5 Jun 2017

'I would not be making the music I make now if I was not a New Zealander'

From Queen's Birthday, 9:12 am on 5 June 2017

Country and soul singer Tami Neilson is currently making her way around the country, performing live at 11 venues.

The Songs of Sinners tour sees her visiting the usual big centres, but she's also singled out some smaller off the track places to perform.

She is playing St Peters Hall in Paekakariki on Wednesday night and then at Meow in Wellington the following evening.

Neilson talks to Megan Whelan about the tour and her work so far, which has amassed numerous awards and left critics swooning.

On her musical heroes:

“It’s always Mavis [Staples], for ever and ever Mavis, I love her so much.

“We all have our musical heroes and you need those heroes as a musician, they hold the bar for you and you’re always striving to reach that bar. If you’re not striving to reach a bar you kind of get stagnant … She is definitely one of the bar-holders for me."

On re-popularising country music in New Zealand:

“I guess every artist hopes that they’re having an effect on the culture around them and shaping musical culture, that’s everybody’s dream.

"I don’t think I’ve single-handedly done it for New Zealand. I think I played a part in it along with a lot of other New Zealand artists – Marlon Williams, Delaney Davidson, Eb & Sparrow, Barry Saunders, The Eastern."

On the number 8 wire advantage:

“I would not be making the music I make now if I was not a New Zealander. I wouldn’t have learned what I’ve learned in my songwriting and having to have this DIY, really scrappy, feisty attitude when it comes to your music as New Zealander.

“New Zealanders have always been unique because it’s isolated from all these music scenes that if you’re kind of in the thick of things the danger is you can be so influenced to become what you know is going to be accepted by the industry.

“Those pressure aren’t there for New Zealanders so they just create, create, create and make something so strong that it actually influences the culture.”

Taking her two young boys on tour:

"At that age, they need routine to feel really safe and secure and happy and I don’t want to mess with that I don’t want to drag them from airplane to car to hotel.”

On rock ‘n’ roll's debt to gospel music:

"All of the artists we have today would not exist without some quite obscure artists that influenced them.

"Sister Rosetta Tharpe for instance, her guitar playing was what Chuck Berry copied, he wanted to be Sister Rosetta. Elvis Presley loved her so much that he covered her song ‘This Train’ and changed the words to ‘My Babe’.

"Mavis and the Staples Singers... Bob Dylan heard them when he was just a teenager and It hugely influenced his music. Prince adored Mavis, wanted to be her when he grew up! When he did become an established star he produced two of her albums because he loved her so much.”