Tracy McNeil

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Tracy McNeil


After finishing high school McNeil studied dance, before migrating to a solo music career in 2006. “It took me quite a few years before I started doing open mic nights in Canada,” she explains. “Eventually I put a band together in about 2006 for my first album. At that stage I really started to buckle down so I could record that album. I’d come from a dance background, but I realised after a while that I had to hang the shoes up and get into music.”

The release of McNeil’s first album coincided with an offer to undertake post-graduate study in Australia. McNeil decided to research the Melbourne music scene, and became acquainted with the music of local musicians including Jordie Lane (with whom McNeil subsequently teamed up with in Fireside Bellows), Liz Stringer, The Idle Hoes and Downhills Home. “I’d also met Clare Bowditch earlier when she’d lived with my brother in Vancouver, so she was also a point of contact” she grins.

Once in Australia, McNeil decided to continue her fledgling association with local music scene, rather than bury herself completely in post-graduate study. “I submerged myself in the music scene rather than the uni scene,” she admits. “I met heaps of people after I got here, and everyone was really welcoming.” With the help of her new-found musical friends, McNeil managed to get a few gigs here and there, while at the same time balancing her study and subsequent full-time employment.

McNeil credits her time as a dance performer with instilling in her the sense of discipline necessary to pursue a career in music. “Initially I was terrified of using my voice as an expressive tool,” she reveals. “But I think the discipline I’d learned while being a dancer helped me. When I decided to switch over I realised it was just a different form of performance. I still hate the moments in between songs, the banter – I still struggle with that. But I can dance around a bit,” she laughs.

Just over a year ago McNeil headed into the studio with a group of friends and musical acquaintances to record what would become her new album, Fire Is Burning. Hampered by a serious throat infection, it took over twelve months for McNeil to complete the album. “I was originally going to release it in September last year, but I got quite sick,” she says, “so I lost quite a few vocal takes. Trying to do the music thing on top of my day job takes its toll!” she laughs.

“Added to that, we had to schedule times for guests [including Steve Hesketh, Liz Stringer and Susannah Espie] to come into the studio, so that took a bit of time to organise.”

McNeil says the songs on the album reflect “a vulnerability and honesty”. While there’s the occasional real-life narrative – including In My Time, which is based on her parents’ meeting at a dance in the 1950s (“My mum loves that song – we’ve actually sung it together on a demo back in Canada”) – other tracks are “completely fictitious”. “I think on the album you get a sense of my values,” McNeil says. “You can get a sense of the way I mend myself – it’s quite revealing, but at the same time it’s not an autobiographical record,” she says.

As the interview draws to a conclusion, there is talk of an upcoming wedding, and the culinary excitement of homemade caramel slice. “Do you think people will want to read about that?” McNeil asks, almost rhetorically. “The title of the album is Fire Is Burning – so maybe it’s close enough to that?” she laughs.