See the boys perform at Port Panthers in September. Troy Kemp, one half of this talented duo, talks albums, touring and songwriting …
How did you get started in the music industry?
I think both Drew and I started off in the school band around the ages of 12 and 13, picked up acoustic guitars to teach ourselves chords and tried to learn chords from other people. We had a music teacher in Year 7 who’s name was Darko Milic, and he is a cool guy. Just watching him play … he was quite inspiring. Also, my dad was a guitarist, so I just watched him playing when I was a kid.
I remember as far back as 3 or 4 years, jamming with my Dad and his buddies in the lounge room, hitting on bongos. Just to be a part of it gave me a love for music, and I think as soon as I could I started a band in Year 7 in high school.
I was in a band in Kempsey for years called ‘Foxx’, and I think Drew did the same – he was in bands where he grew up in Moree. That’s how it all started: my grandmother actually bought me a KISS tape when I was about six, with that song I Was Made for Loving You on it, and that’s when I decided I wanted to be a guitar player. Troy, you are from Kempsey here on the Mid North Coast. Where and how did the band originate?
We were both cast to play in a Johnny Cash show in Sydney called Aussie Walk the Line. We were part of a group of four guys, and we were pretty much the Aussie highway men; he was playing the part of Johnny Cash, and I was playing Waylon Jennings, and there were two other guys.
So, we were out touring around Australia on this show, and we had a lot of down time, hanging around in motels all day. I asked Drew if he wanted to start writing some songs together, because we were both solo artists in our own right and we both joined this Johnny Cash show just for a bit of extra fun and to do something different.
It was one of the other guys in the group, Michael Carr … he was in the studio one day when we were recording and he said, “Wow, you guys are great together. Have you thought about doing an Aussie duo like Brooks and Dunn in America?” I said, “That’s a stupid idea, Michael. Go away!” But he kept ringing me and ringing Drew for weeks later, and eventually we caved in and gave it go and started writing a bunch of songs. Our fist gig was Adam Brand at the Hexham Bowling Club in Newcastle.
Tell us about your debut album, ‘All Kinds of Tough’.
We did our first show with Adam Brand, and Adam really liked what we did. At the end of the night he asked us to come out on the road with him for a while. We ended up spending about a year with Adam, and that whole time we were touring, we were also writing songs for our first album.
Adam actually helped us gain a record deal with ABC records. He gave us some really good guidance: about the types of songs we should be writing to connect with the audience, to trust our music and give people good stories. In the end we had about 40 songs, and it had taken about a year and a half to write them all.
We had to hone it down to 12 or 13 songs for the record, so that was quite hard. One of those was All Kinds of Tough, and we felt like we had a song that really connected with the audience. So we released that song as our first single, and it went to number 1. Then we released our second single, which went to number 3, then Hell Yeah and it went to number 1 for four weeks, then we released Hard Work, and it went number 1. We are just having this amazing run of hits.
We collaborated and wrote a lot on the road, as I live in Newcastle and Drew lives in the Blue Mountains, so we did a lot of back and forth driving to meet up every Wednesday to write a song. Some weeks we had a hit and other weeks we would miss, so it’s kind of annoying when you drive two hours down and two hours back for one verse of a song!
We just wanted to finish it to make the drive worth it! It was fun, and we eventually got there in the end. With Adam’s guidance and a lot of perseverance, we ended up with a great record and debut Country album last year, so we were pretty stoked with that.
How has Country Music changed and evolved?
Country Music has gotten a lot cooler; it’s not all about the truck broken down or the dog running away, you know … there is Pop Country, Rock Country … There is such a stigma around what Country Music is. Australians have grown up around Slim Dusty and John Williamson, and that’s a lot of the Australian thoughts on what Country Music is; but it has really moved forward, and people need to get out there and listen to some new Country.
What are your songs about?
All kinds of things. We try to hone in on core issues and family values; we really put ourselves in the mind of the listener and think about what people are going to relate to. For example, All Kinds of Tough, you know it’s a song that people are going to relate to because they are doing it tough; people are going to get this.
We wrote a song called I’m Sure of That, which was about all of the things in life that you can’t be sure of or rely on, but you do have your friends and family – they are the things you can be sure of.
So we really try to write about things … people. We just thought, “What is an angle we can take to tap into people’s feelings?” And we just decided to hit them with real life, which actually worked.
What was it like picking up the award for the Best New Talent at the CMAA Golden Guitar Awards in January?
It is really nice to get those sorts of accolades from your peers and your fans in the industry. You work hard, so it is nice to get some sort of reward for that. It is quite bizarre for us in our late thirties to win the Best New Talent award, but I guess you can break to mould occasionally. It was just an incredible feeling, and Best New Talent … you can only win that one once. Now we are going to set about winning the rest of the awards! What can we expect from your concert at Panthers this September?
A McAlister Kemp show is a lot of fun, a lot of energy; we really work hard at getting the crown involved, getting everybody up singing and dancing as much as we can. We’ll play a whole bunch of songs from our album. But we’ll also throw in a bunch of familiar covers like Sweet Home Alabama and all those classic songs that people can rock out to. We played up there recently with the MClymonts, which was a great night, so we are hoping that the same crowd will come back and support us now that we are back with our own band. Are you looking forward to performing so close to your home town?
I am, because my sister and father live in Port Macquarie with their families, and my mother lives in Crescent Head, so a lot of friends come over from Kempsey. We also are playing in Kempsey and Taree. I am really looking forward to it, because a lot of family and friends come out of the woodwork, and they are just happy to be hassling me while on stage.
It is a really nice venue to play in, with great sound. We really try hard to out on a great show with lots of energy and give people entertainment. We jump around, get down on our knees, throw our guitars around and have a ball.
What’s coming up next for McAlister Kemp?
Well, we have just got back from Nashville, doing a show at the Global Artist Showcase, which has bands from all over the world. We are currently recording our new album in Sydney. It’s pretty much just head down touring for the rest of the year. We’ve also got all of the big festivals coming up, like the Tamworth Country Music Festival in January, so hopefully we will be nominated for some awards for that too.