“Genuinely soulful country” Bernard Zuel - The Sun Herald
“The stunner tracks for me were two ballads, ‘By the Light of the Moon’ and ‘Let You Lead’ which she slam-dunks like she’s channeling the great country divas (think Patsy or Trisha Yearwood) and sells with utter sincerity and soul to burn. Country Update Magazine
“Loaded with hummable hooks…Basham has talent and a mellow soulful voice that is somewhere between Trisha Yearwood and Natalie Maines. Importantly she knows the value of restraint.” The Courier Mail
“I Make My Own Sunshine has all the hallmarks of a new country hit.” Beat Magazine
“While musically the songs hit almost every mainstream country button, the emphasis lyrically is definitely on feisty, slightly naughty (Chasing Trouble has eight boys being pursued). Key numbers such as the title track (which has a high likeability rating leaning towards Colbie Caillat, but with fewer irritations) and ‘I Learned the Hard Way’ more than hold their own.” The Age
“I’d say the primary theme of this album is rejuvenation…picking yourself up, dusting yourself off and getting on with your life” reflects Chelsea Basham, the bubbly twenty two year old country singer from the West Australian wheat belt town of Wongan Hills. “Sure, I had my heart broken… but so did every girl my age. It’s just not in my nature to wallow in self pity and I certainly didn’t want to bore people with stories of my little tragedy.”
Chelsea Basham spent much of her childhood larking around with her two older brothers and working in her parent’s Retravision store in Wongan Hills, 182 kilometres north east of Perth, population about 1,400 and shrinking. The radio was never far away. She loved the sound of the new breed of Australian country artists … Lee Kernaghan, Kasey Chambers, Troy Cassar Daley, Melinda Schneider, Adam Brand, Beccy Cole … and wanted to be like them.
Chelsea went on to win some local talent quests and toured Western Australia with Lee Kernaghan at the tender age of sixteen before her first pilgrimage to the Tamworth Country Music Festival the following January. From there, she fell in love, moved to Sydney, made an independent single, toured as much as she could, broke up with her boyfriend and went back to Wongan Hills to lick her wounds. And all before she was 20!
In February 2011 Chelsea cold-called producer Graham Thompson. She wanted to make an album and she wanted him to produce it. “I grew up listening to Compass Bros records that Graham produced … Adam Brand, Melinda Schneider … other great records and I always wanted to work with him. He was like “OK, sure, let’s meet and have a listen to what you’re up to”.
Thompson was impressed. “Chelsea came into the studio and we chatted for a while. She pulled out her little guitar, I put a mic in front of her and she sang ‘I Learned The Hard Way’ which she had just written. She floored me with the opening line – ‘I was barely out of school when I left home to see the world’ - the sound of her voice was so sultry and soulful, like Dusty Springfield on the Memphis album. And it was her story. She was 20 years old singing about her life so far… she won me over as soon as she sang that line”.
The pair spent several months on pre production in Sydney before heading to Nashville to record the album. Thompson assembled an impressive cast including drummer Greg Morrow and bass player Mike Brignardello, both Memphis natives who had played together since they were kids and had become Nashville A-listers.
“Those guys were the perfect rhythm section for this album” recalls Chelsea “they play so laid back like all those great soul records.
Also on the sessions were keyboard player Tony Harrell, guitarist Rob McNelley and legendary Californian multi-instrumentalist Dan Dugmore, a mainstay of James Taylor’s and Linda Ronstadt’s bands in the 70’s and 80’s. Taylor Swift’s Grammy winning engineer Chad Carlson recorded the sessions.
“It was an experience I will never forget,” says Chelsea. “Being in the studio with those guys and knowing their history. They were so supportive and encouraging … it was overwhelming.”
I Make My Own Sunshine opens and closes with songs that Chelsea wrote with her friend Travis Meadows. “We didn’t plan it that way but it doesn’t surprise me because Travis is a good buddy and we understand each other,” says Chelsea.
“In fact it must have been because of our friendship that he agreed to work on ‘Laugh It Off’ with me because Travis does not do light and bubbly. I wrote ‘Laugh It Off’ on mandolin … it’s impossible for me to write a sad song on a mandolin. It came to me quickly but the verse lyric wasn’t really working and Travis helped me fix it. As he left the writing session that day he flashed me a cheeky grin and said ‘tell Graham you got the bubblegum out of me!’. I’m thinking BUBBLEGUM! Is that what this is? No!!! But I think he kind of secretly liked the fact that he’d had a hand in writing something that was completely alien to him”.
In palpable contrast, Starting Over, the closing song and another co-write with Meadows, is far from light and bubbly. It’s the album’s one heart-wrenching ballad and was recorded in one take, including Chelsea’s vocal. “Everything you hear on that song was recorded on the band track,” recalls Thompson. “Not one overdub. It took 3 minutes and 32 seconds to record that song. She sang it so well on the day because it meant so much to her. Oh, hang on, we did overdub a background vocal but that doesn’t count!”
You’ve gotta find yourself
And that’s hard to do when you gave it all to someone else
But you get it back with time if you fight like hell
When you’re starting over
And in between the Basham / Meadows top and tail there are two other influential figures in the evolution of the album. One is Allyssa Bonagura, the writer of I Make My Own Sunshine, the first single and title track of the album. “I Make My Own Sunshine is a pivotal song on this record”, says Chelsea. “I stumbled across Allyssa singing it in the street one day and loved it straight away. I’m not sure if I realised it at the time but Sunshine set the theme for the whole album. It showed me how I could tell my story without being maudlin or self indulgent.”
It don’t matter if it’s raining
Nothing can faze me
I make my own sunshine
And if you think you can break me
Baby you’re crazy
I make my own sunshine
The other notable influence is singer songwriter Bonnie Bishop who contributed three songs to the album. “I met Bonnie in Nashville and we hit it off straight away.” recalls Chelsea. “She’s got a big, soulful voice, a larger than life personality and is a great writer. My first thought when I heard By The Light Of The Moon was that it was a perfect song for Bonnie Raitt. As it turns out Bonnie Raitt has recorded some of Bonnie Bishop’s songs but, fortunately for me, not that one. Right Where You Are is another Bonnie Bishop song that fits in perfectly with the theme of rejuvenation.
In fact, there are several songs on I Make My Own Sunshine about picking yourself up and getting on with it.
There are also songs that are purely about being young and having fun. “In my mind songs like Weekend, 31 Degrees and Sunny and Chasing Trouble are a natural part of the story because they’re just about mucking about and having fun,” says Chelsea.
“Chelsea is warm, down home wise and positive and that’s how I’d describe this album,” remarks Thompson. “She’s also very funny. I think people will certainly get to know Chelsea through listening to the album.”
“I’m twenty two years old and this is an album about my life so far”, reflects Chelsea. “You know what it’s like … you leave home, fall in love, break up, crawl back home with your tail between your legs, get over it, start to have some fun again then the cycle starts over. And hopefully you learn something along the way, and get it right before you fall off the perch. Hopefully there’ll be plenty of time and plenty more albums before that happens to me!”
Chelsea Basham’s debut album I Make My Own Sunshine, released 24 August, 2012, on Compass Bros. Records through EMI.