“One of the great things about growing up is that you get to a point where you face-off with yourself, and in the end you have to be satisfied with who you are,” Kate Ceberano reflects when talking about the path that led to her latest album Kensal Road. The new recordings mark Kate’s first album of original material for ten years, during which time she spent dedicating herself to her role as a new mother, and numerous alternative and successful artistic expressions, which included recording covers-albums, roles on TV, and work as an artistic director. Ultimately however, Kate Ceberano is an esteemed singer/songwriter, and it’s to this arena she returns with Kensal Road.
“I enjoyed being very autonomous by making my own interpretations of records, and releasing them to major labels to distribute, but in retrospect I think I would always chase some sort of illusive tangent. For example I would get a strong concept of what would be the next big thing, and I was thinking more like a record company than I was as an artist.
“It’s like the stars have aligned now, and I’ve let go of the expectation of who other people think I should be, and the result is now clear and simple, and resonates with who I really am at my core. It all now feels incredibly authentic. Being who I am at this age, I am only an artist, and that’s all I want to be. Literally this is like a gift from Sony Music to me. They reminded me that I was a singer/songwriter, and as that, I deserved to make an original record again.
Under the guidance of Sony Music A&R Executive Ross Fraser (whom she credits heavily for the work on the album), Kate began to re-connect with her unique and gifted artistry, and started to fall in love again. “Music was my first love,” she says passionately. “It came before my husband, and came before my daughter, and it came to me before I even knew I was capable of love. The fact that I could sing was bigger than myself.
“Right now it feels amazing, and it’s heady; it’s even higher than the simple physicality of love. I feel that this album is exactly what needed to be made, and it’s exactly what I want to say, and for many people it’s what they will want to hear – music that makes them feel good. I just know that something about me is very simple – the music that I make is very simple, and the impact it makes on people is simple and direct as well.”
Recorded in the UK with songwriter/producer James Bryan (Nelly Furtado, Lisa-Marie Presley), and given a final mix back home in Australia by Kate so she could ensure that the production of her vocals were poignantly unaffected and raw, Kensal Road immediately resonates honesty and integrity with listeners.
“Ross hooked me up with a handful of songwriters in London, and there was one particular songwriter named James Bryan who I struck up a great relationship with. He really understood where I was coming from at this point in my life. He works at Kensal Town Studios, which is kinda like a really cool producer’s collective set-up,” Kate says of the team who’ve worked with the likes of Ron Sexsmith and KT Tunstall.
“It was important that during the writing and recording of this album that I didn’t stray from the path or be distracted and try and be things that I’m not. That was going to take a very strong man to control me because I’m a very strong personality with very strong ideas… and they’re not always right. I needed to have somebody that was strong enough to negotiate with me and keep me on track, and James really was that person for me on this album.”
Alone in the UK without her family, Kate found herself in a state of mind that was different to her experiences of the last decade. “I was in the UK by myself, which was actually great for me because I knew a lot of the songs would involve feelings about travelling, leaving and returning. I missed my daughter incredibly, but at the same time the experience was a beautiful indulgence creatively. It’s a special thing to have time to be able to consider who you are and what you’re becoming, and in a way the album does express that for me. I was able to jettison the person I’ve been for many years to allow myself complete clarity, and then look towards the person I want to become.
“When you have children it’s a selfless occupation, and that’s definitely a fair trade in exchange for the wonderful experience of being a parent, especially in the early years of parenthood. However to get back to the singular focussed activity of making new music is a real stripping back to the core of your being.”
It was one particular song that anchored the sessions for the new recordings; a song which acted as the muse for the theme of Kensal Road. “The song “Louis’ Song” is about the way I feel about young teenage men who are coming of age, that only a person of my age is able to talk about. It’s an observation based on the experience of my life. That one song gave me the scope for the rest of the songs of the album to talk about my relationships with people, or the relationships that I’m observing amongst others, that are of great significance to me.”
Musically, Kensal Road echoes Kate’s early musical influences of Hawaiian folk music, Linda Ronstadt and Fleetwood Mac, but equally the music reflects the very current sounds of the nu-folk movement and the nu-country movement, and singer/songwriterslike Mumford & Sons, Laura Marling, and Ryan Adams. Kate says she’s also equally inspired by the sounds and style of Feist and Lana Del Rey.
“The palate for this album is very tailored to my tastes. When we were mining these inspirations for reference sounds, James put together a very capable band who were able to cross genres and styles, whilst retaining an organic earthiness throughout.”
It was the musicians and the studio itself that breathed new life and encouraged Kate’s creative energy. “I just loved being in the environment I was in to make music,” she beams enthusiastically. “There were musicians flying in from all over the place – some were hip hop acts, some were heavy metal players – yet there was this wonderful collectivism that I remember from early Melbourne days. Music was just music back then – no divisions, and being at Kensal Road reminded me of all of that. It was a very earthy-y spirit where the priority was just to make good music, without any other agenda. I owe my experience of this album to that space and that strip on Kensal Road.”
Kate Ceberano’s new album is a return to her striking all-around talents as an artist. With elements of her broad pop roots blended together with the resurgent sounds of compelling singer/songwritersworldwide, Kensal Road is surely a road well-travelled.
“I think this album is very brave and very different – but it’s intended to be very different because it brings me back to life and in-step with the current appreciation of human expressiveness and musical integrity.
“I work every day as an artist to be relevant and innovative – at a level to which I can – and since the currency I work in is very simple, and is often very unadorned, that can be overlooked. The fact is that I’ve been around for 25 years, and ultimately that has to say something about me as an artist and my ability to connect with people at a soul level. I really believe this album will amplify this spirited connection with people, and will musically soundtrack the complexities of modern-life and modern-relationships.”