Tami Neilson
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Tami Neilson

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"Country Music Award Finalists 2009"

Country music award finalists announced:

Country music is in the spotlight as NZ Music Month gets underway with the announcement of the finalists for the RIANZ Best Country Music Album of 2009 and the APRA Best Country Song of the year.

Both awards are to be presented at the New Zealand Country Music Awards on May 29 in Gore.

Finalists for the Recording Industry Association of New Zealand (RIANZ) Best Country Music Album Tui are Annette & Kim for “Something Between Us”, Kylie Austin for “When It Rains” and Tami Neilson for “Red Dirt Angel”.

Tami Neilson is also a finalist for the Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA) Best Country Song Award for “Cry Myself To Sleep”, the first single due to be released from her upcoming album "The Kitchen Table Sessions".

The other two finalists vying for the best song are Kayla Mahon, Taylor Cairns and Andrea Cruickshank for “Facing The World” and Jess Chambers for “Stringing Me Along”.

New Zealand Music Awards spokesperson Campbell Smith says once again the finalists list demonstrates the incredible depth and talent of the New Zealand Country Music scene.

“It’s a great scene in Gore and we love being part of it and presenting the Country Album of the Year Tui in the presence of the nation’s biggest country fans.”

Ant Healey, Director of New Zealand Operations for APRA says: “Like all great country music, these songs are full of heart and soul. During the week-long celebration, Gore becomes the centre of country music in New Zealand and APRA is pleased to be able to pay tribute to New Zealand's top songwriting talent at the awards.”

Attracting more than 5,000 country music fans during the festival, Gore’s Gold Guitar week is in its 36th year. For more information visit: www.goldguitars.co.nz
- APRA/ RIANZ press release


"Tami Loves the Country"

Who or what have been the biggest influences on your music?



My Dad, definitely. He spoon-fed me The Beatles growing up and really nurtured a love for all kinds of music, introducing me to Dolly Parton, Judy Garland, Motown, Louis Armstrong- a mix of everything. He is the one who taught me how to sing, how to play guitar, how to write a song. Everything I am as an artist has grown from a seed planted by him.

What's happening in the NZ country music circles at the moment?



From what I've seen recently, I think there's a bit of shaking going on in a good way. For a long time, country music has been associated with an older generation, but there seems to be an uprising of new, young artists that are starting to redefine the genre. Even in the mainstream music scene, it seems you can't spit without hitting a banjo these days.

How big is the local country music scene?



Auckland can be a bit of a challenging place for an alt-country musician, the alt-country/folk community which I'm a part of is a bit "underground" but extremely supportive and appreciative of great music. I'm amazed and encouraged when I go to shows like Kasey Chambers and Old Crow Medicine Show at The Powerstation and they're sell-out shows, packed to the rafters. There is definitely a community of country music lovers out there.

What's the best way to describe country music?



To me, country music is earthy, gritty and real. Like any genre, tthough, there is a wide spectrum of music under the "country" heading. From the slick, polished, pop-country of Shania Twain or Taylor Swift to the haunting, roots/folk of Gillian Welch or the stripped back, acoustic, gut-wrenching songs of Johnny Cash to the foot-stomping, driving songs of Steve Earle- lots ot choose from, from one extreme to the other.



How have things changed for you in the past 12 months?



I've really been focusing on getting a band together and playing heaps of live gigs this year. Coming from Canada, where I was raised in a family of musicians, touring professionally most of my life, I really took for granted that I had my family at my disposal- never had to do a lot of rehearsing or practice, we knew each other so well musically. So, it's been an adjustment, having to start from scratch, but also very empowering doing it on my own.

What have you got coming up in the next 12 months?



I have the release of my second album, "The Kitchen Table Sessions" coming up in spring with a New Zealand tour to launch the CD, a tour of Canada for the month of August and a week of performances in Tamworth, Australia in the summer which I am booking at the moment. When you're a DIY artist, you have to be constantly working on booking things about 6 months in advance...it never stops!

What's the best advice you got from your mum?




