Katie Noonan first found success with the band george when they released a series of EPs in 1998. Since then she has straddled a range of genres – including jazz – and cemented a permanent place for herself in the Australian music scene.
Here she chats to MiNDFOOD about her latest endeavour, an album titled Emperor’s Box, on which she collaborated with the likes of Sia, Tim Finn and Josh Pyke, among others.
How has living in a rainforest informed your work?
Where I live is a really tiny community. I can’t say exactly which suburb it is because there are only two streets. I’ve always wanted to get out of the city. Once my husband and I had kids we realised we didn’t want to bring them up in the city.
We’ve got two-and-a-half acres. We won’t clear any of it; if we want to build into it, we’ll just build amongst the trees. There’s a studio on the property, but it’s very basic. My husband built it with his dad, who’s a builder. It’s a great little office/practice room.
In the past with songwriting, I always get out of the city and avoid having a television near me. So I’ve essentially recreated that environment with my home – it brings you back to a little more self-awareness and gives you time to reflect on what’s important to you.
I wrote a few of the songs in my studio, and quite a few over on Stradbroke Island, which is kind of my space to reconnect.
Do you still need the city as a sort of stimulus?
We’re only an hour from the city so it’s not very far. I love the city, but with my touring and my work, that’s enough of it for me. And when I come to the city, it’s very city – I’m in a hotel and I’m doing a gig. It’s not particularly homely when I’m in the city. I enjoy it. It’s a good dichotomy.
When preparing for this interview, the word ‘veteran’ kept popping into my head. How do you feel about that?
When George started I was a baby – it was my first year out of university when we got together. When we had that wonderful but very unexpected success I was 23, which is quite young to be processing something that big; but it was wonderful.
I pretty much have been writing songs and singing about my stories since I was out of school. But I still feel very young, so veteran doesn’t sound right.
It’s funny – I was always the youngest on tour, and now when we go on tour many people are younger than me. That said, age for me is irrelevant.
What have you learned about the industry since the days of george?
I own my decisions now and I’ve made a lot of changes in my life to suit that affirmation. I’ve really reclaimed the power of the decision-making of what I do. I’ve pretty much become a bit of a one-woman show, and that’s very challenging and tiring, but more than anything it’s very rewarding and I’m feeling like I can trust my instincts and follow them a lot more.
Do you have a plan when it comes to your career?
There’s not really any plan, I just follow my muse. I guess that’s why I did a jazz album, because jazz is all about freedom and lack of boundaries. I’m just interested in expression.
What’s the meaning behind the album title, Emperor’s Box?
The Emperor’s Box analogy represents how a relationship keeps on revealing more of itself the more you know it and touch it (well, with the box anyway).
I like the analogy of this album being like a boat that you get on and go on this long journey. Bizarrely there are a lot of water references – that certainly didn’t happen deliberately. I love the clearing, cleansing nature of water.
What was your reason behind wanting to work with Tim Finn?
I sought out Tim, I’ve been wanting to collaborate with him for years, after he wrote this beautiful record called Imaginary Kingdom, which I just thought was incredible. That prompted me to really want to write with him. Now he’s a veteran; you can use that word with him for sure.
Katie Noonan’s latest album Emperor’s Box is out now.