By Luke Voogt
A quarter-century after releasing one of the greatest pop ballads in Australian history, Wendy Matthews reckons her voice “is better than ever”.
“I feel very lucky in that department – my voice is very strong,” the veteran singer told the Indy.
“People say, ‘you’ve still got it!’ but you don’t lose it, you actually get better. I know my craft better than I ever have.”
Matthews will bring her iconic ballad, The Day You Went Away, back to Geelong when she plays at Sphinx Hotel on 6 December.
The track won Single of the Year and Highest Selling Single of Year at the 1993 ARIA awards
“It’s one of those songs that seems to mean so many things to people according to their experiences,” Matthews said.
“It’s a quiet moment of reflection in the middle of a gig.”
Ironically Matthews first heard the ballad as an “upbeat dance song” when English producer Jackie Dennis sent it to her as remix.
“When we changed the chords it took on a whole new meaning,” she said.
The song had been cathartic for Matthews throughout her life.
“I have always found a great release and joy in tears,” she said.
“Some people haven’t cried for years and will not go there, but I’ve never been afraid of them.”
More recently, she thought of her pet border collie Bear, who died aged 18, when she played the song.
“That song took on a whole different meaning depending on what was going on in my life,” she said.“To me it’s also a song of people having found each other.”
But Matthews also had plenty of cheerful tunes in her repertoire for an upbeat gig, she said.
“That’s no problem, I’ve got a fantastic band that I’ve been with for such a long time.”
I Don’t Want to Be with Nobody but You, which Matthews recorded with Australian band Absent Friends, is perhaps the most famous of these.
Matthews will also sing songs from her latest album covering jazz legend Billie Holiday.
She and her band recorded Billie and Me: The White Room Sessions after touring a piano factory, where her pianist was recording for a commercial.
“We just started to play these pianos,” Matthews said.
The factory’s high ceilings made it perfect for recording, she said.
Matthews grew up in Montreal, Canada, and left home as a teenager before busking her way across the USA to Los Angeles, where she met Glenn Shorrock .
“It was a spontaneous thing I did in my youth – I would just pick up and go travelling,” she said.
“If I liked the place I’d stay for a while.”
Shorrock invited her to tour Australia in 1982 and she soon began working with artists like The Models, Jimmy Barnes, Richard Clapton and Icehouse.
“It was a real learning experience watching what other people do with what they’ve got,” she said.
Matthews was “incredibly grateful“ for her own voice, which she developed “through trial and error“ and without singing lessons, she said.
“It’s always been very clear and strong and there when I need it.”