Don't eat the yellow snow. I grew up in Canada, what can I say?


What more can be done for country music from a musicians point of view?



It would be fantastic to see New Zealand get a mainstream country music station and music video slot. But, in the meantime, I'd most happily settle for airplay on existing mainstream stations. That was probably the biggest adjustment after moving to New Zealand. In Canada, country music is very mainstream whereas here it is more a specialised genre. I think some people hear the word "country" and automatically assume it's going to sound a certain way. That's like assuming every pop song sounds like Britany Spears- it's just nice when people approach music with an open mind and have a listen before deciding whether they like it or not.

Where do you dream of performing?




The Grand Ole Opry at the original Ryman Auditorium in Nashville as part of a dream-team line-up (Alison Krauss & Union Station, Gillian Welch & David Rawlings, Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn and seeing that it's a dream and there are no rules in dreams, why not throw Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash into the mix!)


Are you envious of Ashley who went to play in Nashville?



I haven't actually met Ashley- in fact, I was first introduced to her music when I read an article about her last week and checked her out online. I'm really stoked for her and am keen to hear how her trip goes representing NZ country music! Great to see hot young country artists coming out of the woodwork.
- Q&A by Joseph Lose


"Three Chords and the Truth"

As the New Zealand Gold Guitar Awards reach their business end in Gore this weekend, Shane Gilchrist asks a couple of songwriters to define the essence of a country music song.

Acclaimed American songwriter Harlan Howard has provided words, music and inspiration to a long and influential list of country music artists.

Those who have sung his songs include Patsy Cline, Waylon Jennings, Ray Charles and Dolly Parton. Despite the many words he has given to others to perform, those from his own lips also echo loudly.

Howard, who died in 2002 at the age of 74, was once asked what made a great country song.

His reply: "Three chords and the truth."

With the New Zealand Gold Guitar Awards culminating in the senior finals at Gore's Town and Country Club tomorrow, it's timely, then, to explore Howard's words further.

And who better to ask than one of the awards' judges, Canadian-born singer-songwriter Tami Neilson, and Jackie Bristow, one of three finalists for Best New Zealand Country Music Album.

A re-reading of Howard's answer might be, "simple and honest".

However, to categorise all country music as such is to risk a woefully inadequate generalisation of a genre that has within it many subsets.

For instance, how could you lump a strident gunfighter anthem such as Marty Robbins' El Paso with the swing-time lilt and tender lyrics of, say, Lyle Lovett's The Waltzing Fool? Neilson agrees.

On the road for a series of gigs before her arrival in Gore earlier this week, she believes "emotional resonance" is a better definition for what makes country music such an abiding attraction, both to herself and others.

It is the connection between lyric and listener that's all-important, she says.

"I think the reason there is always a love for country music is because they are songs that people can instantly relate to.

"Everything that is written is normally by real people, people who are just trying to express their hurt or their love . . .

"Country music is one of those genres where you could read out the lyrics and it is actually a story."

Pain and love aside, other well-trodden metaphors include those of revenge and redemption, the metamorphosis from underdog to overlord (and, sometimes, back again), the numerous narratives of blue-collar battlers and the desperation of the dirt-poor.

Neilson explores the latter in her recent album, Red Dirt Angel, the title track evoking more than a sprinkling of the dust so prevalent in the opening paragraphs of literary giant John Steinbeck's The Grapes Of Wrath.

Neilson co-wrote the song with Dennis Morgan, a professional lyricist who has been inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame on the back of tracks such as Sleeping Single In A Double Bed and I Was Country When Country Wasn't Cool, both performed by Barbara Mandrell.

"I had this idea kicking around in my head," Neilson explains.

"I had this image of a Red Dirt Angel.

I guess it was the two opposites combined in one; you think `angel equals pure', and the red dirt coming from a poor background."

From Toronto, Neilson (31) followed her heart (and a man) and moved to Auckland two and a-half years ago (she got married last year).

She was immersed in music from an early age, performing with parents Ron and Betty and younger brothers Todd and Jay in The Neilsons.

