She has been one of Australia’s greatest pop singers but, as she managed to make herself a second career as a bona fide jazz diva, Grace Knight has proven that labels in music don’t mean that much. In her new album, “Keep Cool Fool” out there, the singer puts her irresistible, seasoned voice to use, telling stories of love and betrayal in her distinctive playful, flirty, swinging manner. The album is a delight from start to finish; as is the opportunity to get to chat with her about her career and the way her life experience infiltrates her singing.
AustralianJazz.Net: “Keep Cool Fool” has a somewhat grittier, bluesier, more ‘back-to-the-basics’ feel than your previous albums. Was this deliberate?
Grace Knight: Yes, it was deliberate. Before I started recording ‘Keep Cool Fool’, I had in mind that I’d like to switch from a piano based sound to a guitar based sound. I didn’t want to use strings or a brass section, so I could make the guitar really stand out. We added some piano or Hammond organ and some saxophone to some of the tracks but the heart and soul of this record was recorded live in the studio with just guitar, double bass and drums.
AJN: Which one of the album’s songs best describes your current state of mind?
GK: I’m not sure any of them really describe my state of mind, but I like to choose songs that I can relate to and that have a story I can tell. I really like ‘I’m A Woman’ – it was written in the early ’60s and it’s sort of saying, “hey, don’t take me for granted, I do a million and one things around here and I’m actually holding everything together. We call it multi-tasking today!
AJN: What has been the hardest aspect of your jazz journey so far?
GK: I think the hardest was getting over my insecurity that I was a bit of a fraud, that I was a pop singer masquerading as a jazz singer. Quite some time ago, I just gave up on the labels and decided I was a story teller. I found that quite liberating, it meant I didn’t have to conform to any preconceived notion of what a jazz singer should be.
AJN:What inspires you the most?
GK: From a career standpoint, it’s the audience. I have a lot of people come up to me after gigs and tell me stories about what my music has meant to them. It’s very humbling, but it’s also very inspiring to get that sort of feedback. I have a fantastic job, I make people happy for a living.
AJN: Which part of your life has been most present to your singing?
GK: It depends from song to song. I only sing songs that I can relate to and the part of my life that connects to a lyric will differ with each song. The experiences that will enable me to connect with a lyric in a song about love and lust will be poles apart from those that connect me to a song about loss or sorrow. The key for me is: “don’t fake it”; if I can’t find a connection to the lyric, it’s not the song, it’s me.
AJN: What is your greatest ambition?
GK: I’m much closer to the end of my career than the beginning, so I think at this point in time I’m trying to make sure I do all the things I want to do artistically before it’s too late. I’ve just finished a new solo album that isn’t jazz, it has a sort of rootsy folk feel and will probably surprise a lot of people. Earlier in the year we did a Eurogliders album which consisted of re-workings of all our hits from the ’80s and some new songs done with mainly acoustic instruments which shocked some listeners. Of course you always hope the public like what you do but I also want to be proud of what I’m putting out.
AJN: What do you miss the most from the ’80s?
GK: Not much. The ’80s were great fun and the band I was in, Eurogliders, had quite a lot of success with chart-topping records and international touring, but we were moving so fast and always chasing the next success that we didn’t really spend time enjoying the moment. I don’t spend much time thinking about the past – I’d rather be planning and scheming about what I’m going to do next.
AJN: Looking back, what advice would you give to your younger self?
GK: Don’t be too hard on yourself and enjoy the moments as they happen.