Australian Americana artist Helen Townsend is that rare artist who can make large venues feel like lounge rooms. Get comfy and lean into her richly lyrical songs, get up and dance, sing along because she’s singing about you, fall in love with the stagecraft — whatever your desire, it’s all good because it’s just you and Helen. When the lights go up no one will ever know.
Townsend’s new single, ‘Is This Love’, asks the age-old question, the one we’ve all wanted answered sometime or another. Dressed up in irresistible honky tonk blues, ‘Is This Love’ is an instant dance-floor filler and the first leg of a musical oeuvre that has Townsend at the peak of her powers and will have audiences beaming and calling out for more.
Helen Townsend may have been late in picking up the tools of her trade but in a short time she has shown herself to be a master craftsman in a field too often crowded with cowboy-booted jacks and jills of all trades. Her sweet voice and tender picking rubs against songs that are filled with characters living with the costly results of impulsive choices and memories that just won’t let go. Her music takes you on a journey through beautiful valleys, coastal plains and soaring over mountains with a few deep, dark tunnels to keep you grounded.
She has carved out a reputation for edgy Americana music – one that has pushed the genre’s boundaries from roots-rock through blues and country to folk – with her upcoming album, Helen has broadened her style and flair even more so with catchy new melodies, tight harmonies and personal stories and lyrics that hook into your heart and tear up your soul. The new album builds from her previous 2 EP’s and her debut album, which scored her multiple awards and nominations including winner of WA Country Music Award for Best Emerging Artist and Song of the year.
Townsend has continued to extend her musical influence with her recent US shows and was part of the Sounds Australia Showcase at the coveted Americanafest in Nashville. All this on top of the US launch of her EP “Love, Lies ‘n’ Leaving” which found its way into the FAI top 10 Folk albums chart in the US for September 2022 has increased Helens popularity in Australia and abroad.
With ‘Is This Love’, Townsend is making her first exploration into UK territory, with plans for a UK tour and new album release to come next year. The video for the single is pure Americana nostalgia with Townsend and band arriving via a classic car to tear things up at a swinging rock ‘n’ roll bar. Through out it, we see Townsend question ‘Is This Love’ with her partner and fellow Australian musician Shannon Smith, as they share a dance, cocktails and eventually make plans to meet again. Much of Townsend’s forthcoming new album has been inspired by her new relationship with Shannon Smith, who has also channelled their love for each other in his own upcoming music project, both albums being written respectively from their different sides of the relationship, as these two musicians forged their bond.
Helen Townsend releases ‘Is This Love’ on 26th September 2023.
Take us back to the very beginning. When did you discover your love for music?
“I think it would have been in my early teens, around 13, when I recognized the power of music, and it became an emotional experience rather than something that was used to count the beat like it was in my under-10-year-old Jazz Ballet classes.”
We’d recently moved to a new home, and my neighbor was a singer & guitarist. He used to have friends over for BBQs and to swim in their pool. I distinctly remember one afternoon when a couple of his friends (Brother and sister) were singing together. Their harmonies just melted me. I became interested in the singing and how that sound was made.
When you reflect and consider your unique sound, who would you say are your musical influences?
“I have such a broad spectrum of influences from one song to another. I grew up singing (yelling) the lyrics of Supertramp, Meatloaf, and Billy Joel from the back of my older sisters’ record covers to being hooked on James Taylor, America, Doobie Brothers & Daddy Cool. When I was old enough to go see bands in pubs, it was Blues to Zydeco to Soul, Jazz, Rockabilly, and swing to Western Swing, and a natural progression to Americana and country from there. There were also great moments of Rock n Roll in amongst all those where The Ramones and The Rolling Stones were on high rotation.”
I think my music is a combination of all of those. I think the best thing about being a “Singer-Songwriter” is that you can be quite varied in your approach to your songs. It’s not about the genre it fits into. It’s all about the song. If it suits a Country vibe then make it a country song, if adding a hint of rock or jazz delivers the intent of the song, then make it rocky or jazzy. My forthcoming album is created from that place. There is a little bit of everything to it.
Take us through a typical writing or studio session. What is your creative process like?
“My writing sessions are a very cathartic practice. There are times when all I do is write. Every day, a poem, a short rhyme, or a long topical challenge. Some of these make it to music, others are locked away in my notes, waiting for the music to come. Other times, like since I have been recording, I am too focused on the business of music to find the heart & space to write.”
My studio session process is incredibly organic to date. I like to create in the studio what I can’t on my own and therefore I need great session musicians to help me. I really appreciate their input and patience in drilling down through my idea and presenting me with what they are interpreting from my description of “feel.” There have been many times I have gone in with my song in a draft form only to come out with a song that has a totally unique and different vibe than I thought it would be going.
Tell us about your latest single “Is This Love”?
“Is This Love” is an upbeat Honky Tonk Country love song all about the prospect of new love. It comes from a place of confusion and excitement, fear & hope. It’s that moment you notice that you are dancing around the kitchen, celebrating love and life all because that special someone has entered your world. In my case, it was my partner and fellow musician, Shannon Smith.”
Being a middle-aged woman, with a couple of marriages under my belt, I was quite skeptical that there would be a partner that could meet me at the level I wanted them to. I’ve always been quite driven and independent, and I work hard to identify areas that need work so that I don’t get stuck in “poor me.” I needed a partner who was just as willing and capable of owning his truth and working through his false beliefs and baggage to enable great things to happen. So, when Shannon did come along and I WAS dancing around my kitchen, I wondered very often… “Is This Love”?
You are working on your upcoming album, what can listeners expect this go around?
“This single is the first of 4 single releases before the album “Take It or Leave It” is released in early 2024. The title of the album just about sums it up. It’s a collection of songs that I have penned over the last 4-6 years inspired by love, grief, heartbreak, loss & resentment. You name it, I felt it over that time, and if I felt it, I am going to write about it. The songs vary in style and vibe and have been written from some very raw situations. From my son’s struggle with drug addiction, and the gut-wrenching desire as a mother to make him all better. The hardest, most confronting time I have had in a relationship, was when my partner Shannon Smith stepped out of his crippling shame with brutal honesty and openness, about lies he had been telling me for the first 2 years of our time, and I had to decide whether to work through it together or walk away… to songs of celebration. It’s really songs from my heart that may or may not be liked. Hence, “Take It or Leave It.” I needed to get these words out of me.”
There is more to the story, though. During the hard times we went through, both Shannon and I retreated to our own corners and wrote from our own perspectives about the same situation. So, “Is This Love” is the first in a “mini-series” (for want of a better explanation) of singles that Shannon and I will alternate in releasing. They each have a video clip and will be released in the sequence of first love, to break down, growth, and reflection to celebrate making it through. They weave between my experience and his, and if you watch closely, you will see a hint to the previous clip, or an upcoming clip in each one. His first single dropped on the 17th of October, with the video on the 1st Nov. Then my next song “Battlefield” will drop shortly after.
What message do you hope listeners take away from this project?
“I feel like my mantra is always to connect with a listener and specifically to help people who feel like they are alone in an experience, to know they are not. We have all been bombarded with fairy tales of what relationships & life “should” be, and it’s so common to feel like a failure when things don’t go right. I want to shine a light on just being who you are, warts and all, as being enough! That acceptance of who you really are is out there and incredibly uplifting when you are surrounded by people who do truly accept you for who you are today, and who you will be in the future.”
What is your definition of a Pretty Woman Who Hustles?
I think that is the hardest question of the lot. I think we all have to hustle a little in life to get through it and pass our inner critic telling us lies. I reckon if we continue to hustle against our false beliefs, our beauty shines through no matter who we are.