If you identify as female and are an emerging singer-songwriter of any age, Katie Noonan wants you to apply for the Carol Lloyd Award

The Carol Lloyd Award will present an emerging, female identifying singer-songwriter with $15,000 to put towards recording their own full-length album or record and touring their own EP. Emma had a chat with Katie Noonan to find out more about the award, get a few tips for prospective applicants, and find out how Katie manages the many different aspects of her career while still ensuring she has time to take her sons to the cinema.

Image by Cybele Malinowski

Emma Kate Lewis: Hey Katie, how’s your day been?

Katie Noonan: Tricky! Not horrible, but there’s lots of stuff going on. I’m lucky enough to be in the position where I’m juggling quite a few things at the moment. It’s a good position to be in.

EKL: Definitely. I want to ask about you got here, so let’s start from the beginning. You’re a four-time ARIA award winner and seven-time platinum selling singer, which is pretty damn impressive.

KN: Actually, the ARIA one just went up to five a few weeks ago…

[Laughter]

EKL: Congratulations!

KN: Thank you! I’m very excited. It was a wonderful thing to happen.

EKL: Can you tell me a bit about how your career began?

KN: My career has been a series of happy accidents, to be honest.

I’ve always been obsessed with integrity of sound: making music that doesn’t sound like anybody else, and that comes from a place of honesty.

That’s been my mantra since I was young, and thankfully I’ve been lucky enough that it’s lead to a lot of amazing collaborations and experiences making music all around the world.

EKL: So music is something that you’ve always wanted to pursue, even as a child?

KN: Um, no actually! I knew that I loved music but I didn’t know that I wanted it to be my career. I wanted to be a human rights activist lawyer, or a journalist. When I was at school and did work experience, I worked in the newsroom at the ABC. As I said, my career was more of a happy accident. I got in [to university] to study law, but I also got into two music degrees, and I just felt that was where I was meant to be. But, in a way, my interest in society and the capacity for humans to do good in the world and to care for people has informed everything I do: my music, my job as artistic director, different things… So I guess it’s reflected in different ways.

EKL: What sort of challenges have you faced along the way, and how did you overcome them?

KN: When you’re an artist, your main thing is listening to your instincts.

There’s no handbook as to how you do it, so it just has to feel right.

When you work with people who don’t listen to their instincts, or who operate from a place of fear rather than a place of joy, that’s tricky. So you’re constantly just making the esoteric and the spiritual and the ether world work in the reality world. Which is nowhere near as nice! [Laughs] ‘Cause music and commerce are like oil and water, you know? They don’t coexist naturally.

I guess it’s a matter of sticking to your artistic integrity but still having a career somehow.

Image by Cybele Malinowski

EKL: You’re not just a singer; you’re also a songwriter, a mother, the artistic director of QMF [Queensland Music Festival], a producer, a businesswoman… You’re juggling an awful lot, which I’m guessing is why your day has been quite stressful!

KN: It’s been a big day, yes!

[Laughter]

EKL: I’m curious as to how you manage your time?

KN: It’s a daily battle. I actually think that becoming a parent is amazing because it distils your focus. To be a musician in Australia you need to be open to travelling a lot because we have a small population over a very large landmass, and we’re very far away from the rest of the world. It means that if you want to be a musician you need to be prepared to travel, and if you’re also a parent you need to be prepared to be away from your family.

Up until the children went to school, we all travelled. We were a travelling family—all for one and one for all.

EKL: That would’ve been lovely.

KN: It was amazing! It was hard, but it was amazing.

I think my children really benefited from that cultural experience. They’ve been exposed to a lot of culture through our travels, which I think has helped make them into the beautiful people that they are.

Once they got to school, priorities shifted to friends and play dates and soccer and music and all that stuff. We can’t just keep pulling them out of school—even though I did quite a bit, to be honest!

[Laughter]

KN: But, you know, that’s one of the biggest challenges—being away from the kids.

I think that’s when good time management really comes into play, because you keep on questioning, “Well, is this important enough for me to move my family?” and a lot of the time it isn’t.

So, yeah, it helps distil your focus.

EKL: It must also help you prioritise I suppose.

KN: Yes, and it’s helped me realise that the most amazing achievements in my life are my children and my marriage. There’s this beautiful Michael Leunig piece that says: “Love one another. It’s as simple and as difficult as that.” It’s so true, you know?

Having a committed relationship, working through marriage, choosing to co-parent two incredible humans… It’s the most amazing job in the world. And the hardest job in the world! But yeah, it’s about finding that balance, because for me to be a complete human I also need to be an artist because otherwise I’d be deeply unhappy.

