Heading Out Front

12 June 2012 | 5:29 am | Michael Smith

A divine voice and an ability to write great songs without really trying has put Australian in New York Nadia Ackerman in a great place, though it didn’t happen overnight, as Michael Smith discovers.

In April this year, Nadia Ackerman, born in Melbourne but raised in Sydney's Allambie Heights, joined Sting, James Taylor, Elton John and many more at Carnegie Hall for the Bi-Annual Rainforest Concert. As it happens, she often performs with many of these artists as a backing singer, as well as featuring on several high profile ads on American TV. She's returning to Australia to launch her second solo album, The Ocean Master, which features her regular drummer, Steve Holly, ex-Paul McCartney & Wings. It's a pretty impressive CV, but it took a lot of hard work.

“I've been here fourteen years,” Ackerman, on the line from her home in New York, readily admits, her Australian accent just as strong as ever. “I mean anyone who's thinking about moving to New York is not going to want to hear this, but it takes a long time to really get entrenched in the city and in the scene and there are many, many levels and layers of singers and musicians in different pools. Iit's taken me fourteen years basically to get where I'm, like, I'm blowing my own trumpet, but I'm in there with the top singers – I'm one of the ones that gets called, you know? But it's taken me that long to get here.”

Not only has Ackerman had to overcome being an outsider to the most cosmopolitan city in the world already bursting at the seams with brilliant musicians, but she's also had to fight a few of her own personal demons to get there, all of which makes her achievements that much more remarkable. This includes the fact that, though she only really started songwriting in 2006, her songs are not only perfectly crafted pop but also seem to come almost effortlessly.

“It still cracks me up. Every time I write a song and ten minutes later it's done I still sort of laugh at myself. You know, it's just this weird thing where I don't even consider myself a songwriter, but I am,” Ackerman laughs dismissively. “I absolutely am. It's so weird.”

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One listen to The Ocean Master and it's obvious wherever these songs are coming from, as there's a consummate crafting underpinning them. And you'd never pick it was all recorded at home in Ackerman's bedroom.

“It happened with the first record [2010's The Circus Is Back In Town] of originals that I did, but I never realise that I'm making a record. I'm writing and recording what I call demos and every song on this record started out as demos. The vocals were not re-recorded and we just built on top of the demos because of the energy that was caught at the time. So what happened was I was writing and some songs started to stick together and, by about the fifth song, it was like, 'Oh, I'm making a record.' And literally [last track] The Salesman was the last song I wrote for the record and when I wrote it I knew that it was done – I'd finished.”

Ackerman isn't a strictly personal or confessional songwriter, preferring to weave elements of stories she's heard or seen unfold among her friends, but she also doesn't shy away from her demons, delivering them in the sweetest of melodies. “Live Again is about depression – and that is about me – but it's about being depressed and actually coming out the other side and that there is joy and having a chance to live again. Underground, again, is about depression and is actually the first song I wrote for this record, and that's when I realised I needed to go back to therapy!”