Award-winning folk singer-songwriter Kerryn Fields has a unique and confident way of disarming her audiences, arresting songs to take listeners across the full spectrum of emotions: laughs, tears and everything in between. In this interview, she talks about how this how she developed this special recipe for sharing music, translating the live experience to the recorded one and surviving as an artist in 2022.
Can you take us back to where music started for you? When did you first start singing and playing instruments and how?
My mum plays guitar and has a library of handwritten song lyrics, we grew up listening to mum sing what felt to us like every song ever written. It was never a professional vocation for her, she’s just so naturally gifted and brought a special magic to our small town sing-alongs and shed parties. For me, I knew watching her it’s what I wanted to do full time, though it wasn’t until much later that I started songwriting and pursuing a career in music.
Has performing always come naturally to you? You seem to have such a level of re-assuredness, which no doubt helps to make audiences relax and enjoy. Tell us about your approach to playing live.
To me performing live wasn’t always about the music, but the art of connection. My first step in entertainment was as a breakfast radio host and motivational speaker so the ability to hold a crowd through storytelling, humour and genuine understanding of human connection created a foundation for what would become my live show as a musician, comedian and storyteller.
Is recording very different to the live experience for you? You seem to have done an extraordinary job of capturing the magic of live and direct performance.
I credit my producer and friend Fraser Montgomery for recognizing this key element in pre-production on my record Water. I sent him voice memos, totally raw with just me and the guitar and we both agreed we had to capture the essence of my live delivery in a way that showcased the songs and stories without complicating the recording process, while still allowing for a big sound to take shape with meaningful production.
From there we rented a house on Dja Dja Wurrung Wadawurrung Country along the Great Ocean Road and captured my performance live with Joshua Barber (Drums) and Ben Franz (Upright Bass/Pedal Steel).
This process really transformed how I record and will continue to record in the future. Having created my first record over a two year period, painstakingly layering and cutting each take and generally feeling quite exhausted by the ‘lack of performance’ on my part, I feel like the approach with Fraser has nurtured my recording sound authentically and given me the confidence to deliver what I do live both on stage and in the studio.
How did the songs in this collection take shape over time? Are they old, new a combination of both?
I finished my first record (RASCAL, 2015) and began writing WATER almost immediately so the songs were all created with the next record in mind. It took about four years to write as I was also dealing with ongoing health issues and the end of a long and meaningful relationship, at the same time launching my music career off the back of my debut album. It was a tough climb for sure. I wrote about 200 songs during this period, really trying to figure out what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it; it really was quite the journey but I am so so proud of what I wrote and how it all came together.
What would you say is the toughest and most rewarding thing about being a songwriter in 2022?
Never before has it been more important to have an outlet for the immeasurable grief and frustration brought on by world events. I can pour these deep and difficult emotions into a song, which is something I am immensely grateful for.
The toughest part now is really figuring out what is truly viable in terms of a career in music. Really, we’re all waiting for touring to return though we really can’t project when we’ll be back in a full time capacity. We might be out of lockdown but it just takes one band member or myself to test positive and that’s the end of that run. It’s really, really tough out here right now.
For someone who’s never been to a Kerryn Fields show, what do you think they should know in advance?
My show is centered around the art of storytelling, both in the songs and the banter in between. Expect to experience all the feelings you’ve ever felt in your life, and some new ones too!