Katie Noonan, Just the elixir
Known for her spellbinding vocals and ability to transcend genres, Queensland singer-songwriter Katie Noonan is one of our state’s most celebrated musicians. We caught up with Katie ahead of her Cairns visit this March with her jazz trio Elixir and the uber-talented cartoonist, poet and cultural commentator Michael Leunig.
Without doubt, Katie Noonan’s voice is exceptional. Strong but soft, ethereal but powerful, acrobatic in its ability. She shot to fame with her five-piece Brisbane-born band george in the late ‘90s, with the band’s debut album in 2002 reaching number one and claiming an ARIA. Her longest running project though is Elixir, a jazz trio she founded in 1996, one year after george, and that she continues to tour today. It’s also how Katie met her husband, Zac Hurren, when Zac joined Elixir as saxophonist in the late ’90s.
“Elixir is very dear to me,” shares Katie, “it’s with my soulmate, and it’s a chance for us to return to being just musicians rather than adulting. [Katie and Zac have two sons, Dexter and Jonah.] We celebrate 20 years together in March, and then Elixir’s been going for 23 years.”
It would take pages to list out Katie’s achievements, discography and collaborations. Suffice to say she is classically trained (opera and jazz at the Queensland Conservatorium), considered a darling of the alternative music scene (through george), and continues work as a musician, while embracing her role as Art Director for the Queensland Music Festival since 2016.
“I don’t think of music in terms of genre because music’s so much more than that,” says Katie. “I think there’s a famous quote from Elvis Costello that says, ‘Trying to describe music is like trying to dance to architecture,’ which I think is very cool. My intention is to make music that is honest and comes from a place of integrity and vulnerability.”
Music runs through her veins. Her brother was a co-member in george, and Katie describes her family as fourth or fifth generation carnies. “My grandfather was a clown, literally, a musical clown, and my grandmother was an opera singer, my mum was an opera singer, my dad was a jazz singer, and then I was in a band with my brother, my nanna played piano. We’re a long, multi-generation of music misfits!
“Zac, however, is a Burdekin man from his mother’s side and comes from a longline of sugarcane cutters.
He found his mum’s old saxophone one day and just started to play…”
In March, Katie will bring Elixir to Cairns, in a special collaboration with Australian cartoonist and poet Michael Leunig. “I love working with people who have something to teach me; Michael is such an incredible human being and I feel like his words often really sum up a lot about the Australian psyche. He has this incredible ability to say very difficult and profound things in a very succinct and deceptively simple way. In that sense, his words are perfect for song lyrics because that’s what a good song lyric should do as well – say a lot with few words.
“In the concert you will see a culmination of this collaboration of the last five years, between myself, Michael, my husband Zac, who is the composer and saxophonist in Elixir, and our guitarist. Basically, Michael will speak the words, then we will start performing our musical version of his words, and at which point he will draw live on a big screen projected behind us. It’s a really beautiful feast for the senses, visually and orally,” shares Katie.
The performance will also showcase local talent, with Cairns’ Simon McManamin playing violin and Malcolm Cole playing viola. “I was going to bring up a quartet from Brisbane, but then found such great string players in Cairns that I’m only bringing up two players. I’ve actually known Simon for a long time; his sister Fleur was in the first incarnation of george 23 years ago!”
After the tour, Katie will focus completely on the Queensland Music Festival – the first “proper job” she has ever held – “I now know what a KPI is!” – and which will celebrate its 20th festival this July.
“It’s an exciting time for Queensland because we’re making truly awesome, world class stuff. I think it’s time that we realised that a bit more, because we’re very good at bagging ourselves really, but I think we need to be better at patting ourselves on the back.”
Elixir feat. Katie Noonan with Michael Leunig and String Quartet will perform Gratitude and Grief at CPAC theatre on Saturday 2 March, 2019. Tickets available at ticketlink.com.au.