In tune with family harmony

Siblings Jay and Tami Neilson are hitting the road this month. Photo: Supplied
Siblings Jay and Tami Neilson are hitting the road this month. Photo: Supplied
New Zealand’s adopted country Canuck, Tami Neilson, returns to the live arena this month along with one of her longest-serving and dearest partners in crime. Adam Burns caught up with the singer-songwriter about reining things in and why family is the bees knees.

Blood is thicker than water - it is an adage that Tami Neilson has come to hold close as she has navigated an undeniable rise to the top.

Having come up the ranks with family band The Neilsons, strutting the country-baked stage as a youngster in support of Johnny Cash, this has always been a factor for the Canadian-born performer.

In more ways than one, the notion of whanau has become more important than ever in recent times for the singer-songwriter.

For the 42-year-old, it makes the addition of brother and collaborator Jay Neilson for an upcoming tour, a big coup.

"There's probably not another person on the face of this earth that can blend and sing harmonies with me like Jay can - coming from the same womb," she jokes.

"You can't really beat that."

Several albums deep and another one on the way, her sibling has been a key collaborator and songwriting foil in the studio and a key person on the road.

The rigours of touring can be tough, and even for the sassy and spirited Neilson, sometimes you need your bro.

"I noticed how huge a difference it made having your family on the road with you. Touring is already rigorous, physically and mentally challenging, very isolating.

"I realised how much of a difference to my mental health, especially, it was to have my brother with me - just that person who has your back all the time."

She convinced him to be also involved in her upcoming long-player, Chickaboom!, to be released in February.

The record will be her first release since last year's Sassafrass!, which brought her accolades and attention both here and abroad.

One of the record's greatest achievements is that it "connected with women and mothers", Neilson says.

And with a glaring lack of female representation in certain corners of the industry, having Neilson spread the word is vital.

"I still think we're a long way from an equal playing field," she says.

"It's not just this myth, it is actually statistically proven, that women only make up 15% of festival line-ups, or women in country music in particular."

Despite this, she said the work was being done, awareness being raised and more encouraging signs being observed.

For her impending batch of songs, Neilson wanted to strip her songwriting to the core fundamentals.

"When I wrote the album, in the back of my mind, I wanted to write a series of really punchy songs that were going to be really strong as a three-piece.

"Because my sound has gotten bigger and bigger with each album, and then I was like, it's time to strip it back again, like those early Johnny Cash recordings ... it's just about the songs and the voice."

Recently released single Hey, Bus Driver applies that to-the-point sensibility and channels the on-the-road angst into a rapid-fire, boot-tappin' slice of rockabilly soul.

The song could also be seen as a rallying cry to a significant adjustment in her mode of operation.

Having set up home base in New Zealand, the family Neilson is now raising has led her to tailor the amount of touring she commits to.

Having paired back her songs, she is now pairing back time spent in the live arena.

"I was starting to burn out, which can happen with a lot of musicians and being apart from my kids for long periods of time.

"I just decided to make a change, touring more sustainably. The model for touring was created for a young single male, of which I am none."

If there is a retreat, it makes the handful of shows the Neilson pair are throwing down even more essential, beginning with Dunedin's Mayfair Theatre on Thursday.

The gig 

Tami Neilson performs with special guest Jay Neilson, Mayfair Theatre, Dunedin, on Thursday, October 17.

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