Danielle Caruana, aka Mama Kin, knows all too well that in the music business there is music and then there is business. It simply can’t be avoided.
“I’m four albums in to making music,” she says, “but I still forget that once you finish the album there’s a whole other body of work. And it’s not the body of work I particularly enjoy – photoshoots, video shoots, artwork.
“I really like curating the live show, but all that other stuff… bios, press releases, blurbs, all that sort of stuff I find it takes ages. It’s like, ‘oh come on, can we just out the music out?’ (laughs). But it’s always good to take your time and do it properly.”
‘Done properly’ is a phrase that comes to mind when considering Mama Kin Spender and collaborative album Kin has released with her dear friend, Tommy Spender.
“We’ve known each other for about 16 years now,” Caruana explains. “We’ve lived together in in a house in Melbourne; become parents over the years at different stages of our friendships, and been at each other’s weddings. We’ve lived a life together, in a lot of ways. It’s amazing to be exploring a whole new aspect of our deep well of friendship and trust and that’s why the logos and the t-shirts have this ‘pinky promise’ theme - the friendship and trust runs deep and it’s the wellspring of all this music.”
There’s a feeling of unity throughout this album and the teaming in general. Something that is reflected in the singular moniker, Mama Kin Spender, with no “ands’ or ‘withs’ to be seen.
“We are very unified,” Caruana notes, “we’ve always loved to sing with each other. I think we’re both very grateful to be doing this and both very cogniscent of how much work goes into this kind of stuff when you’re juggling a family. We’re both very aware of that. So when we’re doing it, we are so fricken grateful to be doing it. There’s not a shred of entitlement or arrogance or anything that could cloud it. The feeling of joy and gratitude is really present for us in this.
“And, also, we’re friends that really enjoy hanging out and being together, so it’s almost like we’ve got a cheeky leave pass to do the thing we love the most (laughs). It’s not lost on s that this is a great opportunity and experience. We’re drinking up every morsel of it.”
The duo had skirted around the idea of a formal collaboration over the years, orbiting creatively with a few co-writes and here and there. Caruana says that at the end of touring 2013’s The Magician’s Daughter album she felt a “stasis of creative inspiration,” about what each would do next. Spender felt similarly following his self-titled EP.
Around this time Caruana sent Spender a link to a video of Rufus Wainwright singing Hallelujah with a choir of 1,000 people. The pair each shed a tear as they watched it over the phone. Then a penny dropped.
“It was a lightbulb moment,” Caruana recalls. “‘Let’s create a body of work as a duo with a really vocal component to it and then let’s pick up choirs and perform with them as we go around the country!’.”
They began the process on an online forum called I Heart Songwriting (www.iheartsongwritingclub.com) which groups 10 songwriters who are given a one-word-prompt every week for each to write a song within the space of an hour.
At the end of 10 weeks Caruana and Spender each had 10 songs with which they came together and reworked for the album. The core was good songs, not gospel songs for a choir, the songwriting quality was important.
“It was a public yet private process at the same time,” Caruana notes, “which also felt very safe.”
The choir shows have become a reality and now that the album has been released there’s even a vinyl edition, which has been met with no end of excitement.
“It’s like a coming of age,” Caruana says. “A rite of passage. It’s gone from licking envelopes to putting a wax seal on it. It feels like you’re really backing yourself but at the same time a little indulgent (laughs).
Following the Perth Festival appearance, the duo will set of on a national tour with Caruana’s husband, John Butler. It’s family and friends all the way.
“It seemed like a hair-brained idea at the time,” Caruana admits. “So to be eight months into rolling that out and to have done that over 10 times and now releasing an album with that as the central construct to the process feels like a bizarre dream come true.”
Mama Kin Spender perform at the Chevron Gardens on February 28 (with Perfume Genius) and the Nannup Festival, March 2-5.