"We never really planned to let our own music slide into the background, but it did – and it might still have if COVID didn't come around."
Perhaps the best term to describe Mark Tempany and Alison Hams is wholesome. Even speaking to them on the phone, the singer-songwriter couple make you feel like a welcome guest in their home – as if they'd have a cuppa waiting on the table if you were there in person. Part of this warmth and eagerness stems from the two speaking about being musicians in the present tense once again, after several years of helping others to become them instead.
“We got married about 18 years ago, and then started working as music educators,” Tempany explains. “We help young kids learn about music, offering mentorships and school music lessons. We never really planned to let our own music slide into the background, but it did – and it might still have if COVID didn't come around and give us all this spare time. Like most things in our lives, there was no real planning. We just kind of fell into it.”
It was within the lockdown period that Tempany and Hams began forging Out Into the Blue, which serves as not only their debut collaborative album but their first new music in over 15 years. A blend of the country and folk music the couple grew up on, not to mention what they subsequently forged in their own respective solo careers, Hams describes the album as “telling the story” of their lives – both musically and personally.
“The integral thing about this album is the connection between the two of us,” she says. “We've always said this, but our pairing shouldn't work – Mark's from the rainforest, I'm from the edge of the outback. We shouldn't have even met, but through the country music world we were in the same place at the same time playing the same gig. The rest is history. We've been on this wonderful journey together, and with that time and experience – not to mention the time to reflect through COVID – we've been writing these songs and stories that encompass that.”
Hams points in particular to Lullaby, a new single lifted from the album that marks the first official duet between her and her husband after nearly two decades of marriage. The song was originally written, according to Hams, for the couple to “test the waters” as they returned to songwriting after a lengthy hiatus. So happy were they with the end result, the project expanded into the full 13-track studio album that now exists. The stirring ballad sees the pair reflect on the state of the world, and the tension that lies therein.
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“You look at issues like climate change and war on your doorstep every day, and it's safe to say that there's been many sleepless nights for a lot of people,” says Tempany. “It's so easy to let yourself slide into that depressive state, thinking about what the future holds. Ali's lyrics describe that moment where you can't really do much else apart from go out and wait for the sun to rise. When you're witnessing something as naturally beautiful as that, perhaps it's that one slice of hope that you need in order to get up again and keep going.”
Tempany and Hams wrote the album largely by themselves on their rural South Australian property, blending both fresh co-writes with abandoned songs from their respective archives that never made it to a solo album. When it came to fleshing out the album sonically, however, the couple called in a series of prolific session musicians to work on the songs remotely from the United States. Among them were long-time Rascal Flatts drummer Jim Riley, Keith Urban percussionist Kayleigh Moyer and veteran fiddle player Mark Evitts.
Tempany jokes that their contributions “came down the copper wires hanging on poles that blow in the wind”, connecting their outback home with the world via the NBN. “It's definitely one of the biggest changes that's arisen since we last made music,” he adds. “If we were back 20 years ago, you had to be in a big studio somewhere with all the musicians in the room with you. With everything that's available now, even to us here on what feels like the edge of western civilisation, we've been able to bring in a lot of friends from overseas.”
Having sent Lullaby out to country radio and hit the campaign trail for Out Into the Blue, the long-time sweethearts are proud to be sharing their comeback effort with the world at large. Unlike previous efforts across their early career, however, neither are worried about streaming numbers or Facebook likes or anything trivial like that. They're just happy to have their music out of the house.
“I think we've enjoyed the journey of making music a lot more than we used to,” says Tempany. “Maybe we don't feel quite as much pressure anymore. I mean, we're a bit old and fat now...” Hams can't help but laugh at Tempany's quip. “Do not print that!” she giggles – and even down the phoneline, you can just imagine her digging the elbow into her husband's rib.
Keep up to date with Mark Tempany and Alison Hams on their Facebook page here.