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In Concert 2019 with guest artist Casey Donovan - Interview

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CASEY DONOVAN: Working with over 1,500 children is mind-blowing. The sounds that happen in-- just in this beautiful hall that is Town Hall, the reverb and the echoes. It's just-- I've got to keep concentrated on what I'm doing because sometimes it does take you out of the moment. It's a beautiful moment to be in but, I'm like, oh, no, you've got a job to do. I got to where I was today through, obviously, going through 'Australian Idol,' as a 16-year-old.

But prior to that, I was out in my local community in Bankstown, working with the Talent Advancement Programme that I think is still running with Wendy Tierney and amazing other people. And they kind of shaped me into the person I have now become, which is magical. So being able to be a part of something like this is really beautiful and very touching because I remember going to little TAP events, and performing, and just learning from everything, learning from watching people and asking questions. And yeah, it's such an amazing thing to be a part of.

I remember as a kid when speakers would come in and special guest, and they'd stand there and they'd give you the spiel of like, I remember being in your shoes, and anything's possible, and now to kind of do a complete 360, and almost give the same spiel, it's like-- wow-- it's like all the universes match up. But we do mean these things, that if you just put your passion, and love, and everything together, and just persist and keep trying, I mean, anything is possible. And I know it's so cliche to say that, but it really is.

The theory behind my big, beautiful, and sexy ethos is about being a thousand percent confident within yourself, no matter what size, shape, gender, sexuality, religion, anything. It's to be completely comfortable and confident in your own skin, and to not let negativity get you down. And that's why I wanted to be big, beautiful, and sexy. I might as well put it out there into the universe and be like, well, this is me. You can't tear me down. So, yeah, that's one thing that I pride myself on is the confidence to be able to get up and prove people wrong and have fun doing it.

The message I would give to young kids these days is to embrace everything. Embrace who you are fully and trust in yourself that you can do amazing things. It's going to be tough along the way, and there's going to be some people that are going to be like, nah-nah-nah-nah-nah. But at the end of the day, believe in yourself, and that will get you further than you could ever thought-- could think possible? No-- ever thought possible-- there we go.

I think the music industry is forever changing. You see it go through waves. I mean, I've now been in the industry for 15 years and a lot has changed since then. Music and storylines-- some years, it's full of ballads and Adele's, the next year, it's Meghan Trainor with just giving it to everyone, being like, I'm here. This is who I am, deal with it.

But the one thing I do like is seeing the artists come through. I started off writing poetry in my backyard, to then playing a five-string guitar. I only had four chords that I knew on guitar, and I was like, I don't know what to do without the D chord-- or D string, should I say. But it's definitely finding that love through your instrument, no matter what it is. For me, it's singing and trying to play guitar.

But, yeah, it's that artistry that kind of comes full circle and just comes out and radiates. And that's what I've seen with these kids over the last few days is their-- just the beaming faces, and I'm singing, and you can see them go-- and I'm like, oh, this is awesome. Everyone that is here wants to be here and it's such a beautiful thing. And I've worked with orchestras around Australia, and this is right up there with them.

It's so important for kids to participate in things like this. It teaches you skills that you'll be able to take throughout life. It teaches you to respect the people around you. And also it teaches you to listen and take direction. And there's lots people in this industry that take no direction whatsoever, and you're just like, OK, that's you, you do you. But the ones that take direction and are willing to compromise, and maybe they're not an alto, maybe they're a soprano, but they want to come back to an alto mez, and it's like-- it's a little bit of you know.

But it's-- yeah, I think it's so important for kids to do things like this and to be able to work with amazing people. And we're at the Town Hall in Sydney-- it's magical. Not many people get that opportunity. And I think it's so important for kids to have these opportunities to give them hope.

The things that these kids are doing, I've been sitting backstage and just listening to the music, and I'm, like I don't even know what note, 12th song, 13th page this is. It's amazing. The repertoire, just from my little pop song to then-- god-- what is on there, Beethoven? I don't know-- there's something. I'm like, for what? But it's amazing. And I take my hat off to these kids that just sit there and charge through, and they all do it with a smile on their face.

I listen to every kind of music there is. I kind of-- I've put death metal away because it gives me too much rage when I'm driving. But I-- you know, I don't discriminate against music because everything can give you inspiration in some way, shape, or form. And I love country music-- I'm very much into country music at the moment, so that's given me a lot of inspiration. But then I listen to dance and trance music, and I'm like, this is such-- so weird. But I like to listen to all music.

Top three guilty pleasures playlist-- ooh. I don't like these questions because I'm such a music-- like, my Spotify playlists, like, I've got a country one. I've got pop, I've got old school, I've got new school, I've got things I might like, things I probably should listen to. So that's my top three.

Look, I love-- off the top of my head, Aretha Franklin is definitely up there. Then I've got John Mayer-- gosh-- and I love Tina Arena, Kasey Chambers, just Vanessa Amorosi, though. And my big go-tos as a kid, Dixie Chicks-- look we could be here for hours. I can't just give you three. But I can give you that group of songs, and they're all very different.

I've been songwriting since I was 14. Started off as poetry, and then I realised that I could write a chorus and a verse, and a chorus and a middle eight, and then a chorus, and then an outro. And I could keep going if I wanted to. It'd be a very long song. But I love writing music. I love writing lyrics. I love telling stories. I love to take people on a journey with me.

And I find that's the one thing I really, really love, to be able to sing your own song in a room and to have people breathing with you. It's a magical thing to feel. But I believe everyone should write, whether it's short stories, poems, songs, poetry, like, just everything. It's really good for the soul. And it's really good for your heart, and just to get it out. But, yeah, I take-- I get inspiration from everything, from sitting down at a cafe, to driving in the car and observing. I'm very observant, in a non-creepy way. Yeah.