The family band had full-time commitments, travelling throughout Canada and the United States.

"We actually did a full variety show; we grew up doing the music of the '40s, '50s and '60s, country music . . . old rock 'n' roll and old country music are not that dissimilar," Neilson says.

"There are so many genres within country music. You've got bluegrass, alt-country, swing, rock-country, pop-country . . . I just find people think country music is all the same thing.

"That's like saying all rock music sounds like Nickelback, or all pop music sounds like Justin Timberlake. It's just not true."

Neilson continues the family's country music connection, working with Jay.

He co-produced Red Dirt Angel, released in April, as well as playing bass, ukulele, guitar and singing backing vocals.

Jay flew from Canada to accompany his sister on a national tour that finished earlier this week in Gore.

"My dad and my brother are some of the best guitar players I've met in my life - and I've had the privilege to meet a few.

But even though my dad can play every chord known to man, he used to always say to me, `Tami, the simpler the better.

If you can write a song with three chords or two chords . . .' "It's actually a lot harder to write a simple song and make it sound really great," Neilson says.

"For instance, probably my favourite song on the album is Cigarette . . . Really, that song has four chords and there's not a lot of movement either - it's just that same chord playing over and over.

"But I find the simpler the music, the more the lyrics resound."

Though Neilson has visited Gore before ("I opened their new country music centre last year and have done quite a few concerts there"), this is the first time she has been a judge at the Gold Guitar Awards.

"I was quite surprised when they asked me. I was asked to be a judge and that is quite an honour . . . I don't know yet which categories I'll be judging."

A tip for entrants: she likes the banjo.

"I need to learn how to play it," Neilson says.

"I love it when it is used in a moody, percussive way."

- Otago Daily Times


"Review..."

“Truly top shelf….Tami Neilson has the looks and the voice to get any song across to any audience…”

-Randy Bachman of ‘The Guess Who’ - Randy Bachman


"Tami Neilson Wins Best Album Tui"

Aucklander Tami Neilson walked away with the 2009 Recording Industry Association of New Zealand Best Country Music Album award at the St James Theatre, Gore, last night.

Heralding the business end of the week-long Gold Guitars Awards in Gore, which culminate tomorrow night, the New Zealand Country Music Awards ceremony also included the Australasian Performing Rights Association Best Country Song award, won by Wellington singer-songwriter Jess Chambers.

Neilson, a Canadian who has lived in Auckland for the past three years, claimed the Tui for her album, Red Dirt Angel, released in April 2008.

Neilson, who will also be acknowledged at the New Zealand Music Awards (Tuis) in Auckland in October, is a prolific artist and performer, touring New Zealand three times last year and also completing a 10-day season in Tamworth with New Zealand fiddle player Marian Burns.

She has also appeared on TV1's Good Morning programme and impersonated controversial soul singer Amy Winehouse on TVNZ's Stars in Their Eyes.

New Zealand Music Awards spokesman Campbell Smith said Neilson's award was well deserved.

"Tami has toured tirelessly since a child," Mr Smith said.

"She is a real asset to New Zealand country music and thoroughly deserves the acknowledgement that a Tui brings."

Neilson's single Cry Myself To Sleep was also a finalist for the APRA Best Country Song Award, won by Chambers for her track, Stringing Me Along, from the 2008 album The Woolshed Sessions, a collaboration with some of New Zealand's most respected independent musicians, including Age Pryor and Lee Prebble.
- Otago Daily Times


"A Fine Winehouse: Tami's Wino Makeover"

AMY Winehouse is making it as a down-home Kiwi country girl.

Auckland singer and songwriter Tami Neilson who transformed herself into the troubled British diva on the Kiwi version of TV show Stars In Their Eyes last week won a New Zealand recording industry gong for best country album.

Canadian-born Tami, who has shared the same stage as country music icons Johnny Cash and Loretta Lynn, got the Tui for debut album Red Dirt Angel. The award was announced at the Golden Guitar Awards in Gore.

