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Tamworth 2012. Sara Storer was just a face in the crowd at the annual celebration of all things country — a face in the crowd with 14 Golden Guitars on the mantelpiece, that is. But Sara hadn’t released a CD since 2010’s best of, Calling me home — and hadn’t recorded an album of all-new material since 2007’s Silver Skies. She was now a wife and the proud mother of three young boys, living in Darwin with her family, away from the spotlight. Sara couldn’t recall the last song she wrote — all she knew was that it had been some time. But then a funny thing happened . .
‘I really didn’t want to go to Tamworth,’ recalls Sara, picking up the story. ‘I felt as though I’d lost my place a bit. But I had this show with my brother Greg, who I really love sharing gigs with — I can be my true self. Prior to the show I ran into John Williamson, who’d just released Big Red, and he had this sparkle in his eye. I was so inspired that he could keep writing these amazing songs; he never seems to run out. Then I had an amazing gig with Greg — and came away even more inspired.’
By the time she returned home, so had Sara’s creative mojo. ‘Canoe’, one of many standouts from her fifth studio album, Lovegrass, was the first of many songs to hit her like a hurricane (it was inspired by Williamson and features him on jaw harp). By Christmas 2012, she had much of the album written and recorded.
‘After Tamworth,’ Sara says with a characteristic chuckle, ‘I was on a creative roll. I was getting up at four in the morning and writing all these songs.’
As you’d expect, during Lovegrass Sara considers the state of the wide, brown land she’s proud to call home. ‘Come on, rain,’ she implores during the opening track, ‘don’t let our country die’, expressing in a few words what almost every farmer in the country hopes for, year in, year out. ‘‘Heart and sold’ also explores similar terrain. In Sara’s words, ‘It’s about the farmer of today — will he or she get to retire on the land?’
Then there are stories about intrinsically Australian characters, ripe for one of our finest storytellers. There’s Narrabri local and WWI survivor Pozie, ‘a song,’ as Sara explains, ‘that took me at least 50 pages to write’, and features the second contribution from John Williamson, who trades verses with Sara. There’s ‘William Paroo’, which tells of how Sara’s brother Greg — who helped with many of Lovegrass’s songs — took on the role of reverend, in order to Christian a youngster living on the Paroo River. These Storers are a versatile bunch: songwriters, siblings, parents, even surrogate men of the cloth in Greg’s case.
When Greg told Sara about events down on the Paroo, it didn’t take her long to reply: ‘There’s a great song in that story. Let’s write it.’
The centerpiece of the album, its title track, takes a more personal turn for Sara. It’s a love song for her husband Dave, albeit a love song dressed up in a horticultural metaphor — surely a first. (Lovegrass is ‘regarded as a serious weed,’ according to weeds.org.au.) Somehow Sara turns it into a sweet and heartfelt ode of devotion for the main man in her life.
It was the end result of another early morning thunderbolt: the word ‘lovegrass’ popped into Sara’s head and she immediately reached for her guitar, doing her best not to wake the kids. But there was a problem.
'I thought, How in the hell can I turn this term for a noxious weed into a love song for my husband?' she laughs. While growing up in the Mallee, Sara had plenty of exposure to lovegrass: she knew that unless you want to spend 5 hours removing seeds from your socks, you may as well throw them in the bin! And now she was trying to write a valentine by the same name. Was she nuts?
Oh and there was one other problem. She and award-winning producer Matt Fell had, or so they thought, finished work on the record a few days earlier — and Sara was heavily pregnant, back in Darwin. She gave Fell a call and played him the song. What do you think, she asked?
‘Can you get on a plane back to Sydney?’ Fell replied.
Still, the issue of the title remained. ‘I was thinking, “This isn’t turning out so good for Dave.” So I thought it to be the rarest kind of lovegrass, a special kind of lovegrass. And, frankly, Dead grass didn’t sing so well.
‘It sums up a place in my life now,’ Sara says, referring to Dead — erm, Lovegrass. ‘It’s a happy song, and they say happy songs are the hardest to write, which might be why I put the album off for a while. It’s a song about the place I’m in at the moment, a light-hearted song with a bit of a cheek. It sums up a lot of the album.’
It’s been a soul-searching few years for Sara Storer. When she swapped her guitar for motherhood, she was tempted to give it away, to simply enjoy the amazing achievements of her career and delight in her family. But Sara was never likely to turn her back on song writing; not when her eye for detail, or ear for melody, was so well tuned.
Accordingly, Lovegrass is a heartfelt, homespun record of people and places and emotions that mean the world to Sara Storer. As she sings ever so sweetly on the title track, ‘It was worth the wait.’