Interview: Karma County on the 25-year anniversary tour, playing shows in a post-covid world, and making evergreen music

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Interview: Karma County on the 25-year anniversary tour, playing shows in a post-covid world, and making evergreen music

Photo by James Brickwood SMH

It’s been 25 years since Karma County’s award-winning debut album 'Last Stop Heavenly Heights' was released, and the group are hitting Melbourne’s theatres in celebration of it after some Covid-induced postponements. 

“It’s been pretty hard for artists and promoters,” Karma County frontman Brendan Gallagher says. “We postponed this Victorian leg of our tour from November last year, so it’s good to see it’s actually happening. 

“I’ll be very relieved when I walk out onto the stage and actually see people.”

Back in 1996, a newly formed Karma County began work on their noteworthy record, a release that introduced fans to the acoustic-contemporary genre that is so popular nowadays. 

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The album began to gain traction soon after its release, but the group didn’t expect such a great deal of attention, which Brendan notes was thanks to radio airplay and fans resonating with the lyrics. 

“Like every other musician at the time, I’d been pushing shit up a hill for a while,” Brendan adds with a laugh. “I started working on this record in 1994, and it was a solo project, then it turned into a band project. 

“It was going to be a studio album, we weren’t going to go out and play it, but of course, that all changed. The big thing was being picked up by Triple J, and that made a huge difference. 

“25 years later, the dust settles a bit, and we look back now and see it wasn’t a bad record, so this seemed like a good idea to catch up and play some songs we hadn’t done for a while.” 

This March, Karma County are playing some beautiful intimate stages across the state, like the Thornbury Theatre and Castlemaine’s Theatre Royal to name a few. The at-times emotional and intricate stylings of Karma County lend itself perfectly to theatres, almost a requirement for this anniversary tour, often the preferred choice over pubs.

“We started out in pubs, and we weren’t a pub band. So we were in the front bars, and we actually had to pull the audience down to our level.

“It was interesting when we did start playing bigger venues, I felt quite intimidated because it was so quiet, and everyone was looking at us.” 

Playing theatres allows the group to connect with audiences, and help their music live on in a new generation of fans. 

Playing music that was written during a different time of an artist’s life seems like a tough feat, as there’s no more connection, but Brendan mentions seeing it connect with future fans is what keeps it fresh and interesting for the group.

“It’s quite an emotional record, and there’s a bit of muscle memory that goes into remembering all the chords and lyrics. But for songwriters, the song can become something completely different for your audience, quite often, they know more about them than you do, and you wrote them.

“I’ve always written songs from the point of view that I don’t try to please somebody else, I try and please myself.  If it means something to me and is important to me, then there’s a good chance it’ll have a resonance with someone else.”

Touring an album a few decades after its release means the trio need to be retrospective about Last Stop Heavenly Heights.

“It’s interesting looking back at them, just from a musical point of view. At the time I was experimenting a lot with kind of southern blues and subcontinental Indian style music and trying to smash it together. So it’s interesting, looking back at them as an exercise that I was fooling around, it actually kind of worked.”

The music that Karma County play is still relevant in 2022, the album could be recorded and released today and still sell as well as it did in the 90’s. 

There’s something special about the brand of acoustic rock Karma County deliver, they’ve created a special sauce that’s going to continue to taste good forever. 

“Good songs come from good structure, and something the audience can connect with lyrically. 

“I find I have difficulty with modern music lately, probably because I’m old,” Brendan laughs, “but when you put 5,6,7 people in a room to write a song, it doesn’t make a piece of art. But in some instances, it might work. 

“When you have a personal connection to a song, I think you get a better result.”

Be prepared to connect with the Karma County trio when they hit stages next month. 

“I don’t know when it’s going to happen again, I want them to come and see that the three of us, in our own little way did something that was kind of different in the Australian music scene.” 

Karma County are hitting Victorian theatre stages this March with Thornbury Theatre on March 11, Theatre Royal in Castlemaine on March 12 and Archie’s Creek Hotel on March 13.  Check out more info and book tickets here