Queenie van de Zandt needs no introduction. A powerhouse of the Australian industry she has recently been touring the country with her new show Blue – The Songs of Joni Mitchell.
We sat down with Queenie, as she prepares to take her show to the Hayes Theatre Co in Sydney, to talk about Joni Mitchell, production of the show and life as a new Mum.
Joni Mitchell music has been popular for over 50 years. To what do you attribute this prolonged success?
Well, I’m no expert, but what speaks to me in her music and what makes it current is the incredible honesty and openness in her lyrics and her unique sound. When you are as authentic and truthful in your art as Joni is – I don’t think you are as affected by trends. Hence I think Joni’s music, mostly, has a very timeless quality about it. It’s not stuck in an era.
What was it that drew you personally to the music of Joni Mitchell?
I was first introduced to Joni’s music in the early 90’s when I was working at The Film and Sound Archive, which was my first job after leaving school. I met a lifelong friend there, an artist called Neville Minch, who was a crazy Joni fan. After hearing me sing, he insisted I listen to Joni as he thought I’d love her. Well, after listening to a few songs at his house, I loathed her!! But he didn’t give up on me, and over the next couple of years, he would find elaborate ways to get me to listen to her, it became a bit of a running joke and I would always catch him out and yell for him to turn her off. Until one day, he played me “A Case of You”. It just hit me in the heart and I suddenly heard what he heard – to this day, I think that song is the greatest song ever written. And it just opened up her music to me, so that now I own every album she ever recorded.
Blue has been a long time coming for you, why did it happen now?
Last year, I was looking for a project to do that would have broad public appeal and that could easily travel around Australia, that I could do while ‘taking a year off’ as I was due to have a baby in January. I was pondering the success of a number of “tribute shows”, that focussed on an artist – such as I Love Lucy, Looking Through a Glass Onion and Peace Train, and it reminded of my love of Joni and how much I’d always wanted to sing an entire night of her music. So I decided to pitch the idea to the Queensland and Melbourne Cabaret Festivals and they both loved the idea – so I had a time frame in which to create it.
Congratulations on becoming a new Mum. How has that affected your life: as a performer? And more broadly?
It’s affected my life in the most amazing way! I can honestly say I have never been happier. The joy that Billie gives me is just incredible. I go to bed and look in her bassinet and think each night “oh my god I’m so excited to go to bed, because I get to see her again when I wake up”. Obviously, I’m also quite excited to go to bed each night to sleep! Having nannied a lot in my 20’s in between shows, I thought maybe I’d find the day to day business of being a Mum a bit boring – but I love it. I feel like I’m becoming more adult and more childlike all at the same time – I’m getting better at cooking and being more responsible with money for example, but I’m also singing and making animal noises as I push her in her pram down the street. I think being a performer really equips you quite well for becoming a parent. As a parent, your life changes in an instant, nothing stays the same, just when you get used to one routine, it disappears and a new routine takes it’s place, you are often up at 2 in the morning, you have to be comfortable singing, dancing and putting on funny voices – this could basically be the job description of a performers life! The biggest thing I struggle with is realising I don’t have the same amount of time to be creative as I used to have. I misjudge how much time it takes to do EVERYTHING, so I have had times of feeling very exhausted from trying to squeeze it all in. However, I’ve been gifted an incredibly easy going, happy baby, who LOVES singing – so thank god for that, as I’ve been able to write, rehearse, do sound checks – all with baby in tow!
How was the development of this piece affected specifically?
I thought I’d have BLUE written before the baby came, but it didn’t turn out that way because I got writers block. I just couldn’t find the angle to write it from. Turns out I had to wait until my daughter was born to really get underneath Joni’s skin and write this piece and I had to find a collaborator to do it with. I ended up asking musical director and composer Max Lambert to come on board, who is also a huge Joni fan, and we discovered that one of the major influences in Joni’s life and work was her daughter, whom she gave up for adoption. This caused a lifelong sadness and melancholy in Joni which really came through in her work. She was also influenced by the women in her family, who all struggled with motherhood and creativity and having just had my daughter, these themes all really struck a chord. So, I really couldn’t have written the show any earlier than I did, because it was in having my own daughter that these stories, and the music opened up to me in a whole new way.
Blue – The Songs of Joni Mitchel
Hayes Theatre Co
19 Greenknowe Ave, Potts Point NSW
Performances: Thursday 3 August to Sunday 6 August 2017
Thursday – Saturday 7.30pm | Saturday 2.00pm | Sunday 3.00pm & 6.00pm
Tickets: Full $49.00 | Concession $44.00
Book Now: Hayestheatre.com.au