The annual Queensland Music Awards are right around the corner now as we enter the final stretch before another evening spent celebrating the finest musical talents that the state has to offer.
In the lead-up to this month's prizegiving, we spoke to a bunch of local shortlisted artists about what their nomination means to them and what makes the state so damn special when it comes to the creative arts (and beyond).
"Queenslanders are a pretty unique beast, I reckon," says singer-songwriter Emily Wurramara, whose track Ngayuwa Ngelyeyiminama (I Love You) is up for the Indigenous category prize. "As an adopted Queenslander, I love that you always seem to know someone.
"Also, as I've travelled regionally from Cairns to Mount Isa and down to Longreach, I always find the audiences embracing and good to have a joke with post-show."
Wurramara moved to Queensland from the Northern Territory in her youth, and immediately found comfort in songwriting — in fact, she penned her first tune at the age of six, the practice becoming her way "to make sense of my two worlds". "Songwriting… helped shape my identity," she says. "I see myself with two homes."
In more ways than one; speaking of the significance of her nomination, Wurramara says, "It is an honour for my song to be shortlisted, not only because it's a nice validation of me as a musician, but because the song is written and performed in my traditional language, Anindilyakwa, and the importance to me to be able share my culture."
The talented songstress has developed a real affinity for her adopted state over the ensuing years as a person — she cites fellow Queenslanders Robbie Miller ("such a lovely person and his music is so captivating"), hip-hop/roots ensemble CKNU and guitarist Chris Tamwoy among her favoured acts — and performer, both in the "big city" of Brisbane and more regional locales.
"I love performing at Cardigan Bar in Sandgate and The Milk Factory in South Brisbane; they both have great vibes, nice and intimate," she says of her preferred local venues. "But I also love the Charleville Town Hall — it's so lovely and hot there and the drive is gorgeous!"
When asked about his favourite Queensland acts, guitarist Tom Lindeman, of dual Rock nominees Good Boy, effortlessly offers up a laundry list of revered locals. "The John Steel Singers, The Creases, Thigh Master, Morning Harvey, Moses Gunn Collective, Cub Sport, Clea, Zefereli..." he says, demonstrating the depth of talent that exists even just in the south-east pocket of the state, let alone across its wide expanses.
And, although much of the band's experience in the state comes from that general corner, that's only served to instill a deep love of the people who populate Good Boy's shows.
"Queensland crowds always seem to have a bit more mongrel about them (in a good way)," he says. "Although that's probably because our mates are filling most of the audience. There just seems to be more energy in the room when we play our home state."
That's not just because of the boys' friends being in the room, of course — that's just Queensland, it seems; in fact, Lindeman says, "the sense of community within our scene" is one of the defining aspects of the state.
"Good Boy being my first band, I only became part of the Brisbane music scene two years ago," he says. "Since then, I've met countless bands, bookers, managers et cetera who are now close mates. It's a very welcoming scene."
Tim Nelson, the frontman of the afore-name-dropped Cub Sport (who are nominated for the Pop, Video and Most Popular Group categories), agrees: "Having only been based in Brisbane, it's hard to know what's unique to Queensland's artistic community, but from our experience it's quite intimate, which has led to us making a lot of meaningful friendships with other people in the music community," he says.
Although, for all its intimacy and support, making it as a musician in Queensland is not without its challenges, a fact of which Nelson is all too aware.
"The biggest challenge is probably expanding beyond Queensland," he explains. "Touring Australia is pretty expensive because of how spread out our cities are, and international touring is obviously even more expensive — I think that's one of the biggest challenges for any Australian band."
Nonetheless, it would seem the state's innate sense of community also serves to heighten the feeling of validation that arises from being nominated for a QMA, Nelson says.
"It's really encouraging to receive recognition from people in the industry," he muses. "The Queensland music scene is really strong, so to be nominated alongside acts like Violent Soho whose careers we aspire to is super-exciting."
"Encouraging" is a word that pops up a few times throughout our chats with the nominees; previous Most Promising Male winner Joseph Agius of The Creases (nominated for the Rock award) also busts it out while discussing the QMAs.
"It's really encouraging to know that what you are doing is being recognised in an industry where it's very difficult and often scary to put yourself out there," the ever-humble Agius says. "Receiving a nomination is something we never really considered as being a possibility for us amongst a sea of great Queeensland acts."
In that sea, he cites Babaganouj, Major Leagues, Good Boy, The Jungle Giants, The Belligerents and Confidence Man as being among The Creases' "favourite friends and listens in Brisbane".
"They all really devote themselves entirely to their music and it's really motivating to watch," he says.
Indeed, it all seems to come back to that deep familial sense that runs through the veins of the Brisbane — and Queensland — music scenes, an indelible camaraderie that touches all who set out to make their mark as performers.
