It’s been 17 years since Monique Brumby released her first album and there have been five studio releases in that time.
Her self-titled album, released earlier this year, was three years in the making. There’s no reason why there’s such a gap between albums, other than life itself.
“I just get really busy,” Monique said. She spoke to me from Melbourne, in the middle of a national tour. Yep. It’s been a busy year. A quick look at the Monique Brumby website and her touring history is testament to that.
And as she tells me about her passions outside of songwriting, recording and performing, that busyness becomes more and more evident.
“I run a program in Melbourne for young people with chronic illness,” she said. “It’s a music program. It balances my life really well.”
The program is run by Aardvark Worldwide, where Brumby is Creative Director. They aim to bring young people together with professional musicians and music therapists to write, record and perform original music. And Monique isn’t the only big name to be involved. Wally De Backer (Gotye) is the program’s ambassador and musicians such as Paul Dempsey, The Living End and Missy Higgins have also given their time.
“Look, it’s really incredible,” Brumby said of the organisation’s impact on young people. “We have an alumni program and ongoing workshops which are monthly.”
“Wally and I started as volunteers in 2011, Wal comes in a few times a year and does workshops with kids. Guest artists come in and donate their time and passion.”
“I’ve seen young people that through the program, develop skills in communication, self-belief, self-awareness. It’s very healing. So they’re able to write songs that connect them to something really innate, that they may have lost through their illness.”
Brumby is passionate about the work but admits it can sometimes be hard to juggle commitments, including everyday jobs like finding carers for pets while she and her wife / graphic designer / guitarist are on the road.
“My wife and I live in Melbourne,” she said. “And we have three animals that are almost our babies. When we go away we have to find care for them. There’s a nice lady who lives down the road who has a pet care business but cares for the animals at home.”
They sound like spoiled pets too.
“They sleep inside, and are with her all the time and go to the park every day,” Brumby says of the pet carer. Then admits that that’s exactly what they get at home anyway.
Anyone who travels for work knows that it takes its toll and usually on family the most. Monique revealed that her dad has just been diagnosed with cancer and is due to have surgery, something that plays on her mind when on the road.
“We’re very, very close,” she says of her parents. “I moved out of home at 18, but the relationship with my parents is a mutually supportive one.”
“It’s been a tough year … travelling and dealing with this worry about him,” she says of her dad.
“Family is just so important.”
And that importance, of family to Monique, also becomes obvious. Particularly her relationship with her grandmother, who she says is quite possibly her number one fan. “My granny just turned 90,” she said. “And I went to Tasmania to spend time with her.”
“She really worries about me. Because she sees that my lifestyle isn’t your average life. And I didn’t really realise that until I was in my thirties.”
Monique turns 40 this year and from our conversation it seems like the last ten years have been a time of self-discovery, or maybe self-truth is a better way to describe it.
“I didn’t feel there was a lot of fulfillment in going around and promoting myself. It seemed a bit narcissistic to me – a shallow existence. So I took on traits of my parents – like this shouldn’t be about me – but it kind of went to the extreme. And I realise now that as an artist I do have stuff to say and my music can inspire other people – I can balance my life and do things like inspire young people.”
“That’s why I work with young people. I know what it feels like to have all of those mixed emotions – as you go through life and have different challenges.”
On the surface, it seems the songs on Monique’s new album reflect that time, and act as a kind of biographical snapshot to that process of self-realisation. But she says they’re more semi-biographical.
“Even though the songs seem like they’re about me, they also tell stories about other people’s lives.”
“In This Game (track four) is my favourite on the album. It’s a soundtrack kind of song in my mind. Long, lost highways, very reflective. It’s about not being afraid to live your life with truth.”
“For me, right now, this album is about being truthful about who I am. There were lots of times in my 20s where I hid my sexuality and who I really was, and that wasn’t very helpful for me.”
It’s probably no accident that the album is self-titled then? She laughs, “here I am, this is me. With jazz hands.”
“It’s important to – as an artist – not get caught up in what you’re doing – and be aware that there’s a lot going on. There’s a lot to write about, and a lot to feel, and a lot to give in this world,” she said.
It seems she’s come along way in the 20 years since her first album was recorded, but she still laughs about the early days.
“The first press release in 1995, promoting my first single talked about me busking on the docks in Hobart,” she said. “You have no idea how many times that was quoted,” she laughed. “I felt like a fishmonger or something.”
“I think there’s only so much you know about someone, and whenever someone interviews me and says they just googled me, I cringe. You’ve probably seen a video clip I did 20 years ago, maybe some badly written press releases.”
After all those years, she also knows that success is often a matter of perception.
“I haven’t seen any bad press. People love the album, which is great. But I’m doing what I’ve always been doing,” she said. “Writing, recording original music.”
“I’ve had more press around this release. It gives people the impression that it’s doing better. I’ve been with a major record company and I’ve been independent for a long time – 15 years. And I know the difference between having a PR / marketing budget and not,” she said.
“Commercial networks only play stuff in the ARIA charts and the way you get into those is through sales. For independent artists, it’s very difficult.”
It seems the album is getting plenty of traction in regional Australia – Monique says she’s done around 100 different interviews on regional radio. And lots of ABC coverage as well.
“Community radio has been really supportive across Australia. I’ve also been on the Channel 7 Morning Show.” She also has an appearance scheduled for the Mangrook Footy Show on 14 August.
Actually football is something dear to Monique’s heart. Football as in soccer. She represented Australian in the under 19’s team and was on track to train at the Institute of Sport.
“I was going to be a soccer player. And that first year I was off to the Australian Institute of Sport there was a plane strike in Tassie, so I didn’t go.”
“Next year I was chosen again. There was a squad of 24 players nationally and I started training again – wearing lead weights – I was a slight thing,” she said. “About three weeks before going to the Institute of Sport to train with the Matildas squad I got a phone call to say they dropped two players nationally and I was one of the players.”
“It was a shame. I’d been training so hard – I was the fittest I’d ever been. My skills were getting fantastic. I was a striker on the wing and could run all day. They had a lot of those players in that position. If I’d been a back player or something, I might have been able to go.”
“But I’m a musician now,” she said.
Yeah. There’s no denying that. I guess the Matildas’ loss was music’s gain.
_ _ _ _ _
Monique Brumby wraps up her national tour with three shows in our neck of the woods before returning to Hobart and Melbourne. She says she’ll perform the new album as well as a bunch of earlier songs for old fans.
Fri 25 July | Sound Lounge, Gold Coast | 7.30pmhttp://soundlounge.com.au
Sat 26 July | The treehouse Belongil, Byron Bay | http://www.treehouseonbelongil.com
Sun 27 July | Dowse Bar, Brisbane | https://www.facebook.com/dowsebar
Sat 2 Aug | Brisbane Hotel, Hobart | 9pm https://www.facebook.com/thebrisbanehotelhobart
Sat 16 Aug | Flying Saucer Club, Elsternwick | http://www.flyingsaucerclub.com.au