At the 2004 Tamworth country music festival Sara Storer took home a record seven Golden Guitars for her second album Beautiful Circle. The album was a hit with fans, industry insiders and critics and the easy thing would have been for the Victoria born and bred but CentralCoast based Storer to reduce that success down to a formula and then repeat. You don't need to look very far to see many successful careers built on that principle.
The trouble with that sensible approach is that Storer came to prominence in the first place, not because she was doing what was expected, but rather because she was following her heart to make music that mattered most to her. And to all who heard her, there was little doubt that here was a unique talent. It was music that was proudly of and about this country, but crucially there was a sense that it was rooted firmly in the present.
Her fourth album Silver Skies is the first to be made without the steady hand of producer Garth Porter on her shoulder. It is filled with tales of lives and loves of those on the land but there is a much broader musical palette that shows her to be a contemporary of Missy Higgins and The Waifs as much as her country comrades. Most impressively Sara has moved forward without leaving anything behind.
Much of this change is laid at the feet of Matt Fell. Sara and Matt laid out the demos for this album in a few days late last year with a view for Sara to show prospective producers where she thought the songs might be taken. She was confident these songs, her originals as well as co-writes with Paul Kelly (Second Time Around) , Bo Runga (Long Live The Girls), passionate fan Jack Harris (Lovely Valentine) and a cover from her brother Greg (Crow), were among the best she had ever collected. It didn't take long to realize that Matt himself should man the boards and as soon as The Waifs' Josh Cunningham signed on to co-produce (he and Sara had previously collaborated on her last album Firefly) the team set to work.
Recorded at over a two month period he and Josh handled most of the instruments, while Glenn Wilson played the drums with additional touches coming from Rod McCormack and Mick Albeck. The producers insisted that Sara play guitar, which was also a first.
There are a number of songs instantly recognizable as being typical Sara Storer, including the first single Land Cries Out, Back To The Territory, Crow and Sitting Here With Fay, but the balance of the material is concerned with matters of the heart. Sara confesses to writing from a very personal place, which is why her songs have rung so true. Listen and you may learn something of her journey over the two years that the songs were written, but don't take them to be autobiographical.
"You can create a lot of drama out of a small hiccup", Sara explains. "That is the fun in writing. People may ask me questions about my personal life from hearing these songs and all I can say is, emotions are sometimes too hard to ignore when writing about life. It's how truthful you get or how creative you can be when you get to pour out emotions through music".
It would be wrong to suggest that Sara was not concerned about whether this subtle change in direction in Silver Skies would alienate people, but she knew must stay true to her art. Ultimately Sara knew that is she couldn't please herself then there was little likelihood she would be able to please anybody else.
"There was a lot of discussions and a long thought process in the making of this album. I kept coming back to that saying 'keep it simple stupid.' For me that was to look at each song individually. Forget genres, forget what anyone else expects and stick with what I think will work best with the song. Just because I'm country doesn't mean I have to stick with country elements like having fiddle throughout the tracks to keep people happy. People will just have to understand it's a Sara Storer story and I want the music to be right for the song".
* Sara has sold over 155,000 albums.
* Toured with The Waifs, Paul Kelly, Claire Bowditch, Suzanne Vega.
* Sara featured on 3 x platinum selling 'She will have her Way' tribute album to Neil & Tim Finn.
* Sara performed at the State Theatre in January as part of Sydney Festival's live conception of Kev Carmody Tribute 'Cannot Buy My Soul' along with John Butler Trio, Missy Higgins & Paul Kelly.