Inside Kasey Chambers' own musical world

Katoomba holds a special place in Kasey Chambers' heart. Twelve years ago, Chambers with then husband Shane Nicholson and their baby son Arlo, named after American folk singer Arlo Guthrie, were staying in Katoomba to see Guthrie perform.

They bumped into the folk singer in the foyer of The Clarendon.

"We happened to run into him during the day, and we had Arlo our son with us and I remember just passing him to Arlo and then quickly snapping a photo. So we've got this photo, which is one of our favourite photos of Arlo Guthrie holding our little Arlo as a baby," Chambers recalls.

The alt country singer has visited Katoomba many times since, to take the stage herself or to stop by on her way to perform out west.

"It's one of our favourite places to go visit 'cause I actually love shopping there - there are lots of great vintage stores and I'm always a sucker for that ... and good cafes," the 43 year old said.

She'll return in March, for her inaugural performance at the Blue Mountains Music Festival, promising a plethora of old favourites from her first solo albums The Captain (1999) and Barricades and Brickwalls (2001), along with newer material.

Last year, the winner of 14 ARIA Music Awards and ARIA Hall of Fame inductee, released the 20th anniversary edition of The Captain album and says the title song is still her favourite to play. It's even been given new life with her eight-year-old daughter Poet, who is learning to play the ukulele and asked her mum to show her The Captain chords.

Never having learned to play the uke, Chambers had someone else teach Poet the chords, and then mother and daughter jammed together.

"She started playing that and I started singing it with her and I get the biggest buzz out of that, I love that song and it is such a big part of who I am and I feel such a warm, comfort in that song. But then to sit down and sing it with my daughter playing the ukulele next to me is pretty amazing," Chambers said.

Written as a teenager, The Captain was a turning point in Chambers' solo career. Up until that point she'd sung in the family's Dead Ringer Band.

"It sparked a thing in me where it was the first time I was putting my heart on my sleeve personally in songs. So I think it represents me discovering a whole side of myself that I didn't know I had," she said.

The realities of the music industry were a shock for the young singer who'd spent much of her childhood travelling on the Nullarbor Plain, barely seeing anyone but her family.

"I had come from a very sheltered life. I lived in the outback with my family and there was no society. I hadn't even grown up in a normal society - to then be thrown into this image-based industry where people cared how you looked on a record," Chambers said.

She didn't feel like she fit in, pouring her heart into the 2001 smash-hit Not Pretty Enough.

"It connected with particularly young girls who were told to feel a certain way and look a certain way, but really they were feeling what I was putting in a song, and I didn't know it, that wasn't why I wrote it. It was just from a real place for me and real feelings, and I had no idea it was going to connect with people that much and it still does now," Chambers says. "I love that music can be that powerful."

I still feel like I don't belong to a certain extent, but I don't feel like I need to. I have created my own musical world that I live in.

Kasey Chambers

Feeling anxious and like she didn't belong in the music industry eventually took it's toll, with Chambers diagnosed with anorexia and bulimia at age 30.

"I still feel like I don't belong to a certain extent, but I don't feel like I need to. I have created my own musical world that I live in, I do my own thing, I tour my own way, I don't follow the rules you're supposed to do, but I also can see the beauty now in all of it," she says.

"It used to make me feel uncomfortable and obviously turns into eating disorders and anxiety, whereas now I feel like that's okay you don't fit into that world, you don't have to. Because you have created a world over here that works for you and you have some success in it, but even that is kind of irrelevant. You have made your own place."

When Chambers developed the eating disorder, part of the problem was she didn't allow herself to have shit days, she says.

"So I went, 'you gotta be strong, you gotta f#####g appreciate every day and say yes to everything and you gotta be super mum and you gotta be making sure you're making the most of your success and all those things, and honestly I didn't allow myself to be human through that time and feel actual human things."

These days she recognises there will be bad days, still finds beauty in the world and can wake up the next day and start afresh.

She sees the value in all music genres, including a new appreciation of the hip hop being played by her kids at home. She says the singer's ability to connect to what they're singing about while making the listener feel something, is important.

"People don't need it [music] to be a certain genre so much or even for it to be a certain sound, I think they need to feel something," Chambers explains.

"When I listen to music I want to feel things and when I listen to songs I sometimes go 'Oh my god this is the saddest thing I've ever heard in my life but I want to listen to it over and over and over again, 'cause it makes me feel something, and that's the beautiful thing about music.

"I would rather someone, if they don't love my music, I'd rather them hate my music than just be bored by it, because at least it makes them feel something."

Kasey Chambers performs on Sunday, March 15 at the Blue Mountains Music Festival in Katoomba. Tickets at bmff.org.au.

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