Describing Tami Neilson is difficult. The music can be traditional country, rockabilly and even playful to the point of Carmen Miranda with a song called “Bananas.” Neilson is New Zealand based and has strong ties to Canada including her record label, Outside Music. SASSAFRASS! Is the name of her 3rd album. It is a wonderfully wild creature filled with surprises. Neilson recently released a video from it:
FEMMUSIC: What was the biggest challenge making SASSAFRASS!?
TN: Lack of time is always a challenge, especially since becoming a parent and juggling both music and motherhood. Being on tour for a large part of last year meant that I wrote a lot of this album on the run, noise-canceling headphones on, writing in my notebook while the rest of the band listened to music or made endless Snapchat videos, giggling in the seat behind me!
FEMMUSIC: What were your goals making SASSAFRASS!?
TN: SASSAFRASS! is the mouthy love-child of a series of events that led to its conception. Becoming a parent, losing a parent, turning 40…all these things drastically change your perspective and priorities. I suddenly realized that life is too short to take the judgments of others who don’t have your best interest at heart and decided to stop trying to please those people. It happened to coincide with a huge movement for the equality of women around the world and all those ingredients really emboldened me. I guess it’s all about coming into my confidence and the goal was to share that with other women, celebrate that freedom and hope it emboldens them to do the same!
FEMMUSIC: You worked with Ben Edwards again on this album. What does he bring to project?
TN: Ben brings loads of talent and great ears, but, he also brings a real gentle spirit, he’s part diplomatic peacekeeper when stress and tensions arise in the studio, but he’s always a straight-shooter and will hold fast to what is right for the song and the album as a whole project. I trust him with my music completely.
FEMMUSIC: This is your second album with Outside Music. Why did you sign with them? How are they to work with?
TN: I looked at Outside Music’s roster of artists, and a large portion of them are female- the fact that they represent mature women who are also mothers said to me that they are in it for the long-haul and not just looking for overnight success from young artists that can tour endlessly and cheaply (and exhaustively!) until they can break them. They are clearly used to working around those challenges and the fact that they believed in my music enough to take on a 40-year-old mother who lives on the other side of the world showed me they are passionate enough about my music to overcome those obstacles, but very grounded in reality. For me, that’s a great combo. It felt more like a committed relationship than a racy fling with the latest hot ticket.
FEMMUSIC: Can you describe your songwriting technique?
TN: These days I tend to write in stolen moments. I don’t have the luxury of time that I used to have. Most of my songs begin with a melody sung into my phone as it sits on the passenger’s seat, hitting the steering wheel with a beat as the kids chatter in the back seat. I collect snippets of lyrics and song titles and melodies this way and then when I’ve booked in studio time to give myself a deadline, I dig through my little pile of ingredients that I’ve accumulated and set aside time to start cooking!
FEMMUSIC: As a woman in the music industry have you been discriminated against?
TN: Of course- the usual stuff you encounter when it comes to age and appearance have always been there, but, nothing hit me as hard as when I became a mother and dared to think I could continue to tour and work as a musician. I was on tour a lot last year and had people criticizing me on a nightly basis for leaving my children at home and not taking them with me, “How can you leave your children? They need their mother!”. It was a very hard time and I had to do a lot of work on breaking the cycle of guilt and shame society places on mothers who work. I had an epiphany one day while reading a blog of another musician mother who takes her children with her on tour- and she was getting the same criticism every night after her shows, but, in this instance, it was “How can you drag them around with you on tour? They need routine- they should be in bed!” I suddenly realized that no matter what you do in this life, you will be judged and criticized, so, you may as well do what is best for you and your family and what makes you all happy.
FEMMUSIC: Whom would you most like to collaborate with, or tour with? Why?
TN: Mavis Staples. She is my absolute hero. I got to open for her last year and she just radiates joy- and a gentle power. This woman walked alongside Martin Luther King and was an integral part of the Civil Rights movement- one she is still fighting today. She is incredibly inspiring. It would be a dream to tour with her, just soak in all her stories and watch her work. Not to mention listen to her sing every night!
FEMMUSIC: What one thing would you like to change about the music industry?
TN: The one thing I’d like to change the world over- equal opportunity. The fact that “Tomato-Gate” (where a radio consultant recently advised country music radio programmers across the USA that if they wanted a successful radio station, “take the women out.” and that “…men are the lettuce in our salad, women are the tomatoes.”) can still occur baffles the mind and it needs to change.