The theme of love permeates Australian country music singer Troy Cassar- Daley's latest album I Love This Place, with songs about love for his country, romantic love, as well as his being in love with life. With stories from the heart, the true character of this country music great is seen in the title track, a mellow ballad interwoven with personal sentiments about his life.
Troy shares the thought processes behind the creation of the song: “The place I'm at in my life is pretty special. I'm turning 40 this year and I have huge admiration for my family. I live where I want to live; I have the life I dreamed of since I was a kid. And if you're happy in that place, I think it's worth writing about. I hope a lot of people look at their own lives and say, “You know, I love this place too, because this is where I belong; this is where I feel safe.”
It's taken hard work and dedication for Troy Cassar-Daley to get to this place in his life—a point where he receives accolades from his peers as Australia's premier country singer. It's a contrast to his modest childhood in Grafton, raised by a single mother, Irene, who worked as a railway cook. While Irene Daley was away at work, Troy's grandmother and grandfather took care of him. At the age of 11, Troy made his first visit to the Tamworth Country Music Festival, an event that had such an impact that he returned the following year, busking in the streets.
By the time he was 16, Troy's band Little Eagle was touring the north coast of New South Wales. At the age of 19, he made the final 10 in the Star Maker quest at Tamworth, winning the competition the next year.
Troy met country music legend Brian Young at Tamworth and toured with Brian's band throughout indigenous communities across northern Australia.
“That experience, for eight or nine months when I was in the bush, really made me focus on what road I was on and whether I was ready for the journey,”
he reflects. “I came back understanding that it wasn't going to be a walk in the park taking up country music as a living. I knew there would be a lot of ups and downs—and there were more downs than ups in those days. It was a hard way to make a living and I had to supplement it with many different things.”
In 1995 Troy released his first solo album Beyond the Dancing. Since then, he's had eight more, earning Golden Guitar awards, Entertainer of the Year, Best Male Vocal and Song of the Year at the Australian Country Music Awards ceremonies. There is also an ARIA music award for the Best Country Album, in 2006. He has worked alongside singers such as Paul Kelly, Merle Haggard, LeAnn Rimes, Kasey Chambers and Jimmy Barnes.
Story telling is integral to country music, and Troy demonstrates this with the concept of “Big, Big Love” in the first single from his latest album. The title of the song is drawn from something Troy's friend and fellow country singer Keith Urban wrote on a mobile phone message. Troy explains: “Keith sent me a text message when his baby Sunday Rose was born, with Big love, Keith, at the end of his text.”
Troy shared his inspiration with the band as they recorded the song. “I remember going out to my drummer, saying, ‘Big, big love!' He said. ‘What's the biggest Big Love you've got?' And I said, ‘Well, I think about my family; I think about my wife, and I think about God.' And I said, ‘That is as big as it gets ...'”
The ups and downs of love are explored in another song, “Won't let the Sun (Go Down on This Love).”
Troy wrote the lyrics as advice to a close friend who was experiencing a rough patch in his relationship. “There's an old saying that came to mind when he was telling me the story—never let the sun go down on an argument. It's one of those things you should take into your marriage—that you learn to communicate.
“Sometimes you're going to have to agree to disagree—not everyone's the same. When I wrote that song I had him firmly planted in my mind... .
I thought if I were him, I wouldn't be going to bed cranky and letting the whole thing just simmer away; I'd try to get some resolution ... and that's the thing that's gotten me through 13 years of marriage.”
Troy is married to radio presenter and singer Laurel Edwards, who has been a strong supporter from his early days when Troy was struggling for recognition as a musician. He is quick to admit that a good marriage takes commitment and communication.
“There's an analogy of a relationship being like a garden—and we shouldn't allow weeds to grow in the garden. To tend the garden all the time is very important. It's very important for me that my wife understands that I hold her in very high regard ... if they know that, and they've got your respect, then the rest of it should flow on as well.”
Troy acknowledges that even though men are often reluctant to express their feelings, it is vital for relationships.
“The enormity of love sometimes gets overlooked, and overused as a word.
... It's an emotion we shouldn't be afraid to show. It's taken me a while to understand how to show feelings... .
I'm an emotional sort of bloke at certain times in my life.”
Troy reached into the collective heart of Australian emotions when he visited the small Victorian community of Whittlesea just days after the massive bushfires devastated the area in February 2009. After seeking permission from the mayor, he provided some entertainment as a distraction from the traumas the locals had endured.
“The least you can do is just try and understand what is going on,” he says.
“It was really sobering for me to realise that people had lost homes and relations and family and friends.”
Following that personal encounter, Troy also performed at the “Sound Relief ” charity concert in March to raise funds for victims.
Compassion is an important value, which Troy and wife Laurel instil in their children, Clay and Jem. Troy believes other issues, such as the children doing well at school, are secondary, “but to help them to feel, and to be compassionate toward their fellow man—that's really important.”
Despite being away with recording, touring and promoting his music, Troy values time at home with his family.
“Some people get home and throw their kids in front of an X-Box—we don't even have a Playstation at our house,” he says. “Instead of plonking the kids in front of a TV or computer screen while you try to cook dinner, work out ways to engage with them while you're cooking. As much as I don't know most of the homework these days,” Troy laughs, “I do try to do my best to be involved. That's my connection with my kids, and my wife is the same.”
Troy recalls a recent incident after a busy few days on a TV shoot when he took time out to play with his children.
“I got out on the front path at our house and played handball with them ... but while we were playing, we were just talking about the stuff they were thinking about—what was affecting them at school. I prefer to spend that quality time with them—turn off my phone and literally be there for them, like a dad should.”
Coming from a Maltese father and an Aboriginal mother, Troy boasts a diverse cultural heritage. He stays in touch with his family and Aboriginal community and makes no pretences to elevate himself from his audience. On the internet through his Myspace page and website, Troy communicates with fans, regularly responding to notices posted on the forum pages and thanking them for their comments. His social network intertwines with his fans, as everyone relates to this small-town boy with a love of fishing and Holden cars.
Troy acknowledges that the support of everyday people across the country has enabled him to enjoy success today.
In return, he offers advice on where to buy guitars and have repairs done on instruments, endeavouring to share his passion for music. He talks to school children about music and song-writing, and encourages them to follow their dreams.
Part of his inspiration comes from a musician and craftsman in Louisiana, USA. Carlton Jones runs Guitar Ministries, a project that supplies guitars to poor ministers working in developing countries. The instruments are used to help spread the gospel through worship and praise. Troy describes him as a “phenomenal Christian man, who wants to help the world through music.”
Likewise, Troy tries to support talented people in remote Aboriginal communities, where he has developed friendships since his Brian Young touring days. He talks about the Northern Territory town of Oenpelli.
“The last time we were there, I left a couple of guitars that Fender Australia had given me ... and apparently they're being well played and looked after, and that's all I want to hear.”
Troy looks back and reflects on the musical career that's so much a part of his life: “There are many miles between when I started to learn to play the guitar to when I started to make a living out of it... . Every one has been worth it; every step has been amazing.”
Troy's album reveals his progression to the place where he's now at—the place where he feels love, big love for his wife, his family and God. And you can't get any bigger love than that.