What does it take to write music that truly reflects who you are? For Riley Catherall, a Music Performance student originally from Canberra, his love for storytelling first found him playing in jazz and blues bars all down the east coast. Cutting his teeth with intricate performances, it was in 2017 that Riley realised his love for country music—and the raw and soulful approach it takes with songwriting.
Attending the CMAA Academy of Country Music in Tamworth, Riley made the most of the opportunity to write with some of the industry’s best including Kevin Bennett, Mike Carr and Matt Scullion; focusing his country sound into his debut EP, 'Venture in Vain.' It was during this period that Riley also met Kasey Chambers, who invited him to play guitar for a handful of her album launches before he went into the studio with Bill Chambers to record his EP.
Celebrating the release of his debut, we caught up with Riley to chat about putting together a body of work into the world and how his time at Collarts has shaped his work.
Hey Riley, congrats on the release of ‘Venture in Vain’! What was the best thing about putting together your debut EP?
Thank you! It feels amazing to finally get these songs off my chest. I think my favourite part was watching them come together in the studio and having such amazing players help with the production of it. I had the blueprints for the songs but the embellishments that came about in the studio and the way we tracked and mixed it all in a shed within the space of four days is what I believe what makes it special.
"Having the support from the mentors and my peers at Collarts was crucial in my pivot into country music."
In 2017, you had a bit of a turning point, where you attended the CMAA Academy of Country Music in Tamworth. You met some great talented people, including Kasey Chambers who featured on the EP. What was it like collaborating with country music heavyweights so early in your career?
Yeah, Kasey was an incredible friend and mentor for me. She opened my eyes to a lot of great songwriting and helped me find my feet in the world of country music. Her dad Bill was also such a great inspiration, playing shows and recording with him allowed me the opportunity to learn from the absolute best. They’re an awesome family.
Riley gave an exclusive performance ahead of his EP launch to Entertainment Journalism students, and was later interviewed about his work. See the full gallery here.
"I believe that at the core of a good song is good, concise writing that makes people feel something."
On 'Venture in Vain’, you took a new direction in your songwriting. How has your songwriting grown since studying Music Performance at Collarts and what inspired you to reflect on your previous creative process?
Having the support from the mentors and my peers at Collarts was crucial in my pivot into country music. I felt like I have always been trying to write music with a motive, other than because I enjoy the genre or style. But that changed by having people around me who encouraged rather than directed me into a corner—that has been really important to me.
Bridging the gap between genres, singles like 'Watered Down Man' and 'Robin' showcase your love for storytelling. Do you think storytelling is powerful? What makes it so important to you?
I think what draws me country music, is that I grew a greater appreciation for good songwriting as the fundamental part of what makes a good song. I used to play a lot of jazz and blues and found myself over complicating things, and often self-indulging in my writing. I believe that at the core of a good song is good, concise writing that makes people feel something. I think that can be found in every genre, but I find it quite prominent in country and Americana.
With tours and festival performances coming up in 2019, do you feel traveling inspires you? How do you typically pull together a song?
Yeah, most definitely, since I finished school I’ve spent a lot of time driving around playing shows. I love the city, but I find a lot of inspiration when bouncing between small country towns and dingy hotel rooms. I always look forward to traveling and you meet so many cool and interesting people out on the road.
What advice would you give to other Music students at Collarts who are working on singles or EP's that are perhaps hesitant or anxious to share into the world?
Don’t rush. You’re better off working to get it right, allowing time to build perspective before signing off on things. On the other hand, a deadline can be your friend. Find your balance, and don’t let anyone tell you the wrong or right way to do it. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes—it allows you to learn the vocabulary so you can get it to where it needs to be.