WHEN Shane Nicholson opens his calendar his eyes rarely glimpse white space. He’s a man in demand.
All the way to Christmas there’s shows booked to tour his latest album Love and Blood, and ample records from other artists just waiting to be molded into shape by a man considered to be among Australia’s finest alt-country songwriters.
In fact, Nicholson was mixing three records this week in his home studio on the Central Coast and has another six albums he’s preparing to produce for other musicians.
For someone whose own musical career spans 20 years, this constant day-to-day activity is a rarity. It’s something the workaholic Nicholson cherishes.
“I just love being in the studio, it’s my safe place,” Nicholson says. “That’s the process I love the most in the whole music career.
“If I was only doing it for myself, I’d only be making a record every two years, so it’s not enough. I get to live it through other people, making records for other people and that way I get to be in the studio creating every day.
“I get as much out of it as anybody. I have my studio set up with all my instruments and miked up ready to record and it’s just like a playground. I look forward to going down there every day.”
Nicholson actually lives above his studio and has been known to stumble downstairs in his pyjamas and spend the day behind the sound desk without ever getting dressed.
Since 2010 Nicholson has racked up a considerable body of work as a producer. He’s worked with Catherine Britt (self-titled), Alex Lloyd (Urban Wilderness), Beccy Cole (Songs & Pictures, Sweet Rebecca), Taasha Coates (Taasha Coates & Her Melancholy Sweethearts), Lyn Bowtell (Heart Of Sorrow) and Katie Brianna (The Victim or The Heroine).
“I don’t advertise or anything, I think people come to me for a fairly specific reason,” he says. “They come based on what I’ve produced for other people before or what I’ve made myself.
“Stylistically they’re always fairly close to what I do or have done. If they wanted to make a hip-hop album, they’re not going to come to me. It’s obvious that that’s not my bag.
“Producing started as a side job for me between touring and doing my own thing. It’s filled out to where it’s my day-to-day job, it’s like having a day job and I go on tour for fun.”
Besides keeping himself creatively engaged daily with music, the growth of Nicholson’s producing has benefited his songwriting.
“It certainly exposes you to more music,” he says. “I hear a lot more music, not just what people bring to me to record, but the references they give me. Like I’ll say, ‘what have you been listening to lately’ to get inside their head about what they’re trying to achieve.
“Through their references I’m exposed to all this music I haven’t heard. I feel like it’s an important part of any producer’s job to, not just be open to it, but to listen to as much music as possible.”
Songwriting still remains at the heart of Nicholson’s career. To follow-up his ARIA award-winning country album Hell Breaks Loose, he sailed in a tinny alone down the Hawkesbury River to an isolated house.
Nicholson previously adopted the process of isolating himself in a Hunter Valley cabin when he wrote Bad Machines (2011) and his acclaimed Wreck & Ruin (2012) album with ex-wife Kasey Chambers.
In his Hawkesbury River house and out on the water fishing, Nicholson wrote his sixth solo record Love & Blood. The record focuses on the duality of love and pain.
“The way it’s used in the context of that song is whenever there’s something good, it takes a lot of hard work,” he says.
“It doesn’t always come easy, the things that matter to us. It inadvertently ended up becoming bit of a theme through the record, which didn’t really occur to me until I put all the songs together.”
Shane Nicholson brings his Love and Blood Tour to Lizotte’s next Saturday.