Helen Townsend asks age-old question with new single ‘Is this Love’

Local Americana singer-songwriter Helen Townsend’s new single, Is This Love, asks the age-old question, the one we’ve all wanted answered sometime or another. Dressed up in honky tonk blues, Is This Love is out on Tuesday, September 26 and is the first release from Townsend’s forthcoming sophomore album Take It or Leave It. BRAYDEN EDWARDS spoke to Helen Townsend to find out why the single is both the culmination of her musical journey to date, and the first taste of bigger things yet to come.

Congrats on the release of your new single Is This Love. What do you remember you were feeling when you first started writing this song?

Thank you. I wish I had a wonderful picture of first love to paint to answer this question, but the truth is this song was written because of the many failed relationships I’ve had in the past. Not to take anything away from the romance of all the feels that come with meeting and connecting with someone. I was deep in that zone in the first months of meeting my partner Shannon Smith when I wrote this…but had I been there before? Was it real? Was my desire for a connection so great that my brain was playing tricks on me? Was he feeling the same? After a few failed relationships I was very sceptical.

And how is this single different from what you have released before? Were there any artists, or styles of music that you drew inspiration from?

My last EP was actually recorded with Shannon. Is This Love was penned before the EP which was a more stripped-back, acoustic folk side project of duets. Is This Love is far from folk, but has the undertones of influence from old school country, honky tonk and rockabilly acoustic vibes. I feel like this song has been in my bones for 25 years, ever since I fell in love with all the troubadour Americana country music and dancing rockabilly back in Sydney.

Who helped bring this song to life instrumentally and in the studio? And how did that shape the result?

I was so lucky to have, a now good friend, Phil Richardson visiting Australia from the UK for just one year. Phil is a phenomenal piano player and a beautiful and humble human to boot. His time frame of availability pushed me to get cracking on the full album, and his support, musical input and ability to translate what was in my head into reality was so on point. He is a performer, session musician and music teacher, a husband and father in the UK, but for one amazing year, Phil was here, in Oz and in my band, and now on my record for eternity!

We recorded at Rada Studios with Dan Carroll (Southern River Band), and the overall vibe was brought to life with the additional input from Dan, Ben Franz (The Waifs), Shannon Smith (Co-Producer), Lukas Murphy (acoustic guitar) and Tyler Ray (Southern River Band, drums). It was very much a group effort once we got into the studio.

There’s a video clip coming out soon for this song too! How was it being part of creating that?

Is This Love was filmed at the new Honky Tonk Blues bar in Fremantle. I had around 80 volunteers come along to help me out. They got dressed up, danced and sang with high energy and love for what I was creating. I have a passion for classic cars, rockabilly and swing dancing, and I have spent many a night in honky tonks in the US, so it seemed like the perfect fit for me, to include all those in this clip.

After all it’s a honky tonk country blues tune. My first video clip at 53 years old! I could never have imagined that I would be in video clip let alone be making my own video clip! The whole process was so much fun. It has its challenges, but they have turned into great lessons learned, and we are now floating through the series of upcoming video clips with ease and a much better understanding of the process, which makes it much more comfortable and way more fun each time.

What have been some of the highlights of your performing career to date? 

This is such a hard question. There are so many highlights that come with performing and sharing my music. From the people who come up to me after a show and thank me for writing/singing about something that has been hard for them or they connect with, to playing at the Bluebird Café in Nashville and recording with The McCrary Sisters at Compass Studios, to the Band Jam that I host at Clancy’s Fremantle every month. Then there’s Boddington Rodeo…that is a wildly fun time. There are so many highlights it’s too hard to pick one.

What’s next for you musically for the rest of the year and beyond? Any chance we’ll get to see this new song performed live sometime soon?

Is This Love is the first single release off my forthcoming sophomore album Take It or Leave It. I feel like this album has more of me in it. I am still learning, and wanting to learn more and continue to push my own boundaries, but this album is where I am now. It’s drawn from so many personal ups and downs from new love to heartbreak, grief, and betrayal to hope and finding strength. I’ve even been brave enough to share a tale of my past in song.

Shannon is also releasing his debut album, and we have created an interweaving tale of music videos – kind of like a mini-series – to go with the first few alternating single releases which will drop over the next few months. It’s a pretty ambitious project, but we are keen to push our boundaries and give it our best shot.

We’ve also been working up our regional presence this year. So, our next shows are at Lancelin Sands Hotel on October 20, then onto The Valley Muster in Chapman Valley near Geraldton and to Boddington Rodeo on November 4. Then we are back at the scene of Is This Love at the Honky Tonk Blues in Fremantle on November 12. All these upcoming shows are listed on my website.