The golden girl of Australian country music, this young Tamworth local has returned home to the town she loves.
It’s midday when I walk up the stately front steps of the old bank building that houses Tamworth’s trendiest new eatery, The Pig and Tinder Box, and although I’ve never met my lunch buddy, her cascading tendrils of platinum blonde hair give her away. Aleyce Simmonds is a vision perched alone on a bar stool in front of a frosty glass of white wine, framed beautifully by the grand golden arches of the old building’s front veranda on the main street of her home town. Incidentally the Australian home of country music, it seems a fitting context for one of the industry’s brightest young stars.
She springs from her seat to shake my hand warmly, before swiftly asking me if I’d like a glass of wine. I mentally check the time and my afternoon schedule before deciding – in altruistic solidarity, of course – that it would be rude not to. She politely garners the attention of an immaculately dressed waitress, who seems to know her, and Monday is looking up.
The interview begins in reverse, the acclaimed musician firing questions at me with genuine interest, as though it were me who had just won Female Artist of the Year at the Australian Independent Country Music Awards plus been nominated for my fifth Golden Guitar in the space of two months. Her humility and generosity of spirit is immediately apparent, and I know this meeting will pass like an overdue catch up with an old friend.
Aleyce’s sister joins us casually midway through the interview, and the three of us chat and laugh casually about life, music and Tinder. I have little doubt that this is why Aleyce’s music has struck such a chord with audiences; she is the girl next door who sings sweetly and honestly about the tribulations of Australian life. Her song Joshua has been nominated for Song of the Year at the 2016 Golden Guitar Awards alongside the likes of Lee Kernaghan, Troy Cassar-Daley and Paul Kelly, and I tear up listening to her talk about her stillborn baby brother for whom the song is written. She feels his spirit travelling alongside her, keeping her company as she drives through the night to the next tour stop and skylarking at the bar while she performs.
A self-proclaimed ‘accidental’ country singer, Aleyce pestered her parents into singing lessons as a child and got her first guitar for her 12th birthday. She started writing songs and found she had a natural country sound, and by age 15 was playing gigs in pubs around Tamworth. Aleyce credits the town’s thriving local music scene for enabling her to develop as an artist, with plenty of opportunities for young people to get up on stage and give it a go.
These days, at just 28-years-old Aleyce is already an industry veteran, having won the prestigious Telstra Road to Discovery (then the Road to Tamworth) at age 18 – the Australian Idol of the country music world, if you will. That saw her travel to Nashville, Tennessee to tour, write and record, before settling in the big smoke of Sydney to forge her career. And success came quickly for Aleyce; her debut single Mighty Mighty Love was the most played country song on Australian Commercial Radio, and her first two albums reached top 10 status on the Australian Record Industry Association Charts.
But stardom and city lights couldn’t diminish the songstress’ love for her hometown, and while she still tours constantly, 2015 saw Aleyce return to Tamworth to reconnect to her roots. And she’s loving it. An extremely family-orientated person, Aleyce is currently living on her parents’ hundred-acre property outside town, where she spends weekdays writing songs for her upcoming third album before hitting the road to tour on the weekends. The aforementioned Pig and Tinder Box is her favourite local hangout, she reckons it has the best coffee in town and it’s her go-to for catching up with friends for a meal or a few drinks.
And before I know it I have plans to return to the venue, with Aleyce having taken this lone traveller under her wing and invited me to partake in her Melbourne Cup Day plans with her sisters and her friends the following day. I suppose if anyone understands the challenges of life on the road, it’s a country music artist. Just like how if anyone can advocate for this charming country town with music coursing through its veins, it’s Aleyce Simmonds.