Delta Goodrem Has Made A Career Out Of Winging It, And That’s All Part Of The Plan
Australia's hardest working popstar has just released what might be the best album of her career.
It was an image that did it; a photograph of Patti Smith, the icon of New York grunge, standing in front of a cab. Delta Goodrem first clapped eyes on the thing when it was delivered to her as a card for her birthday.
“When I saw that, I was like, ‘That’s the next album’,” she says over the phone, her voice lit up. “I knew that before I actually wrote it. I always get images before I get actual songs.. I’ll get a picture, and then it’s like [I] jump into the song. And you go, ‘I don’t know why, but that’s what the record sounds like.'”
And, as strange as it might sound, Patti Smith is all over Bridge Over Troubled Dreams, Goodrem’s latest release. The album has a Smith-like sense of nostalgia; of life; of heart. It is a tea-stained photograph in a long-ago discarded scrapbook; something that speaks through the ages, and grabs you.
Goodrem often works this way — intuitively, feeling her way through music rather than approaching the writing of an album with a plan. “I like being creative,” she enthuses. “I love the creativity of the moment; it’s all so unpredictable. You’re just going with it.”
For instance, Wings of the Wild, her glossy fifth album, was born from a photograph of a woman running with a zebra. Goodrem wasn’t sure why the picture spoke to her, or how her feelings would manifest, but something happened that directed her. “I can’t touch that feeling, or know what it is, until I start hearing it. It takes me a second.”
When she writes, Goodrem will often sit at the piano, playing parts over and over again and dancing, trying to work her way through the song while she’s in the middle of it. And the same goes for the meaning of the music, when it eventually comes: Goodrem is often chasing her own subconscious, only picking up themes after the music has been laid to tape. “Sometimes the meaning evolves. I’ll go, ‘Oh, maybe that’s why I wrote it.’ Because everything is connected. Even if it’s subconscious, everything is always intertwined.”
So although Bridge Over Troubled Dreams is a clearly a record about home — about finding it, making it, missing it — Goodrem herself was taken aback by the way that Australia bubbled up in her mind. “I didn’t pick that up when I originally started writing the record,” she explains. “It took doing the book [Goodrem’s new autobiography] that made me realise I was talking about Aus, and coming home, and how I missed Australia.” She laughs. “It’s meant to be what it’s meant to be.'”
The Freedom To Be Free
It’s almost heartening to hear that Goodrem doesn’t always have a plan. The singer-songwriter has been one of the most hard-working performers in Australian music since her debut, releasing album after album, touring endlessly, appearing as a judge on The Voice. It’s nice to hear that sometimes, like the rest of us, Delta Goodrem is just winging it.
Not, mind you, that Goodrem approaches her workload lightly. She remains committed to every project she takes on; forever spreading her energy out into the world. “The busier I am the more I get done,” she says, simply. “I love the electricity when the team is go-time. I love the energy of being a part of a time; when we all lift each other. And I love the energy of bringing the music to life.”
Goodrem does have writer’s block, of sorts, from now and then. Often, she’ll bring a concept to a song, and then find herself unable to get the two to connect. “I get frustrated,” she says. “It’s disappointing.”
The only thing that alleviates such moods is reminding herself of the ways that she is free. “I cannot be constricted, otherwise I will shut off,” she says. “I can’t force myself to work. I have to have a complete safe space around me. It’s allowing the sounds of the piano to change tempos on the record; to do a chromatic piano solo in the middle of ‘The Power’, just because we can.
“It’s having that freedom. Every idea has to be the catalyst for the next.”
She does still have an overarching idea for the record as she’s working on it — for Bridge Over Troubled Dreams, she wanted to be more “literal.” “I wanted to write like, ‘This is how this happens,’ rather than going into metaphors, which I love.”
But these goals are nebulous, and ever-changing. “I wanted to be able to stand onstage and tell stories,” Goodrem says, simply. “I wanted it feel like I could stand here and go, ‘This is a truth about something that I learned recently.”
So what happens when Delta Goodrem pauses; when, as is the case right now, a project is done and completed?
The answer is: she doesn’t really. There are moments of reflection, sure — “My heart feels such relief. The record’s out; it’s out. It’s a part of everybody’s story now, and not just mine,” she explains — but these are immediately tied up into more forward movement; more energy. When Goodrem speaks to Music Junkee, for instance, it’s at the end of a long day spent rehearsing with her band and preparing for tour. And still new ideas are flowing, reassembling in her mind.
“I wish the thoughts could come out of my head like a labelmaker,” Goodrem laughs. “So that way I didn’t have to write them down.”
Indeed, our conversation doesn’t end, exactly; Goodrem always seems like she has more to say, like she is perpetually on the verge of another breakthrough. The word that comes up most is “exciting”; her new book is exciting; her new record is exciting; life is exciting.
“It is what it is,” she laughs again, and then she is off, out into the world; writing more, thinking more. Being Delta Goodrem.
Joseph Earp is a staff writer at Music Junkee. Follow him on Twitter.