Novocastrian Catherine Britt has good reason to believe in resurrection - of the musical kind. The singer-songwriter was lured to Nashville as a teenager after being discovered by Sir Elton John on an Australian tour. Britt recorded two albums for multi-national label BMG and toured with country stars diverse as Brooks And Dunn and Georgian Alan Jackson. She also kissed the outer extremities of the Top 40 charts with a brace of singles cut with hit producers Keith Stegall and Brett Beavers. But neither of her Nashville-produced albums galloped from the Music Row chute. Instead ABC Music released the acclaimed albums here and celebrated her return home with her self-titled fourth disc that she is touring here to promote.
Britt, now 25, is making the most of her resurrection with help from loyal songwriting pals she met on the mean streets of ‘guitar town’.
The singer didn’t become bitter when the white-hot country music mecca fame flame burned her flaxen wings. She got energised and even after her six-year struggle for success.
Britt and fellow spurned singer-songwriter Ashley Monroe harvested hay from heartbreak by collaborating on songs as sweet solace. Britt and her hot band recorded the tune Call You Back
Town, the pick of her latest litter, and are touring here to promote it. It was also her bonding with Monroe – a descendant of the famed Monroe and Carter families – that helped created three songs on a disc helmed by embryonic producer Bill Chambers and his son-in-law Shane Nicholson. Monroe, 24 and dumped by her label without releasing her debut album, proved an apt surrogate sister in song.
The prolific pair’s music may not be pretty enough for commercial radio but artists diverse as Carrie Underwood, Kellie Pickler, Jason Aldean, Ricky Skaggs and March tourist Miranda Lambert have covered their songs.
“Nashville can be a very harsh place at times, wonderful place too,” Britt explains on the eve of her Victorian tour that includes Queenscliff Music Festival from November 26-28.
“A lot of great music comes out of Nashville and a lot of my heroes live there. It’s a harsh place, that’s the reality and I saw both sides of it. This song (Call You back Town) was a result of seeing that side at certain stages and how I felt about that.
“No, they never call you back,” she laughs. “You call and leave a message and they never get back to you. That’s what the town is seriously all about and you are genuinely surprised when someone actually answers the phone.”
There was no such problem when then teenager Britt was lured to Music City by a cattle call of competing labels. But radio chose reality show graduates Underwood, Pickler and latter day superstar Taylor Swift, who poached Britt’s fiddler Caitlin Evanson, to fill their female quota. “RCA and I worked together for six years,” Britt reveals of her former label.
“’Dumped’ is a harsh word,” she clarifies, “but there came a time when we both had to stop working together for many reasons. There were a lot of changes at label and we had to part ways. It was best for everybody. We’re all still very good friends, thank goodness. A lot of times in those situations it ends up being quite messy.”
But not for Britt who relishes the new challenge. She’s on the road again with Chris Pickering to perform 14 songs penned solo or with Monroe, Evanson, bluegrass star Chris Stapleton, Rory Lee Feek, expatriate Quorn born Jedd Hughes, Chambers, Melanie Horsnell and fellow Novocastrians Morgan Evans and Mark Wells.
Ironically, Catherine doesn’t know if country-folk icon Emmylou Harris has heard her new single – the Britt-Feek song Sweet Emmylou that adorned debut Joey & Rory album The Life Of A Song in between two recordings by Britt. Britt also filmed a video to accompany her Emmylou tribute. “I was watching that movie – not the greatest movie in the world – the other day; Julie & Julia. And Julia saw this person blogging about her as a chef and all this stuff and was freaking out,” Britt recalls.
“She didn’t think it was respectful – you’re just worried when the artist hears this tribute song how they’re going to react and how they’re going to feel about it. I’m not sure if she’s heard it at this stage. I’m very nervous about when she does hear it,” she laughs. “Maybe I don’t want to know what she thinks.”
Luckily Britt, Monroe and Evanson used songwriting as lucrative therapy for ruptured romances – especially Down. “I don’t write many happy songs, it’s another of my depressing songs,” Britt adds.
“Ashley and I share a lot of emotions and she has been through a lot in her life. Her father passed away from cancer when she was only 13. That was decisive of her move to Nashville. We used to sit around and talk about most amazing things, from that we shared these harsh things in our lives and these songs came out of nowhere. We had both been through a lot of harsh times and lost loves – we sit there and pour our hearts out. We literally lived next door to each other, go around each other’s houses, have a cry and pull out our guitars and write these great songs. Down is just another of those break-up songs.”
So what in Down was inspired by fellow latter day star Jamey Johnson?
“I think was before Jamey actually,” Britt confesses. “Jamey was a short part of my life but nonetheless important – that was a passing moment in my life and it did affect me. I definitely got songs out of it but I don’t think this is one of them.”
So will Britt be sharing royalties with Johnson for that? “No, I wish, that would be great,” she jokes. “I would love to get half his royalties.”
She also enjoyed creative shelter from storms with fellow expat Hughes when she arrived in Nashville. “When I first went over there I hooked up with him. He was one of the only people I knew over there - it gave me a chance to hang out with an Aussie. Every time we could write together we did. We were so busy all the time, both trying to get our careers off the ground. Since You Slipped Away was one of the many songs we have written together. I have always loved it – it was the first song we wrote together.”
CATHERINE BRITT and Chris Pickering perform The Empress on Thursday November 18 and Baby Black Café in Bacchus Marsh on November 20. CATHERINE BRITT then also performs at Queenscliff Music Festival November 26-28 with Louisiana singer Mary Gauthier, Shawn Mullins, Colin Hay, RocKwiz Live , Kate Miller-Heidke, John Williamson, Little Red , Washington, Mark Seymour, The Black Sorrows , Ash Grunwald, Kaki King, The Vasco Era , Gareth Liddiard, Dan Kelly, Vika & Linda Bull, Katie Noonan & The Captains , MSO and The Public Opinion Afro Orchestra. Tickets and info all from qmf.net.au. CATHERINE BRITT’s latest self-titled album is out now through ABC.