"There's a strong sense of family and community when playing in Queensland," Agius says. "I think everyone here loves nothing more than supporting an act that is from where they are from and seeing them grow.
"I think Queensland is the underdog of music in Australia and our creative communities are a lot smaller than other states," he continues. "Because of this, everybody involved is always supporting and helping each other out. There's a lot of shared success."
Gold Coast musician Amy Shark, who broke through in a big way with her acclaimed single Adore after several years cutting her teeth as a performer, also believes in this sense of community, and says that it almost seems to be written into the state's DNA.
"Queenslanders are so passionate and 100% claim fellow Queenslanders," she muses. "We just understand each other."
Up-and-coming singer-songwriter Tia Gostelow — a rare non-Brisbane-based act who has made a massive impact on this year's nominations list, picking up six nods across the board — may only be starting out in her career, but she, too, is already picking up on that deeply communal vibe that exists between artists and audiences alike.
"[Queenslanders are] always there for a good time and I feel like they are always so proud and passionate about fellow Queenslanders that are succeeding in any way!" she enthuses. "Always a wild time!"
Being based in the central-north-west city of Mackay, however, has opened her eyes early to the invisible walls that exist as a result of physical isolation — although, given she grew up on Groot Eylandt in the Northern Territory, she's arguably even more attuned to that than most.
"Most musical opportunities are in Brisbane, and I don't think many people realise how difficult and expensive it can be living in a regional area and trying to pursue a music career," she explains. "I've been offered great support slots but couldn't do it because the support fee wouldn't cover travel costs!"
Nonetheless, there's no state in which she'd rather be: "I feel like in Queensland we have such an incredible support mechanism through Arts Queensland, and I feel like the music industry really tries to get behind everybody, from bands and artists in Brisbane to people like me that come from a regional area like Mackay!"
That wider support, however, is only just starting to properly take root — as evidenced by initiatives such as the Qld Music Festival's Songs That Made Me program, designed to boost the careers of female musicians in less-covered parts of the state.
This is a fact not lost on Leah Martin-Brown of Evol Walks, who — after submitting for the awards since she was 15 years old and never making it "past a Highly Commended", is rightfully chuffed with her hard-earned nomination in this year's Heavy category — is a little more tempered, although by no means pessimistic, about the state of the, er, state.
"While we have an amazing music scene in Queensland, I believe we could benefit from more diverse venues and live music events that are promoted and heavily attended seven nights a week, rather than just Thursday to Sunday," she says. "I feel more venues in the country areas of our state would also help."
A dearth of venues also makes Amy Shark's list of immediate obstacles to the continued flourishing of the scene, "especially on the Gold Coast".
"We have some serious talent brewing on the Coast but everyone ends up migrating to a bigger city to try further their career," she opines.
This is also a common theme across the nominees' responses; in fact, with the exception of Wurramara's mention of Charleville Town Hall, fellow nominee Leanne Tennant's love for Cairns spot Tank Arts Centre and Martin-Brown giving props to the Coolangatta Hotel and the Surfers Paradise Beer Garden ("big fan"), the venues that repeatedly rear their heads in being celebrated are almost exclusively Brisbane-based: The Foundry, The Triffid, The Tivoli, Junk Bar, Black Bear Lodge and The New Globe Theatre, among others, all earn accolades from the musicians who have played there… which is great, as long as they can keep doing so without mounting restrictions and pressure from authoritative bodies.
"Liquor licensing, noise limits, people moving next to live music venues then complaining about the live music," Tennant laments while listing the obstacles to the continued blossoming of the state's music scene. "Who even are these people?"
All that aside, it's not just the enclosed spaces that deserve a mention as being special places to perform.
"I feel our outdoor festivals, especially oceanside ones like Bleach Festival on the Gold Coast, are unique to Queensland because of our gorgeous weather and beautiful beaches," Martin-Brown beams.
Ah, the Queensland climate — beautiful one day, perfect the next (unless you're in Townsville, in which case you best enjoy humidity, all the time, forever), and, as Shark and Tennant explain, inescapably impactful on the overall artistic aesthetic of its musicians; at least, certainly from a personal perspective.
Says Shark: "I think [with] the relaxed vibe, and especially living near the beach, you kind of grow up differently. I find 90% of musicians from Queensland are extremely down to earth, in both their music and personality."
"Where I live has a pretty warm climate, with lots of sunshine, swimming holes and cheeky cold beverages, which I guess are conducive to new lyrical ideas," Tennant offers. "Also, a lot of the people are mad like I am, so we're one big, mad, happy family."
"One big, mad, happy family". If there's a better way to describe the Queensland music scene, we don't want to know about it.
The 2017 Queensland Music Awards will be held at the Brisbane Powerhouse on 27 Mar.