"I am really honoured and humbled," said Tami, who settled here three years ago after falling in love with "a gorgeous Kiwi man".

"It was quite daunting moving countries and starting over from scratch. So for my first album to win an award in New Zealand is amazing. I am really thankful to New Zealanders for being so accepting of me and welcoming me into their hearts, their homes and their CD players."

Although country music is in her blood she travelled for more than a decade with her family, under the name The Neilsons, and shared the stage with the likes of Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Brenda Lee and The Osmonds Tami is probably better known to Kiwis for her characterisation of Winehouse in last year's Stars In Their Eyes.

"I actually auditioned as KT Tunstall," she said. "The producers came back and said, `Who is KT Tunstall?' They loved my performance though and asked me if there was anyone else I could do.

"I'd seen a clip of Rehab on TV and thought, `Damn that girl's got a cool voice'. I only knew her as this kind of celebrity druggie. I didn't really know her music but I was trying to think of someone who would be a great physical transformation for me and so much fun to turn into. The signature beehive and those tattoos, it was like the best Halloween costume ever."

Someone at the studio printed off the lyrics to Rehab, Tami sung them in acapella and won over the producers.

"Being brought up a good little Christian girl, I can't say that I have had the experience with drugs and alcohol that she has," Tami said. "I went out and bought a live DVD of hers and watched it a few times, with my husband giggling in the corner, `You need to look more stoned, sweetie. You need to look more stoned'."

Tami is also the voice behind The Warehouse Feeling Good commercial where she wails away at the Nina Simone song while women pensioners throw sexy underwear at John Rowles.

"That opportunity came up after the ad agency saw me on Stars In Their Eyes," she said.

Tami's Tui award-winner, Red Dirt Angel, was self-released and features a song called Sister Cash, which features Joanne Cash, daughter of Johnny Cash. The song, like much of the album, was recorded in Nashville on her honeymoon.

"I'd given the song to her to learn on a previous visit but it wasn't until my husband and I were on our honeymoon that we actually recorded it," Tami said. She had already had a wedding in New Zealand and went back home for a Canadian ceremony and a honeymoon.

"We drove down to New York and, of course, I said `Can we just stop on the way in Nashville?' My husband was OK about it. I think he knew what he was getting into right from the start."

There's a new album on the way featuring her parents and siblings, called The Kitchen Table Sessions. "It was recorded around the kitchen table at my brother Jay's house. I thought it would be fun to do something with my family because I haven't for so many years. It's almost like going full circle."

- Sunday News


Discography

"The Neilsons" (1996), "Red Dirt Angel" (2008), "The Kitchen Table Sessions" (2009)

Photos

Bio

“TRULY TOP SHELF….Tami Neilson has the looks and the voice to get any song across to any audience…” -Randy Bachman of "THE GUESS WHO"

She was raised in Canada, by parents with a closet full of sequined stage costumes and platform shoes.

She grew up in a house where amplifiers and guitar cases were just as much a part of the furniture as chairs and tables, and when most kids are still singing nursery rhymes in the bathtub, she was travelling across North America in a 34 foot motor home, performing professionally in their family band (No, not the Partridge Family- next guess…) The Neilsons.

Sharing the stage with the likes of Johnny Cash, Tami appeared regularly on television and radio, and at fairs and festivals, promoting The Neilsons independent CD, releasing 2 top 40 singles on the Canadian music charts. She also managed to score an award-winning music video for their single "Windows to The Past", which aired regularly on CMT.

Then Tami met a boy who caused her heart to flutter and her feet to move to the other side of the world.

She arrived in New Zealand, showcasing as the support act on numerous NZ and Australian tours, performing on television and radio and releasing her debut solo album, “Red Dirt Angel”, which won the prestigious Tui Award for the New Zealand Music Awards "Best Country Album 2009". Soon to release her 2nd CD, "The Kitchen Table Sessions", her first single "Cry Myself to Sleep"was nominated for APRA "Best Country Song".

Watch Tami on YouTube!: www.youtube.com/tamineilsondotcom