Following the release of his third album ‘Acres’ (out now via Sony Music Entertainment Australia), Brad Cox – joined by Sammy White – explores recent country music trends in Australia.
If you're a younger Australian that has grown up with a cultural cringe surrounding the country's ongoing legacy of... well, country music, just know this: You're not alone. Even Brad Cox, one of the genre's fastest-rising stars, didn't want a bar of it when he was first picking up a guitar. “It took me a lot of convincing about Australian artists because I was so influenced by what was happening in America,” he says. “Locally, I didn't really find anything that spoke to me in the same way that, say, Jason Aldean did.
“I don't know whether that was due to ignorance or access – probably ignorance – but I definitely felt that stigma over it all sounding like someone sitting on a hay bale and singing some ring-a-ding song about their fuckin' ute. Further down the track, I learned to love Australian artists like Troy Cassar-Daley, Adam Eckersley and Brook McClymont. I'm now lucky enough to call all of them great mates.”
By means of contrast, if you're a younger Australian that was raised on the stuff and knows your McClymonts from your Kernigans, just know this: You're not alone, either. Sammy White, another staple of modern Australian country and Cox's long-time partner, was basically indoctrinated into the genre from birth.
“I grew up doing talent quests, so I was singing in the country scene from when I was about nine,” she says. “The way I grew up was very much the opposite of Brad – Australian country music was always on rotation at our house. It was something that was always there, and American stuff kind of came after the fact.” Cox laughs, chiming in: “Mate, put a bloody McClymonts record on and watch this idiot dance!”
White cracks up at the very mention of the veteran sibling group, who were her heroes as a child and now people she considers both friends and peers. “I'd sing their songs in the talent quests – I thought I was so grown up singing Favourite Boyfriend of the Year when I was 10,” she says. Despite the stark differences in their experiences with the genre, White can at least appreciate where Cox was coming from in his teenage years. “It was never cool – certainly not like it is now,” she says of being a young country music fan. “I wish it was – I might have made a few more friends at school!”
Indeed, the tide has turned considerably in recent years with regards to the popularity of the genre – particularly within Australia. Of course, it has maintained a steadfast devotion in remote and regional areas for decades, with Tamworth still serving as the nations' home for country music and local festivals packing out in spots far off the beaten track. For the first time in a long time, however, the big smoke is starting to pay attention. All the way up at the top are megastars like Luke Combs and Morgan Wallen: The former has completely sold out his multi-night arena tour of mostly capital cities this August, while the latter recently became the first country artist to top both the ARIA singles and albums chart since 1992 – which was achieved by fellow mullet model Billy Ray Cyrus.
Expanding out, there are the Australian expats like Keith Urban and Morgan Evans that continue to assert chart dominance and sell out shows across the globe. Zooming in, the “country and Inner Western” scene of Sydney has sparked break-out stars like the ARIA-nominated Andy Golledge and Caitlin Harnett. So, why now? Cox theorises that, while the artists themselves have unquestionably put in the hard yards, it also takes a village for things like this to gain momentum. “The last two decades, there's been people working their fucking arses off to make it happen,” he says.
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“I think a lot of it has to do with promoters. Labels take notice, they start throwing money at it and opportunities just snowball, man. I don't think we're at the peak at all, either. I think the American influence has definitely helped merge the divide between country music and quote-unquote 'popular' music. This is me just completely guessing, man, but to me that's what it feels like. There's so much talent around at the moment within every aspect of country music, all the way from Andy to Morgan.”
“Streaming has probably helped a lot as well,” adds White. “The playlists that get suggested to you go off your likes and interests, to what you're already listening to. So if you're listening to one of the big country stars, they might end up in a playlist with a new Australian artist that you end up loving. You might discover someone really great like Melanie Dyer, or Caitlyn Shadbolt, or Sara Berki. Andrew Swift just released a great album, that might end up on your radar next. There's so much going on, and it all deserves recognition.”
“I don't even know if you can call it 'country' music anymore,” Cox concludes. “Really, it's just good music.”