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Featured Artist: Wendy Matthews

Wendy Matthews is a household name in the Australian Music Industry. Having a career spanning the decades since the 70’s and six ARIA awards under her belt in that time, it’s no wonder everywhere she goes and whoever she performs with, the shows are a sell-out. Wendy is now teaming up with long term friend, Grace Knight for their show “We’re Going to Graceland” to perform the songbook of Paul Simon. Simone from Live Music Photography had a chat to Wendy about the show and her amazing career in the music industry.

Simone: It’s Simone from the Rocker Rag. How are you?

Wendy: I’m pretty good thank you.

Simone: That’s good. Busy morning?

Wendy: Yes, very busy morning. I’m supposed to be in Townsville on a 7am flight out of Coffs Harbour tomorrow but they’ve just cancelled my flight out of Melbourne!

Simone Oh no! Oh gosh!

Wendy: So, who knows how I’m going to do all of this! (laughs)

Simone: Oh gosh I hope it all comes together. I hope there’s some other flights for you.

Wendy: Thank you.

Simone: I won’t take up too much of your time because you’re probably needing to start making other travel arrangements. 

Wendy: That’s ok. Thanks.

Simone: I do want to say thank you for speaking to me today.

Wendy: Oh Pleasure.

Simone About your upcoming show with Grace Knight “We’re Going to Graceland”, very appropriately titled!

Wendy: Yeah. Exactly!

Simone: I was actually fortunate enough to have a chat to Grace just a few weeks ago about the show and it’s lovely to have the opportunity to speak to you as well.

Wendy: Thanks very much

Simone: I understand from what Grace told me this show has been on the cards for quite some time for you both. So, can you tell me a little bit about how it all came about?

Wendy: We’ve known each other Grace and I for a long time and we’ve become great friends. We’ve talked for years about doing something together so to have the foundation be friendship first and then try and make some sort of commercial success from that – we’re having a blast.

Simone: That’s excellent

Wendy: Yes, it should be the foundation to everything

Simone: Yes! Definitely. As I said to Grace – I asked her how it came about that you both chose to do Paul Simon, and the songbook of Paul Simon. Have you been a big fan of his work over the years?

Wendy: Ever since my childhood. Ever since the 60’s. “Sounds of Silence”, “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” and “Mrs Robinson”, all those songs – they’re sort of pop songs with depth. I think he is an incredible writer who has just spanned the decades. He was a huge part of my growing up and my musical psyche I suppose. And then in the 80’s when he came out with Graceland and the Brazilian stuff of “Hearts and Bones” it’s just so much depth and even metaphorically you can travel the globe and we have great fun and a wonderful band.

Simone: Yes, that’s fantastic. Grace was saying that the band is just amazing and the sound and playing the songs and that everyone just gels together really nicely.

Wendy: Yes, they’re fantastic.

Simone: You’ve been in the music industry yourself for quite some time and during your time you have received various accolades and you’ve got 6 ARIA awards in your time as an artist. What have been some of the other highlights of your career?

Wendy: Oh, my goodness I think that one is so busy doing it all that I tend to miss a lot of that’s going by! (laughs)

Simone: Yes, you forget to take that step back and enjoy it. (laughs)

Wendy: You’re always looking at the present as opposed to re-living the past or something. I suppose in general it has been the travel. I’m really grateful for travelling the world. If I wasn’t in music I don’t know if I would have had the opportunity to do that. So, I have to say I’m grateful for the travel in general.

Simone: That’s fantastic. Do you have a favourite place that you’ve played or travelled to?

Wendy: Always, I will remember Scotland and Spain.

Simone: Oh wow. Even just saying it, it sounds magical.

Wendy: (laughs) Yeah really. I think because my heritage and my lineage go back in both countries so for that reason probably. But it was more of an unconscious thing. I just adored those two places.

Simone: Yeah that’s amazing! Do you get to go back to the same place often? Or over the years have you played all the countries and then you just keep repeating?

Wendy: No. It depends really on – it’s really all very technical beyond my control (laughs)In so far it depends on where your music is released. What you’re trying to promote at the time.  It’s all stuff that I don’t tend to think about in the forefront of my mind. So luckily there are whole companies that recognise that stuff. (laughs)

Simone: Yeah. That’s so lucky. Like having your own personal assistant/travel assistant!

Wendy: Yes really!

