian Idol, we say, ‘see, our mum didn’t do that to us. She didn’t tell us we were awesome when we weren’t.’
B: If there were more parents like ours…
Country music is often overlooked at commercial radio in Australia. It’s been a number of years since Shania Twain and Kasey Chambers enjoyed mainstream success and it’s only now through Taylor Swift’s pulling power with Generation Y that country music has resurfaced on the airwaves. We ask the girls if the perceived stigma attached to country music really exists.
S: Every now and then there are stations who will play us and they’ll put us in their late night spots.
B: When no-one’s listening.
M: But that’s still good!?
S: And put us in every now and then. And I guess that probably comes from the stigma that’s still a bit attached. But they’re starting to play Taylor Swift, they’ve been playing Keith Urban for a few years now, they’ve played Kasey Chambers. So it’s just about getting that one song that…
M: You just need that one person to believe in it and say ‘these girls are great’ and everyone else says ‘Oh I think that too’.
B: And again, it’s the same question you just asked. The stigma of being a country artist. That’s exactly the mindframe that everyone’s in with country music. There’s still the majority of the (makes fiddle/banjo sounds) and that will always be around, but I think it’s been progressing.
S: People are slowly realising that the old traditional country music sound doesn’t necessarily determine what country music’s about. It’s very American based country music now and it is on the same level as pop. ‘Cause what a pop song is is a catchy song that people want to listen to and that’s what country music is too.
We suggest to the girls that being a fan of country music is like a guilty little secret that you keep to yourself.
M: I know of some people who go ‘Oh I love Taylor Swift’ and then you say ‘well she’s country’ and they go ‘No she’s not’ and we go ‘yes she is.’
S: So they don’t like country music, but Taylor’s country and they just didn’t know she was country.
B: And I think that’s where sometimes I think unfortunately you have to question why you have to label things. Why can’t you just listen to the song?
M: Or go ‘yeah we are country, but you can make your mind up.’
S: Taylor’s so age appropriate and it’s so important that she’s singing songs for those kids who can relate to that.
B: That’s really important.
S: I think the kids have really missed something for a long time. Something that they’ve related to.
B: Look at this era where your Britney Spears and Christina Aguileras and Rihannas are all singing quite mature lyrical songs. Taylor’s just come out and said ‘you know what? I’m 20 years old and I’m going to sing about stuff that I’m going through.’ And I think it’s great.
Apart from both being country music artists, the girls actually have another slight connection with Taylor Swift. Producer Nathan Chapman, who worked on Taylor’s album ‘Fearless’, has worked with the girls on their albums, including ‘Wrapped Up Good’.
B: Oh my god he’s so lovely.
S: He is – and we worked with him on the first record. Brooke wrote ‘My Life Again’ with him and that’s how we met him. He recorded Taylor’s first record and hadn’t got the first cheque yet, so had no idea really where that was going to take him. And then two years later, we wrote with him for this new record and he said ‘Oh who’s producing you?’ and we said ‘Look, we’re not sure yet’ and he said ‘Look, I don’t have a lot of time, but I’d love to produce four tracks’ and we were just like, ‘um… okay!’ And it was great that two years later, (and he is in the flashy cars and his cheques have cleared now) that he wanted to work with us, sourced us out and asked to produce. It’s a nice feeling that he believed in our music.
B: He’s behind the music, which is nice.
While ‘Wrapped Up Good’ continues to inhabit the top 20 ARIA chart locally, the girls are hard at work, on the road for a swag of live dates, re-commencing on March 04 at The Basement in Sydney. But they’ll also shortly be heading across to the US, where their first album ‘Chaos & Bright Lights’ is being readied for a Stateside release.
S: A distribution company found us and found ‘Chaos & Bright Lights’ and said ‘We love this record.’ ‘Cause we actually weren’t releasing it over there. They came to us and did all the work and found this record and said…
B: ‘We’re gonna make you big.’
S: Well that’s what they’ve said.
M: And they’re so positive.
B: So our thing is that we’re just going to hook in, just give it a real go.
S: It works completely differently in America. You actually have to sing to music directors in a board room before they even consider putting you on the radio.
B: So sometimes we’ll go in and we’ll have to perform for just one person – the MD.
S: And he’ll have three artists come through that day.
M: But do you know what the good thing was? It’s such an accomplishment when they said ‘oh, you’re actually good. Do you want to come on radio?’
S: And then they’d take us in to the studio and do an interview.
M: In one town, there’d be three stations dedicated to country music, so it’s like a totally different world over there where that genre is completely celebrated.
B: Like you said, three new acts a day are trying to sing live and then we’ve got to compete.
S: It’s quite a weird saying when someone does say to you… ‘Oh! Oh you can sing!?’ And it’s kind of like ‘well yes…?’
B: But that’s the problem with today in the music business.
M: You don’t have to be a singer.
S: But I do think it’s the entertainment factor too because the people even with the best voices – sometimes they don’t sell because they’re not entertaining enough.
B: It’s a combination of things.
S: It’s all about luck!
And with plenty of that, oodles of talent, great harmonies, well-produced country/pop songs and a couple of Snickers bars packed in their swags, one can only assume that the Americans will fall for them almost as much as we have.
The No.2 album ‘Wrapped Up Good’ is at retail in Australia now.
‘Chaos & Bright Lights’ is scheduled for a US release in Spring.
The McClymonts tour Australia between March 04 and May 07. Full list of dates available on the band’s OFFICIAL MYSPACE.