There’s not much that Aussie music legend Kate Ceberano hasn’t tried her hand at. She’s been a TV presenter, actress, a bra ambassador, Queen of Melbourne’s Moomba Festival and more recently the Artistic Director for the Adelaide Festival. But it’s her celebrated, extensive and enduring music career that Kate is most loved for.
To celebrate the release of her new album ‘Kensal Road’ – her first collection of original material in ten long years – we chat to the golden-voiced chanteuse about creating the new album, balancing work with motherhood, her never ending list of career achievements and what comes next.
“I think my life has been a series of interests, me going after those interests and finding a way to learn more and more about being a performing artist,” Kate tells us. “That’s kind of what my life’s goal has been. It’s how to be the consummate performing artist and grow up to be Tony Bennett (she laughs). After all, that’s what my objective is. And like Tony Bennett, he would have come through those ages where he needed to sing and act and dance.
“Ten years since the last original record, I’ve had a kid, which changed everything. And then your whole modus operandi’s changed, your purpose for making music. You sort of have to not indulge yourself on your subjective interests. You have to work to get the sheer survival aspects of being a parent. But now after ten years, I think I’ve got my own subjective universe back. That’s how it feels.”
Kate tells us that while she’s been able to balance the pressures of a high profile career and being a mum well, finding the right time to record a new LP proved tricky.
“It’s taken a while to work out when would be a good opportunity to go into that place and indulge myself again,” Kate admits. “As I said, music and writing is a very subjective universe. I’ve also been prompted because of my directing of a festival to see other artists who have now got me so envious and who’ve stimulated my creative juices so much that I might self-combust if I don’t actually go there.
“I’ve seen these artists that I bring in from all over the world – Paris, Rome, New York, London – each of them so uniquely special that I could nearly burst.
“Ross (Fraser, Director of A&R at Sony Music) asked me if I might like to do an originals record and what I had been working on . I was a little loathe to show him to be honest, because I’ve obviously come of an age where I’m no longer wanting someone else’s permission to perform or write music. And he said, ‘well this is lovely, I want to you mine more of that seam’ and I thought ‘great, let’s do it’.” she says.
And do it they did. Kate flew to London to record ‘Kensal Road’, releasing it to retail just two weeks ago. Its name was derived from the studio where the LP was created, alongside producer James Bryan – a space where musical worlds (and, seemingly, big name artists) collide.
“Martin Terefe has what looks like ‘To Sir With Love’,” Kate explains. “It’s like an old school quadrangle built around this amazing plane tree and within three floors there are classical violinists, there are DJs, there are hip hop acts, there are live bands, there are touring artists, there are musicians coming in from everywhere in the world recording there. There’s this beautiful organic studio where we recorded all of us live.
“There were no overdubs, the songs were done as we wrote them and I sang them and recorded the vocal with the band. And you could hear the rumble of the No.46 bus going down Kensal Road. It was the best of what I feel is a collective universe of art and you’d bring someone in to do a solo who happened to be touring and he’d just happen to be downstairs and grab the violinist from room No.25 and the DJ came in. It was my favourite kind of recording,” she says.
The studio was a space from which Kate was able to draw great inspiration.
“What was amazing was that I walked in and I said, ‘clearly I’m an adult. I’m a woman of a certain age and I’m not going to feel intimidated because there’s a 15 year old boyband in the kitchen making their bircher muesli’. Every one of us had a right to be there, but we were there for different reasons and that is not common.
“I had a similar one in a previous recording session where I was very intimidated. That was in a big Tommy Mottola-sponsored sort of studio and there was some project going on over there and a hip hop project over there – and none of the artists fraternised and everyone was being treated like they were better than the rest of the world. Like silk worms with strange habits of certain amounts of food with all the colour removed. Fuck that. I don’t want that precious scene.”
We suggest she’s a lot more organic than that anyway.
“I am. I’m a cabaret act, let’s face it,” she laughs.
The role of the lead single from the album falls to the hypnotising, addictive ‘Magnet’. It’s one of only a couple of songs on the new LP not co-penned by Kate. It was instead co-written by Malaysian artist Yuna.
“Yuna is an artist who was working with James. She’s a young Muslim singer from Malaysia who does hip hop and pop as well. He and I found a place to discuss what I wanted and he said that Yuna had a track that she wasn’t going to record. And I just related to it.
