MAMA KIN SPENDER “We got creatively married, and I took his name”

Following a memorable performance at Perth Festival earlier this year, Mama Kin Spender are set to take their travelling choir on the road to Pinjarra and the Fairbridge Festival next weekend, from Friday, April 20 to Sunday, April 22. HARVEY RAE spoke to local hero, one half of Mama Kin Spender and yes, John Butler’s baby mama, Danielle Caruana about how new album Golden Magnetic is different to her day gig as Mama Kin (her solo moniker) and just how many singers they’ll be sharing the stage with at Fairbridge. Mama Kin Spender have also been announced this week alongside Birds of Tokyo, San Cisco and more on the SOTA (State of the Art) 2018 line up celebrating WA music on Monday, June 4.

What are you up to in the lead up to Fairbridge Festival?

Right now we are just out of Melbourne preparing to do a couple of rescheduled shows that were postponed due to nasty weather. We have just finished a run of shows with the John Butler Trio throughout regional Victoria, and before that we were at WOMADelaide, Perth Festival and Nannup… it has been a busy time since our album release.

Congratulations on your new album Golden Magnetic, alongside Tommy Spender under the name Mama Kin Spender…

When we were talking about doing this project together we talked about finding a mash up of our names like Mender or Mama Spender but eventually we got to the point where we decided that we both wanted to be fully represented in the name of is this project, because it really is about the power of the two of us and our friendship. So we kind of got creatively married, and I took his name.

How has it been different making an album as Mama Kin Spender as opposed to your previous albums The Magician’s Daughter and Beat and Holler – I’ve read that Tommy’s role is producer as well as guitarist, how has it been different to working with any other producer on a solo record?

It had a distinct economy of time and a special flow and efficiency. I think because we decided early on that the songs would be built around him on electric guitar, me on drums, and our shared vocal leads we really stuck to that, and we also wanted to make sure that there was plenty of sonic room left over for the choir that we recorded with, and also the choirs we tour with.  We just really wanted a fully flexible arrangement, and we feel like we achieved that. The songs still work with us belting them out as a duo, and them they come alive in a different way when we sing with choirs.

I was lucky enough to catch you in support of Perfume Genius at Perth Festival, which was just an amazing night, quite magical in fact. How did you enjoy his set?

The whole night was just extremely magical. That was our official album launch show, and we were performing with the very talented WAAPA Gospel choir.  Sonically it was an incredible experience.  I was so high when we came off stage.  I was only able to watch half of Perfume Genius’ set and it was transcendent.  We felt so proud to share the bill with him and his band.

As you say, you had the WAAPA Gospel Choir with you that night, will they be performing at Fairbridge as well?

We will be bringing a mash up of choirs to Fairbridge… we are bringing members of the choir we worked with for the Nannup Festival, The Choral Sea from Margaret River, and we will also be bringing members of the WAAPA Gospel Choir… a choir jam of sorts!  Should be a hoot.

It must be pretty handy having a choir at your disposal…

Whenever we can, we pick up a choir wherever we go.  It is an amazing experience and a bit different every time.  We now have choirs at the ready who have learnt our material in Melbourne, Brisbane, Bellingen, Margaret River, Queenscliff, Perth, Adelaide and Sydney. Our plan is to do a substantial regional tour later in the year and start reaching out into the depths of the community choirs that are out there… it is an incredibly rewarding process.

Touring and getting those arrangements right must be tricky. I understand Virginia Bott from Brighter Later travels with you, does she organise the singers in each city?

Virginia is our choir master, she wrote and arranged all the choir parts on the recording.  Once we have selected a choir that we will work with, she then liaises with that choir’s leader in the 6 weeks leading up to us getting to town. Then she comes along with us and Tommy, and Virginia and I lead an intensive choir workshop/rehearsal in preparation for sharing the stage together.

The last time I saw you solo you were just as entertaining as you are with Tommy – it was supporting Martha Wainwright at the Astor Theatre, which turned out to be a pretty great way to spend International Women’s Day last year. But you clearly enjoy the back and forth onstage with Tommy, whether you’re making him feel uncomfortable talking about your sex life or just the general chemistry you guys have in your banter and playing. Is that part of the attraction of doing this, as opposed to performing solo?

Yes. I love being on stage with one of my best mates. I absolutely had that as well in performing just as Mama Kin, because I was often on stage with my big brother Michael Caruana.  It is just something a little different. It feels good to just be performing as a duo. Tommy and I have also created a podcast that sits alongside this release, called Inside the Golden Magnetic, in fact it has just been shortlisted in the Best Newcomer category at the Australian Podcast Awards. The podcast is produced by Tommy, and we basically banter and joke with each other while exploring the process of writing and recording each song on the album.  They are actually pretty funny because we are both each constantly looking for an opportunity to slay the other one. Good ole fashioned fun.

When you look back on the lyrics do you notice a thread at all running through the record?

Not particularly. However Air Between Us as the flagship song of this project was embedded with such joy and optimism, and I think that sentiment is weaved throughout.

Finally what can we expect from you live at Fairbridge? Are you playing a few sets and will they all be relatively similar, or do you have anything special planned we should know about?

We will be joined by a 16 piece choir on stage at both shows. Tommy and I will be there, unscripted, and unleashed and trying to behave for an all ages audience.  I mean what else do you need!

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