Memphis, Nashville, Georgia; the U.S Deep South is where you would expect to find a blues queen hiding. She’d be singing in a bar, beehived, heartbroken and ready to tell the world. So you will be as surprised as I, to find one bonafide blues queen based in another Deep South: Sydney, Australia to be exact.
Loene Carmen (pronounced Lo-ween) fuses soulful blues, folk and pop, creating a curious and unique bond between Dolly Parton and PJ Harvey. On the eve of her latest album launch, 'It Walks Like Love’, Loene Carmen talks to The Girls Are about her musical family, wearing heels as a child and Bob Dylan’s Immersion Theory.
Loene, thanks for talking to The Girls Are... For those not already acquainted with your music, tell us a bit about Loene Carmen.
L: My father, Peter Head, is a pianist and so I grew up surrounded by music, trailing around after him to his gigs at piano bars and beer gardens.
I was a strange child who spent a lot of time alone. I was obsessed with reading and music and theatre and would go with my father to any shows he'd let me come to. I was regarded with suspicion by other children for wearing high heels and lipstick from age 5 and being a vegetarian and hyperactive to boot. My speciality was doing impressions of The Who and Mick Jagger. I started writing songs early and performed my first proper gig at ten.
I loved to sing but I was always pretty tuneless. My dad taught me how to play guitar as a teenager. I got really into Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn and eventually got brave enough to start a country band, The Honky Tonk Angels (original I know!).
My dad advised me to start doing things under my own name. It was good advice, and I really took it to heart. I went and did an audio engineering course, borrowed an eight track and sat in my bedroom recording my first solo album, Born Funky Born Free, with various guests.
You used to act in films. Which was your first love: acting or music?
L: I was cast as the lead role in a movie that was quite successful, The Year My Voice Broke, when I was 16 so that was a great experience and exposed me to a pretty amazing world as well as giving me the opportunity to travel internationally for the first time, promoting it. I get offered the odd role and I've been lucky enough to do a few really special small roles along the way. I find acting comes very naturally but music is definitely my main focus.
Tell us about your new album, 'It Walks Like Love'.
L: It was a pretty tight turnaround, all done in a week or so, including mixing, so it was a bit of a pressure cooker.
It was the first time for me recording a whole album in a big studio, with a producer. I had been playing with the musicians on the album live for quite a while, so despite not knowing many of the songs we knew how to play music with each other without having to think. We all put in stupidly long hours, and recorded it all live together.
There were certain songs I knew exactly what I wanted to achieve, like Gauloises Blue with the Band/Dylanesque piano feel courtesy of my dad. Songs like Oh Apollo! were played for the very first time in the studio.
What is your favourite track?
L: Hmmm, it changes all the time, but maybe Gauloises Blue today.
I really love Mimic the Rain; what would you say the song is about?
L: 'Mimic The Rain' is basically about how everything we need is already in our hands...and that nature is the most powerful force there is. I read in a gardening book that the most effective way to water the garden is to 'mimic the rain' and it set me off wondering why we need books to advise us that 'mimicking nature' is going to work better than any fancy preparations and tricks, and that you can choose to live in some kind of harmony with the world around us - or not - it’s just about choice and common sense really.
Your vocals are heavily influenced by blues. Have you always adopted this style, or would you say your voice has matured into it?
L: I really taught myself to sing by singing along with singers whose phrasing I love like Etta James, Nina Simone, Bobbie Gentry, early Tina Turner, Jimmy Reed. I read once that Etta James learnt to sing by listening to Jimmy Reed so I figured I ought to do as much of that as possible, because I definitely needed all the help I could get. Around the same time I started recording solo, I also started a 'obscure soul covers' band called Slow Hand, which I reckon taught me more about singing, songwriting and performance than any other band I've had and I could literally hear my voice getting stronger from gig to gig. To have the opportunity to really immerse myself in those incredible songs was really a fantastic education. I think Bob Dylan calls it 'the immersion theory' and I'm sold on it.
The Girls Are celebrates women working in music, and aims to provide a supportive platform for artists. What have your experiences of being a female musician been like?
L: Most of my musical collaborators are male and we work together like a dream. I don't think I've ever felt ostracised for my gender, in fact I've always felt very welcomed in the world of rock'n'roll.
Which female musicians have inspired and influenced you?
L: Suzi Quatro was my first musical love, as a little girl, and I still love her as much now, I idolised Kim Wilde as a young teenager, then Joan Jett and Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette who got across so much provocative and down to earth content in pretty conservative times within cleverly couched lyrics, in so expressive and heartfelt a manner.
In general, who are your favourite artists?
L: Well besides all the lovely ladies we just mentioned, artists I turn to again and again are Will Oldham, Bill Callahan and Tex Perkins in any formation they choose to present themselves in.
What does Loene do for fun?
L: Listen to music, dance with my two year old. Paint sometimes. Learn French.
What is the Australian music scene like? Which current bands do you rate?
L: I think Australians are very blessed musically, something about growing up so far from everything maybe, but we have a hell of a lot of really great artists and bands. Girl wise, check out Bridezilla, Cathy Green (probably the coolest woman in Australian rock'n'roll), Penny Ikinger, Crystal Thomas and the Flowers of Evil, HTRK, Butcher Birds, Super Wild Horses, Abbe May, Renee Geyer (Australia's Queen of Soul).... The Drones and the Holy Soul have very cool female bass player/drummer respectively and are both incredible bands.
Will you be going on tour or playing any festivals in the near future?
L: Nothing locked in yet but I hope to make it to UK/Europe mid year.
Finally, do you have a special message for people in the UK?
L: Let's get it on!