New Music Interview: Seleen McAlister

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Often compared to singers like Carrie Underwood and Faith Hill, Australian singer/songwriter Seleen McAlister is an independent artist with strongly held beliefs and a wicked sense of humour. She recently took some time out to speak to entertainment editor John Turnbull about inspiration, family and the Australian live music scene.

WE STARTED out talking about Seleen’s early memories of music:

“My love of music goes way back. I was told that I started singing before I started talking! (laughs) My parents came from Far North Queensland, and I grew up in country towns, so there was a lot of country music around. My mother loved Peter Allen and Englebert Humperdink, while my dad loved Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers, so I had a very eclectic upbringing in terms of music, which I think influenced the way I write and sing now. I started gigging in bands when I was about 11, just getting up and performing whenever I had the chance. I was in the school rock band, and I’d get invited up on stage to sing in pubs and stuff. Fortunately I looked a lot older than I was!” (laughs)  

We then discussed the first single from Seleen’s upcoming new album, She’s Getting Stronger, which has been generating a lot of discussion around the subject matter:

When I sat down to write the song with Allan Caswell and my husband Gerry McAlister, we were really just focusing on women’s empowerment and the idea of getting stronger every day. A lot of people have asked me whether the song is about domestic violence, and while it wasn’t necessarily written about that, it certainly seems to be striking a chord. I’m from a background that my parents separated when I was young, so I watched my mum survive and thrive as a single mum, and I wanted to celebrate that positivity. It’s a song of support, so if people are looking at it from that perspective and getting the positive message, then that’s great. I want my music to move you, to make you feel something.

I’ve always had a lot of integrity when I write, and I believe it’s something very special when you’re a songwriter, that the strength of a song is in how it makes the listener feel. I’m not going to turn around and say I wrote the song about domestic violence, but if people can take a positive message in that area, it’s nice to know I’m reaching people in different circumstances.

The subject of the Sydney Country Music Festival came up, and I confessed that I had been unaware that such an event existed.

“Yeah, this is only the second year. Last year was only a single day, but they’ve expanded to two days this year. They’ve got a lot of big acts playing, like the Wolfe Brothers, Adam Brand, Adam Eckersley, and it’s just a wonderful event. It’s held at Bella Vista farm, which is a fantastic venue with camping facilities and everything. I’m playing the main stage there on Saturday, so I’m very excited about that.”

On the live music scene in Australia:

“It’s tough, you know? A lot of bands are finding it hard to find a home in the live music scene. I’m fortunate that I gig around 4-5 nights per week, some solo, some duo. A lot of the country music scene pubs like Palmwood and Beerwah on the Sunshine Coast, and CMC Rocks in Ipswitch are supporting bands really well. The festivals are great, because they give you the opportunity to play with a larger band than a lot of venues. There are a lot of new festivals popping up, like the Urban Country Music Festival, the big festival in Beaudesert, and rodeos are always fantastic for supporting country music.” 

On the advice that Seleen would offer to young artists:

“Work hard, Work REALLY hard. (laughs) I think that we all have to take our own journey, and we all have something different to offer. Write about what you know. I mean, I’m a little older, I have three children, and I draw on that for inspiration. Just be true to yourself, and write about the things that mean something to you. The songs have to be the star. For most artists it takes years to build a fan base. Don’t give up, because in the end, if you’ve worked hard for something, you appreciate it even more.”

Thanks very much to Seleen for her time. You can find info about upcoming gigs through her Facebook page or

Did you like what you just read? Well, John Turnbull's books are now available on Amazon and Kindle. For about the price of a cup of coffee you can take a journey deep into the disturbed psyche behind columns including Screen Themes, Think For Yourself, New Music Through Old Ears and JT on NXT. There’s supernatural thriller, Damnation’s Flame; action/romance, Reaper; black comedy, City Boy; and travel guidebook, Bar Trek: Europe. Check 'em out! You can also follow John on Twitter @blackmagicjohn.

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