It’s Friday morning, and it’s a busy day for Katie Noonan. “I’m in Melbourne,” she tells me. “I’ve just been actually demo-ing some new songs for the next Captains record! I’ve been doing a bit of promo with the girls for Songs That Made Me, the Melbourne show, and I’m about to fly home to Brisbane for a gig there.” It’s a brief snapshot of the busy year she has lined up, including the Songs That Made Me tour, and a stint as the Adelaide Fringe Ambassador for 2014.
Katie Noonan is one of Australia’s most esteemed singer-songwriters, having amassed #1 albums, ARIA awards, and a reputation as one of our best vocalists in her 15-year career. On stage, she’s a figure of poise and elegance, so it was a pleasant surprise to find that in conversation, she’s chatty, wickedly funny, and self-deprecating. She’s also deeply passionate about her musical projects, and you get the sense that, had her time not been limited, she could have talked all day.
Songs That Made Me is one such project. “It’s [an idea that’s] been floating around in my head for a couple of years, actually,” she says. “The thing about artists is that obviously we’re working on our own craft and building our songs and doing our tours, but we don’t really get to collaborate that much with other artists. Collaborating is what I love more than anything, so I thought this format would be a really simple way for artists to come together and share songs from their journey that have helped define them, whether it be songs they’ve written or songs that they didn’t write that inspired them”
Noonan has built a formidable line-up of women for the show, including her own inspirations, Abby Dobson and Angie Hart, and a young up-and-comer, Martha Marlow. It’s a fascinating inter-generational cross-section. Noonan reminisces fondly of being in year 11 when Marvin the Album, the first Frente! record (the band in which Angie Hart was lead vocalist) came out. “I just devoured that record,” she gushes. “You know when you’re that age? That album was totally the soundtrack, I remember playing it at my 16th birthday party, and it was a big, big part of my life!” The year that Frente! record came out is also the year the line-up’s youngest member, Martha Marlow, was born. “The bloody b**ch,” Noonan chuckles. “She’s only 19!”
Another important feature of Songs That Made Me is that the line-up is entirely female – even the band. “Most of the time on the road, girls are a singular being in the group. So it’s nice to have that totally turned around,” Noonan explains. You can hear a wry smile cross her face over the phone. “It’s all girls, all boobies!” She laughs wickedly.
While she can have a laugh about age and womanhood, when I ask Noonan about the songs she’s chosen to perform, she gives detailed, thoughtful answers. “I do ‘A Case Of You,’ which I first heard Tori Amos doing on a B-Side,” she says of the Joni Mitchell song. “I didn’t realise it was a Joni Mitchell song until quite a bit later.” When she finally heard Joni Mitchell’s Blue, she says “my life was just… I mean, I can’t really explain how deep her influence has been on me, particularly as a lyricist and a poet. She’s such an amazing lyric-writer. But her voice, and her chords, and her spirit through her music; her constant searching for new things, I find that very inspiring.”
Noonan really starts gushing when she starts talking about the Jeff Buckley song she’ll be performing. “I’ve never done a Jeff Buckley song before, because I’ve always found it to be too magical, like hallowed ground. I first saw him in 1996, which is when I bought the Grace record, so I’m doing ‘Last Goodbye’ from that, but in a totally different way. You can never do it like Jeff. And I mean, Jeff Buckley and that album, oh my god, I still listen to it and think it’s a complete masterpiece.”
“We all bring different things to the table; I think with our choice of cover songs you can feel that,” she says of her Songs That Made Me touring partners. “Angie’s doing some Laurie Anderson and Prince, and Abby’s doing Carole King and a Fiona Apple song. Martha’s doing a Nancy Sinatra tune and a Joni tune as well, and we do a Nick Drake one together.”
Noonan hopes Songs That Made Me becomes more than just a one-off tour. “I’d love this to be an annual or biannual thing! I’d love this to be a thing where young artists aspire to get on the bill.”
Apart from Songs That Made Me, Katie Noonan has another role keeping her busy over the next few months: Ambassador for the 2014 Adelaide Fringe. “I’m very excited about that!” She smiles. “I’m bringing back a show, but I’m most excited about the parade; I get to be a float queen!”
“Who doesn’t want to be a float queen?” she asks, laughing. When I joke that even I would love to be a float queen, Noonan swiftly seizes the opportunity to plug for Fringe volunteers: “There are a lot of volunteers involved in the Fringe parade. I’m sure you could be involved in some way!”
Noonan has a long history with the Adelaide Fringe, and makes a natural ambassador for the event, having performed there nearly every year since 1999. “It’s such a fantastic festival. I mean, the spirit of the city when the Fringe is on is amazing; anything goes and anything could happen. People from Adelaide really get out and support it! It’s such a cool place to hang out and meet like-minded people.”
“I’ll be hanging out there quite a bit as ambassador, but also I’m bringing my Love Song Circus show, which is all about the first female Australian convicts. We’re doing a week of shows in the Speigeltent!”
Noonan is clearly a busy woman. I ask her about her other plans for the year, including the new Katie Noonan and the Captains record. “I’m just starting to write that, and I’m also starting to write the next Elixir record. We just demo-ed six new songs,” she says excitedly. “We’re working with the poet and artist, Michael Leunig, which is very f**king cool… So that’s slowly simmering away, and we’re looking to record those albums hopefully sometime next year!”
For someone with such a busy schedule, Katie Noonan gives no hint of being even slightly stressed. She cuts our chat short at this point; she’s got a flight to catch. But with the amount she’ll be in Adelaide over the next few months, it’s not going to be difficult to catch her again. I joke that she may as well set up a house here. “I know!” she laughs.
Songs That Made Me kicks off at The Governor Hindmarsh, Adelaide, on Thursday November 28. Tickets are on sale now through OzTix.