Lee Kernaghan, Australia’s beloved boy from the bush spoke with Highlife Downs Magazine recently about his new album and upcoming tour, Spirit of the Anzacs.
Hi Lee, it’s so wonderful of you to speak with us.
My pleasure, it’s great to have your support.
Your latest album, Spirit of the Anzacs, is a very personal one for Australia’s history. The lyrics in the songs are direct quotes from letters written by ANZAC soldiers to their loved ones. Can you tell us about the process of creating such an album?
I was very privileged to be given the opportunity by the National Archives to read letters written by past Australian soldiers. It was in reading some of those letters, that dated right back to the landing at Gallipoli and the trenches at World War II, to Korean and Vietnam, that had such a powerful effect on me. They put goose bumps up my arms and the chill up the back of my neck. I felt that it would be an extremely powerful experience to hear those words coming back through music. And that’s what we’ve done. It’s their words and our music.
Were there any letters in particular that struck a chord with you?
They all had a profound impact on me. Although, there was one from a 27-year-old man from Australia serving in Afghanistan that particularly spoke to me. He was with the Second Commando Regiment and running some very high-risk operations. So perilous was the nature of many of those missions that the men were encouraged to have letters written and sealed, only to be sent home in the event of their passing. And this young, 27-year old digger from far north Queensland had written to his loved one to say “hey baby, I waited ‘til the night before[the letter was due], before going off to write this. Put it off, more likely. You’re the sweetest, kindest and prettiest girl I’ve ever met. I’m so happy you chose me and I’m so sorry to put you through this. Please forgive me. I hope you find someone down the track to make you happy, although matching me will be a hard task… You’ll always be with me my love, and I with you”.
Many of the songs on this album have a very hopeful tone. For example, in the song I Will Always Be With You, there is a beautiful line that says ‘I didn’t think I was going to die, the way I look at it, no one does’. Why do you think it is important to give an insight into the optimism of the ANZAC soldiers?
There is a very hopeful tone running through the whole album. I felt while making this album that it was really important to communicate how the human spirit rises above all the tears and sorrow. To show that there is something even stronger that comes through. These are the hallmarks of the ANZACs. The qualities that they are so well known for are optimism, endurance, courage, ingenuity, good humour and mateship. And it’s those qualities that rise up above the hope, and the despair and with that, comes hope and optimism.
On the new album, you worked with Australian stars such as Guy Sebastian, Lisa McCune, Jessica Mauboy, Fred Smith and countless others. What was that experience like?
It was quite surreal. Being in the studio with Guy and Jessica, and the band Sheppard, John Stevens and every other musician we worked with, was just incredible. They are extraordinarily talented human beings, but they also have a great generosity of spirit. Guy, Jessica, Sheppard and John were the first ones to put their hand up and become involved in the project. They also happen to be the most successful and biggest selling artists in Australia right now!
Can you share with us a few of the highlights when working with these artists?
Well, while in the studio for the single ‘Spirit of the Anzacs’, Guy had done some incredible vocal gymnastics and we asked Jessica if she could harmonise with his improvisations (laughs). And, looking back, it was a bit like saying “here’s a Rubik’s Cube, solve it in one minute”! But Jessica just laughed, and went in and had a crack. She did it with great aplomb. She was nothing short of magnificent.
Every state in Australia is going to be treated to a visit from you on this tour. Are there any old haunts you are particularly looking forward to visiting again?
Look, it’s a great country. It’s the Australian people that make it great. So I know that I’ll have a great time on the road. Every town has something special about it, you know. Whether it is a great café or a pie shop, there’s a gem in every town. And I’m really looking forward to meeting everyone and performing these songs for them.
It sounds like this will be quite the show. There will be exciting lighting, video displays and some unplugged performances. Do you feel like this is a new chapter in your career?
Yes, definitely. I think that this particular album has changed the way that I will make records in the future. It’s made me dig a lot deeper. When I was about 18 I remember a great songwriter named Kelly Dixon, who wrote Leave Him in the Long Yard for Slim Dusty, saying a very powerful thing about writing lyrics. He said “if you are writing songs that are about real life events, things and people that you know about or have experiences that you’ve lived, then you won’t go too far wrong”. And that’s what I’ve found while writing about the ANZACS and their stories.
What do you hope the Aussie community, particularly regional country ones, will take away from this tour?
I hope that after people experience the show they will take something of that experience with them and carry it in their heart long after the lights have gone down and the music has ended.
How are you feeling about the start of the Spirit of the Anzacs tour?
Well, it’s a brand new show and I’m really, really excited for its start. I’m really feeling it; the nerves, the excitement, all of it. I feel that we’re about to embark on something momentous.
Can you leave us with a few hints about which old classics might be featured on the tour?
Well, I think I’d get run out of town if I didn’t play Boys from the Bush (laughs)! But I’m planning on digging into my back-catalogue and finding some of those gems that I haven’t sung for years and performing them on this tour. I’m so excited to be on the road again and sharing music with the great Aussie people.
For information regarding ticketing and show times, click here.
Words and interview by Anna Saxby
The show will open in Townsville 3 September, weave and wander throughout each state in Australia and come to a close in Newcastle 14 November.