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Katie Noonan Q&A

Interview by Markus Hamence – 30 November 2023

Revered Folk Jazz trio Elixir have today announced the release of their fourth studio album, ‘A Small Shy Truth’. The album, which will also be released on limited edition CD and Vinyl, is based on the poetry of Melbourne poet and National Living Treasure, Michael Leunig and features the compositions of the three band members – National Jazz Award, ARIA Award winning and Freedman Jazz Fellowship finalist saxophonist/composer Zac Hurren, Freedman Jazz Fellowship winning and National Jazz Award finalist guitarist Benjamin Hauptmann and 5 x ARIA, AWMA, AIR and APRA award winning musician Katie Noonan.  

I chat with Katie Noonan about the new album and the Australian Tour…

Markus Hamence: Hello Katie and welcome! So, the new Elixir album is out ‘ A Small Shy Truth’, are you excited for it to be finally ‘out there’?

Katie Noonan: Great to chat with you. Yeah, so the record came out at the end of October, it’s a thrill to see it now come to life and we’ve already played it at the Melbourne International Jazz Festival then we did some shows in New South Wales and Wangaratta, then Brisbane, Canberra, Sydney and next we come to Kaurna country, Adelaide.

Markus: What inspired the new album for you, Zac Hurren & Ben Hauptmann?

Katie: Well basically Elixir has always been about celebrating great Australian poetry but also making gentle, intimate, quite music. I started the band in 1997, so it’s actually my longest running project and at the time I had started my band George the year before and I was loving that but I just really wanted to create a more acoustic more folk world. I discovered the music of Nick Drake and really got into the late sixties and early seventies British folk scene and that really inspired the writing of our first album and so this is our fourth record and our second in collaboration with poet and artist Michael Leunig which is really special.

Markus: Given that Elixir has been around since 1997 how many times has the group played in Adelaide?

Katie: Oooh, well each album has had a tour and there’s no way Adelaide ever is not on our itinerary. So I would say we’ve played there as Elixir at least three times. But I’m sure we’ve played there more with all the festivals and events you have going on in South Australia. It can be a bit of a blur sometimes, all I remember is that I always have awesome gigs in Adelaide. It’s a very special town to me.

Markus: What is it about the Adelaide audiences that keep you coming back for more?

Katie: They’re just so ‘with you’, like the last time I was their was on Mother’s Day actually for the Joni Mitchell ‘Blue’ concert and that was just really special. We played at The Gov which was done in sit-down mode. Adelaide is just very welcoming and it’s a lot like Brisbane I think in many ways and I grew up in Brissy. We’re not quite as big and boisterous and noisy and intense haha, so there’s just an essence of community a bit more I think and people knowing each other, and Adelaide being a bit smaller than Brisbane, if you’re into music you would see people at gigs regularly and they could end up becoming friends. It’s a beautiful sense of community.

Markus: And apart from this new album which of the first three is one that you feel to be your favourite?

Katie: A hard question, they are all favourites for varying different reasons. I mean the first album is very special as we were so young and that was my second album that I’d ever put out. And this one now is my 26th one so there’s been a lot of growth and learning along the way which connects to the prior album along the way. And I’m still really proud of that first record. It came out in 2023 and that was working with a beautiful Brisbane poet Martin Challis. But to be honest, I’m really really most proud of the songs on this new album. You know I think, like a good bottle of wine, we get better with age, and the important thing is as we mature as a musician, it’s what you don’t say and what you don’t play that becomes even more important than what you do. There’s a really good lyric that goes ‘the art of learning what to play is learning what not to play’ and like ‘learning what to say’ etc… And I think that is something that Elixir is all about, creating gentle spaces and quite music making.

Markus: Now a ‘Small Shy Truth’ how has it been received thus far by the masses?

Katie: It’s really lovely people have been great. And having the music on vinyl has really engaged music fans. They’ve been telling us it’s the kind of album to play, throw on the headphones and really sink back into and listen to and that’s what I certainly hoped people would feel, so that’s really special. In fact, also, there’s a really strong connection to Adelaide on the record by the way as we have the Adelaide Chamber Singers on the album which sound extraordinary and also an Adelaide based Chilean, the beautiful percussionist, Fabian Hevia. So we have a very strong dna on the record.

Markus: So with the tour do we hear a lot of the new album?

Katie: It is the whole album and we literally do it in the album order. So we’ll be presenting the record. But of course as we’re an improvising band we open it up a lot more, so there are solos that are longer and there’s more improvisation to the live show. But yes basically the entire album and maaaaybeeeee we might do a couple of other tunes after 😉 But we also have the lovely girls from Laurel, they’ll be joining us for something special too.

Markus: Now, Katie Noonan in her different guises whether it be solo, George or Elixir what keeps you inspired and continues wanting you to keep working in the music industry, while pushing boundaries and exploring new territories?

Katie: Well I’m really lucky to be a full-time artist now for 25 years and I think I’m just really constantly searching for the next beautiful song or experience. I’m always wanting to learn and get better and appreciate the talents of other musicians and you know figure out what you’re good at and what you’re not good at and what you can improve upon. Constantly confronting the weaknesses to become a better musician.

Markus: And how is Katie spending Christmas 2023?

Katie: Well it’s a little bitter sweet this year. We’re in that phase of life where we start to lose older family members and loved ones. It’s our first Christmas for my children without one of their grandad’s and it’s likely going to be the last Christmas with my dad so it’s kind of beautiful but bitter sweet so I must admit we are all a little exhausted by the last few years and this year has been tough with my family because of the grief so we will be taking very, very easy. And appreciate the quality moments, having lovely conversations and sharing simple food and being grateful for what we have. Nice and simple.

Markus: Based on that answer, let’s throw in this question. Now I know the standard response, BUT aside from ‘Love’, what does the world need now?

Katie: Yes, definitely love, but I really think we need to hold onto hope. Hope for the future and hope for humanity to win over the craziness going on in the world still. There is a lot going on and it can be quite distressing so I think we all are feeling that and even though we are more connected than ever, we possibly are more lonely than ever and I wish that we can hold onto ‘hope’ that we can get there all together and in one piece.

Markus: One last question, what do you want people to take away from the two Adelaide shows for ‘A Small Shy Truth’ tour?

Katie: I really want them to come along, turn your phone off, turn off from the clutter of the world, be in the moment and join us in gentle music making. We offer these songs very much as a offering as respite and as mentioned I’m really proud of this body of work and I love singing these songs, they give me beautiful spiritual solace so I hope that people come and feel that same respite, be in there with us and feel a sense of calm and beauty. I’ll see you in Adelaide! And I cannot wait.

Adelaide show information:

Thursday 7 Dec Trinity Sessions, Church of the Trinity, Goodwood Road, Adelaide, Kaurna Country,  SA – NEW SHOW ADDED

Friday 8 Dec Trinity Sessions, Church of the Trinity, Goodwood Road, Adelaide, Kaurna Country,  SA – SOLD OUT 


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