Fight me, leave them alone, they didn’t do a thing,
They did nothing wrong/ fight me, yeah you’re not that tough/
I’m not scared anymore and I’ve had enough/
No I won’t stand here, let you hit my friends and watch them bleed.
Fight Me – Drew McAlister & Troy Kemp
Blue Mountains singer-songwriter Drew McAlister and Newcastle partner in rhyme Troy Kemp believe in fighting fire with fire – notably in song.
And it’s not because the studio caught fire in Nashville the day they were scheduled to record a song called ‘Night On Fire.’
Or because McAlister’s heavily vegetated Springwood home was threatened by devastating Spring bushfires a few months later back home.
The fire in Drew’s belly is bullying and he tackled it on a train from the Blue Mountains to Sydney before leaving home for Nashville to record third album Harder To Tame.
McAlister, long disturbed by adolescent and adult bullying, took the kernel of the song ‘Fight Me’ to Kemp and they polished it to become a contender for their album to be released in Tamworth in January.
It might also be a handy musical tool for anti-bullying marketing campaigns.
“I always wanted to write about that topic,” McAlister told Country Update from his mountain retreat on the eve of the CD release.
“When I’m in writing mode I get on the train here and head to Sydney. It’s like three hours of being able to sit on a train and write lyrics without distractions. That’s the lyric I wrote on one of my train rides and took to Troy. We finished it sometime later. I’m really proud of that song. It’s such a big thing now – the bullying issue. You can be bullied at school and take that sort of thing through your whole adulthood. In this particular song it’s about a little boy who is in a schoolyard situation and he eventually gets the courage to stick up for himself.”
So did either Drew, a strapping farmer’s son, or Troy suffer bullying in Narrabri, Moree, Casino, Dubbo, Kempsey or other towns on their scholastic journey?
“No, it didn’t happen to either of us,” McAlister revealed about the blight that dates back centuries and has driven generations of country and city children to suicide, self-harm and psychological trauma.
“I wanted to highlight the issue and put it in a song.”
How likely is the song to be used in an anti-bullying campaigns?
“We haven’t done anything yet as the album won’t be released until January, but I’m sure there will be efforts made to tie in with something like that down the track.”
Although the duo only recorded four originals on their album they have boosted publishing royalties for expat Sherrie Austin who has released five albums in the U.S. and here after opening for Johnny Cash in Queensland when she was 14.
Sherrie, who appeared in Hollywood TV show The Facts Of Life and Fresh Prince Of Bel Air as Sherrie Kren after moving to the U.S. and more recently in Broadway musicals, was co-writer of ‘Close If It Ain’t.’
“I knew Steven Lee Olsen was one of the writers because we wrote ‘Country Proud’ with him but didn’t know Sherrie also was,” McAlister confessed.
“Unfortunately we didn’t meet her in Nashville.”
McAlister and Kemp wrote with diverse Nashville writers during Music City trips but many of those songs were culled at the 11th hour.
The duo adopted the anonymous aural song test by listening to a brace of songs without knowing the writers’ identities before recording.
Ironically, they didn’t collaborate with frequent Australian tourist David Lee Murphy – one of three writers of their album title track.
“We were supposed to write with David when he was out here for the CMC Rocks The Hunter festival but nothing eventuated unfortunately,” McAlister confessed.
“We have been on the same bill but we have never sat down and had a chat with him. I obviously know of his work. He’s an amazing writer. He’s a hit machine. We sat down with our producer Jeremy Stover in Nashville for four hours and a whole bunch of publishers played us a verse and a chorus of their best songs. That was one of the songs played during that meeting and it was a no brainer for us. It seemed perfect for an album title and first single to release and say this is our new direction.”
‘Stand A Little Taller’ – a song that McAlister and Kemp penned with Nashville writer Brett Jones has a strong hook shared by the Kelly Clarkson hit ‘What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger.’
McAlister said he wasn’t aware of Texan Clarkson’s song co-written by her producer Greg Kurstin before their writing session with Jones.
“No, I hadn’t heard it before actually,” McAlister said, “We sat down with Brett – we knew he had written ‘Little Rock’ and whole bunch of other songs. I had that title floating around for a long time. It seemed to come into my head at some point when we were in Nashville. I gave him the title and he latched onto it. I haven’t heard a lot of Kelly Clarkson’s songs. I’ll have to look it up.”
The duo also wrote ‘What A Woman Can Do’ with Nashville tunesmith writer Brian Maher – co-writer with their producer Stover of Justin Moore hit ‘Small Town U.S.A.’
Maher also went to school with Wynonna and The Judds were produced by his father Brent.
“We hung out a lot with Brian, he’s an exceptional songwriter and producer,” McAlister revealed.
“He’s a fantastic guy to write with. I think we wrote about five songs with Brian. We really clicked.”
But like all albums, many songs written at home and Nashville, ended up carpeting the cutting room floor.
“We wrote a bunch of songs at home and then did two week writing stints in Nashville,” McAlister said.
The Nashville sojourn also included an impromtu bus trip with Big & Rich whom the duo met at CMC Rocks The Hunter.
“We were invited to see the Black Crowes at the Fontanels, a venue about half an hour out of Nashville,” McAlister recalled.
“We later went back to the Big & Rich bus and John Rich said ‘I’ve got a quirky idea – why don’t you guys come on our bus? We have three extra bunks for you and your manager Dennis. Come to Wisconsin and get up with us and do one of your songs in front of 40,000 people.’ I said OK – we’ve got nothing on. So we drove across four states to Wisconsin and got to hang out with Kix Brooks and Gary Allan. We performed ‘Country Proud’ and got back on the bus and came back to Nashville.”
Another likely single from the album is the radio friendly narrative ‘There’s Always A Girl’ – penned by Tim Nicholls, Lee Ann Womack’s ex-husband Jason Sellers and Paul Jenkins.
“As soon as we heard the first 30 seconds we thought this is a great radio song and we had to record it,” McAlister confessed.
“That’s one of the two new songs we have already added to our live set list. We’ll add others as the release gets closer.”
A sure contender is the double entendre ‘Tats’ – penned by Stover and Randy Houser.
“We’ll have to wait to see how that song goes over,” Drew joked about the song that arouses listeners like the Craig Campbell ditty ‘Fish.’
Although they only recorded four originals on the new album the fruits of their labour have not withered on the vine.
“I have had one song written with Michael Carr recorded by Mitzi Dawn, a female artist over there, a song called ‘Plastic Flowers’. We’ve had a couple on hold for some big acts but it’s a very difficult thing to get a song cut in Nashville,” McAlister confessed. “We live in hope, you never know.”
They have written a raft of songs recorded by fellow Australian artists including Amber Lawrence, Tamara Stewart, Paul Costa and Graeme Connors.
“I always try to write with other artists,” McAlister says. “That’s all I did first and foremost when we started out. It’s how we ensure we get more songs cut. We would love to have our songs used in movies and on TV shows. It helps with a higher profile. It’s an amazing thing playing major festivals and having 10,000 people singing your songs back to you.”
McAlister Kemp will tour nationally to promote Harder To Tame.
Ironically the CD launch is slated for a venue named Blazes in Tamworth during the 41ST annual country music festival in January.
“I didn’t realise that until you brought it up,” McAlister said, “it’s just a great venue. I certainly hope the fires and any danger of them reoccurring have been eradicated by then.”
Harder To Tame is released by ABC-Universal on January 17.
By David Dawson