Katie Noonan plays The Spiegeltent at The Garden Of Unearthly Delights at Adelaide Fringe on 19 February.
Over the past 20 years, five-time ARIA Award-winning artist Katie Noonan has continually proven herself one of Australia's most hardworking, versatile and prolific artists.
Katie has produced 21 albums over her career scoring 26 ARIA Award nominations that span diverse genres. Katie has performed for royalty, national and international leaders, and blazed a trail for young women artists.
Music, for Katie, is a life-long lesson, a generous act of giving, and a means to change the world. "There's always going to be something to learn or someone who can teach you something," she explains.
Katie is a rare songwriter; equally at home leading a symphony orchestra as she is performing in a small jazz club, she has the ability to flourish in any genre – whether that's in gentle folk storytelling or in the grandiosity of an operatic performance.
Ahead of her performance at Adelaide Fringe this Friday (19 February), Katie sits down for a chat about live performances in the COVID-era, writing arts grants, her Eumundi School Of Rock, creating music with her teenage son and her appearance on 'The Masked Singer' let year.
What can audiences expect from you at your Adelaide Fringe show? I like to keep my solo shows super relaxed and intimate. I tend to read the room and am always up for requests – I quite enjoy the challenge of remembering old songs and playing them in the moment.
I generally present a snapshot of songs from the 20 albums I have produced in the last 20 years - from early george songs, through to my first solo album 'Skin' and then my stuff with my Vanguard and Captains bands. I like it to feel like I am just hanging out in your lounge room and we are having a lovely sharehouse-style party.
Will you be sticking around Adelaide to sample some of the other Fringe action this year? I am actually coming down today (12 February) to start rehearsals for a new ensemble I am dreaming up: AVÉ - Australian Vocal Ensemble. This new band features three of my very favourite voices in the world: Bass baritone Teddy Tahu Thodes, mezzo soprano Fiona Campbell and tenor Andrew Goodwin.
They are all in Adelaide rehearsing for Benjamin Britten's 'Midsummer Night's Dream' for the Adelaide Festival, so I am coming down to makes sounds with them. I recently commissioned a 12-piece song cycle (one of whom is by beautiful Adelaide composer Anne Cawrse), so we are starting to rehearse these brand new works.
I am also checking out the new exciting space LIGHT and sitting in for an impromptu jam with one of my dearest friends and extraordinary musician Adam Page. I will be back for my gig next Friday and will explore everything I can in the Garden that night – nights in the Garden are always magic and I can't wait to share in the juju of your fabulous Fringe opening night!
I will also be back to see my new AVÉ band mates in their opera 3 March and have another jam with them before they all fly back to their respective homes - so LOTSA RADelaide love over the next month.
Given the events of the past 12 months and the unexpected extra time you had on your hands, did that filter through to the presentation of your live shows, tinkering certain aspects etc.? It has just made me crave them more and realise how lucky I am to be able to do what I do.
I have done three quarantines in order to perform and provide for my family over the last six months, and that has not been easy, but the magic of performing and making sounds with and for people has justified that time.
It's been very tricky and upsetting being away from my family for those extended amount of time (longest in my children's entire lives!) and hotel quarantine is legit not fun, but it is just the new normal and you make plans knowing that anything could change at the last minute.
That is a deeply stressful situation in terms of planning, as my entire livelihood depends on gatherings of people and cross-border travel, but it is what it is you and just have to surrender to it. I would usually have my next one, two years all planned out, but I am only really planned up until May as you just have to improvise as you go along.
Right now I am feeling so sad for my mates in Melbourne who can't come to Adelaide for the Fringe – it really is devastating to have all your hard work (and your investment/ livelihood) removed in an instant. To that end, I have been focusing on trying to make more work for my community around where I live in SE QLD and in particular on beautiful Gubbi Gubbi/ Eumundi country where I live.
Queensland has have been extremely well managed with the COVID response, so we have been able to do gigs for months now. Now that I have stopped extensive touring for the first time in my life, I realise I really want to be home more with my family, especially my sons as they navigate into their final years at school and face the future as young men in a post-COVID world.
You've managed to secure a number of live performances during these lockdowns; performing to a seated crowd – do you still get the same buzz performing that would normally be associated with a crowd of standing, shoulder-to-shoulder punters? Generally, my music is pretty sitdown concert style anyway, so tbh it hasn't changed the vibes that much for me.
It is very weird playing to a crowd of people in masks, not being able to hug and not being able to sing indoors together though. I usually love post-show merch hang/ hugs/ photos but it's just too risky doing that at the moment sadly.
