By Gareth Hipwell

When I ask Mark and Jay O’Shea for a brief run-down on the two years since Country Update last caught up with them, the duo’s response leaves me marvelling at their relaxed and chipper demeanour (narrating some background noise for my benefit, Mark explains that, “Jay’s just emptying the champagne ice bucket!”)

“Oh, Mate! In 30 words or less?” Mark laughs in answer to my question. “Well, we toured the last record. We have our own television show [O’Shea USA], which is into its sixth season, so we’ve been filming. We have a radio show [The Nashville Hour with Mark & Jay O’Shea]. We’ve been writing songs for the new record, recording the new record, touring over here in the States, touring back home. And we have two kids! So, that’s pretty much it.”

Add to that Mark and Jay’s duties as official social media correspondents for the monumental Rodeo Houston – a role that has seen them chatting with the likes of Alan Jackson and Brad Paisley – and the world-beating duo’s dance-card begins to look a mite full.

It’s surprising, then, that the pair have elected to make latest album 61-615 a truly audio-visual project – shooting a filmclip for every track featured on the album itself. In effect, not content with making one album, Mark and Jay have set out to make two albums, effectively in parallel.

“It’s inspired by Beyoncé – who isn’t inspired by Beyoncé?” Mark jokes. “And Brad Paisley, actually, he just did it recently. It’s quite the undertaking! We haven’t released the record yet, but we’ve made three videos already. The plan is to make a video for every song. We actually really like doing videos. Some artists find it a chore, but we really enjoy the creative component. Taking the song and pushing it, in a lot of instances, in a different direction to what the song actually means.”

“It’s like an extension of writing the song in the first place,” Jay adds.

61-615 follows O’Shea’s tearaway third studio album The Famine and the Feast (2015), which featured Golden Guitar-winning single ‘The Truth Walks Slowly’ – a protest anthem centred on landholders’ rights in the face of mining exploration and exploitation, and a collaboration with Jay’s birth father, Midnight Oil drummer Rob Hirst.

I ask Jay and Mark about the enigmatic numeric title of 61-615. As Jay relates, there’s a simple explanation.

“Well, +61 is the Australian country code,” she says. “And 615 is Nashville’s area code.”

“Obviously we have one foot firmly planted in each country, having lived here in Nashville for the last 10 years, and of course being Australian,” Mark adds. “We’re backwards and forwards to Australia all the time. Nashville is a huge part of our lives, as is Australia. So this record is really the sum of those two parts. We thought an interesting way to represent that would be with what we dial on a daily basis. When we call home or we call someone here locally. We’re actually calling from Nashville – from the 615 area – we’re calling everybody in Australia who pre-orders the album. We set aside time every night and we sit on the phone, Jay and I, and dial a bunch of numbers! It’s been a great journey.”

“It’s just been really fun to catch up with people we don’t get to see when we go out and tour,” Jay continues. “Lots of old friends and people that have been supporting us all these years. We’ve been sitting up and having a good old yarn!”

61-615 is perhaps the most stylistically diverse release yet for the dynamic duo, straddling the country and pop spheres with trademark catchiness and feeling.

“I think we just wanted to take the blinkers off a little bit,” Mark says of the album’s sound. “We’re people who make music, and 99% of it falls in the country genre. And that’s something we’ve gravitated towards. But a good song is a good song. I don’t think you’d find a country fan who only has country music in their CD collection – well, not even CD collection any more: in their Spotify playlist. People like what they like. That being said, we just wanted to do what was right for the songs, in terms of production.”

Read the full story in Issue 86…