A country boy in the big city, Riley Catherall’s debut album is one of bravery and persistence
16.07.2021

A country boy in the big city, Riley Catherall’s debut album is one of bravery and persistence

Words by Tammy Walters

Catherall’s debut album, When I Go, is out on Friday July 23.

From the humble Hume Highway haven of Yass Valley a boy with a budding jazz and classical career was born. It’s hard to believe that boy turned out to be the now Melbourne-based Australian country-Americana artist, Riley Catherall.

Following a performance trip to the US, Catherall uprooted his life to Melbourne and changed his musical persona with the help and mentorship from Australian country music veterans, Bill and Kasey Chambers.

“It was nice to have people like that and of that calibre take me under their wing early on,” Catherall says. “It definitely fast tracks the process of stepping into a new genre and they certainly showed me who to listen to and who not to listen to, how the whole thing works and made the whole transition pretty seamless.

“I’ve found other mentors since then in Lachlan Bryan and in a few others that have really helped me with my songwriting and figuring out where in that scene I fit in. I’m definitely grateful for that.”

Keep up with the latest music interviews, news and reviews here.

That guidance was captured on his 2018 reinvention EP, Venture In Vain. Venture In Vain earned Catherall the status of being one of Australia’s most promising country songwriters, but the major life changes of leaving home and constantly seeking direction both logistically and in the music landscape come at a cost.

This experience is the content basis for his debut album, When I Go, set for release on Friday July 23.

“I feel like that EP, Venture In Vain, was my first little step into what I have now figured out is the Australian country music – not quite country, not quite folk music scene, which was a bit tricky to navigate at the start and I feel like this record is now just figuring out where I’m supposed to be,” Catherall says.

“Putting an EP out was cool but I’ve always wanted to do a full-length record and this one obviously being my debut record is special because it represents a three or four-year period of my life where I was figuring out where I belong and a lot of the songs on this record are about leaving and finding myself.

“It all started when I moved out of home five years ago and moved to Melbourne … always moving home and uprooting and trying to find where I fit in and then ultimately realising it isn’t about where I am or what suburb I live in it’s about the people you surround yourself with,” Catherall continues.

In particular, you can hear his longing for home in lead track ‘Mother Please’, a song dedicated to Catherall’s mum, taking listeners to where it all started – leaving the nest.

“There are a few songs on the record that I wrote from pretty tumultuous times and that was written in the wake of moving away and questioning my decision and for lack of a better expression, just missing mum, but there were parts of this album that were very cathartic that I needed to write to get through the pain that I was going through,” Catherall says.

“Then there are other songs that I wrote with a little bit more perspective. I went through a bit of writers block for about two months in the middle of writing this record where I realised it was all too much and I couldn’t write anything good. It was literally all going to be emotional dribble so at the end of that when I was getting out the other side, I was able to write things with more perspective and a little bit more poise.

“I definitely think these songs helped me get through things and it’s nice to put them out and say that I’m through it, past it and moving onto other things.”

The process of perspective also comes with help from friends and bandmates. Gabrielle Parker joins Catherall on vocal duty for ‘Mother Please’ and while inviting others into such a deeply-personal experience used to be difficult, Catherall says that hasn’t been an issue with his current lineup.

“I used to be really picky about [collaborations] but I’m lucky now that I have an amazing band behind me, and they’re good friends of mine,” Catherall continues.

“They’re obviously very good but they also know me on a personal level so when I sing about these things on stage they aren’t going through the motions and just playing a song as a session musician; they’re aware of the times that I’m singing about and they can hone into that feeling.

“Gabi is one of those people that I can stand on stage and have that support as a musician next to me but that support as a friend singing from the heart as well.”

When I Go will strike a chord with anyone missing home or family right now – an 11-track release set to solidify Catherall’s name on Australia’s country circuit.

To celebrate the release, Catherall will be taking the record on a 18-date tour around Australia starting in August. As part of this, Catherall will hit The Curtin on Sunday September 19.

When I Go arrives on Friday April 23. For more on Riley Catherall, head to his website and Facebook.