Red Wine Music
Artist Profile: Loene Carmen

Loene Carmen is well known for acting roles in The Year My Voice Broke (1987), The Nostradamus Kid (1992) and Red Dog (2011). She is also a fine songwriter and vocalist, lauded for bold and cinematic music-making – sensual, darkly atmospheric, beautifully crafted, playful and raw.

Loene Carmen (Photo: Lyndal Irons)
Loene Carmen (Photo: Lyndal Irons)

Her most recent release, The Peach State EP, features solo acoustic performances of songs written in Georgia and recorded in East Nashville by David Ferguson. “He co-owns the studio with John Prine,” Carmen says. “It’s an analogue setup, very good mikes and a lovely room – Ferg engineered the last recordings of Johnny Cash.”

Cash is an enduring influence, along with Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Etta James, Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton. “When I first started writing, as a young girl, for some reason I would write these songs in the voice of a 40-year-old abandoned wife! I couldn’t really perform them at the time.”

Carmen smiles as she recalls being teased in high school for her “mature” musical tastes. “My friends would say, ‘You just go and listen to your Red Wine Music’. That’s what they called the country and blues music I liked.”

“My first band was a country band. We played covers and some originals. After a while I started to write more honest, personal, less genre-based stuff,” Carmen says. From the blues, she learned simplicity, the art of repetition. From country and soul she learned honesty, storytelling skills. “The music is a bed, really. You can have a cheap, crappy mattress and you can dress that with some really nice sheets,” she laughs.

Humour is important. Carmen’s lyrics, consistently evocative, are often humorous. “I’m a danger to myself”, she sings on “My Friends Call Me Foxy” from debut album, Born Funky Born Free (2001), “Just think what I could do to you”. It’s a warmth she appreciates in the work of others. “Someone like Leonard Cohen is sometimes written off as morose,” she says. “But his lyrics can be hilarious.”

Immersing herself in the music of her heroes is a time-tested songwriting strategy. “I trust that process, pretty much,” she says. “The songs just kind of write themselves.”

Over the years, Carmen has written and released six collections of material. All CDs are available through her own label, Chiquita Records. Styles vary from blues noir to rock, country and lo-fi pop. Soundscapes feature guitars, acoustic and electric, fuzzy bass, drums and drum machines, effects-laden vocals, chimes and tambourines. “I’m inspired by a performer called Jesse-Mae Hemphill who stomps on a tambourine as she sings and plays”, Carmen says, before drawing me a diagram of her own tambourine-stomping contraption (now I’m inspired!).

Guest musicians on Loene Carmen recordings include Simon Day, James Cruickshank, Cathy Green, Warren Ellis, Tex Perkins, Sam Worrad, Jed Kurzel, Aden Young (Carmen’s partner with whom she has two young children) and daughter Holiday Sidewinder.

Carmen’s current project is a suite of songs co-written with her father, Peter Head, an accomplished pianist and writer who taught his daughter to play the guitar. “Dad’s a really good musician, but he showed me three chords and said, ‘This is all you’ll ever really need’. He taught me that the feel of the music is most important, the emotion. I recently wrote a song on just one chord.” The CD will feature older and newer compositions. An album release is slated for April.

Carmen also plans a return to Georgia later this year for more writing and recording in solo acoustic mode. “I want to do vinyl this time,” she says. “Peach-coloured vinyl!”

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