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The Evolution of Katie Noonan

Written by Jason Strange on May 31, 2010

Katie Noonan certainly is a musical troubadour. From fronting George and Elixir to her solo albums to her duet album with her opera singer mother Maggie, Katie has achieved a lot in the last ten years. In between making records and touring the nation, she has also managed to find love, get married and have a couple of kids.

Her new band is The Captains and this year saw them release their debut Emperor’s Box, an album that sees Katie return to the sounds that made her a household name when she played in George. About to embark on a tour to support the album, I caught up with Katie to get the low down on the album and how she balances work, life and family commitments.

Music Feeds: Congratulations on the new album, tell us about Emperor’s Box?

Katie Noonan: Well thank you! Emperor’s Box is an album that I have been slowly building on my own and with my band mates – The Captains – for about two and half years. I was waiting for the right combination of musicians so that I could return to a more collaborative process in arranging my songs. Also from a song writing point of view, this album has more co writing than previous albums. I have had the opportunity to write with some of my heroes like Tim Finn, Don Walker and Tom Shapcott and also contemporaries of mine that I really admire like Sia and Josh Pyke. I also co-wrote with my band mates Stu Hunter and Cameron Deyell and we also wrote a song all together, ‘Radar’, the opening track of the album, with our drummer Declan Kelly.

So yeah, it’s been slowly evolving. Some of the tunes are quite old (about ten years) but most have been written in the last few years, inspired by the sound we’ve been exploring as a band. I really wanted to return to that organic band sound again. I was just waiting for the right conspirators… and I found them in The Captains.

Sonically I aimed to create an intricate and dynamic sonic journey – from quiet twelve strings guitars, glockenspiels and whispered vocals through to full throttle band with chamber orchestra (The Australian Chamber Orchestra) and horns.

MF: How did you come about working with Nick Didia? Have you been a fan of his work?

KN: I was researching a lot of producers. I really wanted someone who captured a great band sound as I always make my records completely live. I think that definitely captures the best performance. Nick has made some delicious big albums with artists like Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots and I worked with him as he got where I was coming from; he’s an incredible engineer, a lovely guy and a great partner/sounding board with fantastic work ethic. I felt he could bring my songs a strong, muscular sonic edge.

MF: How have your song writing methods changed over the years, especially with working with other musicians plus family commitments?

KN: Well, it is hard to find the head space when you are a mum (and also self managed) but somehow you just need to block away song writing time and allow it to come. We had two extended sessions at Bundanon (Arthur Boyd’s artist retreat near Nowra NSW) where we just completely disappeared into the music making cave and these sessions were absolutely vital for the pre production of the album. I also live up in the rainforest now and have a separate music room/office that I can disappear into, to write and create. It just has a wurly, drumkit, turn table and a desk. I find I need silence to create sound so living out of the city helps a lot.

MF: This album comes across as more personal lyric wise than other releases, was that the intention from the beginning or is how it transpired during the writing process?

KN: Yes I think as you get older you get more comfortable with yourself, being honest and less beating around the bush lyrically, perhaps. The album is a selection of observations about life, love, loss, grief, motherhood, friendship, strength and escape. It is very personal and probably I think my best work thus far lyrically.

MF: You returned to The Grove in Sydney to record this album, where George’s first album was recorded. Going back, does it feel like a new beginning musically?

KN: It was wonderful to go back to a space that I had such great memories of and it was interesting to be returning almost ten years later and realise how much life has changed in that time. My first visit I was just in love with my then boyfriend, now husband Zac, and was making my very first studio album. Emperor’s Box is my tenth album and I am now a married mother of two beautiful boys and I was co producing the album and managing the project. So yeah, it was great to be back there and to reflect on my many many blessings of the last decade.

MF: If I was to go back in time and tell a fifteen year old Katie Noonan everything you’ve accomplished thus far, would she believe me?

KN: Agh definitely not! I am not an ambitious person career wise. I only ever wanted to get better as a musician and see where music would take me. I am still the same now and feel very blessed to do what I do.

MF: Finally what would be the first song you put on a mix tape?

KN: Ohh too hard. I need three! ‘Mirrorball’ by Elbow or ‘Grace’ by Jeff Buckley or a ‘Love Supreme’ by John Coltrane.

Katie Noonan and The Captains are touring nationally in support of Emperor’s Box throughout June. See below for tour dates:

Saturday 5th June
Tanks Arts Centre, Cairns
Tix: www.ticketlink.com.au 1300 855 835

Friday 1th June
The Governor Hindmarsh Hotel, Adelaide
Tix: www.thegov.com.au www.moshtix.com.au 1300 GET TIX (438 849)

Saturday 12th June
The Fly By Night, Fremantle
w/ Timothy Nelson & The Infidels & Goodnight Tiger
Tix: www.flybynight.org or 08 9430 5976

Sunday 13th June
The Fly By Night, Fremantle
w/ Ghost Hotel & Wolves at the Door
Tix: www.flybynight.org 08 9430 5976

Friday 18th June
The Hi Fi, Melbourne
Tix: www.thehifi.com.au 1300 843 434, www.oztix.com.au 1300 762 545

Saturday 19th June
Metro Theatre, Sydney
Tix: www.themetrotheatre.com.au (02) 9550 3666

Friday 25th June
The Powerhouse Theatre, Brisbane
Tix: www.brisbanepowerhouse.org (07) 3358 8600

Saturday 26th June
Joe’s Waterhole, Eumundi
Tix: www.musicliveatjoes.com (07) 5442 8144

Emperor’s Box is out now through Sony music. Find it on iTunes

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