Simone: I have to say, having such a love for music yourself and it seems coming so naturally for you, you’re just so talented. Where did your influence come from? Was it family? Do you come from a musical family? Or did it come from elsewhere?

Wendy: Oh, my goodness. I kind of think we’re all born who we are. There are some young folks that are extraordinary at what they do and just the years alone you can’t create something like that. You know, you’re kind of born with it. And everybody has got their thing. But my mother played piano for disabled children. 

Simone: Oh lovely.

Wendy: But that’s as far as it goes musically. I used to just live in records and there was always music around my house. My parents were young parents of the 60’s and had a huge record collection but besides that, I don’t come from a musical family as such.

Simone: With what you just said with the influences you grew up with, from the era of the 60’s which was so amazing with all the fantastic music of that time, did a lot of that music influence you or has your influences changed over the years?

Wendy: Oh absolutely! I mean it’s changed. I left home when I was about 16 or 17 I went through – from no choice of my own in a sense, I randomly ended up in Los Angeles and New Mexico for a good 7 years. I never knew there were so many different kinds of music and coming from such different places. It was a huge eye opener for me. To the point where you think oh my God, I really need to choose who I am or figure out who I am musically because everybody’s so different and there’s so much out there.

Simone: Yeah definitely. What an experience though. Living overseas and having that influence of – as you said, the music and particularly Mexico would have been such a big cultural influence as well.

Wendy: Yes, it was. And also I was a backing singer in the states for years and years and getting to watch other people, and the main person in their careers, and their choices and their musical – just everything about them really was such a strong learning curve for me as well.

Simone: That’s amazing. And just going back to Australian music, we’re so blessed in our industry. We’ve got so many artists having long rich careers such as yourself and Grace, what do you think the secret is to having such a long presence in our industry? And what are the obstacles and challenges that you’ve had to face to be able to have longevity in the industry?

Wendy: I don’t know. It’s not something I tend to analyse so far as – this is my outlet for creativity. It has always been there and always will be in some capacity and it’s all I’ve ever done. So, I think when you don’t follow trends as such, especially with songs and you just go with the sound of the moment. Sometimes I look into the audience when I’m doing a show and there is a grandmother, and her 40 year old daughter and then there’s her 14 year old daughter it’s really interesting to see the different ages and apparently these songs are working for all those people. So, I don’t know. I think once you come from the right place if you write from the heart it, sounds like a cliché but it’s so true. Most people can sort of relate to it from their experience in life.

Simone: Yeah and just touching on that because for myself I grew up listening to you as well and one of the songs in particular for me “The Day You Went Away” that was a really stand out moment for me in my life. I was 16 or 17 years old and I had a best friend at the time that went away and every time I hear your song, for me that was my song for them. (laughs)

Wendy: Exactly! Exactly! To me in life there’s nothing like a song or a smell to take you back to a specific second in time and I just really appreciate that. I really loved that. I’ve got songs like that too. And that’s a special thing to have a song that’s a part of that because so many people over the years, with that song in particular, it really does resonate with them as far as their experience in life. You can applaud it to those songs you know?

Simone: Yes. Definitely. As I said, I’ve listened to you growing up, and then when I hear your songs now it brings back such fond memories.

Wendy: That’s lovely.

Simone: As you said music has that way of being able to bring us back and touch our souls and our hearts.

Wendy: It sure does. Specific seconds in time.

Simone: I also wanted to say as a well-respected artist with a huge amount of knowledge and experience in the industry; what advice would you give to young and upcoming artists – perhaps the do’s and don’ts if you will.

Wendy: It’s such a different world now as far as outlets go for your creativity and ways to let people know that you are out there and what you’re doing. Really hats off to the kids these days, cause boy, it’s just a different world and it’s really difficult. But you know there’s no crash of thunder if you don’t become somebody or a singer. You don’t create a career overnight. It’s your life experience and you’ve got to put everything in the past into it as well. I think just keep doing what you do and for the right reasons and things really do start to fall into place. It might be a cliché again, but it just seems to work that way.

Simone: If you knock on enough doors hopefully one will open.

Wendy: Yeah yeah.

Simone: But as you said it is so different to when you were starting out, even Grace had mentioned to me back in the day you’d have to be with a record label, you were producing physical content for people to purchase like tangible products like a vinyl record or tapes and now everything is digital and very easily accessible.

Wendy: That’s what I mean. It’s a totally different world. It’s hard to even apply what I learned when I was starting to kids now because it’s a totally different world.

