Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson on making music together

When husband-and-wife duo Shane Nicholson and Kasey Chambers sat down last year and began writing songs together, their attitude was “we’ll just see where it takes us,” says Chambers. Both were already accomplished songwriters in their own right, with Chambers, in particular, a huge presence in country music circles, having notched up three consecutive platinum solo albums. They were feeling relaxed, in love and excited about making beautiful music together.

“We didn’t really tell many people that we were making a record and we didn’t have a record label at the time, so we had no pressure from anywhere,” she says. “And living with someone you’re writing with takes the pressure off, because you don’t have to have something finished by the end of that day.”

But there was one big stumbling block in their path – the writing process itself. “I used to think differently about song- writing. For me, it used to be not so much about the craft, as it was a therapy session. If I was feeling down or confused about something, or just had stuff on my mind, I would sit down and write a song instead of talking to someone.”

Luckily, Nicholson came to the rescue with a new approach. “We had to step outside of ourselves and not write from such an internal point of view,” he says. “We had to verbalise everything we were thinking, and it made it easier to come up with characters.”

Chambers was thrilled with the result and relieved to discover that song-writing could be something much lighter than she’d previously experienced. “It was really fun to learn from Shane, (mostly) about the actual craft… I really enjoyed it. It wasn’t quite so depressing!”

Still, working in a domestic setting posed its own logistical challenges. “We were writing around screaming children,” laughs Chambers. “We were like, ‘You’ve got to drop the kids off at school and then we’ll come back and finish the song’.”

Miraculously, in spite of life’s little obstacles, they managed to write, record and release their ‘rootsy’ first album, Rattlin’ Bones, all within the span of one year. It’s an amazing achievement in itself, but what surprised Chambers even more was the public’s response to it. “I can’t believe that this album debuted at number one [on the ARIA charts]. I mean, that’s pretty weird for an album of this style.”

But the couple certainly aren’t complaining. Coming off the back of a nation-wide tour supporting the album, they’re about to share the stage for a special performance of The MAX Sessions, filmed at the Opera House and screening exclusively on MAX in August. “I’ve played The MAX Sessions before, and I just loved it,” smiles Chambers. “It’s still one of the best gigs that I’ve ever done.”

And she’s looking forward to taking to the stage in spite of any nerves that a live television recording of this scale might create. “TV things usually freak me out, but at least if you’ve got a live audience you think about them and you don’t think about the cameras.”

Another big plus for Chambers is the concert-style format of The MAX Sessions. “A lot of times when you do TV you get to play one or two songs and then that’s it, but with The MAX Sessions you get to play a whole set of music.”

Most thrilling of all for Chambers is the achievement of a long cherished goal that the two have had since this album’s inception.“We didn’t know if we were going to get many opportunities on a record quite like this one, but we said, ‘If we get to do one thing, can we please try our hardest to get The MAX Sessions, ’cause it just feels like this record would really suit that style of gig’. So we’re really looking forward to it.”

This article first appeared in AUSTAR magazine, August 2008

Gossip Girls: Judi Dench and the cast of UKTV drama Cranford

“It’s all go at Cranford,” exclaims the kind-hearted spinster Miss Matty Jenkyns (Judi Dench) to the town’s newest addition, the self-described “indiscreet and incautious” Miss Mary Smith (Lisa Dillon).

Ironically, Smith has just arrived from the bustling metropolis of Manchester to the tiny town of Cranford, which provides the backdrop for UKTV’s lavish new 19th-century period drama of the same name. But true to Miss Matty’s word, Cranford is far from the sleepy hollow that one might expect. Rather, it is a happening hive of gossip, speculation and intrigue where anyone’s business is in fact everyone’s and a good rumour travels faster than a rat up a drainpipe.

A comedy of Victorian manners wrapped up in the guise of an engaging social drama, Cranford is based on the plots and characters created by Victorian novelist Elizabeth Gaskell. A lesser-known contemporary of Dickens and biographer Charlotte Brontë.

Gaskell had a keen eye for the humour inherent in the social morays of the era. But unlike her literary predecessor Jane Austen, who was widely lauded for her biting social commentary, Gaskell was actually much better acquainted with the realities of life for the lower and middle classes. “She had a broader spectrum of life than Austen, says Eileen Atkins, who lays Miss Matty’s sister and the town’s moral conscience, Deborah Jenkyns. “She did actually work among the poor.”

