Katie Noonan’s voice is undoubtedly one of the most recognisable in Australian music.
As a member of the band george she reached the pinnacle of success in Australia with the group’s debut 2002 album, Polyserena, going to number one and the group being awarded the ARIA award for Breakthrough Artist of the year.
Since then, she’s gone on to cement her position as an icon of the local scene, with her distinct, stunning, acrobatic voice becoming instantly identifiable to many a music fan through various projects and endeavours.
It is that distinctive sound and identity that has led Noonan to be the perfect mouthpiece for a project that is whole-heartedly dedicated to raising funds and awareness for charity through music.
Noonan was the mastermind behind last year’s immensely successful Songs That Made Me tour, that saw some of Australia’s finest female musicians team up for a tour that would not only showcase each others’ talents and stories, but would also raise money for the Cancer Council Pink Ribbon Campaign.
Now in 2014, Noonan and her musical sisters are once again embarking on a Songs That Made Me national tour to raise funds for the cause, as well as release a collaborative covers album of the same name, featuring the talents of Renee Geyer, Deborah Conway and Angie Hart to name but a few. The album will also dedicate 100 percent of its profits to the Pink Ribbon Campaign.
MAX writer, Nathan Wood, spoke with Noonan about both the Songs That Made Me tour and album project, including why she hopes the tour becomes an Australian institution; being surprised by some of the amazing singers and song choices that appear on this new album; why she chose to cover Jeff Buckley’s lauded ‘Last Goodbye’ herself; and how she’s managed to ensure the profits from this project go 100% to charity.
NW: You’re set to embark on your second Songs That Made Me tour. Obviously the first tour was a huge success and it must have been thrilling for you as an artist to have taken part in such a collaborative project. Do you have any particular favourite stories from that first tour experience?
KN: It was my idea to tour so I kind of curated it and so it was a little bit of a gamble to see as to if it would work the way I thought it would, but yeah it absolutely did. The combination of women was just perfect and we felt very, very comfortable with each other and a very kind of nurturing environment and we shared stories – pretty private stories about our lives and moments behind particular songs, either songs that we’ve written or songs that we haven’t.
It went so well that I wanted to make it an annual concert series and so it went from there.
Did you learn anything about yourself as a performer or as an artist on that first tour?
Yeah, I guess I realised I could take on a bit more of that MD (Musical Director) kind of job, putting the show together. But every gig has something to teach you. It’s great working with musicians that have different strengths that you can learn from. Yeah, every gig you learn something.
Was it obvious straight away after the first Songs That Made Me tour that you would be doing a second one? And do you have hopes that it might become an institution one day?
Yeah I do. I would love that. I would have loved something like this being around when I was starting up. I would have really tried to get on the bill. I think it’s important for women to nurture women in the industry because we do need to stick together and I just think it’s important to look after each other and nurture each other’s work and encourage each other.
Well I was going to ask you about that because you have some up-and-coming artists on the line-up for this project now, including Melody Pool who is a country star on the rise. This is the perfect platform to expose her to a bigger audience.
Yeah she’s going to be the baby of the tour but not the baby of the album – I think the baby of the album is Sahara Beck, who’s only 18 or 19. But yeah Melody’s the baby of the tour and it will be good to see how everything works out the way it works out but we’re all at different stages of our careers and I think it’s important for more established artists to nurture the younger, up-and-coming artists. Absolutely.
You’ve also got the new collaborative album, Katie Noonan’s Songs That Made Me, which has pulled together an immense amount of talented artists. Do you have any personal favourite cuts off the record you’re excited for people to hear?
Look, I’m really proud of the entire album. And I genuinely mean that – I wouldn’t say that if I didn’t mean it. But hearing Renee Geyer doing ‘It’s A Man’s World’ was pretty phenomenal and mind-blowing. She’s the queen of that style in Australia. No-one even comes remotely close. So that was a pretty amazing track.
One of my other favourite tracks was Ainsley Will’s version of Feist’s ‘Let It Die’ – that is just beautiful. So beautiful that in fact when I heard it I thought, well there you go, we’ve got our opening track. So gorgeous.
How were the song selections made? Did you approach the artists and then did they pick their songs?
Yeah they came back with two options, so that I could say, “I think that one would suit this album better,” just in relation to all the other tracks, because I really wanted it to sound like an album, and not like an arbitrary compilation that wasn’t connected properly. For me I think it sounds like one, continuous body of work, which is not easy to do when you have so many artists, but which I think we have managed to do.
Were you surprised at all by any of the choices?
I was! I think when Sam Buckingham suggested ‘Another Day In Paradise,’ by Phil Collins, I went, “Whoa! Not what I was expecting at all!” But then she talked to me about how she was going to do it and I love the lyrics in that song – the story is really beautiful. So once she’d spoken about the idea I said, “Oh yeah, I can see that working. That could work beautifully.”
You yourself are singing Jeff Buckley’s ‘Last Goodbye,’ which is a song with huge amount of importance to a lot of people. What led you to picking that song? Did you think of it straight away or did you have to sift through your mind to come to it?
I pretty much thought of it straight away. I love that song so much and it was such an integral part of my journey to becoming a musician and helping to define my sound. It’s been 20 years since that album came out, when I was in grade 12, and the album just blew my mind. I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was. It gave me great inspiration that I could make music that was somewhere in that vein.
The project is also doing a lot to promote and raise funds for the Pink Ribbon Campaign. When you’re working on a project like this, is there a sense at all that, as opposed to a traditional tour or album recording, that there’s a sense of specialness or importance because you know ultimately it’s for such a good cause and in some ways has a different level of importance?
Yeah there’s a certain extra sense that what you’re doing is important. We all did this for free – none of the artists got paid. The guest session musicians that we had did it for much, much, much cheaper than they normally would for a normal session. And so everyone was putting their good intention forward, as well as their beautiful performance. So that really envelopes the whole project in a sense of beauty and good intention. It’s really special. But 100 percent of the profits go to the Cancer Council and the Pink Ribbon Campaign. A lot of albums say “a percentage of profits” and often it will be like 10 percent, whereas this is 100 percent of profits, and the reason we were able to do that was because we got some fantastic support from an independent owned vitamin company called Bloom, who were able to put the money on top for us to make the album, so that all the basic expenses were covered. So that’s made it fantastic and when you say “100 percent of the profits,” it really is 100 percent of profits.
For those that haven’t been before, what can fans expect to see when they come out to see these shows? Is it a mixture of both song and storytelling?
It’s a super fun night. There’s lots of going down memory lane about certain things, like the first gig we ever did or the first concert we ever saw. It’s lots of stuff and it’s very natural. The story telling really evolves as we go and it’s a fun, special night out.
The Katie Noonan’s Songs That Made Me album is out now and you can buy it here via itunes: Katie Noonan’s Songs That Made Me – Various Artists