South Australia has a reputation for producing great wine and great musical talent, and local singer-songwriter Kelly Menhennett is the best of both worlds.
Born into a musical family of grape growers and raised in the vineyards of South Australia’s renowned wine region, Kelly has become one of the state’s most recognisable faces in Americana.
Her sophomore album, ‘Small Dreams’, earned her the Adelaide Roots & Blues Association's ‘Best Roots Album for 2014/15’ award, fitting considering the deep roots she maintains with her earthy upbringing. “If I was back at home with mum and dad, who are still on the vineyard, I'd be a fourth-generation grape grower in the area,” Kelly explains.
“They're very much locals in the area and mum used to be the resident singer at the Berri Hotel from about 15 years of age. When she and dad got married they moved to Sydney for mum's music and were there for a couple of years. She was going great but they experienced how tough it was and eventually returned to the country.”
Currently based in Adelaide, but with home never far from her heart, Kelly is set to perform at this year’s Deep South Festival, performing alongside Gail Page and Chris E Thomas as part of the ‘Women In Blues’ portion of the programme. “I played Deep South maybe three years ago with my band doing a set of original music and that was my first time there,” she says.
“Sadly I had gigs either side so I never got to experience the full festival myself, I had to shoot off straight away, so this year I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve always heard such good things about Deep South and it's lovely to be a part of it.”
The ‘Sweet Dreams’ album brought out a darker and more enigmatic side of Kelly’s songwriting, and anticipation is beginning to mount for her next release.
However, like grapes ripening on the vine, Kelly says she’s taking her time with writing and recording her next album, waiting for the perfect vintage. “I have been self-managed and doing everything by myself, and I’m not particularly good at multitasking,” she says with a laugh.
My focus has very much been on the next gig, promoting that and working to support it all. I’d like to think in the next 12 months I’ll get a large chunk of material written to perhaps record and release the following year. I’d like to say potentially in the next 12 to 18 months, I’ll be close to releasing something again. I’m definitely going to make it a priority.”
With grape-growing in her blood, Kelly says she’d perfectly happy to return to the vineyard full-time, but the lifestyle isn’t conducive to her current career in music. Nor is too much wine, it seems. “Maybe one day when the dust settles a little for me with my music I'll be able to get back into it. Till then, I'll just keep drinking it and enjoy it that way,” she laughs.
“It does come in handy at times, but there's occasions when you think you’ve written a hit song after a couple glasses of wine then you read it in the morning and you think 'oh, maybe not'.”
Kelly Menhennett performs as part of Deep South Festival at The Gov 25 November. She also plays at Banrock Station Wine & Wetland Centre, 3 & 17 December.