Award-winning Waitomo alt-country songwriter Kerryn Fields has just released a taster for her upcoming album ‘Water’, due in autumn 2021 – and holy smokes Batman, what a tune it is! Make space on your shelves next to the Nadia Reids, your Reb Fountains, Gillian Welchs, Neko Cases et al… Kerryn Fields’ Atlantis is so personal, tender and passionate at once, with production tastefully held back to put the vocal performance into the centre of the song. Kerryn possesses one of those voices nearly too big for little old NZ, or Australasia for that matter. After many indulgent listens, we asked her to tell us more about the making of the song.
I wrote Atlantis shortly after my Canadian tour in 2018, I returned to my Melbourne where I’m based with my partner, and was inspired by a Neil Young track that she loves. The song didn’t need much encouragement, it just wrote itself there on the kitchen bench.
I sent the voice memo demo to Fraser Montgomery who produced the album with me. He was immediately taken by the acoustic version and I didn’t want to compromise my honesty by spending months pulling apart and putting back together all the songs. We decided to rent a house near the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, and recorded 9 songs in 4 days – my performances are all live.
Before we began, Fraser and I went down to the ocean and without paying much attention we ended up body-surfing the same wave back to shore. It was one of those moments where we knew we were locked in – same wave, same vibe. I love that kind of stuff, kinetic energy between the people I work with is everything.
Josh (drums) and Ben (upright bass) moved into the house with Fraser and I, we ate our meals, drank our morning coffee, played cards and drank whisky. In between these moments, we made a record. This made all the difference in how we approached the songs, living together for those few days had us fully immersed in one another’s world and their musicianship is outstanding. I can really hear our connection, deep in the pocket.
I did go hunting for a vintage Gibson for recording but I ended up using my well-worn Maton! She’s got all the battle scars of a travelling musician and though she might not have the character of a Gibson, I’m never disappointed with how she sounds live or recorded.
When it came to recording Atlantis, I went down to the ocean, had karakia, gargled the saltwater and went back to the house to deliver the song. Whakaari was erupting during the recording, Australia was on fire and we were recording under a full moon. It was surreal what was happening in the world at the time, and this was before the pandemic took hold. Quite the vibe.
I had my heart set on an electric guitar as an added part. I auditioned a number of players in the months leading up the recording looking for a particular alt-county style to lift the instrumental. Jen Anderson came in to play violin on a few of the other tracks and offered to demo a part for Atlantis, it was immediately apparent how well she fit the song, and I just love hearing her part every time. Ryan Brewer was in town from Nashville so we got him to play the piano, it sits more in the background and gives it a lift in all the right places.
Ultimately, we didn’t want to stray too far from what we had captured together in the house – Jen and Ryan knew how to bring both strength and simplicity, there was never a moment during recording where it felt hard or strained. My favourite part is the intimate moment near the end of the song, ‘In the backyard, in the nape of your neck, breathing up against your skin’. Every time I hear that line I’m right there, under the moon, dancing with my love. Also, if you listen closely you’ll hear cockatoos shrieking through the windows outside the house, hilarious, and so real…