She’s building upon the success of her last album Gloriosa, which has seen her tour around Australia, and gaining notice in both the U.S and Europe; and now she’s preparing for a small batch of intimate shows in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. Yet, Catherine Traicos could have continued on a notably different musical path if her instincts hadn’t kicked in.
“There wasn’t a music program at my school. They didn’t really appreciate music and there was a lot of pressure for other subjects to take precedence,” she begins, “so I put the music aside.”
Traicos had learned piano when she was young, and excelled at playing the music on a page, but being so technically minded left her struggling to create original material with her chosen instrument. Instead, it was picking up a guitar and the freedom of a fresh canvas that opened her up creatively.
“I hadn’t picked up a guitar before, and I didn’t really know how to hold it. It was just weird, it was a really strange experience…I’m definitely more instinctive. I know a few chords. Like, with piano I’ll know exactly what I’m playing. With guitar I don’t. I’ll put a capo on it and I’ll be like, ‘I don’t know what key I’m in’!”
While she may not know exactly what she’s doing when she strums, it’s clear there is method behind the obliviousness. Laughing at the suggestion, she lets her opinion seep through; “Sometimes you can have too much skill, and lose that spark, and I think that happens a lot with metal musicians.”
Although she’s certainly not a metal-head, Traicos has made use of various styles and instrumentation through her body of work, ranging from the intimacy of her latest album In Another Place, and the orchestral arrangements of tours gone by. Now she’s found a band that she can play and write with, but the songs on the new album called for a more personal approach.
“Songs kind of let you know what they need and how they need to be played. You have to listen,” she explains.
“All of the sudden I came across all these songs. I literally found a notebook full of poems and songs that I’d written a few years ago, and I thought ‘wow! This is just gold’.” She quickly set about panning through her find. “It just seemed right for that to be a solo album.”
This comfortable collection of songs set out to emulate an electronic loop, using acoustic instruments. A concept she felt producer Nick Huggins would really grasp.
“I was really lucky because it was Nick, and he really understands what I’m saying… We didn’t run into an issue so, it was good.”
The catalyst for her last album Gloriosa was the national flower of Traicos’ birth country, Zimbabwe. Her relationship with her birth nation is a touchy one, as much of her early life was spent dealing with the guilt of leaving her native home.
“I’ve analysed it, and it’s a natural reaction to have. But it’s not really a valid one. Censorship of the press in Zimbabwe is very intense, and when I moved to Australia I became aware of so much more about the country I lived in. I felt this sense of responsibility, like I could’ve done something, like I could’ve lived my life differently.”
Despite her sense of guilt, Traicos adds, “I think it’s important to move on… to acknowledge what you were feeling, and do what you can about it, and if there’s actually nothing you can do, you just go ‘oh well, I accept this situation for what it is.’ But you can’t let it drag you down.”
Not only did it affect her self worth, but also the themes of such guilt seeped into her creativity.
“It’s not stuff that I really want to share with people just because it is so dark… it’s just depressing to listen to. I don’t listen back to it, and I don’t look at the drawings that I did. I’ve destroyed a lot of them.”
In Another Life, shows how far she has come from the burden that weighed down her early work, to the distanced perspective she’s taken in these latest songs.
She grows a little feistier talking about the accessibility of her music saying, “I actually think that all the songs are pop songs. I’d say there are two or three that are not pop songs on there. They all follow the structure of a popular song. I’m not saying they’re great pop, up there with the Beach Boys or stuff by Britney Spears. But they follow a format which is like a folky pop kind of thing. Like pop in a minor key?”
Having recently spent time in the U.S as part of the’Americana Festival’ in Nashville, Traicos is now in discussions to tour her low key pop through North America and Europe.
“I’ve been getting a bit of radio play in America, and we’re just in some early discussions with some people from Sweden and Finland. Just talking about, touring and stuff… That should be really good.”
With doors opening for Traicos abroad, the topic of making a living off of music arises. “Australia’s a lot different from many other countries in the world. I think a lot of Australians leave [to] go to Europe where they can actually make a living off of their music.”
“Say you’re a musician, [in Australia] you’re seen as a dole bludger. In Europe you’re seen as contributing to the cultural climate and you’re a valuable part of society. That’s a huge difference, and I have considered moving away. But, I love Australia too much.”
As the conversation winds down, she reflects on an industry in transition, and submits some advice for those making their start in music.
“Remember that in this musical environment now you can do a lot of things yourself. You don’t have to wait around for label interest. You can go out there and you can make those connections, you can make those contacts. You have to be clever about it and don’t be rude to people, and show respect to the people who have more experience than you and can help you out, and play gigs and be really good at what you do.”
“Also,” she concludes, “it’s really easy to get a good recording these days. You can make something really, really good out of a home studio. You don’t need a lot of money. You can just do it.”
In Another Life is out now through An Ocean Awaits, read the Tone Deaf verdict here. Catherine Traicos plays Sydney’s Green Room tonight, Thursday 25 October, then in Melbourne at The Workers Club on Sunday 28 October, then at The Ellington in Perth on November 15. Full dates and details here.