A serendipitous relationship from the start, Mama Kin Spender’s creative partnership began with a chance meeting on a plane to LA long ago. Seventeen years later, Mama Kin’s Danielle Caruana and Tom ‘Spender’ Spender take the Mama Kin Spender project on the road, rolling into Sydney, Melbourne and Mullumbimby on the Golden November tour, performing songs off their forthcoming album Golden Magnetic with a beautiful collection of voices joining in – choirs sourced from the surrounds, expressing the resonant frequency of each place in song.
But let’s go back in time and reflect on how this duo first met. “There was less than a degree of separation between the people we knew,” shares Mama Kin. “We’d heard of each other, and he was playing in a band with my brother, but I’d never seen a photo of him. For some reason, as I boarded this plane, we were kinda looking at each other, smiling, and I said, ‘Do I know you?”
They didn’t, but they did. “You’re Spender? You’re Tomsky?” she asked him, and he was. The pair were seated two seats apart on the plane, clear proof of a connection orchestrated by the stars. Later, Spender and Mama Kin’s sharehoused in Collingwood together with her husband (John Butler of the trio fame) and their baby. After finding a keyboard dumped in a backstreet, the pair wrote their first song together, and enjoying a “fast and wicked friendship”, continued to write and perform together on and off over the years. Breathtaking pre-cursor choir-collab One Night Upon A Cold Rooftop was perhaps the unconscious seeding of their current creative merging.
Rufus Wainwright is credited though with the Golden November tour choir inspo. Watch this video and see why. “We were both in a creative lull moment and feeling disenchanted with our own music careers,” Mama Kin explains. “We were talking about how lonely it can be, and how hard it is – it can be a fucking slog man, it’s really a slog,” she says, so honestly, her voice breaking under the weight offering this rare insight into the reality of musician life. “I sent Tommy the video, and we weeped on the phone to each other. So we thought, “let’s make a body of work that makes it possible for us to work with choirs, in their own communities.”
With the idea let loose and seeking fulfilment, the Golden November tour began finding form quickly. A choirmaster was appointed in Melbourne, Sydney and Mullumbimby, and local choirs given five or six songs from Golden Magnetic to rehearse prior to each show. “We’ll be singing with 24 Melburnians in Melbourne, 16 Sydneysiders in Sydney, then in Mullumbimby a few weeks later, we’ll be singing with 16 Mullumbimbians,” she says. “So, we’ll be performing with the voices of the places that we go.”
Testing and feeling the resonant frequency of each location is part of her plan. ”I want to hear what the sound of each place is,” she explains. “What’s their dynamic push like? What parts do they want to lean into more? What songs and stories do they resonate most with as a choir? How does that change between places? How does Northcote sound different to Mullumbimby? That’s what I’m interested in finding out.”
With insightful and illuminating sincerity, Mama Kin also speaks of her wish to make deeper connections on the road. “As a musician, you can feel like a bit of a ghost,“ she shares. “You roll into town, scare a few people, then roll out of town again. On a touring schedule, it’s really hard to make really authentic connections from anywhere but the stage. This time around, we’ll have the chance to connect with a choir full of people closely, using the songs as a vehicle.”
Blessedly not an aloof and insular musician then, it’s encouraging to hear from an artist with a genuine interest in, and care for, their audience, plus a more holistic, almost spiritual, interest in the power of music and singing. “I think choirs are an amazing, nourishing vehicle for strong community mental health,” she says, in a moment of sheer common sense. ”I grew up going to church as a kid, which has its own story, but the thing I loved most was having that opportunity, for one hour a week, to simply sing with the people of my community,” she says. “I was singing with all the voices of the people I bought bread and milk from. We’d step out of the church and go, “We belong to each other a little bit, don’t we?”
Doesn’t just the thought of that make you feel a little better? A little less distressed? A little more aware of how wholly disconnected we’ve become? “Singing is one of the most human thing you can do, and when you sing in harmony with another person, I think your body experiences something that’s very hard to achieve on your own,” she continues. “Our ultimate mission would be to sing with choirs in regional places, and play music in buildings that were specifically designed for community engagement.”
“I really think we need more of those non-dogmatic practices,” she says. “We’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater as far as community practices of gathering and connection that don’t involve drinking or excess of anything, but just involve nourishing, humanising experience.” Although religion is not the answer anymore, singing together again may just be.
Mama Kin Spender, WildnFree wholly supports you on your beautiful, necessary mission. Sydney, Melbourne, Mullumbimby – come, be nourished and hear the voice of your homes emerge.
Dates below, go, maybe it’s meant to be. Also, get in early and pre-order Golden Magnetic releasing February 2018.
Enjoy a little stripped-back preview:
Golden November Tour
FRI NOV 3 – LEADBELLY – SYDNEY, NSW
w/ Inner West Voices + Iluka
Tickets via: www.oztix.com.au
SUN NOV 5 – NORTHCOTE SOCIAL CLUB (MATINEE SHOW) – MELBOURNE, VIC
w/ First Chorus Band of Singers + Stella Donnelly
Tickets via: www.northcotesocialclub.com
SUN NOV 18 & 19 MULLUM MUSIC FESTIVAL (ALL AGES) MULLUMBIMBY NSW
Tickets via: www.mullummusicfestival.com
SAT NOV 25 & 26 QUEENSCLIFF MUSIC FESTIVAL (ALL AGES) QUEENSCLIFF VIC