“I don’t know why, but Lily Allen and I have a lot in common as well – I know that’s weird – but when I look at Lily’s work and listen to the music… There was a culture of women who were working in this studio – there was Lily Allen and Adele and Marina & The Diamonds – they’re the sort of women that for different reasons are characterful, don’t you think? I felt more that way. I’m not as easily stereotyped.”
We suggest that Kate is also not the kind of artist who’d willingly sell her soul.
“Well I would if I could, but no-one would buy it,” she laughs. “Because it comes with a price, you see. I’m too fucking capricious. You could take a wife like me, but I’ll drive you mental. I’m going to have demands and I’m going to change my mind. I am capricious like those girls I’ve just mentioned.
“It’s funny that I named those girls… I haven’t practised naming them, but it’s ironic that I relate to them. Similarly, it’s like there’s a type of woman, of which we are, who I don’t think would ever be fully satisfied with simply one strain of career. I just couldn’t. I’m going to want to make a dance record one day. And I want to know that I’ll be allowed to do anything I like. You know?”
Kate said in a recent video promoting the new album that she’d let go of the expectations of what other people thought she should be. We ask her to explain.
“I suppose at a certain point in a person’s career, one is consulting people who should know best or at least know better. All the subjunctives… shoulda, coulda, woulda… All of them have all sort of disappeared now because obviously in my own field of arts, I’m doing things – I’m booking bands, I’m looking after them – you know what I mean?
“I’ve been designing and decorating event spaces and it’s such a more administrative role that I understand art on a different level now and I can’t go and pretend to be an innocent. You can’t pretend that you don’t want to be involved. It’s like you either is a control freak or you ain’t.
So is Kate Ceberano a control freak?
“Absolutely I am,” she admits. “And I can’t see any of the popular acts surviving without being so. P!nk, Beyoncé… I don’t mean to relate to them, but in my small way, I am my own brand and if you don’t drive your brand, you die. You have to be demonstrative about your brand. I live off my brand. I don’t do anything else other than this. So it’s something I have to take full responsibility for.”
But beyond possessing a steely determination and passion for “Brand Ceberano”, Kate’s also extraordinarily grateful for the opportunities ‘Kensal Road’ has afforded her, describing the project as “a gift” in the sleeve notes.
“I say it like that. That’s how it feels,” she explains. “It’s only a gift in so much as… I could never afford this kind of marketing for myself. I obviously want to remain in the industry. I’m not satisfied to go to early retirement and just perform covers for the rest of my life. I want to continue to feel that my fanbase or the people who enjoy what I do have confidence in me and would want me to still be experimenting creatively.”
Kate’s also on the record as saying that ‘Kensal Road’ marks a new beginning for her and will shape her career trajectory into the future.
“That’s really loaded isn’t it?” she muses. “I don’t know whether I really meant that. It sounds like a pretty propagandas thing to say really. I think I lied. I think I was just trying to sound important.
“I think that what it does is that it’s afforded me the opportunity to get the very best of something like Sony behind it. And look at me – I’m being honoured with marketing. What any young artist would give their right tit for.
“You can have the best product in the world, but without people knowing that you’re banging your drum, you could just get calluses and bleeding hands and no-one’s going to hear you. And I want to get out there and I want to work again and I want to tour and I want to play and I want to have this narrative with people… tell them about music and life and what I do.”
Banging her drum, however, is precisely what Kate will be doing on her national tour, which was announced this week. The ‘Kensal Road’ tour kicks off in Albany, Western Australia on October 02, ahead of a selection of metro and regional dates across the country.
As mentioned previously, ‘Kensal Road’ is Kate’s first album of new material in ten years. But next year, her landmark album ‘Brave’ will celebrate its 25th anniversary. So in closing off the chat, we can’t help but ask whether there’s the call to do an anniversary edition. You might say Kate could hear the calling… a million miles away.
“I would love that,” she enthuses. “I think it’s going to be absolutely essential. I’m going to need to do something really clever with it. It’s almost as if we need to do a… It needs something new. I just don’t know, but we’ll think of something.”
In the meantime, fans will have the magical, delicate collection of precious gems that is ‘Kensal Road’ to call their own. It’s been worth the wait… and ‘Kensal Road’ is well worth the visit.
Kate Ceberano’s single ‘Magnet’ and album ‘Kensal Road’ are out now.
Kate will tour metro and regional Australia on her ‘Kensal Road’ tour in October and November.