He’s done the hard yards – through singing schools and talent competitions, a record deal with Sony, songwriting, independent releases, musicals… and all before his 30th birthday back in December.
To celebrate the milestone, Anthony today releases ‘Thirty’ – a tribute to the songs and the performers who have inspired him across the past three decades. Naturally, we couldn’t let such a momentous occasion slip without having a natter with the singer on the eve of its release. Anthony begins by telling us how the album came to be.
“It was an idea that I came up with last year and I basically wanted to do something that celebrated turning 30,” he says. “I wanted to put an album together, but I didn’t want to try and remake certain songs, but to pay homage to the artists, the music and the lyrics that have inspired me over the last 30 years.
“A lot of these songs I’ve sung in a live environment, but I’ve never actually recorded. I wanted to have the opportunity to record them, call the album ‘Thirty’ and then put a couple of originals on it too. The new songs have been sitting in my iTunes folder for years and I’ve just been waiting for the right time to have them part of a body of work that I’m really proud of,” he tells us.
‘Thirty’ sees Anthony forging a new relationship with the ABC label, part of the wider Universal Music conglomerate. He tells us he couldn’t be happier with how the team there has embraced both his ideas and his music.
“I remember walking into ABC and told them my idea. I wanted to work with James Kempster. I’ve known him for nine years and we have a really good working relationship, so I wanted him to put this album together. I brought all my ideas to the table and they’ve just really embraced them all. It’s really bizarre to be in a situation where I don’t have to fight for anything. It’s a really beautiful thing and I’m touching wood right now because I don’t want to jinx myself,” Anthony says.
As mentioned earlier, Anthony’s 30 years have been peppered with incredible achievements, awards and accolades. But with so many highlights, the singer struggles to choose just one that outshines all others.
“I don’t know if there’s one in particular,” Anthony admits. “There are certain times in your life that you look back on as totally surreal and that you’ll remember forever. One of those was when I got to meet Whitney and Celine. That was just like… ‘Hello!’. Then obviously winning an ARIA. As a kid, I used to watch the ARIAs all the time and all I wanted was to be there in the audience. To win one was pretty cool.
“And I suppose a highlight for me is being able to wake up every day and call myself a singer. When you go to the airport and you have to fill in the paper work, in the job description I put ‘singer’. And that for me, nine to ten years down the track after ‘Idol’ is a really beautiful thing. To be able to do what you love and not have to get a nine to five job just yet… Not many people can say that and I’m pretty fortunate to be able to say I can, so… I love it.”
However, when it turns to a list of the artists who’ve inspired him across the past three decades, Anthony’s quick to name names.
“There’s Rick Price, John Farnham, Jack Jones, Tina Arena… all those singers have influenced me growing up. I suppose it came from my parents as well, because that’s what we used to listen to. I wanted to sound like a cross between Rick Price and Jack Jones. I just loved their voices. I remember going to John Farnham and Tina Arena concerts as a kid and I was just in awe of what they were doing. I loved their music. I love a real singer. And those four people that I’ve just mentioned can sing the ‘Yellow Pages’ and make them sound brilliant.”
Imagine the excitement in the Callea household, then, when Tina asked him to be part of her most recent Australian concert tours.
“It’s pretty cool when your phone rings and it’s Tina on the other end asking you to join her on her concert tour to sing a couple of duets,” he enthuses. “We had so much fun on that tour. It was cool to be able to hang out with her and talk shit really. You know, wake up in Brisbane and go and have a coffee that ends up being a four hour coffee and a glass of wine before looking at each other and saying ‘should we go and do sound check?’.”
‘Thirty’ diverts in a slightly different musical direction to Anthony’s previous releases – the dance/pop ‘Oh Oh Oh Oh’ and ‘Last To Go’ EP – and finds the singer back in more familiar territory for his longer-term fans. Anthony explains the progression of his work.
“When I put that EP together, I was having such a great time in LA that I wasn’t going to put any restrictions on me – and that’s what came naturally musically,” he tells us. “I was going out, having fun, doing stupid things – and I brought that into my music. Lyrically and melodically, that’s where I was at that moment. And I loved that EP and loved putting it together.
“But then it got to the middle of last year where I decided to do something that encapsulated the past 30 years of my life. I’m really proud of this album. The reaction has been great – I was so stoked to read the comments on the iTunes pre-order. It’s pretty cool that nine years down the track, people still care.”
Perhaps one of the more intriguing inclusions on the new album is Anthony’s cover of Will Young’s altogether brilliant single ‘Leave Right Now’… a former ‘Idol’ star covering a former ‘Idol’ star. But despite the obvious connection, Anthony tell us that when it came to the song, he was completely none the wiser.
