After what seemed like weeks of rain, summer finally arrived in Sydney last week. As a result, there is a festive mood in the air when I arrive at Governors Pub on Thursday night. It’s a school night, but people are out late, having drinks on the patio in the fading light of dusk. It is an especially big night for local rock queen Carmen Townsend, who embarks on a brief tour of Australia this month with her band, the Shakey Deals.
Just before her performance, Carmen and I sit down to discuss her forthcoming, long-awaited debut album (after a seemingly endless wait, the record is in the final stages of post-production), as well as the upcoming tour. We start with the tour. Although the Australian shows will be Carmen’s first overseas, the native of Christmas Island has criss-crossed Canada several times, both as a solo artist and as a member of the Tom Fun Orchestra. “I [also] did some shows in Boston [and] played in Toronto a lot,” says Townsend.
I ask if she’s excited. “Yes and no,” she says, adding, “I’m going to be totally excited when we all land on the ground with all of our luggage.” That sort of cautious scepticism doesn’t seem appropriate for someone whose future looks as bright as Townsend’s, but it’s hard to blame her for a little apprehension; the road has been bumpy thus far. “[I had] label interest very early on in the game,” she says, “and they said, ‘Move to Toronto, ditch your band.’” Carmen, however, remained loyal to the Shakey Deals, whose line-up—Shane O’Handley on bass and Thomas Allen on drums—has remained consistent since the band’s inception.
Townsend’s patience is starting to pay off; those early “label interests” have since blossomed into a full-fledged release plan for her debut album. Along the way, she has collaborated with several big names in the music industry: Dominion native Warren Bruleigh, a New York-based producer whose credits include the Violent Femmes’ “Blister in the Sun”; Grammy Award-winning songwriter Jesse Harris (for the Norah Jones track, “Don’t Know Why”); and engineering heavyweight Mike Fraser (AC/DC, Aerosmith), whose remix of “Sweet Little Bird” will be Townsend’s first Australian single.
Before too long, we finish our little chat on the patio. Local rising stars John Gill and Rob Harris do an admirable job opening the show, passing a single acoustic guitar back and forth in what has become customary amongst Sydney’s crop of talented young singer-songwriters. On this night, the crowd at Governors is unusually large for a Thursday; clearly something special is about to happen.
A little after midnight, Carmen Townsend and the Shakey Deals plug in and warm up. After the briefest of soundchecks, the band jumps into their set with both feet. Allen and O’Handley’s cohesiveness is impressive (though not surprising, given their long history together). With such a competent rhythm section behind her, Carmen could get away with strumming open chords and gazing emotively at the crowd like so many singer-songwriters before her. But this is not Jewel we are talking about; Carmen’s ferocious guitar-playing and wildly intense vocal stylings separate her from the crowd. One hopes that Townsend’s prospective mainstream success will not domesticate her.
Around the same time that summer decided to show up in Sydney, something else did as well: a fleet of ships—clippers, to be precise, partaking in the “Round the World” Yacht Race. A few of the participants, upon their arrival, made their way to Governors. One particularly enthusiastic fellow, a videographer from South Africa, sat at my table for part of the show Thursday night. Clearly impressed by Townsend and the Deals’ blistering performance, the man I know only as Wayne was confident that the band would be world-famous within a year. Australia seems as good a place as any to start.