I absolutely applaud stay-at-home mums—it’s an incredibly selfless job, and an amazing job, and a very hard job. And an incredibly underpaid job! [Laughing] But for me to be the human that I need to be, I have to be an artist and a mum.

EKL: On that note, what does an average day look like for you? I image things chop and change a lot.

KN: Every day is different, which is awesome—I think I’d go insane if I had a nine to five job. I’ll go through today and tomorrow. Today I got up and I had three or four media interviews talking about the Carol Lloyd Award. It’s a Queensland Music Festival award that I helped set up last year. Then I went and had a meeting with the Eumundi School of Rock committee, which is a little school that I’ve started in my hometown of Eumundi—a free music school for kids. Music education is really important to me, so this encourages kids on the Sunshine Coast to audition. So we had a committee meeting about our big concert that’s coming up.

EKL: That’s incredible!

KN: It’s really fun. The kids are amazing. I started it because I think that it’s important to be able to give back to the community, so I’ve been doing community concerts for a few years, and giving money to schools for music instruments. But then I thought, “Actually, I think we need to start our own rock school!”

[Laughter]

KN: And so we have! We’ve got twenty kids who are all just awesome. So yeah, I had a meeting about that, and then I had a conference call with my office regarding some artist direction things for the festival, then just emails and business. Yeah, and then the kids were home, so I was hanging with them. Now I’m driving to Brisbane because in the morning I’m doing the White Ribbon breakfast with the premier and Kay McGrath. She’s the new chair of the Not Now Not Ever committee. One of our programs in the festival last year was very focused on domestic and family violence, so this is kind of a follow up to that. After that I’ll have a meeting with my programming team, and then I’ll drive to the Gold Coast. I can tell you now that I’m music director for the opening and closing ceremonies at the Commonwealth Games

EKL: Oh wow, that’s amazing, congratulations!

KN: —which is big! Thank you! Yes, it’s beautiful and big and wild. So  I’m in the office for a couple of days, then I’ll head home to see the kids and have dinner [with them] on Friday, then Saturday I go to Melbourne for a gig. Then home Sunday and… Yeah, every week’s different!

EKL: When do you sleep, Katie? That’s what I want to know.

[Laughter

KN: Yeah, I’m not a great sleeper. It’s tricky for creative, overzealous minds!

[Laughter]

KN: I also think the digital revolution has been one of the worst things ever for sleep.

EKL: Ugh, I agree.

KN: I need to get better. I’m not a great sleeper, but I do look after myself. I’m lucky that music is such a healing force in itself.

Image via Queensland Music Festival

EKL: You mentioned the Carol Lloyd Award earlier. Can you tell me about it?

KN: I discovered Carol Lloyd through Women in Voice initially and then, three or four years ago, she was the featured artist at the ACRA awards.

Carol was an incredible, trailblazing woman who paved the way for countless women—including myself—and really smashed down the walls of the boys club of the music industry.

Look, I love boys—I’m married to one and I’ve been lucky enough to mother two. So it’s not an anti-boy thing at all, but the music industry is still, particularly at the top, [lacking women]. APRA [AMCOS] released statistics in 2016 that said that only 21.7% of their registered songwriters were women. Which I just couldn’t believe. I was shocked, I thought, “Nah, it’s got to be closer to 50%!”

So I thought about that and realised that perhaps we, as the state’s music festival body, should start an award that helps nurture, educate, and empower the next generation of singer-songwriters in Queensland. Carol Lloyd was such a trailblazer… She’s such an amazing woman to make the award in honour of.

And of course the two other major music awards in Queensland are after men. Which is awesome—they’re amazing men—but there are very few awards in honour of women. As the Minister for Women, Shannon Fentiman, [reiterated]: “You cannot be who you cannot see.” So, yeah, that was a simple idea and then, because Carol was such a well-loved and well-respected member of the music industry, it was incredibly easy to get people and sponsors on board. So it just happened really organically.

As for the 2017 award, we had over seventy artists apply.

The rules are very simple: you have to be living in or from Queensland, and identifying as female and an emerging singer-songwriter. Which can be anything from a fourteen-year-old to a fifty-year-old woman who’s had kids and has now decided to focus on her song writing. It’s open to any age, and personally I just want to hear a unique voice with an honest perspective on the world that will do good.

Pretty simple.

EKL: What set this year’s winner, Georgia [Potter], apart from the other applicants, and what advice would you give to women considering applying for the award in 2018?

KN: We had a final five amazing women and it was very hard to get it down to just five. To be honest, there were a solid twenty who were really incredible, and all seventy had something to offer. But Georgia was a clear winner.

