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Hanging With The Family

25 September 2013 | 9:36 am | Michael Smith

"To have Kasey come in to put her heart and soul and herself on the line to co-produce my very first record was something I thought I could only ever dream."

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An accomplished fiddle, mandolin, acoustic guitar and banjo player as well as a singer, Tamworth-local Ashleigh Dallas hadn't necessarily thought of herself as a songwriter, but with a friend and mentor in Kasey Chambers, in whose touring band Dallas plays, there was no way she was going to neglect that side of her creativity. The result is a debut album, Dancing With A Ghost, culled from 76 songs and co-produced by Kasey Chambers and Matt Fell.

“To have Kasey come in to put her heart and soul and herself on the line to co-produce my very first record was something I thought I could only ever dream,” admits a still stunned Dallas. “Kase threw in lots of ideas musically and she understands me as a person and I feel that was important because the whole time she never lost focus that it was my record and essentially I'm a musician. So she made sure I played fiddle on every track that a fiddle could be appropriate in, and I played acoustic guitar. I felt she brought a lot of herself to the record.

“And it was important to have the instrumental track [Slapsister] on there. That was such a big thing for me, because obviously I do play a bunch of instruments and play in Kasey's band as a band member, and that's something I don't want to lose. As much as I love [being] the singer-songwriter, I'd love to be the musician singer-songwriter.”

Chambers' co-producer Matt Fell is himself a multi-instrumentalist and played bass, acoustic guitar, Hammond organ and a couple of other instruments on the album. He's been making quite an impression on the Australian country music scene, winning the Producer of the Year gong at last year's Country Music Association Awards in recognition of his 2011 production on albums by Graeme Connors, McAlister Kemp, Tracey Killeen and Sara Storer.

“I found Matt really interesting to watch; you can see his mind ticking over. He was very good too with the percussion, suggesting different feels that would take a song away from where it might typically go. He was much more about layering and also the sounds of instruments, and I felt Matt and Kase really complemented each other because I guess Matt's a lot more technical but Kase would bring it back to the more country elements – then they'd blend them together and create more ideas. But because Matt was also playing bass, so he wasn't always thinking producing, he was thinking let's make it more a band, and it worked really well.”

Very much a family affair, Dancing With A Ghost was recorded by Kasey's brother Nash Chambers at his Foggy Mountain Studios in the NSW Hunter Valley. “Nash also sang harmonies on one of the tracks. Foggy Mountain Studios is one of my favourite studios in Australia. It's got this real homey and earthy vibe, the control room is that big and feels very comfortable the minute you walk in there. Then he has three separate rooms – a drum room which is also a vocal booth when we don't have the drums in there, another room at the back with a vocal or a guitar booth, and a little one in the middle, and it's all set up brilliantly and sounds awesome. I never felt like I was in a studio and that was a big thing for me because I wanted to feel more comfortable and at home, like I was just hanging out with friends.”

Fell then mixed the album at his own facility, Love Hz Studios in inner-Sydney Leichhardt on the studio's HD ProTools rig with its Apogee Converters. Jeff McCormack then mastered the album at Music Cellar Studios.