I'd say to all the young kids out there wanting to compose or in mid-composition to think outside the box. Yes, there are structures in place. And yes, there are-- I don't know. Colour outside the lines when you're writing music. I sit in a room with a producer and I'll sing him the notes I want to hear. And he'll be like, oh, but that's not in the C register. And I was like, I don't know what that is. I just-- I would love to hear these. And it's that compromise. And then the composition just happens.

And the one song I sing, 'The Villain,' a lot of people are like, oh, it goes into double time in the middle eight. They're like, why is that? I was like, because I wanted it to. That's music-- that's your baby, that's your passion, that's your blood, sweat, and tears. And when people kind of go, oh, wow, that's interesting, that's-- it's a little clap for you.

So yeah, when writing your own music, don't be afraid to-- if you hear a note, put it in there. If someone says, oh, that's not in the right-- we can't do that can, you really can. Probably going to annoy a few teachers out there, but you can, because music is your own expression-- that's you. I can't sight read, so for me, when I'm learning songs, I have to hear someone singing it. And my ears are my-- that's my music reading.

Prepping your voice is key. Usually, I try not to sing before 3:00 PM because I have this tendency when I sing, is it's kind of all or nothing. And when I'm pulling back, I'm probably hurting my voice a little bit more because I'm not just letting it do its thing. But vocal warm-ups are very important. Keeping yourself warm and hydrated is extremely important. And just knowing your body, like when you're tired, just give it a rest. Don't stress-- stress is the one thing that will just grab that voice and run.

So yeah, it's just-- it's knowing your body and knowing what your instrument can do, which sometimes it's just tired. And there's nothing you can actually do about it, apart from give it a bit of love. Some hot tea and off you go. Naps are good, but just remember to rewarm up. I always blow bubbles. So I'm always-- [trills] everywhere. There's that much spit on the windscreen of my car. It is ridiculous. And when you're driving, and people are like, what is she doing? And I'm like, [trills] Yeah. I bubble a lot.

The best advice I think I've ever received is to breathe. I know it's simple, but it's just to breathe and to believe in yourself, that you can do it. I suffer very, very badly with anxiety. So before I go on stage, I'm often found pacing hallways, and singing my lyrics, and singing to keep it not only fresh in me, but also I know that once I get onstage, my anxiety can actually overdrive my thought. So the one thing I do before I sing is I place myself. I take a breath-- then you can't get off the train, so you've just got to keep going. So yeah, to breathe, and to trust yourself, and to know that everything's going to be OK.

Anxiety and music-- I always find a lot of people I know in the industry, we all struggle with little things. I don't know whether it's because we love what we do so much that we don't want to disappoint ourselves. But I found that we're the ones with the anxiety, but we're the ones that get up and just-- people are like, but how do you do your job? I was like, I don't know, you just do. But if I can-- yeah-- tell the kids anything, it's just breathe. It's OK. It's OK. It's not brain surgery, it's just singing and loving what you do.

I guess the way I pushed through the industry, and just keep getting back on the horse, and I keep on running, and then I fall off again, and get back up and-- you know, it's just this repetitive thing that is life. But the industry is always very challenging. You get faced with a lot of push-backs and it's that thing of just not taking it out on yourself. Just not being hard on yourself because you can't be. It's just-- an audition that doesn't work or doesn't come through, it's just an audition that didn't come through.

There's other doors. There's other things to look forward to. You may have your sights set on this, and you get all excited and worked up, and it doesn't work, but you know what? I believe everything in this universe happens for a reason. And with that door shutting, it could open 12 more that you didn't even think of. So yeah-- it's the-- I guess the resilience is just to keep getting up and keep pushing on. And if you love and you're passionate about something, it'll always work out.

Loneliness for me is a big thing. I get to do lots of things, and travel, and do all of these amazing things, but sometimes when you get home, you're like, oh, that's done. What do I do now? You can write a song, sure, but sometimes it's usually like 3:00 AM in the morning and no one wants to hear that.

But, look, loneliness does creep in. And it's always good to just know that you've got your friends and family around you that are there to support you and love you. So don't be scared to reach out and talk. Start conversations-- you never know, it could lead to a magical song. See, everything is music.

There's always a hangover, so to speak. There's always that moment where you've finished everything and everyone's really excited. Then you go home and you like, [sighs]. And that's when you just pick up and try something new. Go on a little holiday. I'd like to say to any kid that is looking for a career in music, whether it be on stage, behind stage, lights, sound, anything, is to love what you do and give everything a go.

There's nothing you cannot do, so just give it a crack. And maybe if you're bored, then you can try something else. That's the one thing I've always found, is if you feel like your passion's kind of faded, try something else, and you'll go back to it.

Thank you so much for being so amazing over the past few days. It has been magical to the point where I cannot wait to see the vision so I can actually listen and hear all of your beautiful voices and all of your beautiful playing. Yeah, it's definitely been a big, big thing for me. And as big as it is for you, it's even bigger for me because I get to stand there and take it all in. And I get to take those memories, so thank you very, very much.

And I'll see you on the stage sometime when you're older. Who knows-- I'm looking for backing singers, violinists, cellists-- is that what they called, cellists? Cellists-- yeah, let's go with that. Be you, don't be anyone else, just be you. That's all I can say. Now it's weird. So I'm going to go.

INTERVIEWER: It's all good.

CASEY DONOVAN: I'll go this way.

INTERVIEWER: That's all right.

End of transcript