She has an artistic vision that she was able to articulate very well, and she had a strong plan.

I’ve been observing Georgia’s career for many years and I feel like now, under the moniker of Moreton, she’s found her true essence and has got something unique and special to say. She was born in Aurukun, which is an Indigenous community up in Cape [York], and now lives in Brisbane. She’s had an interesting life, and has something to say that’s clear and unique. It was a unanimous decision among all the judges. But yeah, it was an honour to hear all the entrants.

I want to say to anyone thinking about entering that I’ve done a lot of Arts grant applications and I’ve certainly not got all of them, but the process itself certainly does help you distil your vision and focus because it makes you go, “Hang on, what do I do?” It causes self-reflection, which is always helpful.

So I would encourage everyone to do it no matter what—we’re there to help you along the way and to make it as easy as possible for you.

Image by Cybele Malinowski

EKL: You’re very well known for what you do, but I wanted to ask whether you have any particular passions that are unrelated to your career?

KN: Nothing gives me more satisfaction than making a nice meal. I love it when my children can sit down and eat good food. I love going to the movies—they’re an escape for me, and a nice mother-son thing to do.

EKL: Have you seen anything particularly good lately?

KN: Um, yes, Thor: Ragnarok is amazing! Have you seen it?

EKL: I haven’t.

KN: You should. Taika Waititi is one of my favourite directors. Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Boy were two movies that I just adored. The sign of a good movie, for me—and it’s very rare—is that I want to watch it again straight away. And I did that with Hunt for the Wilderpeople. I’ve seen it three or four times. And yeah, I’ve already seen Thor twice and I could already see it again. It’s funny too, it’s got all this Maori culture, and I love that they acknowledge the Bundjalung people who are the traditional owners of the land on which they filmed the movie. The main spaceship is the same colours as the Indigenous flag and it’s called the Commodore, which is like the ultimate Bogan car. [Laughing] So there’s all this really great underlying Aussie/Maori comedy in a major American film. It’s just awesome! And [Taika] always has strong women in his movies, which I love. One of the characters in Hunt for the Wilderpeople is back in Thor. It’s a blockbuster, and y’know I usually hate those kinds of movies, but I really enjoyed this one.

EKL: I did watch Hunt for the Wilderpeople quite recently and I enjoyed it.

KN: Ah and it’s so deep! It’s got socioeconomic implications, it talks about grief, it tackles so many things… It’s magestical!

[Laughter]

KN: So yeah, cooking food, watching movies… I also love a good massage. Seeing great creative expression, whether it be an art exhibition or a great dance or acting or whatever—just seeing people do amazing stuff. And hanging out with my girlfriends! I’ve got women who’ve been in my life for twenty years and we connect regularly to fuel each other and look after each other.

EKL: On that note: who are some of the women who inspire you most and why?

KN: Oh, I think I might be about to say one of your heroes actually! Dame Quentin Bryce. She’s an absolute legend and such a refined, beautiful, badass feminist. I’m a very proud equalist, and so because I’m a woman that means feminist. I think she has been fighting that fight in an incredibly dignified and smart and noble way for decades. So women like that. [Dame Quentin Bryce] became the Patron of my You’re the Voice event last year and really gave me advice that was invaluable. Other women I look up to… Deborah Conway, the badass woman who released songs talking about pubic hairs on pillows when I was a kid! I was like, “Wow! This woman’s so cool!” Penny Wong, I think she’s an amazing woman. Tanya Plibersek as well. Both very smart, articulate women. Who else? There are so many! Elena Kats-Chernin, an incredible composer who left her husband in Russia and moved here with kids to become one of the best female composers Australia’s ever laid claim to. Cate Blanchett, an amazing mother. Women who are doing incredibly world-class stuff, not just those who are mothers—Australia, we make amazing women.

EKL: What’s next for you?

KN: The next six months will be the busiest of my life, so I’m just going to try to get through it and keep up with my festival work and my parenting work and my wife work and my solo work. [Laughing] And yeah, the Commonwealth Games challenge which will be huge. It’s been a massive learning curve moving into my current role and even learning what a KPI is!

[Laughter]

KN: And the board reports, having a board to answer to, and having staff. It’s been a huge learning curve that I’ve really benefited from. So hopefully continuing to learn and to improve.

Need a hand with your application? Register for the Carol Lloyd Award Masterclass Livestream from 6pm to 8pm on Thursday 8th February!


All images as individually credited

Interview conducted, transcribed, and edited by Emma Kate Lewis

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