While his first big career win was with Australian Idol and his tip of the hat to Roy Orbison was a hit, Damien Leith tells Jake Dennis that he deserves to be known as much more than a covers artist.
Dublin-born Australian citizen Damien Leith, whose recognisable falsetto we came to admire when he won Australian Idol in 2006, is set to embark on a national tour to promote his sixth album, Now & Then. It features an alternating selection of original and cover songs. “It's back to songwriting for me which is really important,” declares Leith. “There's covers in there and they're kind of a bridge from what we did on the last album but it's important for me to get back to songwriting because that's what I love doing.”
Now & Then, which includes tributes to musicians such as Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and George Harrison, is the follow-up to his 2011 ARIA-nominated album Roy. It began after Estée Lauder chose Leith's self-penned song Beautiful for its advertising campaign of a perfume of the same name. “That was a really big thing for me,” Leith admits. “That was part of the driving force behind the original side. And then obviously with the Roy Orbison album having done as well as it did we didn't want to suddenly go to the other extreme because the audience may not have come with me,” adds Leith.
Humorous, friendly, and easy to talk to, Leith believes that singing-competition reality television shows such as Idol, The Voice and X-Factor, are “still a really good way” for musicians to get noticed by people and the industry. Leith is grateful for the immediate access to fame and success that Idol gave him but regrets that the show “pointed my career in the direction that maybe wasn't necessary 100% where I wanted it to be. A lot of people who saw the show got to know me [as a cover artist] from what they saw on the TV show and so I've had to just gradually introduce the original stuff that I do,” he explains.
Although Leith's cover albums have been well received, his originals remain closest to his heart. “Songwriting is the only thing that you can really do that is entirely original to yourself,” he argues. “Covering songs is great but at the end of the day they're never your songs. From a career point of view, I think it's important to develop as a writer.”
Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter
The multi-platinum recording artist whose album sales are nearing the million mark recorded Now & Then partly in Nashville and partly in Sydney. Leith relishes working in his hometown of Sydney, remarking “it's always good to work with your friends… it's a cool thing,” but he also revels in the challenges presented when working abroad. “Sometimes when you're working with your friends you're not gonna push yourself as much as you would when you don't know anyone and you've got to really prove to everyone that what you've got is really good,” he explains.
Asked about his upcoming Australia-wide tour, Leith's enthusiasm for performing becomes immediately evident. “It's exciting getting on the road and playing; that's what it's all about,” he beams. “I love to try and make a connection with the audience. I love to chat to the audience. I love to not be too strict with my set list. If I'm getting a vibe off an audience and they really want to go in a certain direction then I'll go in that direction.”
Leith's Now & Then tour includes both metropolitan and regional venues and promises to give fans a balanced taste of his talent as a cover artist and a singer/songwriter. However, Leith's foremost desire is that audiences get to know him as a songwriter. “The big thing that I'd like my fans to take away from this is me as a songwriter. I'm happy to play a lot of covers but I'd love the audience to embrace the originals.”
Damien Leith will be playing the following shows:
Thursday 6 September - Her Majesty's Theatre, Adelaide SA
Saturday 8 September - Astor Theatre, Perth WA
Friday 14 September - Wrest Point Entertainment Centre, Hobart TAS
Saturday 15 September - Launceston Country Club, Launceston TAS
Friday 21 September - The Palms at Crown, Melbourne VIC
Saturday 6 October - State Theatre, Sydney NSW