Special Interview: Briana Cowlishaw

theaussieword.com catches up with Briana Cowlishaw for a very special interview.

What can you tell our readers about you? How and where did it all begin?
I am a Sydney girl that grew up on the North Shore and went to an all girls high school, Pymble Ladies College. I loved ballet and all types of dance, I was in the school Rock Eisteddfod, I played clarinet in the band, sang in the jazz band and played a lot of sport including softball, netball, waterpolo and soccer. When I started singing seriously in year 10 at school, every other activity started to seem less important. When I decided to go to AIM (The Australian Institute of Music) straight after school I knew music was going to be a huge part of my life. But when I started composing music, THAT is when my journey really began. Writing music is something I now know I will spend the rest of my life doing 🙂 It’s amazing.
What had you first interested in music?
I grew a love for music when I started dancing ballet to at the age of 3, but this was all classical music. I first got really excited about music when I started singing in the school jazz band at age 14. I couldn’t think of anything cooler than being able to get up as the lead singer of a band and sing a swinging jazz song haha. Really it was pretty dorky, but I loved it.
Who motivates or influences your quest to make great music?
Joni Mitchell is one of my biggest influences as a musician, along with James Taylor and The Beatles. I love the respect the quest these musicians went on throughout their career and they all seemed to carve their own way in the music industry. This is what I want to do 🙂 I am really inspired by great lyric writing and the ability to tell a story through the words and the music. Aside from these pop artists, I am also very inspired by the older great jazz musicians (such as Nancy Wilson, Shirley Horn, Thelonious Monk, Ella Fitzgerald) and the younger Modern Jazz players coming out of New York (such as Taylor Eigsti, Gerald Clayton and Becca Stevens).

Do you have any planned tours coming up?
YES! I am just about to embark on my third National Tour, but this is definitely my biggest one yet! The 9 date tour is celebrating the release of my new album ‘Paper Mache City’, with an Album Launch in 7 different cities around the country! I am super excited as I will be performing in Tasmania, Canberra and Katoomba (Blue Mountains) for the first time, along with gigs it Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Newcastle.
What are some of your biggest goals you hope to accomplish as an artist?
This is a question that I find hard to answer as I am very much a short term goal type of person. I love deadlines …. and therefore things like 5 year plans scare me! haha BUT, some goals I do have are:
–  To start touring around Europe in the Summer Festival Circuit.
–  After establishing my career in Asia this year on 2 separate International tours, I hope to continue building my career in Asia and collaborating with artists over there.
–  I want to write music for films.
–  I want to travel the world and learn Portuguese (so I can sing beautiful Latin/Brazilian songs in Portuguese).
–  I want to live in New York for a number of years and try to develop my career in America.
The list goes on too…
What can fans expect from you in the coming months?
You can expect to hear my new album both on the radio and at my live gigs. I will be debuting the songs from the album on all my tour gigs! 🙂 I have also started going more on the electronic route and have started using both a small effects pedal on my pop gigs and Ableton Live on my improvised gigs. I am part of a collaborative arts project called ‘The Wires Project’ and we perform around Sydney (and overseas) using our funny electronic tools to improvise music live. It is a lot of fun!
Success, what is the secret to it and what has been your biggest career highlight so far?
Haha. A funny question which I am sure everyone will answer differently. I think success = PERSISTENCE. Most of the time the only reason why you are not successful with something you are pursuing is because you stopped trying. A great pianist in Sydney told me that most people have a 10- 20% success rate with the projects they are pursuing… so basically you just have to keep raking in those 10% opportunities until they build up and feel like 100%  🙂
The biggest career highlight for me so far is performing with my band in front of 4000 + people at the Chilpo International Jazz Festival (South Korea) this year. It was my largest festival performance and the most exhilarating experience of my life. I’d love to do that everyday!
Which stars of the music industry do you find inspiring?
People like Gotye – he put about 10 self released albums out before he was picked up for his famous song ‘Somebody that I used to Know’. That just proves persistence is the key 🙂 And a love for what you do of course.
How would you best describe you and your music to your fans?
I am a bit of a quirky hippie that loves tea, yoga, sport, people and travelling. My music is a collection of stories that tell my life experiences and little epiphanies I have sometimes about life and myself. You can definitely hear my jazz roots in my songs, but I am really inspired by great pop/folk songwriters, so you can hear a lot of that in there too. A bit of a mixture really.
What can you tell us about your latest album?
My latest album ‘Paper Mache City’ was written and recorded in New York in 2012. It is quite different to my first album ‘When Fiction Comes to Life’, which is much more jazz influenced. I tried to find a half way point in this album between the jazz language and pop music, so that people who didn’t understand jazz could still enjoy the music and relate to it. This quest I was on when writing the album really comes out in the production of the CD, as we use a lot of Synthesisers, electric bass, a few effects on the voice and really produced it like a pop record.
Are there any new exciting projects in the works?
‘The Wires Project’ is a multimedia arts project I have started with a Sydney pianist called Gavin Ahearn, a videographer in Sydney and a photographer in Singapore. Basically, the videographer makes 3D composites of the photographer’s images, putting them into a 10 – 30 minute video format. The musicians are then presented this video for the first time live on stage and improvise music in reaction to it. Improvising is the most exhilarating and terrifying experience and you always have such a ball doing it. This project has plans to perform at The Urbanscapes Arts Festival in Kuala Lumpur in November this year. We have also been asked to put on a 3 week exhibition at the Singapore Institute of Contemporary Art next August, which I am very excited about.
The music industry is huge, where do you see yourself a few years from now?
I think I am someone who is going to be split down the middle in the music industry. I hope that my more pop originals will find their place in the mainstream music scene in Australia and overseas, performing at festivals and doing shows around the country. On the other hand, my more experimental arts project ‘The Wires Project’ is being received very well in Asia and overseas, so I really see that taking off in the arts scenes of Asia and Europe over the next 5 years.
Name a few of your favourite Aussie artists.
Ngaiire, Vance Joy, Kristen Berardi (Jazz vocalist), James Muller (jazz guitarist) … of and Lior of course!!
The shape of the music industry has changed significantly over the years, including the use of social media, how do you feel about the industry as a whole and what does it mean to you in getting your records out into the public eye?
I find the Australian Music industry quite a tough and confusing thing to tackle at the moment. It feels to me to be quite polarised and very niche based. For example the Triple J crew, or the ABC jazz and classical route, the community radio bits and bobs or the Commercial route.  Anything in between what’s already dominating these main markets seems  very hard to get recognised… people don’t seem to want to welcome new sounds and music  that sit outside the mainstream with open arms. This makes releasing a new album quite difficult especially if you are a cross genre artist. I am finding that you just have to put your stuff out there and see where it lands. I guess the music industry is always going to be changing and essentially there is nothing you can do to change that. So you just have to keep writing music, releasing music and not getting too attached to where it lands, as it’s not up to you! 🙂 That’s what I am going to roll with for now hehe
Thank you for the interview! What can you leave fans of theaussieword.com with here today?
Musically, you can listen to my single ’Paper Mache City’ on iTunes now! It came out Sep 16 and the album will be available on iTunes on Oct 4th! I am very excited. Apart from that, I think everyone should continue making to new art for the sake of great art and just enjoy the process. Everything else will just fall into place 🙂 Thanks for the questions!

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