Abby Dobson, Singer and Songwriter, Speaks to Gabriel Don
With all its rich music history, what was it like to record in Nashville?
I loved every southern-fried minute of my time in Nashville. I recorded with a producer called Brad Jones for 10 days with a bunch of wonderful musicians that he assembled on my behalf. To tell you the truth, Nashville’s musical history had very little obvious influence on what we were doing. I was playing with mostly young players who were awesome, but as I hit the ground running, I didn’t really get to see what was going on outside the studio walls! But one can never truly trace one’s influences so perhaps these recordings have Tennessee hot sauce all over them and I don’t know it yet.
What inspires your lyrics and melodies?
My lyrics are usually inspired by my own experiences that I am trying to make sense of and digest. But reading other people’s writing – in news articles, or books or a poetic turn of phrase can ignite my love of words and get me heading to the notebook. Melodies are untraceable. I just sit at the piano or the guitar and something usually just comes out. From whence, I never know.
When and how do they (lyrics and melodies) intertwine, how do you put words to rhythm/ harmony?
It’s still quite mysterious how words and melodies knit themselves together. I do like it when my songs start with the lyrics. It’s easier to bend a melody to the will of the lyrics. And a bit more respectful somehow too. But I still write songs the other way around; with a melody I need to find words for and that is so much harder and the lyrics then play second fiddle to the melody, which can be a lousy compromise.
Even When I’m Sleeping, a song by your band Leonardo’s Bride, was an international hit, what was it like riding the wave of its success?
When ‘Even When I’m Sleeping’ created a big swell for us, we had already been a very busy, hardworking band on the road. It’s commercial success simply meant we were even busier and had no days off. It was pre-internet so it was very difficult for us to gauge its success/popularity except for at gigs where we were playing too much larger audiences and being asked to do more publicity than we were before. I was in the throes of chronic fatigue and rheumatoid arthritis so it became increasingly difficult for me to keep up with the relentless schedule and with saying ‘yes’ to so many requests. We really did just ride the wave. There was, however, a sense, for me at least, that it made perfect sense for us to be doing well. We had worked hard for a very long time. It was also such a beautiful song to sing and was imbued with so much love, both in the recording and at live performances that it was a pleasure to know it had cut through and reached so many people.
To what extent is your music making and songwriting process collaborative?
My song writing process is only very occasionally collaborative. I am most comfortable that way. Having said that, I have often loved the songs that have been co-writes a lot. As far as recording and playing with other musicians goes, I absolutely love the input of others. Making music with other people is one of my favourite things to do. Conversations of this sort are so scintillating.
What are your current projects?
I’m currently finishing off recording my next solo album that I started in Nashville late last year. I’m also touring with my Frenchy band ‘Baby et Lulu’.
What does a unicorn represent to you?
A unicorn?? How curious a question. Unicorns are a fantastical symbol of imagination and liberty. and of being unbridled.
How are women positioned within the music industry?
You know, I don’t know. I don’t know what the music industry looks or feels like and I never have. Having said that, there seem to be some amazing young females artists on the scene making wonderful music and having a real presence and gravitas in their artistry and how they showcase themselves. With robust opinions and unique, strong voices. I feel like they are positioning themselves very naturally and confidently at the centre of things. But as I said, I don’t really know.
I watch the US version of The Voice and am yet to checkout the Australian one, but I personally enjoy watching anything that involves singing, why did you choose to try out for The Voice (Australia)?
Like you, I had much enjoyed the first series of The Voice because it was all about singing. I hadn’t watched any TV for about 10 years and used to go to a friend’s house to watch The Voice once a week. I also had a friend in the show and so that was a strong impetus. It seemed very unshowbiz, which surprised me. I thought that TV shows must have changed an awful lot since I had last tuned in. I thought the production was really top notch and the music/band arrangements were cool and the repertoire too. I dug it. I was also at a time in my life where I felt like I wanted to both contribute more and also find a new audience for myself. I had also never really been given performance advice and I thought it could be cool to be coached. I also knew it was the last thing in the world that I would have considered doing and I liked the idea of shaking things up for myself. I felt confident enough about myself that I was intrigued by the idea of playing with my own idea of myself. And I also felt incorruptible. As it turns out, I was quite naive and commercial TV shows are still basically engineered for commercial revenue. For entertainment first, reality second. It was a pretty blustery experience and I am glad that I was whisked out of there after our brief encounter.
I saw you perform at a bar in the University of Technology Sydney around a decade ago, over your career you must have performed at such a variety of venues, can you tell me about a few of your most interesting encounters with different performing spaces?
Ha! Yes I have definitely performed in all manner of rooms over the years. When I first started performing music regularly was in 1990. Dean Manning and I bought one-way tickets round the world to throw ourselves into the winds of experience. We romantically took a guitar with us in case we one day needed to sing for our supper. We ended up having to do that quite soon into our trip. Early on, we were busking in the Plaka in Athens and there grew a gathering group around us. We were pleased to be making some money and the acoustics were incredible; reverb bouncing off the stone cobblestones. But the police came and dragged us off to the police station for interrogation. We walked there and they picked up a man selling nuts illegally from his big cart also. So we marched with the nut guy to the station and spent most of the evening there. They were suspicious of Dean who they thought might be a Greek national and he was scared they were going to cut off his ponytail and send him to the army to do compulsory National Service. They finally let us go after I went back to the hotel to show them our passports. But they pocketed our busking tips for the night. We returned to Australia a year and a half later – after playing in all manner of bars and subways in Greece, France, England and New York. Upon our return to Australia, we formed Leonardo’s Bride.
To what extent has the music scene in Australia evolved and could you tell me about your experience, current and past?
The music scene has changed probably quite a lot since I first started performing in the early 90’s. But I’m not very good at mapping these kinds of things. There have been a lot of venues that have shut down but new ones have opened too. The way that I tour now is very different to the way I toured in the nineties and early 2000s… I have never ever felt like I was part of a scene so I don’t have that kind of language to explain what the scene is from the inside or out… I feel comfortable with musicians and I love bringing music to life for an audience or just for myself. I just bumble along trying to find the heart key and thrilled that amazing musicians will play with me and that people will buy tickets to come and see my offerings.
Do you consider yourself a guitarist who sings or a singer who plays guitar?
I love singing way more than I love playing the guitar!
What advice do you have for people who want to be musicians?
Visit Abby at AbbyDobson.com
Photo Credit: Lisa McDiarmid