Judi Dench, a best actress nominee along with Atkins for her work in Cranford at this year’s BAFTAs (she was trumped by Atkins on the night), fondly remembers the works of Gaskell from her childhood. “Recently, a neighbour lent me a copy [of Cranford]. It was just like the little red copy that I read at school with a raised portrait of Mrs Gaskell in the corner,” says Dench. “I remember I used to lick my finger and press it against that raised  oval and have the outline of her on my thumb. I remember that so terribly well, and I’ve loved coming back to the novel again.”

With its quaint customs and old fashioned insights, Simon Woods – who plays the brash new young doctor – believes that many viewers will find themselves tuning in to Cranford to escape the modern world. “If you look at the TV schedules these days, there is always some kind of loud character swearing in the middle of it all. We live in an ‘F-word’ world. Programs like Cranford are different… In all the loudness of modern life, period drama quietly reminds us of our lost values.”

But this five-part adaptation, created by the team who brought you the acclaimed BBC series Pride And Prejudice and Wives And Daughters, is far more than simply a flashback to a more ‘civilised’ past. “Cranford is light and funny and yet packs a real emotional punch,” explains executive producer Kate Harwood. “It is a complex portrait of a real town. On top of that are these delicious characters with this absolutely brilliant cast – it’s a winning combination all round.”

This article first appeared in AUSTAR magazine, November 2008

Q&A: Behind the scenes with Bryan Cranston from cult TV hit Breaking Bad

Walter White is having a midlife crisis that’s like a rash – it’s spreading. Already struggling to make ends meet, when the high school chemistry teacher finds out he has terminal cancer, he does the unthinkable – he teams up with the local drug dealer to start cooking crystal meth.

We catch up with former Malcolm In The Middle star Bryan Cranston to find out what life is like on the dark side as he takes on the role of Walter White in Breaking Bad series one.

What attracted you to this project?

The thing that leaps out at you about Breaking Bad is the script. Surprisingly most scripts that actors get are not well written, so when you do stumble across one that is you go after it like a tiger.

The comedy in this show is very dark. Was it hard to get the balance right?

Comedy is a very subjective thing, and there are some people who will watch the show and not really get that there are moments sprinkled throughout the episodes that really are intended to be lighter or humorous… A lot of times [in real life] you have two people at a cafe and on the street they’ll see someone trip over a sidewalk and fall down. And one person will crack up laughing and the other person will be aghast, ‘Oh that’s horrible!’ They just witnessed the exact same thing, and one person’s laughing and the other’s not. And it just goes to show you how different we are and how differently we’re wired as human beings.

Was it important for the audience to like Walt from the beginning?

Well, I think the whole series hinged on Walt being likeable and if he wasn’t the series is over. And Vince (Gilligan, Breaking Bad’s creator) and I talked about it at length, [and we decided that we had to] make him real and set the circumstances, the conditions of his life so people can relate to them, and if he handles that in an honest way I think people will like him.

It seems like shows where we empathise with the ‘bad’ guys are on the increase. Why do you think this trend towards darker heroes is happening now?

I think what’s finally happened is we have now come to embrace characters as we would embrace our own humanity. It used to be if you’re a good guy, then you’re a good guy all the way and every trait about you is good and that’s too black-and-white. Ultimately I think people realise that’s a fantasy world, and in the real world we have much more of a colour palette to deal with… By having the courage to show that, you get more people relating to what they’re seeing.

Do you think this show proves that anyone will do anything if they are desperate enough?

I do think that there are people who, if pushed in a corner, become extremely dangerous, and they can be the most mild-mannered type of person you’d ever know. I think anyone pushed to their limits could be a dangerous person and that’s what’s fascinating about this story.

Turning a mild-mannered man into someone who makes and sells drugs could be interpreted by some as dangerous territory. How do you respond to the show’s critics?

We were talking about the comedy earlier… if you choose to laugh, fine; if you get angry at us, fine; if you accuse us of promoting crystal meth, that’s your opinion as well. I can dispute that and defend that we’re not doing that, but it’s dangerous. It’s dangerous work in the sense that it’s emotionally dangerous, and danger is always exciting [laughs]. Danger is my middle name.

This article first appeared in AUSTAR magazine, August 2008