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Interview: Briana Cowlishaw 'Paper Mache City' National Album Launch Tour

Home > Melbourne > Art | Jazz | Music | Nightlife
by Leona (Devaz) Fensome (subscribe)
Savour | Capture | Write www.leonadevaz.com
Published November 6th 2013

New York State of Mind. Billy Joel first sang about it in the late 70's; "I know what I'm needin', and I don't want to waste more time. I'm in a New York state of mind."

Fast forward to 2013 and Australian jazz pop artist Briana Colishaw is living proof that the Big Apple can have a profound influence on producing music.

Currently in the middle of her third Australian tour, Briana (Bri) is a 24 year old fresh face on the jazz pop scene. Relocating to NY in 2011 for one and half years, Bri produced Paper Mache City, an album produced from the it's influences.

"The title track from the album is called Paper Mache City and the description of the city to me, is it's the cream of the crop. Your favourite things put into one little city, one little island, and that's what Manhattan is to me," Bri says. "Amazing food, inspiring people, really innovative and creative music, amazing architecture, it's just got the best of everything. Being in that environment brings out your most and creative side I think. It does for me anyway, it helps me to compose music I feel that is different and unique. Sometimes it's hard to compose music when you are around lots of similar things".

A former student of the Australian Institute of Music, she credits the school's open-mindedness at letting aspiring musicians craft their own journey. "It's important," she says. "If don't have liberty to grow in your own way it can be really, really difficult. The study kind of focuses you as well. You work out what kind of music you like, what kind of composer you want to be and what you want to do with your career."

Applying for a grant from the Australian Council of Arts proved to be a fortuitous move at helping develop her skills as a composer overseas. Working with singer-songwriters and great jazz musicians, prompted her to record my second album.

"I found a guitarist\producer and he helped me organise the whole thing," she says.

"The way I compose is about adding a little thought I've had and contemplating how I can express this through a piece of music, to make it fun. I find that really exciting, all my songs are like that - a little mission".

This approach has been well received by Australian audiences with fans adoring her unique approach;

"I'm getting some really amazing feedback actually. It's really hard in Australia to fill out a big venue in each city, as this is only my first big tour like this. Most people have been commenting on the storytelling I focus on in my gigs. I introduce most of my songs with a big back story. People tell me they enjoy hearing where the song comes from because when they are listening to it they can go on that journey with you, they really interact with the lyrics".

Bri's voice is lilting. Her rhythmic control and effervescent personality shine through in her vocals and on-stage presence. She would appear to be a jazz ingénue, if not for her rich experiences and incredible artistic vision.



"I come home and see it in a different way, I'm here for a little while and I feel like I've never left!" Bri says. "I love Australia, my family are in Australia and I am feeling very inspired. I started writing music with an Australian pianist called Gavin Ahearn and we're writing a whole heap of new material to do an even poppier album next year. I've also started another project with Gavin called The Wires Project. It's multi-media project. We're improvising through using video on stage.

"We decided we wanted to do something a little bit more adventurous, and investigate improvising and reacting with other mediums of art. We found a photographer in Singapore who we really loved, and a videographer in Sydney who makes 3D composites through the photographers work. We don't get to see the video till we get on stage and then, we make music to it!"

"The whole thing is about how you can create in the moment. It's pretty fun. As soon as the tour finishes, literally the morning after we are hopping on a plane to Malaysia. It is going to be a tough one! We'll perform in the Urban Artscapes festival with a big video behind us.It is going to be pretty amazing."


With a successful printmaker and watercolour artist grandmother, Bri's lineage is reflected in her love of abstract art, bold colours and style. "It's kind of a new thing in the last couple of years, I'm a creative person and I like my personality coming out in my fashion too I guess. Not for any other reason than it is fun and you feel far nicer. I dress a little bit like the fifties to seventies."

This era is of significant importance for her musical influences as well - Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, and, of course, The Beatles. "I'm researching how they produced their albums to be so successful and why we loved them so much. That's really addressed my decisions in how I produced this new CD. What sounds can create a personality in the song?"

The formula must be right, as Perth audiences were more than vocal with their support. "I used to worry about speaking too much at gigs.," Bri says. "I was at a gig in Perth and I asked the audience if they wanted to know what the song was about and they were like 'YES!' screaming out at me! It's been really, really wonderful. I just did did Bennet's Lane in Melbourne. It's one of my favourite places to play. It's such a great audience and environment, and has such a nice energy about it."

Playing with a six-piece band has also brought a vibrant energy and camaraderie to the tour.

"I've done two smaller national tours where I picked up local bands and this time around I've taken my band around to half of the gigs. I've never really gone away as a band unit and it's quite a different thing - to go away with your band, it's so enjoyable. Every time you play with the same group of musicians you build a sound and a rapport. You can create something that is unique. You can't do that when you pick up a local band."

When I asked what the next two weeks before TAS entails: "I think I am going to sleep for about two days. I'm one of those people who don't stop for very long, I'm going to practice some of those electronic things and I am writing music constantly. Once you find a way you like to compose it's such an addictive thing, it's therapeutic".

For Hobart and Newcastle residents Briana Colishaw will play three dates:

Sunday 17 November @ MONA
Hobart, TAS
1pm - 4pm Void Bar

Sunday 17 November @ The Republic Bar
Hobart, TAS
Doors at 8pm

Thursday 21 November @ The Dungeon
Newcastle, NSW
$25 entry

You can follow Briana on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, or through her website.
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