“I’d never heard it before. True story,” Anthony admits. “I could give you a made-up backstory about it, but I’m not going to lie. I was walking through Caesar’s Palace in Vegas and it came over the speakers. I stood there, I didn’t move. I tried to get my ‘Shazam’ working, but it wasn’t because I didn’t have wi-fi, so I tried to remember the lyrics in my head. I ran back to my room, Googled it and it came up with that song. I had it on repeat for the rest of the night.
“Not that I’ve been in that situation personally, but I just loved the whole premise of ‘Leave Right Now’, the honesty of the lyric and that it wasn’t an ‘I love you, you love me’ scenario. It was ridiculously complex. When I was recording that, James said to me that it felt like the song, where it sits in my voice, was basically written for me melodically. It’s just a great song to sing. It’s so honest and raw. Sometimes a song just hits you.”
‘Thirty’ also contains two original songs – ‘My All’ and ‘I’ll Be The One’. Anthony reveals that each of the tracks has been in his collection for a number of years, but were just waiting for the right project to be set free.
“These two songs mean a lot to me and I didn’t want them to be overlooked, so having them part of this album is really cool,” he says. “‘My All’ is a song about giving love a second chance. Someone coming into your life and giving you a second chance at love. I remember being in James’ studio up in the bush and his wife came up with a bottle of champagne and a cheese platter and that’s how we wrote the song. Sitting there on the balcony.
“And ‘I’ll Be The One’ I did with Adam Reilly. I wrote that song straight after my second album. Basically it’s honing in on those dark moments that hopefully not everyone goes through, but a lot of us do at one time or another. I didn’t want it to be a dark lyric, but a lyric that comes from a dark place but with a positive spin on it. It’s basically saying that there’s always going to be a person on the other end that you can rely on and talk to. It’s Tim’s favourite song on the album. He said, ‘I like that song because it’s basically just you. You and piano and no bells and whistles’.”
There are a couple of Italian-language tracks, which Anthony hopes will appease his grandparents, who “keep telling me I need to record in Italian every time I go there for dinner” and a guest vocal by an artist who he clearly holds in extraordinarily high regard.
“If there’s one person that I’ve known since the age of 14 and nine months, or perhaps 15… that’s Susie Ahern. I love her dearly and she has one of the most phenomenal female voices in the country and I love it that every time we do a gig, she’s on stage with me. She’s just been so nurturing towards me over the years and has helped me out so much and I wanted her part of this album. I asked her to do the duet (Heart’s ‘Alone’) with me and thankfully she said ‘yes’. She sounds shit hot on that track. Sometimes I put it on just to get inspired, because I love listening to her.”
As for the next 30 years, Anthony’s kicking it off by launching into a series of instore appearances (starting tomorrow in Melbourne), along with a number of live shows across the East Coast.
“To be honest, I can’t wait to get this album out and perform it live,” he tells us. “You can stick me in a studio for however long, but after a while I start to go a little crazy and I need to get out of there and actually sing live. I suppose there have been moments, especially over the last few years, that you actually think it’s all a bit too much and too hard. But you walk out onto a stage and you have the audience in front of you and you remember what you’re doing it for.”
And beyond the shows? According to a bio on his management’s website earlier this year, there were to be two Anthony Callea album releases throughout 2013. Since then, that information has been changed. We dig a little deeper to get the dirt.
“Concentrating on ‘Thirty’ at the moment. But I have an idea up my sleeve. But I’m not giving it away just yet,” he hints. “So let’s just see how ‘Thirty’ goes first. I don’t want anyone to take my idea.” So there could be some truth to the rumour of a second Anthony Callea album this year? “Could,” he teases.
And as for the next 30 years?
“In 30 years from now? At the rate it’s going… I’ll look like Joan Rivers,” he explodes with laughter. “Who knows what’s going to be happening in 30 years!? I’d be happy to at least last that long. Seriously. If I got to 60 I’d be very happy. It’s good to aspire to have goals and so forth, but I just don’t think you should get so hung up on those goals and aspirations. Enjoy the moment you’re in, because who knows what’s going to happen.”
Anthony’s new album ‘Thirty’ is available digitally and physically from today.
Anthony will hit retailers around the country for in-store appearances (dates below).
Tickets for the ‘Thirty’ album tour (dates below) are on sale now.
April 27 @ 1:00pm : Westfield Knox
May 02 @ 5:30pm : Westfield Liverpool
May 04 @ 1:00pm : Castle Towers
May 09 @ 5:00pm : Queen Street Mall
May 11 @ 1:00pm : Westfield Marion
May 15 @ 7:00pm : Chadstone Shopping Centre
‘THIRTY’ ALBUM TOUR
July 13 : Melbourne (The Palms At Crown)
July 26 : Bankstown (Sports Club)
July 27 : Dee Why (Dee Why RSL)
August 02 : South Sydney (South Sydney Juniors)
August 03 : Newcastle (Belmont 16 Footers)
August 09 : Brisbane (Broncos Leagues Club)
August 10 : Tweed Heads (Twin Towns)