Monique Brumby talks Skeleton's Polka
Monique Brumby

Monique Brumby strips things back with her new album Skeleton’s Polka

Monique Brumby is on the road… With a brand new album, Skeleton’s Polka, out on the shelves, the solo artist has assembled a band and hit the pubs and clubs of regional Australia to tout her wares… So far, things are going swimmingly… There have been a few hiccups onstage, and backstage shenanigans have been kept to a minimum – although there has been an incident involving a Christmas tree and a Lady GaGa impersonation… But enough about that – as they say in the biz, what goes on tour stays on tour.

It’s been four years since Brumby released her third album, Into the Blue. The singer has been far from idle in the interim, donning a producer’s hat for Emily Davis’s debut album as well as producing Melbourne act Mosaik’s first release; touring with the likes of retro rockers The Bangles and acting as a mentor for several young musos through The Push program. Still, Brumby found time to write a slew of new tracks and pull together the funds to record the self-released album.

Armed with the help of legendary producer Mark Opitz (Divinyls, Paul Kelly, Cold Chisel, INXS), Brumby hit the studio, and the results speak for themselves with the first single, They’re Still Alive, slowly mounting the charts. Brumby says bringing Opitz into the equation “took the pressure off”.

“I gave him the power of choosing the songs that he liked. I think sometimes as the writer you can get a little too caught up in songs that may not be as strong as others cause you have an emotional attachment to them. They may not resonate. Having Mark make the selection took that pressure away.”

Monique entered the studio with 25 tracks which Opitz gradually whittled down to 11.

“The band had moments of ‘how come we’re not doing that song? Or why are we doing this one?” But we had to trust Mark, and it’s worked out well cause the songs are getting a positive response, and people seem to relate to them… There’s a good mix of tracks, some broody ballads which I love writing to the uptempo pop rock songs.”

“…As a young person starting in the industry, there was a lot of pressure for me to talk about my sexuality…”

Like past albums, Brumby has drawn on life experience for many of the tracks…”The opening track, ‘Small Town,’ is about my relationship with growing up in Tasmania., she says. “’ Anchor’ is well… I feel like now I’m in that time of my life where I can give strength to people in my life ’cause I’m in a good place..”  She sings: ‘ when you’re out there lost at sea, I’ll anchor you…’

“I’m very connected to the ocean,” muses Monique. “Coming from a place like Tasmania where you’re surrounded by ocean…A lot of Tasmanians have that strong connection. I remember I used to go out fishing with my grandfather when I was young….” she trails off.

Tapping into those childhood memories is key to the singer-songwriter’s creative process… “I have an almost a child-like way of looking at the world and trying not to be too jaded by or influenced by reality,” she says. “I try to connect to a higher being. So when I sit down and write a song, I just write about things that affect me intensely – I don’t even know that I’ve been thinking about it – I’ll pick up the guitar and start playing a song.”

She cites an example from the new album: “There’s a song called ‘Bless That Girl’ on the album. A friend of mine lost a sister to suicide and gave me a tealight candle holder… and I went into the lounge room and lit a candle, sat down and started writing a song that was a tribute to her. So from the time I started writing it to the time I finished singing it – it was done – it was one of those songs that just poured out.”

Brumby believes as a songwriter, she has a lot of strengths to draw from – her sexuality is just one of them…

“As a young person starting in the industry, there was a lot of pressure for me to talk about my sexuality, says Monique. “And I was apprehensive about doing that in the early days because I felt the emphasis was on that instead of the music – but now I just don’t care…

“I think being a lesbian and feeling like you’re in the minority – I think it gave me a lot of strength that I draw from in my writing. I think if you are in any kind of minority, it can give you more empathy for other people because you know what it’s like to be downtrodden, you know what it’s like to feel different yet also crave acceptance.”

There’s plenty of acceptance for Brumby’s sexuality and her music these days.

“I want people to know that being a lesbian is something I’m proud of – it’s a big part of my life – I’m engaged to be married and happy – it’s going to be a Tasmanian commitment ceremony, and i think that’s fantastic – and all of those things – things that I’ve been through have influenced the making of this  album… from the homeless boy I heard crying outside my house one night to the happiness I now feel…”