Chadwick arrived in Melbourne in 2005, having grown up on a farm outside the town of Taumarunui, been expelled from high school in Hamilton, and become the vocalist for snarling alternative-rock quartet Batrider. She transitioned into a solo career, simultaneously spent years working in the “macho environments” of restaurant kitchens, and by her own estimation has worked with countless GPs, nine psychiatrists, two alcohol counsellors, and – productively for the last five years – an analyst.
“Other people don’t have my tenacity,” the 37-year-old Chadwick says. “Lots of people that I know who were making music to a far better degree than I was don’t do it anymore. People let lots of things get in the way of producing work and I don’t really. I’ve always been my own worst enemy and if I can keep myself in check nothing else bothers me.”
Please Daddy was recorded during a difficult personal period for Chadwick – “I’m really good now,” she adds – and the record documents that period rather than despairing about it. The folk-rock backing, leavened with flute and muted brass, swells behind her unadorned voice, and a number of the songs have an echo of grand 1960s balladry.
“With this record I wanted to be Elvis-y, Leonard Cohen,” says Chadwick, who plays a game with her best friend, housemate, and the album’s drummer Tim Deane-Freeman where they take turns playing “big” songs to each other. He might lead with Bob Dylan’s Tangled Up in Blue, which she would reply to with I’d Rather Go Blind by Etta James. For Chadwick, who’s also a prolific artist, it’s just the latest turn in a career she’s “chipping away” at.
“I know I have skills and I can put a song together, but that’s not a particularly impressive skill,” Chadwick says. “But then I was thinking about it, and writing a song is amazing because it has 100 words – some repeated – and there’s unlimited scope. That’s all I need.”
Sarah Mary Chadwick plays at the Petersham Bowls Club in Sydney on Saturday, February 15, and Howler in Melbourne on Wednesday, March 11.