Jamie McDell / Photo by Nicky Birch / Supplied
Abigail Johnson caught up with pop-country songstress Jamie McDell to see what she’s been up to, what she’s getting excited about, and to dive into her brand new album Extraordinary Girl.
Hi Jamie! How are you?
I’m doing well thank you, recovering a little from touring!
Tell me about the new album Extraordinary Girl.
Extraordinary Girl feels like a really monumental record in my career. I think because it truly is a product of my own from the ground up, I’ve been the record label, manager, and artist for this new project so more than ever I feel like it honestly (a word I don’t use lightly) represents who I am as an artist at this stage of my life.
I decided to record it in Nashville and we took only two days to track it, so it’s very much a live-sounding record. And I got to work with some people I’ve admired for a long time – Nash, Bill & Kasey Chambers, and local legend Tami Neilson. After experiencing a bit of co-writing amongst the major label scene, I had a real desire not to let anyone in on the songwriting process for this album, I’ve had to learn to celebrate some imperfections but that’s been really good for me and my style of writing.
I know it’s like choosing your favourite child, but do you have a favourite track from the album? Or a favourite to perform?
It changes all the time depending on what I’m feeling. I think the title track Extraordinary Girl certainly stands out to me, it was really one of those songs where I said a lot of things that I needed to say – but possibly couldn’t speak the same words to the person’s face.
I consider Extraordinary Girl to be a feminist song. Would you call yourself a feminist? And how did that song come about?
Of course, equality being the main word that springs to mind. I wrote it for a female friend of mine who was being mistreated… well more extreme than that… by her male partner. The root of it was trying to help her see, metaphorically, what was happening to her. Trying to remind her of her value.
I think in some ways it was a therapeutic song for me to write also… often at times I felt I was being broken down in this industry by, unfortunately, male superiors. It does take a bit of extra strength to constantly see yourself as ‘extraordinary’ against those odds.
It was interesting – I’d had the idea to name the album after this track and suggested it to my management, and the response I got was ‘you’ve got to be careful, people might think you’re calling yourself extraordinary’ and that really just solidified my decision. If that is what I think, then it should be celebrated and not shot down. Sometimes I get sick of apologising for the skill I have but it’s something ingrained in the Kiwi nature, we blur the lines between humble and self-deprecating.
Amazing. I also really love the song 3am. To me it feels very similar to Lorde’s Green Light, in that it’s about waiting to be free of someone from your past. Am I correct in that? Tell me about the song.
Absolutely. I wrote it when I first arrived in the states, quite literally because I kept waking up at 3am and the lyrics flowed from there into some feelings I’d suppressed about a past relationship. I think the subject matter is relatable to most, I’ve written a few songs in this realm before, but it was really nice to be able to come up with something that shared a little more detail and shed a little more light on the frustration I was feeling.
You spent time in Nashville, Tennessee for this album – I know how powerful a change of scenery can be. Tell me about that experience.
I think the change of scene was an extremely important part of writing this album. I had a lot of time alone and without the pressures of everyday responsibilities. I think somehow, not being around people I knew, I was able to channel a new vein of honesty – not worried about the words I was saying because it felt as if no one was around to hear them. Nashville also obviously celebrates many forms of country and roots music and I think it did give me a confidence boost being around more like-minded musicians that understood my John Denver references, or at least took them seriously!
What’s the one thing people usually get wrong about you?
Oh my gosh, where I’m from!! I’ve had everything from Tauranga to Christchurch to Whangamata. I don’t know if maybe I’m just not saying it right. My family live in Mangawhai, we’ve moved around a bit, but I consider that to be my home, however I am currently based in Auckland. Now we have it in writing!
What else is big in your world right now? What are you excited about?
Plastic pollution is becoming a popular topic and that’s a great thing. It’s something we’ve been campaigning for, for a long time, and New Zealand is finally making some moves to catch up with the rest of the world. We still have a long way to go but it’s definitely a step in the right direction!
Anything else you’d like to say?
I’d just like to mention some women in the music industry who have been extremely kind and inspiring to me through this independent journey. Kasey Chambers, Tami Neilson, Nadia Reid, Jenny Mitchell, Cass Mitchell, and Julia Deans.
Love it! Thanks so much for chatting to us.
Jamie’s latest album Extraordinary Girl is available now.Support Villainesse