Champagne, Guitars and Life on the Road
Photos courtesy of Daniel Champagne
Prodigy, virtuoso and the “finest guitar player of his generation” are just a couple of accolades that have been latched alongside the musical caravan that is Australian-born musician Daniel Champagne. When asked about what he thinks about all that, the twentysomthing doesn’t even pause to gently nudge the spotlight away from his ability and onto the music itself. In the end, he’s just a dude that wants to play his songs.
Though many have pointed out the skill and mastery Champagne posses at such a young age, the story goes that it all began at the unfathomable age of five. While some kids were just setting down rattles and reaching for toys, this kid was picking up a guitar. When you hear him play you have to wonder if it started even sooner, like he appeared into the world with a vice-like grip on a six string, strumming his first chord to the wide-eyed, open mouthed expressions of parents and medical staff.
As he started writing his own tunes before hitting his teens, Champagne had two goals in mind. Complete school? Naw, he opted to leave it? Descend on his Australian home like a full force cyclone? Nope, he was looking towards other lands to rain down upon. He wanted to see the world and share his music anywhere he could.
At 18 he hit the road and, passing through city and town, he’d leave musical notes hanging off telephone lines like a murder of crows perched and waiting. In short, if he played there and you heard it you weren’t forgetting it. The music lingered long after Champagne had strolled on off to his next gig.
But, hey, don’t take this writer’s words for it. You can check out the “future of Folk” himself Sunday night at LIVE! on Elgin. Just be ready to find your jaws after the show located somewhere in the vicinity of a booth inside Dunn’s below the venue.
But first, we walk the road a little ways with Daniel Champagne occasionally getting him to stop between strums and tell us about his love for Canada, new album “Fault Lines” and the possibility of performing on ice skates.
Ottawa Life: You first took to the guitar five. What was it about the instrument that fascinated that kid and what do you remember about your first time strumming the strings?
Daniel Champagne: I just remember the instrument being around the house and seeing my dad play the thing. I don't think it was ever a question of whether or not I was going to try the same.
Yeah, a lot of your early inspiration comes from him, also a musician. What do you remember most about hearing him play when you were growing up that still remains an influence on you?
My earliest memory was watching my dads band rehearse in the backyard and I remember thinking I'd love to try that one day. He was my first teacher and some of his songs are still my favourite.
You also started writing your own tunes early. Can you share what your first song was about?
(laughs) I honestly can't remember. But I think the human brain is pretty good at block out embarrassing things.
I’m sure there’s been some advancement in how you approach your writing now then, say, that 12 year old putting pen to paper? What to you, these days, makes a good song lyric-wise that gets you excited to record it?
For me it has to be real and unforced. I'm very bad at sitting down to write something but if an idea just jumps at me from nowhere then I know it's usually worth pursuing.
Now, you left school at 18. What prompted you to set out towards your career then and how do you feel the decision best benefited you?
I really dived right into the deep end and was able to give music everything I had right from the gate. Sometimes having no play B is the only way to make plan A work.
We mentioned your dad being a musician. I imagine there was some support there but how did you both your parents fine with your choice to pursue music, especially leaving behind your other education to do it?
Both of my parents are very supportive and love music. I'm incredibly lucky in that regard.
I’ve met many a Canadian who wants to travel to Australia but you seemed eager to get out and see the world. What was your first time away touring like for you?
It was wonderful! I actually came out here for Winnipeg Folk Festival and Vancouver Folk Festival. I remember feeling so incredible that I could come all this way and connect with so many strangers through doing what I love.
You write and produce your own releases as well as opt to get them out there independently. Is there a part of you the relishes the control you have over your own work or another reason why you’re not following more conventional paths of production?
I think that it's all an extension of the art form and as the artist, it's to important to me to really let anyone else in to try and change it.
It seems you got a lot of buzz in playing festivals. What are some of your favorite fest gigs?
Oh man I could go on forever but definitely some of the Canadian ones are up there! Winnipeg Folk definitely, Mariposa, Vancouver Folk, Hillside…there's some cool ones back in Australia like Woodford and Bluesfest and then I've had a lot of fun in Europe as well.
Speaking of touring, looking at your past schedule it seemed like you lived nearly 5 years on the road. For many that could be pretty exhausting. Do you enjoy the road life?
I like the road life sometimes. But I always love playing shows. It's just my favourite thing to do, to jump on a stage and play music for people who want to listen and no matter how many early flights or late night drives it dodgy hotels I have to get through – the show always makes me feel like it's worthwhile.
How do you feel spending so much time away from home plays into the songs you are writing?
I think often the further you travel from where you're from or from the people you love the more you end up thinking about them. So that leaves you with a lot of feelings to write about.
Where are some of the places you’ve played that really stick out as especially meaningful for you?
Not to say this just because I'm here but it is special whenever I get to tour Canada. It was the first country I came to after my home land and every time I'm back it's nice to stand in the sand places and see how far everything's come for me. Plus some of my best friends live here and I do love the snow!
Well, welcome back. Outside of the snow, what are some of your favorite things about coming here?
The people, the hockey, the wildlife, the mountains, the pines, the lakes and the wonderful music venues and audiences that I get to reach now.
You’ve got a tune on the new album Fault Lines called “Back to Nova Scotia”. Can you tell me a bit about that cut?
There seem to be a lot of 'Australian meets Canadian' relationships' and this is the exaggerated story of one such example I came across about a girl from Halifax and a guy from Sydney. It's actually one Of my favourite songs on the new album and probably connects with anyone who's traveled a lot between our two countries.
You joked recently that you want to do a Canadian tour called Champagne on Ice where you play only skating rinks. We’ve had a recent cold snap in Ottawa recently. That could probably be arranged. How do you think you’d do in a pair of skates?
I've been skating a few times and played one social game of hockey (very badly) I'd say I'm ok for a begging but certainly don't hold any Olympic aspirations.
This album shows you taking some different twists. I love the backing vocals and strings, for example. Did you go into the studio wanting to approach things differently or was it just a natural progression?
I think it was a very concise decision to make the album very different from the live show because after all they are two separate art forms and I wanted to delve as deep as possible into each.
Having started so young, it does seem you’ve accomplished a lot of possible life goals early on. What haven’t you done, musically, that you hope to see somewhere in the not too distant future?
I think I just want to keep doing what I'm doing ~ traveling the world with the music I love and growing in a natural and honest way.