The country music hopefuls ditching Australia for Nashville

Sam Hawksley is one of hundreds of Aussie musicians trying to make it big in Nashville. (Source: Sam Hawksley)

Sam Hawksley is one of hundreds of Aussie musicians trying to make it big in Nashville. (Source: Sam Hawksley)

More and more Australian performers are trading Tamworth for Nashville to find fame and fortune as country music stars.

The migration of Australian country musicians to the US has long been an industry within an industry, but according to Aussies in the country music capital the trend is increasing.

Western Sydney music producer Jemmuel Magtibay, 21, is currently playing as a musician for country-rock artist and American Idol finalist Cade Foehner on his nationwide Southern Hallelujah tour.

“In Australia everyone loves their pop. Americans love their country as much as Australians love pop,” said Magtibay.

“Australians treat country as a joke. People in America take it seriously.”

But some recent polls indicate a growing interest in country music among Australians aged 13-25, with one Instagram poll in May finding 39 per cent ‘loved’ the genre.

Sam Hawksley, a country musician who has been living in Nashville for nine years, described the city as a “music mecca” of budding stars trying to fulfil their dreams.

“The talent pool is enormous,” he added.

“You’re immediately thrust into a situation where there’s just so much talent.

“America has over 2,000 commercial country music stations the size of a triple M or Fox FM in Melbourne.

“You get taken around to the 150 reporting stations [radio stations which determine the Top 40 charts] and play for the radio promo staff in their board rooms. Then you take the director out to lunch or dinner and schmooze them over to play your music on air.”

Australia’s rich legacy of country music includes icons such as Slim Dusty. The nation’s country capital Tamworth hosts an annual festival and is home to the Big Golden Guitar statue.

Australian country artists began to get their foot in the door in the US as early as the 1970s, with Olivia Newton-John claiming Best Country Grammy Vocal Female and The Academy of Country’s Most Promising Female Vocalist awards.

But her success did not come without some reservations in the US, with country music queen Dolly Parton expressing her distaste for Newton-John’s Grammy win.

At the time Parton’s influence turned the whole of Nashville against the wholesome Aussie singer. Newton-John even tried to return the award, but the Grammy committee refused to take it back.

Despite the initial struggle for acceptance in the US country community, other Aussies did not stop pursuing their careers there.

Only a year after his debut, self-titled, Australian chart-topping album, Keith Urban moved to the US and won Most Promising Male Vocalist at the Academy of Country Awards in 2001.

Urban has continued to be one of Australia’s most respected country artists of his generation, and has helped to broaden the genre through collaborations with some of hip-hop’s and pop’s biggest names, including Pitbull and Julia Michaels.

Cade Foehner, who grew up in Shelbyville, Texas, said country music in Tennessee was all “pervasive”.

“You couldn’t go anywhere without hearing country,” he said. “Country isn’t just big in Texas; it’s big in the south in general.”

Solo live loop artist, songwriter and recording artist Carl Wockner made the move three years ago.

“We all go through ups and downs, but I had a hard knock with a dodgy booker who I lost a lot of money and had almost no shows confirmed,” he told Hatch.

“Moving with my wife and kids as dependants was tricky. It took us about eight months to recover from that blow, but after the first year we were set up and back in the black.”

Despite the initial setbacks, Wockner was emphatic that it had been worth it.

“Absolutely!” he said. “Go hard or go to bed!”

Magtibay pointed to the latest craze, country-rap, hip-hop song Old Town Road by Lil Nas X, as an indication of country’s broadening audience.

“The generational aspect is the artist and who consumers like,” he added. “It’s more of a cultural difference than a generational difference.”

Hawksley, who is an administrator of the Australians in Nashville Facebook group, said it was hard work starting over in another country.

“You can’t just go over there and book a plane ticket and go; you have to get a visa and that stuff’s expensive.

“My first visa cost me $6,000 (A$8,500) and it’s a tough town to make a living in.”

And his advice to those wanting to follow in his footsteps?

“Aspire to be as good as you possibly can, have some financial reserves in place and be realistic about your chances.”