Katie Noonan – Elixir

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Multiple ARIA winner, Katie Noonan, is a vocal phenomenon in her own right … but team her with guitarist Stephen Magnusson and saxophonist Zac Hurren, and what you get is Elixir! The trio will perform at the Glasshouse on February 29.

Hi Katie. Please introduce us to Elixir …

It’s always hard to describe your own music, but I guess the best way to describe Elixir would be a Folk/Jazz trio, which features my husband Zac Hurren on saxophone and Stephen Magnusson on guitar. It’s a trio of friends who make gentle, intimate, private music. That’s what we try to do with our sound … create this little cave of music.

Elixir has always been about poetry set to music, so our latest album, First Seed Ripening, was inspired by the words of great Australian poet, Thomas Shapcott.

Thomas was born in Ipswich in 1935; he’s obviously lived a lot more years than I have and has a wonderful way of describing the world – so we set his words to music.

What was the incentive to actually form Elixir?

Basically, I formed the band not long after George [another musical group Katie is a part of], and it was because I wanted to have an environment in which I could do quiet, intimate, gentle music – which didn’t suit George, as we’re a full five-piece band with drums etc. So Elixir came from my desire to have that kind of music in my life.

Where did the name Elixir come from?

I guess it comes back to the reason behind our music … to create this gentle, calming world. An elixir is something you drink to make you feel better or to help you heal an ailment, so I liked the idea of that as a band name, as it’s kind of what we do with our music.

You’re touring at the moment with Elixir’s second album, First Seed Ripening. How does this album differ from the first album you released?

A lot … the main thing being there’s a different guitarist, so that’s an enormous difference, and for the second thing, it was a different poet. The approach to the music making is still the same; the overall kind of vibe of the band is still the same, but it’s also quite different now.

Stephen Magnusson joined the band about 6 years ago … and also, we made that first album quite a long time ago – around 9 years ago. I feel I’m a much better musician now and a better songwriter as well, so hopefully the improvement shows.

As you mentioned, it’s been 9 years between albums for Elixir. Was there any particular reason for this, or were you all just busy with other projects?

Pretty much the latter. Elixir has always been kind of my side project around George; George was always my main project and kept me very busy. And then, I finished with George to focus on being a mum and a wife and I started a solo career. It just felt right to go back to Elixir and make it my main project about a year ago, so that’s what I did.

What is it about poet Thomas Shapcott’s work that inspired you to create this new album?

The nature of his writing really suits Elixir. He’s a very diverse writer, but I find with his works I’m immediately in the story, and it’s very intimate and private. There are very close relationships between lovers, and mother and child and between parents and their children … all of these relationships are expressed so beautifully. He has really good content that suits the concept of Elixir – kind of like a perfect match.

I was commissioned by the Queensland Poetry Festival to set the words of any writer, living or dead, to music – the only thing being, they had to be from Queensland. This gave me a lot of amazing options: David Malouf, Judith Wright. There are lots of great writers from Queensland, but Tom’s words really suited Elixir the best. He loves music, and I think you can sense that in his poems as well.

What’s your favourite piece written by Thomas?

I don’t really have a favourite … but I do particularly like the title track, First Seed Ripening. The lyrics are amazing; they’re about the wonder and glory of a pregnant woman. Making an album is a very creatively fertile process in its own way …

And I guess it could also be described as a bit of a gestational process in some respects too!

Yes! It is, but usually longer than 9 months (laughs). But this record was pretty accelerated, because we wrote it as a trio. We’re such busy people that we basically set two songwriting sessions over a few days and wrote the bulk of the record in those two sessions. And because we are improvising Jazz musicians, we made that album completely live together – so we made the record, including the stringed instruments, in 6 days.

So by modern standards, that’s pretty quick! By old traditional standards, it’s probably nothing new, because people used to play live a lot more. But nowadays people want to multi-track etc, and I’m more a fan of live.

You’ve achieved a lot of personal success with your career – ARIAs, platinum albums, accolades. What’s the next project or dream for you?

You’re only as good as your last gig, so every gig I want to make as good as possible and improve, constantly evolve and sharpen my skills as a musician. The best way to do that is to work with musicians who have different skills to you and work with people from all walks of life. This is the best way, I feel, to accelerate you growth as a musician and is why I collaborate with so many different musicians.

The next project for me is I’m recording with  Karin Schaupp; she’s an incredible classical guitarist. And then I’m writing something new for the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, called Love Song Circus, setting female convict letters to music and working with a great circus company called Circa.

How would you describe your show to aspiring audiences?

A chance to get away from the world for a little while and just relax and be lulled into a gentle, intimate space with music and sharing stories written by a great Australian poet. Wonderful musicians … Zac and Stephen are both national Jazz award winners and ARIA winners, and we’ve just won an ARIA for this album as well.

And we’ve never played in Port Macquarie as Elixir – ever! I’ve only played there as George, and that was quite a long time ago!

Thanks Katie.

Interview by Jo Atkins.

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