Chelsea Basham was born and raised in Wongan Hills, spending her early years hanging around her parent’s Retravision store and singing in local talent quests. Her passion for country music grew, and at only sixteen, she toured with Lee Kernaghan. One of her most recent achievements was singing with Keith Urban at Perth Arena on his Australian tour. Chelsea talked with Wheatbelt Local about what it was like growing up in the Wheatbelt and how it was to sing alongside Keith Urban.
So, you come from Wongan Hills?
Yes, I was born and bred in Wongan Hills and grew up there until I was about 14 and then I went to school in Perth but my parents are still there and my grandparents so I always get back and see everybody and it’s always nice going back home and seeing all those familiar faces.
How often do you get home (to Wongan Hills)?
Not as much as I would like. I usually get home once a couple of months but normally I’m travelling overseas and across the country quite a lot. Every time I get a chance I head home. I was there just a couple of weeks ago and had a bonfire with my family and sat under the stars. It’s just beautiful getting home.
What is your favourite thing about being home?
I just love the familiarity of it and everybody knows everybody and generally everyone wants to know how I’ve been doing. Being under those those wide open spaces and being under those stars that you don’t get to see like that anywhere else. It’s like a breath of fresh air!
Are you based anywhere in particular now?
Yeah, I’m based in Perth now but I tend to move around quite a lot. I’ve spent a lot of time living in Sydney, but I’m definitely a small town girl and that place is way too busy for me!
So, you sung with Keith Urban recently? Tell us more about it!
Yes! It was UNREAL. It was just such a dream come true, you know. I’ve always said that if I was to sing with anyone in the world, it would be Keith Urban and it was like a wish was granted when I sang with him and I was living a dream. It doesn’t feel real now but apparently it was because there’s video proof of it!
Oh, that’s so amazing. I’m so happy for you! What was Keith like?
Thankyou! Keith is lovely. He is so genuine and just like you see him on TV. He’s just like that. He’s just so kind and sweet.
It must have a pretty big road to get to where you are now. Were there some challenges that you faced, reaching your dreams?
Yeah, absolutely. I think one would be the distance and not having as many opportunities in my home town. My mum had to drive me to Perth every weekend for singing lessons and dance lessons. It took a lot of dedication from my family, and I’m so thankful for it now.
Also, there was quite a stigma, like tall-poppy syndrome in the school (at Wongan Hills). It was such a small school, and to succeed, it’s something that you were talented at, and the kids would kind of push you out, so I felt really alone. I felt weird. It wasn’t until I moved to Perth that I finally felt accepted and that I was normal, with like-minded kids. I feel like that’s a shame, that that happens. And I hope times are changing and that it’s becoming much more acceptable now to study music and sing and dance and be a bit “out there”. I hope that I can pass that onto kids, and do talks in schools and I have done that before. I went back to Wongan Hills DHS and talked with the kids and say that it’s okay to show your talents to other kids, and to not let the bullies get you down, because at the end of the day, you’ll shine through and have the last laugh.
You toured with Lee Kernaghan when you were still at school, only 16, how was that?
The tour was fairly short, only a few weeks, so I just spent that time away from school. But it was such an amazing experience. For someone like Lee Kernaghan to take me under his wing. I was so young and I think I’m more grateful for it now, because I understand how hard it is to get on tours. At that age though, I thought, wow, this must be normal, people just take you out on the road, but it doesn’t happen. So, obviously, he saw something in me and I’m forever grateful because he gave me my first start.
Do you still keep in touch with him now?
I do. I just saw him a few weeks ago at the APRA awards. We were both nominated for an APRA award and he ended up taking out the award. It was a good bit of rivalry, we had a bit of a laugh about it.
You’re 24 now, were there some challenges you faced in being successful so young?
No, actually, I’m very grateful that I started so young because time goes so fast when you’re in the industry and before you know it, you’re only just at the beginning really. Even though it’s taken me seven years to get to where I am now, I’m still only at the start of my career. Being a female, I think there is quite a challenge to be successful young because you won’t have your looks in a few years time, so there’s a pressure to get out there and be successful young. So I am glad that I started young and I think I really grew up fast. The music industry is tough and it’s a real adult world, but I think it’s made me the person that I am today and I’m grateful for that.
I really like your music! I’ve just downloaded your album and been listening to your songs. Do you have a favourite song of yours?
I have a soft spot for Laugh It Off. The song was written after I recorded the album. I came back to Australia, and I’d released I Make My Own Sunshine and it was the first single prior to the album being released. I had this nasty comment on Youtube and I’m so sensitive and don’t really understand why people have rants on social media and think that it is okay. I was really upset by this, I think they were just commenting on that I’d put on weight or something like that and being a female, we’re all sensitive about that. I went over to my friend’s house, Michael Tan, he’s also a great songwriter. I went over for a wine, and I told him about this comment. He said to me, “Chelsea, you just have to learn to laugh it off”. I immediately thought, “Oh, that sounds like a song!” and so we ended up starting the song that night and when I went back to Nashville, I finished it with another great songwriter, Travis Meadows. Then it made it on the album at the last minute and it was my first song that went to No.1 on the Country Music channel on Foxtel and it was such a bittersweet moment. I’m really proud of it.
It’s so great that something bad could turn into something really good like that.
Absolutely. I think all of my songs are like that. Instead of wallowing in my own misery, I make it more positive and make it more of a rejuvenation song, rather than a sad song.
How has growing up in the Wheatbelt influenced your music?
Yeah, absolutely. Because I grew up in the Wheatbelt, I had very strong country influences. My brothers went through a phase when they used to drive around in utes with mud flaps and aerials and country music blaring and I just idolised them and thought they were so cool. I wanted to be just like them. So I think their musical tastes, listening to Lee Kernaghan etc. really influence me then. As I got a bit older I started listening to some of the American country music. That’s really influenced me now, as a more mature adult.
I guess, the thing about growing up in the Wheatbelt is that you learn to communicate with all ages. I think city kids are limited to talking to people their own age, whereas when you’re growing up in a small town, like Wongan Hills, you walk down the street and everyone from all different walks of life will stop and talk to you and you have to learn to communicate with young people to really old people in the community. I think that itself has impacted the way I communicate through song. I try my hardest to touch everyone, not just one age group.
Do you have some advice you could give to other people in the Wheatbelt, with regards to following your dreams?
Absolutely. I would say to work hard at it and don’t give up just because you can’t have what you want. You’ve just got to make it happen, whether that be travelling or studying via tutorials on Youtube. Whatever you want to be, you can do it and I think that we’re really lucky to be living in an age now where everything is so much more accessible. So, don’t give up just because you feel isolated because the world is a much smaller place than you think.
Do you know what is next for you?
Yes. I’ve been writing a lot. I’ve been writing in Nashville for the past couple of months, and since I’ve been back in Perth, I’ve been writing with the guys from Eskimo Joe and we’re working on my next album. Hopefully we’ll have a single out in the next couple of months. I’m really excited about that!
Read more about Chelsea, keep up with her doings, and see tour dates on her website. You can also find her music on iTunes (just search Chelsea Basham). Thanks again to Chelsea for taking the time out of her busy life to talk to Wheatbelt Local!
Photos of Chelsea and Keith by Andy Snyder
Black and white photo by Julie Lynn Photography