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Chambers Music

Australian phenom Kasey Chambers rolls in to the Rio

By Peter Koht

Kasey Chambers has come a long way from hunting foxes with her family on the Nullarbor Plain of her native Australia. Giving up trapping for the road, she joined her parents' group, the Dead Ringer Band, in 1987 at the age of 9. Since then, she has gone on to become one of Australia's most noticeable and popular country music stars, penning and performing hits with admirable frequency. Emmylou Harris and Lucinda Williams both count themselves as longstanding fans.

This kind of loyalty to a younger artist is rare in the music business but commonplace for Chambers, who has managed to form strong relationships with some seriously heavy songwriters. In addition to Lucinda Williams watching her back in the States, legendary Australian maverick Paul Kelly has lent a hand on several of Chambers' projects and tours.

Though writing with the perpetually eclectic Kelly "would be too intimidating," Chambers looks to Kelly as a role model for managing her career. "He has always done his own thing, but still managed to be successful. He doesn't follow the trends and he just plays what he wants to."

Reached on the phone after a particularly rowdy gig in Winston-Salem, N.C. (the armpit of the South), a slightly hoarse Chambers remarked that America "feels like a bonus to me. Here I can do covers of Woody Guthrie and Fred Eaglesmith and when I say their name, people will clap, which is great, because when I do those in Australia, people don't know who they are."

While fully capable of slamming down power chords in the grand outlaw country tradition, Chambers has to be on her best behavior onstage--both her dad and her brother are out on the road with her. Pa Chambers, who probably likes to be called Bill, plays guitar with her group while her brother runs the board.

Despite her Nashville-influenced sound, Chambers typically finds herself playing Australian theaters packed with teenage girls who would "normally listen to Britney Spears." Over on this side of the ocean, she finds herself in front of rooms packed with alt-country fans. This demographic split isn't too disconcerting for Chambers, whose repertoire includes some pop, some rock and a healthy dose of sensitive acoustic music.

"Playing this many kinds of music makes it really hard to get a big single on the radio," Chambers says without a trace of regret, "so you try to get the word of mouth going by touring constantly."

Playing to such a different audience in the States is also oddly liberating, as Chambers finds her younger American audience more open-minded about her genre wandering. With so many subcultures catching on to her tunes, Chambers finds that "in America I can try all these different styles within a set and at least one person is going to like it."


Kasey Chambers, Aug. 25 at 7:30pm at the Rio Theatre, 1205 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz; tickets $23/adv; 831.479.9421.

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From the August 17-24, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

Copyright © 2005 Metro Publishing Inc. Maintained by Boulevards New Media.

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