Over the course of our lives we arrive at a long
series of junctures, forks in the road that form natural grammar, the
punctuation that tells us when to stop, breathe and take stock. Some paths we
seek, while others find us. For songwriter Katie Brianna, the making of her
gorgeous second album was a deliberate step down a bright new creative
The choice was a simple one. Wallow in self-pity or
seek triumph. Victim or the Heroine is the latter. “As I went through the process, it became a little
clearer to me what the album was about and the place I'm at in my life and
career,” Katie says. “Sometimes I'm confident, other times not so much.”
The name of the record is borne of a
lyric from the lilting slow-burner ‘Thicker Skin’ (“Do I play the victim or
the heroine?”). Katie deliberated over the right name for the record but
kept returning to that question. “In the end that line rang true to me,” says
the acclaimed songwriter. “I could sit here playing the victim, whinging about
my life, but that ‘poor me’ attitude wasn’t doing me any favours. So that's
where the heroine comes into it. I have to step up. Nobody's going to do life
It seems a lifetime ago that Katie Brianna released
her debut EP in 2005, and was swiftly plucked from obscurity by the legendary
Paul Kelly to record vocals on the track ‘Jindabyne Fair’, which appeared on
his soundtrack to the critically acclaimed Australian film Jindabyne. In
2013 and 2014, overseas venues beckoned and Katie headed to Nashville to
perform at the Americana Festival.
The distance Katie has travelled, personally and
creatively, is evident in the nuanced adult tension of Victim or the Heroine.
Mature and restrained, the collection of songs is elegant and serene, firmly
rooted in the push and pull of modern womanhood.
When writing material for the album, Katie painted
with a broader sonic palette, demonstrating there was more to her musical
essence than the country folk sound of her 2013 debut Dark Side of the
Morning. Despite the indelible influence of country music, there was a
wider range of colours at the songwriter’s disposal. The result is an eclectic
collection that unfolds with each listen, blooming in the radiance of Katie’s
Katie Brianna - Birmingham
“I think this album shows that my music is evolving,
and that I am evolving as a songwriter,” Katie says. “That my influences are
The resulting album is a songbook of light and shade,
woven with fatalism and introspection. From the dreamy ebb of ‘Thorn in Your
Side’, to the sublime pop of ‘Chemical Lies’ and ‘King’, the songs are imbrued
with restless reflection; an aching soul on her sofa with guitar in hand,
sinking beneath affectations and owning up to her idiosyncrasies.
the record’s highlights is ‘Birmingham’, written in the English city from which
it takes its name, a sensuous track laced with yearning and loneliness. “I think this one gets a little Fleetwood Mac in terms
of production, and it’s a bit
different from stuff I’ve done before’, Katie says. “I started
writing this when I was on my first big overseas adventure with my sister to
the UK and Europe. We were in Birmingham, so that name kind of stuck, even
though there is no reference to it in the song. I think she had gone up to the
hotel room and I stayed at the bar to be sad and was missing my husband. In the
lyrics I talk about the places that I’ve heard
about in songs, songs that he introduced me to. I mention Basingstoke which I
had heard in a Robyn Hitchcock song and I thought it was pretty cool when we
went through there on the train, and it made me miss him more”.
Katie enlisted award-winning songwriter and producer
Shane Nicholson and recorded Victim or the Heroine at his Central Coast
studio, with a few extra days at Sydney’s Love Hz. The studio band featured
bassist Matt Fell, drummer Josh Schuberth and guitarist Glen Hannah, with
Nicholson working his magic as a multi-instrumentalist.
“I wanted Victim or the Heroine to be more of a
polished production, with more of a pop influence,” Katie explains. “There was
never going to be any escaping the fact that a lot of my early influences were
country - and still are - and I do have a bit of an inbuilt twang in my voice,
so I wanted to keep that element in it too. That’s why Shane was the perfect
producer. He understands both worlds, and where I was coming from.”
There’s ultimately a sense of intimacy that permeates Victim
or the Heroine, the majority of the songs written on the couch in Katie’s
Marrickville apartment, a space that moonlights as lounge, office and music
room. The musician explores her life in each track, ruminating on love and
relationships, sometimes infusing them with the experiences of those around
“I really feel like I’ve taken some great steps with
my songwriting. That it’s matured,” says Katie. “I think I’ve come a long way
as a singer too and am a lot more sure of where I stand musically and who I am
– as clichéd as that sounds.”
Cliché or no, one thing feels certain: Katie’s
decision to forge ahead was the right one.
just released your brand new album “Victim or the Heroine”…what makes you most
proud about this album?
How much I have grown as a
is your earliest memory of music or being interested in music?
Every year I get older, I
remember more. I used to think perhaps it was singing along to Britney Spears,
Spice Girls and other girl groups but there are perhaps more fitting memories…
My dad used to play music quite loud in the living room. He especially loved
Neil Young, Creedence, Dire Straits, Santana and I grew fond of them too. He
had this old, sort of broken and out-of-tune guitar that I like to pick up
every now and then. We also had a piano in a similar state and I taught myself
a little of that.
would you most like to sing a duet with?
So many people. Ron Sexsmith
& Paul Kelly are just a couple.
advice would you give anyone considering a career in the music industry?
question. I only ever want to encourage people to play music, but a career in
music is a hard slog. If it’s really want you want, then you can never give up.
Work hard, make the most of every opportunity that comes your way (and go
looking for them), be the best musician/singer/songwriter you can, and always
be polite. But also, give yourself a break, and don’t compare yourself with
anyone but the person you were yesterday.
you have an embarrassing / funny musical experience you can share with us?
to burp on stage a lot. I try not to do that anymore. Sometimes you can’t help
it but it helps not to drink beer before you sing.
other interests do you have away from music?
makeup, but I prefer to do my own than other peoples. It’s another creative
outlet. I love reading of course, and seeing the world. I used to like to draw.
is your career highlight, so far?
a song that Paul Kelly wrote, Jindabyne Fair, for the soundtrack of the
Aussie film Jindabyne.
music are you listening to at the moment?
Right at this second I’m
listening to Golden Smog’s Another Fine Day.
is your favourite film?
have one. I don’t have a favourite book or a favourite song either or even a
single favourite artist. There is too much brilliant work out there that’s
impossible to pick just one.
you could invite 3 people to dinner who would they be?