There is something refreshingly honest about country superstar Shane Nicholson. Coming off the back of his ARIA win for Country Album of the Year with his sixth solo album, Hell Breaks Loose, the significance of the award is not something he shys away from. “It’s the ultimate icing on the cake. There’s no artist that would tell you the sole purpose is trying to win awards, but there’s no denying that, when you do, it feels like the ultimate achievement,” he says.
Also up for seven Golden Guitars in 2016 (He currently has eight, plus two wins each from the APRAs and ARIAs), he has learnt to appreciate them. “I’ve got all my awards up on the shelf. I never used to have them on the shelf. I thought it was kind of vain, but then I realised that they are sign posts to certain things and events in my life,” he says.
It would be an understatement to say the last two years of Nicholson’s life have been difficult. With his heavily publicised separation from Kasey Chambers and his own struggle with depression, Hell Breaks Loose chronicles the honest thoughts of a man who has been broken and is coming out the other side.
“Musically [it’s] like a new chapter…I cleared out my entire stock. So I changed management, touring companies, booking agents: everything. I totally wanted to start again from scratch. For me this album means to be a kind of vindication that those decisions were the right ones to make,” he says.
“It was a very cathartic process to write that record. It was like cheap therapy really, which most albums are. But the album means a lot to me because it was an awakening of sorts. It came about after I had a pretty life changing trip to the outback, and got a lot of perspective on [my] priorities.”
While Shane never stopped making music over this time, he found his song writing had grown stagnant. “The next thing I knew six months had gone and I hadn’t written a song, because you just don’t feel like writing when you do 14 hours in the studio, you know? You don’t pick up the guitar because you play it all day. And then it occurred to me, ‘Oh wow, I hope I remember how to do it’.”
It was only after being invited to the town of Hermannsburg in the NT by good friend Warren H. Williams where the song writer found inspiration again.
“I wasn’t planning on playing an instrument for that entire week, but the second day I just found myself sitting outside the old Mission Church, it’s a historical village now, and all these lyrics just came floating into my mind. I felt like I needed to write, so I had to find somebody in town with a guitar,” he laughs as he remembers. “There were four strings on it, and I ended up with three songs that week.” Coming home and writing the rest of the album in a period of two weeks, Nicholson consents, “Some weird thing happened out there!”
The songs of Hell Breaks Loose are painstakingly honest, and Shane wouldn’t have it any other way. “It wasn’t really a choice. I don’t really self edit myself. And I definitely never write with the end result in mind…It comes out, what you’re going through, and that’s what makes music real, otherwise it’s just contrived.”
They say that beauty comes from ashes, and that seems no more apparent than in the music and life of Shane Nicholson. Gracing Geelong at the Motor City Music Festival in March, he is ready to celebrate all that he’s achieved and more.
“It’s just been so enjoyable and crowds have been amazing, and I’m laying music with my friends again…it’s renewed my love affair with being on the road.”
WHERE: Motor City Music Festival, March 13 at the Geelong Showgrounds. Tickets at motorcitymusicfestival.com.au.
This interview was published in Forte Magazine Issue #628 and can be found online here.