Kicking it with south coast artist Simone Keane

Hailing from Western Australia’s deep south, Simone Keane is a folk singer-songwriter who draws on the natural beauty of her surroundings to create music that focuses on themes of independence, empowered femininity, motherhood, love, loss, trauma and freedom. The two-time WAM Song of the Year winner’s latest single Kicking up the Leaves was released last week and is the first taste of her upcoming album Graced By Leaves, which is due out on Sunday, October 29. ANTHONY JACKSON caught up with Simone Keane to chat about the creation of the new single and album, and the inspiration of living in WA’s majestic Great Southern.

Congratulations on the release of Kicking up the Leaves. How does it feel to have it out in the world?  

It feels like my heart just grew wings and flew out of my chest with a big smile on its face. This means more to me than most people realise. I almost left the music industry behind before this unstoppable wave of inspiration scooped me back up. I had to go with its flow and just see what I was still capable of after living with a mindset of anxiety and depression for a long stretch.  

This release is surreal. I look at it and listen to it and think back to the night I picked up my guitar in my lounge room and this strange little chanty tune came to me, like a gift. I thought, ‘I want to do something with this song, something special.’ I’m stoked.

The lyrics and music for Kicking up the Leaves are deeply emotive. Can you tell us how you came about to write the music, lyrics and theme for the song? How was the song conceived? Was it a long process?

The main part of the song came to me one night while I was sitting on my couch in my lounge room mucking around with my guitar.  I’d been listening to this mind-blowingly talented artist called Jesca Hoop who sings lots of chanty-rhythmic eery folk tunes reminiscent of old archetypal childhood games. I was in that zone. The theme of Kicking up the Leaves is to ‘escape’ into a mysterious forest to process trauma.  

I sing about leaves ‘floating around like words unspoken.’ I count the leaves, assigning them with the thoughts and memories of abuses that are unable to be articulated to people because it’s not safe to share something that cuts that deep. It can be alienating, sharing traumatic experiences that have been inflicted upon us.

Not everybody is comfortable around victims and not all victims are believed. In fact, many victims who have experienced violence and sexual abuse call themselves survivors. That’s fierce defiance. I felt defiant whilst performing this song for the video. I’m basically saying, “Hey, this happened, but I’m okay just chilling out here in the forest feeling free, kicking up the leaves with the birds.” The theme is personal but also universal.

The bridge came to me about a week later while I was watching the news about the overturning of Roe v Wade in the US. I couldn’t believe it! I was shocked to the core when it was reported that women and girls who have been raped are not legally permitted to have a medical abortion. In fact, nobody in the US was legally permitted to have an abortion. I felt upset. So I wrote, “sometimes we don’t get to choose who enters inside our bodies and our minds/ bearing fruit of someone else’s crime in nine month’s time,” and then just kept counting and chanting and singing to try and feel okay again.

Now you have got some fantastic WA musicians playing on the song. How did you go about sourcing them and how did you bring them all together to record the track?

It was a mammoth process starting around the time of WA’s COVID lockdowns. My producer, Lee Buddle from CRANK Perth, suggested I record my guitar and lead vocal with an audio engineer in Albany, Kim Lofts. Kim also recorded sublime Denmark-based violinist Marie Limondin’s part. Kim then sent the recordings to Lee, who liked the song. I asked the super talented, and most sensitive drummer I know, Bronton Ainsworth, if he could go into CRANK and record some drums. He also played on my first album.  

Ben Franz just happened to be in Perth around that time, so Lee asked him if he could pop in and lay down some electric bass. I wanted a deep grizzly bear type sound from a double-bass played with a bow, so Lee invited Phillip Waldron in. I also had this wish for Lee to play bird-like flutter-tongued sounds on his bass flute, which happened just before the final mix. Magic! Then I travelled from Albany up to CRANK to sing lots of vocal harmonies and listen to the mix. Back in Albany I decided I wanted to do some percussive sounds and body percussion, which I recorded with Kim. Lee mixed it all like the wizard he is and mastered it to its sparkly warmth which you can hear now.

The music video for Kicking up the Leaves is very special. Can you tell us how that was created?  

It was made by Marry Waterson in the UK, who comes from a line of very well known folk musicians (Waterson/Carthy Dynasty). I came across her animations for music on Facebook and was spellbound. I knew it was a long shot but I thought I’d message her and ask if she would be interested in making a video for Kicking up the Leaves. I couldn’t believe it when she said yes.

I asked her about the possibility of sending her some footage of me singing, to be placed into it. She requested I do it in front of a green screen, which was filmed by my photographer in Albany, Warren Lilford. Marry was really happy with the green screen footage. She asked me for a brief about the song and then, as if by a tap of a magic wand, she sends me this astounding music video. I watched it for the first time thinking she had somehow managed to sit inside my brain. I’ve been sitting on this clip for ages, itching to release it! Finally, that time has arrived.

Your fifth album, Graced by Leaves, is on its way. How is the production going? Do you have a release date?

All the recordings are now done. Most of the mixing is done. Lee Buddle is about to master the album so it’s ready to be printed and then released on Friday, October 27. The launch party is in Albany on Sunday, October 29.

You reside in WA’s magical deep south. Do you find inspiration in rural country? As a musician, do you find the isolation of a country town to be limiting or freeing?

Magical is the word, yes. I feel a deep connection to nature – tall trees and the ocean. It’s wildflower season here now. Some wild orchids look like fairies. The whole album is actually themed around trees. Each song references trees in its story.

The title track, Graced by Leaves, is about a much loved big tree that gets cuts down in childhood. The tree becomes a symbol of those dear to us that have passed away. There are birds chirping outside my window as I answer this – parrots chatting, wrens whistling, ravens calling… I am in a suburb surrounded by trees.

It can be isolating as a musician because many valuable industry contacts and connections are made in cities. It’s just a little more challenging to have my music heard by a wider audience, but I’m working in it. I grew up in a country town so I think I have that need for fresh air and a slower pace. The beaches in Albany are mesmerising. I couldn’t leave that rare beauty behind.

Are there any plans for a Perth release show? Do you have any shows or tours on the horizon?

I’m really hoping to do a Perth launch. My first launch is in my home town where I have a lot of support – an awesome live music venue called Six Degrees in Albany, complete with three large video screens to show some of my music videos. I’ll be accompanied by my violinist, Marie Limondin, and lead guitarist, Rosco Dwyer. My musicians are all over the country and the world at the moment, including Lucky Oceans, who is touring with his US band Asleep at the Wheel over east. Yeah, it’s a bit challenging getting them all in one place.  

I’m hoping the album can be launched on some of Perth’s great radio stations. I’m playing a solo charity gig the week after the launch for Albany Hospice and then this groovy live music venue in Denmark called The Dam. Over the summer I’m flying over east. I’ve been invited to play in The Tap Room at Shedshaker Brewery in Victoria. It’s owned by the drummer from Hunters & Collectors and his partner. I’m pretty stoked about that. If anyone has any ideas about cool venues in Perth for a solo gig, let me know. I’d love to be there with my new album to spruik.  

I love intimate spaces where I can share the stories behind the songs. It’s time I crawled out from under my hermit shell. I am quite shy actually, but once I’m out and on my way somewhere, I’m okay. Touring as a solo female musician has its challenges. I wish it wasn’t this way, but there are aspects of it that are just plain scary to be honest. I’ve become selective about where I go to play, which has opened some really nice doors for me.