Away from the stage, what else has been occupying your time during these pandemic months? Writing arts grants. I just worked as hard as I could to keep myself busy dreaming and scheming ideas for my community. I wrote 47 arts grants last year and received 22. It was basically my full-time job, alongside parenting, homeschooling and housekeeping.
Ninety per cent of the income of these grants will go to other artists and arts workers in my community, so I am proud I have been able to do that, but now I am actually getting bonkers busy again and freaking out a little tbh.
The past decade or so you've accumulated some fantastic experience behind the stage programming the music and entertainment like Queensland Music Festival and the 2018 Commonwealth Games; how have those difference experiences shaped the way you now approach your artistic endeavours? I have learnt how to dream big and be a part of a huge amazing team. I have also learnt about KPIs, board reports and the joys of HR management and how to do things well and how to NOT do things well.
I have also learnt that I am an intrinsically open-heart artist, and that doesn't really work with government/ bureaucratic constructs. I gave too much of myself, was extremely open and honest, tried to help everyone I could and have a hand in everything, and in organisations that big that just doesn't work.
I also felt the enormous pressure of reputational damage and learnt the true depths of unkind human behaviour and online trolls, and how they can destroy your self-esteem and sense of self-worth. So I learnt a LOT.
It was the best and worst five years of my life. I am proud of what I created (when I had predominant artistic control) and I know my heart was open and well intentioned, but bureaucracy/ government and art is kinda like oil and water, it is an extremely difficult thing to manage well.
It was a truly fascinating study of human nature though – I met truly horrible, disingenuous people I would hope to never ever have to engage with again, and I met truly amazing humans who manage to do good within broken constructs and stay sane – yay for them. It also made for some AWESOME songs.
How are things with the Eumundi School Of Rock? Will you be hosting the annual concert with the kids in 2021? It is RAD! It is a very special community programme that I started five years ago and have raised over 150k in order to keep it free for our kids in our area and pay our teachers well.
It is a huge amount of work and I would love to get some more support to legitimise it so that myself and our secretary don't have to do so much pro bono work, BUT it is so special and each year my heart is filled to the brim with all of the good juju from our kids at the final concert. Beautiful, young souls discovering the magic and safety of music with beaming smiles on their faces, singing and playing their hearts out among new friends.
Is there a typical day/ week for Katie Noonan the artistic practitioner or is it more whenever you can fit art into your everyday schedule? Haha, I wish jellyfish! Every week is different and I love that. I think I would go insane in a 9-5 job, but instigating healthy routines of self-care and managing my work/ life balance is the constant battle – like all entrepreneurs/ small business owners.
You released your 20th studio album last year; are you planning the next studio release; if so, what can you share with us? Yes I am! Fourteen years ago I made my debut solo album 'Skin' in Sydney and Los Angeles while four-eight months pregnant with Jonah and holding the hand of an awesome one-year-old boy called Dexter. This year my new band features that deadset legend 15-year-old on drums alongside extraordinary bassist/producer Steele Chabau.
Over the last five years, since releasing my all originals crowded funded 'Transmutant', I have been building up a new body of work for my next Noons album and we will be presenting the first live iterations of these new tunes at our local pub 24 April and in our 30 April Patreon live stream concert. It is beautiful and weird to be making music with a human that Zac and I made – an amazing musician who we truly admire.
Tell us a bit about your experiences on 'The Masked Singer' and what it was like to be an 8-foot-tall blue sloth? And how'd you keep your identity a secret from everybody? It was BONKERS FUN and the perfect things for COVID blues! I loved Sally the Sloth and think that TV show was the perfect, escapist, family-friendly fun that we needed at that time.
Tbh, I don't have a TV and haven't since the kids were born, but it was really fun to work with an amazing TV producing team making something special. Only my husband, manager and agent knew – I couldn't tell my kids and in fact we FaceTimed while I was in hotel quarantine and watched my reveal episode together.
The penny dropped when they heard the Sloth, even though I was trying to disguise my voice as much as poss! I told them I was going to Melbourne for recording, so technically didn't lie, but knew it was prob too big a secret for them to have to keep and I signed an NDA that swore me to absolute secrecy. It was all very CIA and I loved it.
You did a one-off livestream reunion show late last year with your brother Tyrone celebrating the 20th anniversary of recording george's debut album; I gotta ask for all the george fans (which includes me!), is there any chance an IRL george reunion could happen sometime down the track? It is definitely on the cards – it is 25 years since we formed as a band (1996) and 20 years since we made our debut 'Polyserena' (2001), so watch this space.
Katie Noonan plays The Spiegeltent at The Garden Of Unearthly Delights at Adelaide Fringe on 19 February. The Katie Noonan Trio play The Imperial Hotel (Sunshine Coast) 24 April.