“The main thing I want from my music is honesty, and I’m trying to be true to myself. So that should hopefully overwhelm any need to categorize my music. Obviously I don’t fit in any way the pop star mould. I never will, and I don’t ever want to.”
One of Australia’s brightest musical discoveries of the new millennium, Katie Noonan returns to the spotlight with an original album, a fresh sound, and a new band, the Captains.
A five-time platinum recording artist, Katie is in fine voice on Emperor’s Box, a dynamic piece comprising 13 personal, emotive works. Co-produced by Katie and Grammy Award-winning rock specialist Nick Didia (Pearl Jam, Bruce Springsteen, Stone Temple Pilots, Powderfinger), Emperor’s Box marks a return to some familiar territory for Katie.
Emperor’s Box is the sound of a confident, accomplished artist. It’s a lush and at times muscular affair, captured in the studio by a tight unit clearly at the peak of form. And of course, Katie’s vocals shine. €œ”It’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” Katie says. “Music is about freedom for me, I’ve always followed my muse and been very lucky to be able go on and make different records. This is definitely the album I’m most proud of.”
Emperor’s Box is Katie’s second release for Sony Music, and is the follow-up to the Brisbane-based artist’s Blackbird, her well-received jazz and 2009 Aria-winning project issued in 2008. This time round, Katie has penned all the songs. As has been the case throughout much of her stellar career, the songstress has teamed with some of the best in the business. The likes of Split Enz great Tim Finn, rising star Sia Furler, Cold Chisel icon Don Walker, pop troubador Josh Pyke and acclaimed Australian writer/poet Tom Shapcott are some of the big names who share writing credits on the new effort.
“Blackbird was definitely a musical departure for me. It was a ridiculously good opportunity to work with some of the greatest musicians ever – legends like Ron Carter, Lewis Nash, Joe Lovano and John Scofield. I couldn’t turn down an opportunity like that,” Katie comments. “This new album is more my true path. My main motivation has always been to create an original sound and an original concept, and this really sounds like me.”
Like all good things, Katie has had to wait to create Emperor’s Box. It’s been a “dream project,” three years in the making. Just don’t tell Katie it’s a “solo” set. “It isn’t just a Katie Noonan record. I’ve certainly let the Captains in to the creative process, and there’s a lot of freedom to have heated debates about the music, which I value highly.” Katie met two years ago with her new band-mates – guitarist Cameron Deyell, keyboardist and bassplayer Stu Hunter, plus drummer Declan Kelly. The quartet instantly struck a chord. “It takes a while to find the right combination on many levels. But when we started working on a song,” she explains, “I realised straight away that they could share and contribute to my vision for this next record.”
That first experiment was ‘Time,’ an aural thrill-ride which stands-up as one of the album’s most intoxicating tracks. “We jammed on that song, and felt, ‘damn, this works’. ‘Time’ became our benchmark for the album, and every other song had to match that, not sonically but in intensity and integrity.”
Katie needs little introduction to Australian audiences. Born into a family of talented musicians and writers, Katie explored her talents at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music, studying opera and jazz.
After graduation, Katie effortlessly made the transition from academia to the big league through her alternative pop-rock group george, which she fronted with her brother Tyrone. In 2002, the group’s debut release Polyserena opened at No. 1 on the ARIA albums chart, instantly establishing Katie as a star.
ARIA Awards followed, and the 2004 george follow-up Unity didn’t disappoint either, peaking at No. 5 on the national albums chart. Soon after, the members of george took an open-ended break to pursue their own musical quests.
Katie hasn’t looked back. She performed and recorded with her own jazz group, Elixir, and collaborated with jazz great Paul Grabowsky for Before Time Could Change Us, the 2005 ARIA Award-winner for Best Jazz Album.
The multi-talented artist would venture deep into the classical genre, recording and touring the No. 1 best-selling classical duets project Two of a Kind, with her mother Maggie Noonan, a formidable opera singer. Katie emerged in 2007 with Skin, her gold-certified, top 10-charting debut solo album.
“I’m sort of schizophrenic, musically speaking,” muses Katie. “I’ve never been interested in categorizing music. It’s just music to me. The main thing I want from my music is honesty, and I’m trying to be true to myself. So that should hopefully overwhelm any need to categorize my music. Obviously I don’t fit in any way the pop star mould. I never will, and I don’t ever want to.”
For the Emperor’s Box recording sessions, Katie returned to The Grove, the Sydney studio which shaped Katie’s breakthrough album, Polyserena. “I have such a great history there,â€ she remarks. Having decamped to New York for an entire month to prep and record Blackbird, Katie and the Captains knuckled down on the latest project in an entirely different way. “We recorded Blackbird in a day and a half,” recalls Katie. “It was mostly live, and almost all the songs were a first take. On this record, we spent a day on each song, playing around with different setups. Still, it was tracked completely live and the first or second take was more often than not ‘the one'”.
Fans of quality music will find Emperor’s Box a rewarding experience. The first half carries a noticeably darker edge, both lyrically and in its sonic landscape. The DNA of Elbow, Radiohead and Bat For Lashes runs deep, and there’s a touch of the more-accessible works of Bjork. A gentler mood closes out the second half of the album with tracks such as ‘Cotton Wool,’ ‘Little Boys’ and ‘Space Between’ a nod to Katie’s beloved brood of two sons, Dexter and Jonah. â€œIt’s essentially a private record,â€ she says. And it’s one dotted with words of love.
Many of the songs on Emperor’s Box are gifts for loved-ones. Opening single ‘Page One’ was a wedding present to Captain’s keyboardist Stu and his wife Ashlie. ‘Golden’ is a message from the heart, written some time ago for her boyfriend and Elixir collaborator Zac Hurren, now her husband. ‘Never Know Your Luck’ and ‘Time’ are also gifts for close friends of Katie’s.
Katie has always had a close affinity with the fine arts. While writing the songs for Emperor’s Box, Katie drew inspiration from some of Australia’s literary forces, and though the works of the great, late Sir Arthur Boyd, a peerless painter of impressionist pieces and landscapes. On two occasions during the songwriting process, Katie and the Captains served as artists in residence at Sir Arthur’s property in Bundanon, on the Shoalhaven River in New South Wales. Many of the songs on Emperor’s Box were forged at the artist retreat.