When I heard last year Australian music legends Kate Ceberano, Steve Kilbey and Sean Sennett were working on a new project together, I was immediately curious to find out more about it. Of course, it didn’t take me long to discover that this new supergroup had an imminent new album almost ready to release called The Dangerous Age. With their first pre-album single Monument City Lights, 1973 an absolute stunner, it’s fair to say I couldn’t wait to hear more. And now with the release of their debut (and lets hope there is more to come), it proves indeed to be a wonderful adult contemporary record. I spoke to Sean Sennett recently about his collaborative effort with Kate and Steve. Here is some of what we talked about.
Sean, your collaborative album The Dangerous Age with Kate Ceberano and Steve Kilbey, is a wonderful inventive project that was tied up in emails sent back and forth. Can you tell us something surprising about that unusual process?
“I think I was surprised that we actually got to the finish line and made an album. The whole album came about through Kate and Steve being open to collaborating on a project like this in quite a unique way. Kate and I were good friends and had spoken about making a record for a long time. With her in Melbourne and me in Brisbane – it was always an idea that looked like the tyranny of distance might bring unstuck. Then Kate started to record with producer Rod Bustos and songs written between us were committed to ‘tape’ and suddenly we had a project on our hands. When I brought Steve in, he had no idea that Kate was involved … and Kate had no idea Steve was involved. I did the reveal when we were about 40% in and they loved how the songs were coming to life.
Kate is a wonderful patron of the arts, especially in this country. What did you learn from her that will stay with you for the rest of your life?
“Kate’s generosity of spirit is a constant. She’s incredibly creative and is always working. From our first meeting she was like, ‘let’s write some songs together’ … which was incredibly exciting. Especially when she sings whatever we are working on aloud … that voice … she could sing the phone book and I’d be happy. What will stay with me? I think it’s her work ethic. No matter what situation she’s in or what tools she has at her disposal … she’ll make a piece of art.
I understand Steve Kilbey is a great person to bounce ideas off. What was it like writing with him?
“Writing with Steve was a thrill. Heyday and the Remote Luxury/Persia EPs had a big impact on me. One day we went for a drive and he demonstrated how he looks for lyric inspiration in everything he sees. He could see a sign for a ‘Dog Walker’ on a passing van and he would come up with something. I’ve seen him record an air-conditioned hum on his mobile phone because he can get a song out of it. The highlight was writing the lyrics ‘Monument City Lights, 1973’ with him … just the two of us at his house trading ideas back and forth until we had something pretty special. If the album session had ended there I would’ve been content.
Your collaborative effort with Kate and Steve seamlessly brings to life strong vocals, harmonies, swirling guitars and even memorable moments set over a lilting piano. While it feels like an adult contemporary album, of course its much more that. Sean, can you tell me about some of the musical influences at play on the album?
“I can’t tell you what Steve and Kate were thinking, but I was thinking let’s write our best lyrics for Kate. Let’s give her a set of words that will inspire her and get her excited … excited enough to sit at piano for however long it took to add those chords and melodies that bring the songs to life. I know Kate was reading a Paul McCartney biography at the time and she was prepared to take a pop classicist approach to her writing. I’ve never spoken to Steve without the Beatles or Dylan coming up in conversation.
I love how Steve and Kate’s vocals complement each other on Monument City Lights 1973. How did the three of you decide upon the tracks where Kate takes the lead and where Steve joins in?
“Kate was always going to sing lead. She’d say ‘you or Steve should sing’, but I’d say ‘you are the best singer in the band,you should do it’. Steve and I sang backing vocals and the odd lead line, because it made sense and I think it adds something sonically. Getting Steve to sing took some subtle persuasion on my part. He didn’t want to initially. He though Kate should do it all … but I loved his tone and character so much I talked him into it. His lead vocal on ‘Monument City Lights, 1973’ came about because I pushed the fader up on his backing vocal part and put it at the front … he wasn’t there so couldn’t argue. I love the way he sounds on it. On the backing vocals to that song Steve and I were singing different lyrics to Kate … completely unawares … but it worked out.
My Restless Heart is arguably my favourite track at present. What can you tell me about how that song came about?
“That was the song that started the album. It was written long before Steve was involved. It was Kate and I at her piano in Sydney. I had the verse chords and the opening lyrics and then we wrote the rest together. I would always tell her how much I liked it. I found her original demo and sent it to her. It inspired her to visit Rod and record it properly. I love how it turned out … Steve said to me “it’s your Beatles’ song”.
Is the album’s title track a metaphor for where we find ourselves currently as a society? Can you elaborate a little bit about it?
“Yes it is. But it is also where we’ve been and maybe where we’re going. The dangerous age has been around since Eve tempted Adam with an apple.
Finally, what do you believe are some of the key moments on the album that music enthusiasts should really zero in on?
“I’d like listeners to find their own moments on the record. For me, it’s hearing a turn of phrase come to life, or a piano part that captures my ear. It’s singing with Kate on ‘Glacial Speed’, it’s hearing Rod play the acoustic guitar on ‘All Tied Up’, it’s the Berlin-era shimmer on ‘Monument City Lights, 1973’ and the power-pop of ‘Not The Loving Kind’. I’m so pleased other people can hear it now. It’s been a wild ride getting here.”