Kasey Chambers was watching TV with her partner when she knew she’d made it in the music industry. The name of her single, “Not Pretty Enough” — which had already peaked at number 1 on the ARIA Singles Chart — had become an answer to a “Wheel of Fortune” puzzle.
Chambers, who played The Bluebird Nightclub on Wednesday, is a singer-songwriter who’s spent the last month touring the United States for her latest album, the sprawling, double-disc “Dragonfly.” Her music draws from classic Heartland genres like Americana and country, even though Chambers grew up in Australia.
“Basically, I come over here and steal all of your music and pretend it’s my own,” she said. “And then I sell it back to you.”
It’s a resourcefulness learned as a child raised in the Outback. During the day, her father, Bill Chambers, would drive the family car, which Chambers and her family lived out of for 10 years, across Australia’s flat, almost tree-less Nullarbor plains.
At night, Kasey and her older brother Nash would listen as her father played Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and Neil Young around the campfire.
During that time, folk music was all she knew. Her family didn’t have much, and there wasn’t anything else to do.
“I was really only exposed to the music that my dad liked, which could have been really bad if he had bad taste,” she said, laughing. “But it became our only creative outlet.”
30 years later, Chambers has enjoyed the kind of international success rare among Australian artists. Her solo debut, “The Captain,” went double platinum and put her on television when its title track appeared on an episode of “The Sopranos.”
Her next record, 2001’s “Barricades & Brickwalls,” went 7x platinum in Australia two years later.
Australia isn’t big enough to support smaller musical genres, Chambers said. On any given night, she might be playing for Americana fans, country music buffs or people who only know her from the radio.
But it’s different in America, where crowds from larger cities are typically made up of Americana fans, Chambers said. In Kansas City, where Chambers played Saturday night, members of the audience knew the words to most of her songs.
“I’ve lived my whole life in Australia, but I come over here, and on stage I feel as at home as anywhere because I grew up on all this music that comes from here,” she said. “I just feel this real, authentic connection with the audience.”
Chambers said that, especially for artists like herself who play slightly outside of genre convention, country and Americana music is more popular than ever.
“I don’t know if those artists ever felt like they had a home,” she said “They felt like outcasts a little bit. But now that we’ve got that label, Americana, we do have a home.”
But Chambers has another home touring with her family. Nash grew up to look after her as the band’s manager and producer. Their mother runs the merchandising. Chambers and her father are looking forward to touring the American Midwest in a bus — the family car is long gone.
But just because she can afford a tour bus now, Chambers hasn’t grown any less thrifty. She still tries to stretch what she has.
“It’s great,” she said, on continuing to make music with her family after 30 years. “They’re really cheap.”