Simone: So how do you find – as you said having gone through the start of the music industry and the way we used to listen to music but it turning digital, how has that affected you and what are your thoughts on the digital environment?

Wendy: I think it’s interesting coming from that vinyl into the CD world etc. Going from being handled by major record companies to, basically at this stage in my life, I’m really proud to say and glad that I can be the owner of everything I do now. I make up my own schedules as far as releases go, I’ve got a little record label that I release my own records on and it’s a lot more hands on but you learn a little bit about every single aspect of the whole thing. And it’s empowering. Especially when you have two and three years and decades with a record company, to own what you do. So again, that’s a whole other world but there’s definitely life beyond record companies and used by dates as far as your age goes and gender barriers and all that stuff. And those sorts of things they’ve got power only if you give them a whole lot of power. If you forge on ahead, they don’t have to have huge power in your life.

Simone: And do you find with the digital age as you said, and Grace said to me as well, it is like running your own little business now and you’re not reliant on others. Does it give you a bit more creative freedom?

Wendy: Absolutely that’s what I mean. You own your own schedules as far as release dates go, you give yourself an amount of time to do your album writing, it comes from yourself which is a lot more freeing than doing it for a record company’s schedule.

Simone: Yes absolutely. And just back onto the show, so for people coming along to the “We’re Going to Graceland” show, what can they expect to see from yourself and Grace?

Wendy: Well as I’ve said we’ve got a great band and it’s really interesting having two women who are used to having their own thing on stage going on, to genuinely share it with gusto and fun. These songs are iconic, going back as I said to the 60’s everybody knows these songs, they’re wonderful to hear, they’re wonderful to play and sing, and we just have a blast.

Simone: Yes, Grace was saying to me just because they are such well known songs and not through any plan of yours and Grace’s that the whole audience just ends up becoming one big sing along like being in a Dublin pub!

Wendy: Yes. That’s true

Simone: Grace said there were a couple of shows that you did before Christmas, when you did the first show, were you expecting that sort of response and reaction?

Wendy: Well sort of. That was partly a deciding factor in choosing Paul Simon songs. It was just really interesting to see what some songs were much better received than others that we thought would be. Every audience has their own personality. That’s what keeps it special too. 

Simone: Yeah that’s so fantastic. After this run of shows Grace also touched on that it’s obviously for a limited time and it’s not going to forgo either one of your careers, so after the run of shows will we see you continue to do some solo work on the gig circuit?

Wendy: I’ve got my own shows going on. Yes. And I’m performing with Glenn Shorrock in a couple of months in Little River in Victoria. I’ve got the APIA tour to do too.

Simone: Oh yes that’s right. I read about that.

Wendy: That show features Leo Sayer, Brian Cad and John Paul Young and Linda and Vika Bull and Deborah Conway, Kate Ceberano and myself. Hope I haven’t forgotten anyone – oh and Joe Camilleri as well, so I’ve got a few things going on. Then Grace and I go back to do some shows in New South Wales.

Simone: That’s fantastic. It sounds like you’ve got an extremely busy schedule with this run of shows and the APIA ones, do you think in between all of that we will be seeing any new material from yourself over the year or maybe the next couple of years?

Wendy: Oh, definitely in the next year yes. Doing a lot of writing for the next record, so yes.

Simone: That’s so amazing! I look forward to when that all comes about (laughs)

Wendy: Oh nice (laughs) Thankyou.

Simone: I just want to say a very big thank you to you for your time because as I said earlier, I listened to you growing up. If someone had said to 17-year-old me “oh you’re going to actually interview her when you’re in your 40’s!” (laughs)

Wendy: Yes, isn’t it interesting. I know what you mean. So interesting. If only we knew what was ahead in our youth.

Simone: That’s right! So, it’s all very surreal for me getting the opportunity to do these interviews.

Wendy: Aww nice.

Simone: So, I do very much appreciate it. I’m actually going to get along to the Memo Music Hall show in March, so I’ll be there taking some photographs of you guys so I’m very excited to come along to the show.

Wendy: Nice! I’ll keep my eye out for the photographer!

Simone: Yes, I’ll give you a wave! (laughs) Thank you so much Wendy for your time and I look forward to seeing you soon.

Wendy: Good to talk to you. Bye Simone.

Simone: Bye Wendy.

You can check out Simone’s interview with Grace Knight here

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