A genre-defying singer and songwriter whose music encompasses the quietude of folk, the honesty of country, the edgy emotions of the blues, and the fearless spirit of rock & roll, Kasey Chambers has become one of the most popular and acclaimed artists of her generation in her native Australia while winning a devoted cult following in the rest of the world. Blessed with a voice that suggests an Antipodean cross between Emmylou Harris and Lucinda Williams (both of whom are fans), Chambers was born living off the land with her family on Southern Australia's Nullabor Plain, while making occasional stops at the fishing village of Southend. Chambers learned about country and folk music from her parents, who usually played and sang songs in the evening. When Kasey was ten years old, she joined the family band led by her father Bill Chambers, the Dead Ringer Band, which also featured her mother Diane and brother Nash. In the '90s, the Dead Ringer Band became one of Australia's leading country acts, but Kasey had an individual spirit and ideas of her own. When her parents' divorce split up the Dead Ringer Band, Kasey poured her feelings into a set of songs that would become her solo debut, 1999's The Captain. Produced by Nash Chambers, the album was a critical and commercial success, winning the Australian Record Industry Association's Best Country Album prize in 2000. Her second LP, 2001's Barricades & Brickwalls, was another ARIA winner, taking prizes for Album of the Year, Best Country Album, and Best Female Artist. It also featured the song "Not Pretty Enough," which was a major hit in Australia and the U.K. and gained airplay in the United States. She explored more ambitious and rock-oriented sounds on 2006's Carnival before stripping her music down to its roots for 2008's Rattlin' Bones, a collaboration with her then-husband Shane Nicholson. (They would work together again on 2012's Wreck & Ruin.) Chambers explored spiritual themes on 2015's Bittersweet, duetted with Keith Urban on the ambitious 2017 double set Dragonfly, and followed it with her most austere acoustic album to date, 2018's Campfire.
Born on June 4, 1976 in Mount Gambier in South Australia, Kasey Chambers was the daughter of two musicians, Bill and Diane Chambers, who put their careers on hold that year to move to the Nullarbor Plain, a sparsely vegetated and generally flat plateau measuring 100,000 square miles. Supporting themselves by hunting fox, the family would spend seven or eight months of the year on the Nullarbor, resupplying themselves from the world's longest stretch of straight railroad track, 330 miles running through the Nullarbor. The family spent the rest of the year at Southend, a small South Australian fishing village. Each night out on the Nullarbor, after a day's hunting, the family would camp in a different spot, and Bill and Diane would sing, passing their love of country music to their children by the glow of the campfire, under the stars.
In 1986, the family returned to "civilization" so that Bill and Diane could return to their music careers. First, Kasey joined them as lead singer, then brother Nash, and they became known as the Dead Ringer Band. By 1992, they had become full-time musicians, playing to city audiences as well as heading back out into the countryside, and during the '90s, the Dead Ringer Band released seven CDs and collectively earned two ARIAs and seven Gold Guitars at the annual Australian Country Music Awards in Tamworth. Kasey was the face of a new generation in Australian country, sporting a nose ring, and posing nude for a country music magazine (walking down the streets of a deserted country town with brother Nash).
In 1998, Chambers' world was turned upside down with the separation of her parents, with her mother choosing to go and live on distant Norfolk Island, two-and-a-half hours by plane off the Australian coast. Chambers started putting her feelings into songs, and over a few weeks during July and August 1998, she recorded her first solo album, The Captain, on Norfolk Island. With brother Nash acting as producer, Kasey and her musicians set up in an old homestead on the island, cutting most of the material live. Father Bill was on hand to play guitar, and American country legends Buddy & Julie Miller added their voices and guitar to four tracks afterward in Nashville.
Released in May 1999, The Captain initially won Kasey the 1999 ARIA award for Best Country Album and, at the 2000 awards, earned her Best Female Artist. With double-platinum sales at home in Australia, Kasey spent the latter part of 2000 following up enthusiastic reviews for her album internationally. She also spent time touring the U.S. with Lucinda Williams and playing gigs in her native land with Emmylou Harris. She was in the studio as well; with her brother Nash at the production board once again, Chambers delivered another sonic beauty with 2002's Barricades & Brickwalls. The album was a multi-platinum success in Australia and significantly raised her profile in the United States, earning her enthusiastic reviews and much better sales than The Captain.
She released her third solo disc, Wayward Angel, in the fall of 2004. The 14-song set gave her her first number one album in Australia. Two years later, Chambers' song "The Hard Way" was featured in an episode of the ABC adventure drama Lost. Also around this time, Chambers married longtime boyfriend and musical partner Shane Nicholson. Carnival, released in September 2006, was a more rock-oriented set that included collaborations with Tim Rogers of You Am I and Powderfinger's Bernard Fanning. In 2008, Chambers released the sparse and heavily acoustic Rattlin' Bones, a collaboration with Nicholson. In 2009, she published her first book, a story for children called Little Kasey Chambers & the Lost Music. The same year, she released an album of music for youngsters with her father, titled Kasey Chambers, Poppa Bill, and the Little Hillbillies. Her sixth full-length album, Little Bird, followed in 2010.
In 2012, Chambers released Wreck & Ruin, her second album with Nicholson, as well as Storybook, a collection of covers in which she interpreted the songs of Steve Earle, John Prine, Gram Parsons, Lucinda Williams, and James McMurtry, among others. In 2013, Chambers and Shane Nicholson divorced, and the following year she issued Bittersweet, her first solo effort in five years. It was also Chambers' first album not produced with the participation of her brother, with Kasey telling the press, "I wanted to have an experience making a record that I had never had before." In July 2015, Bittersweet received a belated U.S. release through Rounder Records, and in support, Chambers embarked on a rare American tour.
In early 2017, Chambers released her 11th studio album, Dragonfly. An ambitious double set, Dragonfly included material from sessions produced by iconic Australian singer/songwriter Paul Kelly, while other tracks were produced by Nash Chambers, accompanied by Kasey's road band. Other guests on the album included Keith Urban, Foy Vance, and Harry Hookey (the latter was romantically linked with Chambers at the time). For 2018's Campfire, Chambers recorded a set of acoustic numbers that ranked with her most spare performances to date; Emmylou Harris and Bill Chambers both guested on the sessions. ~ Ed Nimmervoll & Mark Deming