Tami Neilson took a DNA test and turns out she’s 100%…music! The singer-songwriter admits that life would not make much sense without it. Which makes all the sense in the world seeing as how she came from a musical family. That’s where this chat started but as we dug our heels in, we talked about working with Willie Nelson, headpieces, her new album – ‘KINGMAKER’ out July 15th, and more in this back and forth exchange.
Kendra: Being born into a musical family, was there ever any moment in your life where you thought you might wind up doing something completely different?
Tami Neilson: I’m afraid being a musician from the time I was a child, touring with my family band, that it’s been well and truly hardwired into my DNA! I can’t really imagine a life without it.
Kendra: Again, being that your father was a musical man, what do you think he’d say about you dueting with the icon that is Willie Nelson on a song penned with him in mind?
Tami Neilson: “That’s my girl!!!” When Willie first sent the song through with his vocals on it, I wept thinking about this very thing. I know he would’ve been absolutely bursting with pride, but, I honestly don’t think he would’ve been surprised. He encouraged me and believed in me and tried to instill the confidence that I could accomplish anything despite the odds stacked against me, telling me to never give up. So, anything accomplished continues to be one of his accomplishments. He built the foundation on which I stand.
Kendra: That song, “Beyond the Stars,” is so beautiful and moving. I always wonder about musicians and these types of songs that come from such a personal part of themselves – is it therapeutic each time you play it live?
Tami Neilson: There is something really sacred about this song, for many reasons. It’s me keeping a promise to my Dad, that his music would never die and that I would be his voice and he would be remembered. The first time I performed this song in front of an audience was my first international show in two years, with Willie Nelson standing next to me.
So, that continues to be a core memory that I remember every time I sing it live. Willie had just lost his beloved sister, Bobbie, days before we performed it on his ranch in Luck, Texas and it then took on even deeper meaning and became a song for him to process his grief. So, I definitely feel all of these things each time I perform it.
Kendra: Since we just talked about Willie Nelson, he has these signature braids and you’ve also got a bit of a look going on with this silhouette of dress, but more so elaborate crowns. Visually stunning and a conversation starter. What’s the idea behind those?
Tami Neilson: My visual creative expression has always been just as important to me as the audio it goes hand in hand with my music. Like Dolly, Bowie, Prince, Grace Jones…I’ve always been drawn to artists that create for both the eyes and ears. Whether it’s sporting a beehive wig custom-made for me by a drag queen on my last album ‘CHICKABOOM’ or a collection of crowns or headpieces for my new album ‘KINGMAKER,’ my visuals are always part of the story I’m telling. But, more than anything else, it’s FUN!
Kendra: On top of “Beyond the Stars” you’ve got your latest, “Baby, You’re a Gun.” Oh…it gave me big sultry, Western movie vibes. Very much like something we’d hear in a Tarantino movie today. However, if you could place it in a movie from recent years, what movie would you choose?
Tami Neilson: You hit the nail on the head- a Tarantino movie is a bucket list! Movie soundtracks are some of my favourite albums and I wrote ‘KINGMAKER’ with that in mind. I wanted to produce a cinematic album that tells a story and music that follows that arc, rather than adhering to one genre.
Kendra: All of the above and more can be heard on your July 15th release, ‘KINGMAKER.’ How do you feel you’ve grown as a songwriter in particular since 2008’s ‘Red Dirt Angel?’
Tami Neilson: Wow, I haven’t heard that album title in a long time! Well, since then, I’ve moved across the world from my family in Canada to make a life for myself in New Zealand, got married, became a mother twice over, and suffered the loss of loved ones, so, my songwriting reflects a whole lot of life, love, and loss that’s been lived in the last 14 years.
Kendra: So you’re paying homage to the places you’ve called home this summer, touring Canada and New Zealand. What can people expect heading out to these dates?
Tami Neilson: Touring Canada is going to be a wonderful family reunion with my brother Jay joining me again- I can’t wait to bring these new songs to life with him and my Canadian band and to be back home again! Touring New Zealand is going to be pretty special, as I’ll be joined by our best orchestras and string sections throughout the country, so, trying not to choke up with that orchestral power behind me will be my nightly challenge!
Kendra: As you mentioned, you moved to New Zealand back in 2007. What inspired the move around the world?
Tami Neilson: You only move that far away for one of two things- love or money. Sadly, mine was love. Ha!
Kendra: Time for a side note – with it being summer, I’d love to know your go-to summer anthem? Like what song must you listen to when the weather is perfect and the sun is out?
Tami Neilson: Well, it’s winter here in NZ, but, while I’m back home in July sneaking in some summer, Lizzo’s “Good As Hell” will be blasting in the tour van!
Kendra: Lastly, with ‘KINGMAKER’ out on July 15th and dates already on the books for this summer, are there already plans brewing for a fall tour?
Tami Neilson: I’ll be in Europe for some festivals in Sept before I head to Nashville, where I’ll be performing at Americanafest! Then it’s off to Australia in October.