Now at age 25, New Zealand singer/songwriter Jamie McDell has achieved a prolific amount for someone so young. Being signed to EMI at age 16 sparked the beginning of a successful musical journey, making Jamie McDell a household name across the nation. With the release of her debut album ‘Six Strings and a Sailboat’, she went on to achieve Gold album sales, receive three NZ Music Award nominations, winning Best Pop Album of 2013. Her sophomore record ‘Ask Me Anything’ gained global attention, seeing album track ‘Moon Shines Red’ featured on American TV series Pretty Little Liars. A lot was going on for the young songwriter throughout her formative years.
2018 marked McDell’s return with an independently-released record that celebrates her musical roots and the sounds of her upbringing. This new recorded project came together between Auckland, New Zealand and Nashville, Tennessee where she recorded the tracks with Australian award-winner producer Nash Chambers. The record features a hearty cast of country music legends including Kasey Chambers, Bill Chambers and Tami Neilson.
It was the music of her childhood that would form the fundamental elements of what excited her about songwriting the most - an honest vocal, lots of acoustic guitar and deep storytelling.
It was at age 7, while living aboard a yacht in the Mediterranean, when McDell wrote her first song. On that yacht lived a small collection of her parents’ favourite tapes, including albums by Jimmy Buffett, John Denver and James Taylor, which the young McDell formed a particularly strong bond with. She fondly remembers watching her parents perform Jimmy Buffett duets - and occasionally chiming in, learning how to harmonise vocally with her mother. An eager learner, Mcdell picked up the guitar after studying her fathers’ John Denver chord book collection and has never looked back.
In March 2017, McDell booked a trip to Nashville for a change of scenery and to connect with the environment that birthed the country/folk music of her youth. There she wrote the songs that would make up the fabric for her upcoming record.
Later that year, twelve songs (written solely by McDell) were recorded in two days with full band at House Of Blues, Studio D in Nashville, with Chambers at the helm. Recording this way would boil up feelings of nostalgia for McDell, who’s very first recording experience took place at Auckland’s York Street studios in the same vein.
“This is the closest thing I’ve done to a live record,” McDell says. “I enjoy playing and singing in the same room as everyone, recording full takes, celebrating the liveliness of the players and accepting mistakes or imperfections as a special and important part of the body of work.”
On this new record, McDell’s vocals are the most raw and vulnerable they have ever been - powerful and honest - and reflect her core listening inspirations which include Patty Griffin and Alison Krauss. Her Margaritaville-infused childhood sneaks through in humorous lines like “scared of looking crazy, she opens up a bottle of wine, forgets about her baby and looks to have a hell of a time.”
This new album also marks McDell’s second independent release since going independent from 2016 - the first being a debut album, written/performed with her younger sister Tessa as Dunes. This record has been personally hand-crafted from the ground up, with McDell overseeing everything from the writing, creation, promotion and release. She also creates the visual artwork herself, as a graphic designer by day.
Putting the overall feeling of the album into words isn’t easy, but McDell reflects on the personal challenge of leaving the comfort of home to write something that was honest and true.
“Nashville was me getting out of my comfort zone and finding my way back to it. I like to write songs quickly and alone and quite frankly when I feel like it, and I think being away from home helped me get back to that headspace,”
“The listener is getting a sincerely true collection of stories that haven’t been tampered with since they were written. They are exactly what I felt like saying/singing at the time - raw, unpolished and deeply honest.”