Shannon Noll has been flying under the radar for the past couple of years but he's back with his long-awaited fourth album "A Million Suns". Now with a new record label and fresh outlook the music industry, the former farmer is hoping to re-capture the spark that resulted in ten straight top 10 hits between 2004 and 2007. A lot has changed since the 36-year-old rose to fame on Australian Idol but he remains one of the country's favourite singers and proved he still knows his way around a catchy pop/rock chorus on "Switch Me On", which is turning into a sleeper hit. The album delivers more radio-ready goodness and should please the anyone who loved classics like "Drive", "Shine" and "Lift". Check out what Shannon has to say about his comeback, Idol and the surprise involvement of Sophie Monk on "A Million Suns" (available now!) in our chat at Universal HQ last week.
You've been missing from the music scene for the past couple of years. What have you been up to?
Mate, I've been writing mainly. I wrote 57 songs for this album, so that was over that 2 year period and we did a lot of acoustic work. I did the big show around the country and then I went around the country again acoustically and then nearly around it again with another acoustic show.
You did the acoustic thing for a long time.
Yeah so now I'm really looking forward to getting back into the rock side of the show, bringing back the lights and all the guitars and rocking out again. So it seems like I haven't been doing a lot but I've just been under the radar.
Going back to your first three albums, I was looking at the stats and they did huge numbers. Is it daunting to have those expectations to live up to?
Mate, definitely. But that had a lot to do with the hype of the show and things always will taper off a little bit but they were great albums and I'd like to think I've got another one in a similar ballpark. At the end of the day, I listen to them all with equal thoughts about them. That's the most important thing. Being happy with the finished product.
How has the music world changed since you had all those hits?
Just with how everything works now. These first couple of singles we put out. They're on sale the day the day they go to radio instead of being at radio for 6 weeks. So now they debut really low and you've got to try and get them up as opposed to trying to start them up high and then they go down. It really has changed. It's a whole new world and there's no physical singles anymore.
It's a shame because I love them.
Yeah I know. But that's just the way we're going. The industry has definitely had to evolve and move forward to try and combat the downloads. This is how it's changed.
I love the first song "Switch Me On". Did Benji Madden co-write that?
Yeah I wrote that one with Benji. We're both signed to EMI publishing in Australia. So I think he was out here with a couple of days up his sleeve and someone said he wanted to do some writing. So he was aware of my music already because of his connection with Sophie Monk, who's a friend of mine and she put him on to me. So when the opportunity came up he was up for it.
I've heard the rest of the album, which is awesome, your next song "My Place In The Line" has a bit of a "What About Me" vibe to it...
It has! It also has a "Lift" sound to it. I wrote it with the same guy I wrote lift with. It's similar to that style. The first one was a little bit more uptempo and bit rock. That's the Good Charlotte influence in there as well. The current one now is more similar to the stuff that I've done in the past.
I was speaking to Benn Jae (the director of Shannon's past two video clips) a couple of weeks ago and he was telling me you're almost not in the video.
Yeah I'm just intercut into it. There's a storyline with it, explaining the lyrics and the song's about trying to find the place where you fit in and the story explains that in the way of two young people who are struggling to fit in, so they end up finding each other. I'm intercut through it, just doing performance pieces. But I love having a story, like a mini-movie type thing.
Is the title track ("A Million Suns") going to be a single because that's, for me, the song that really just pops out.
That's great because we're actually having a conversation about what single to go with next. I'm fairly sure it probably will be, mate. Just because it's different and I think it's more current in a way, more like the music that's going around these days. That's why I wanted that track on there because it's a little bit left of centre and a little bit more now.
The lyrics to that one are a little unusual. What is the inspiration for that song?
It's about that time when you're trying to find... you're striving to do something and you're waiting for something to happen. Which was like me before the show (Australian Idol), driving tractors and singing along to the radio. Singing to the steering wheel and hoping what you believe in your heart... is possible, comes true. It's all combined by the million suns. Out home where I come from it gets really, really hot and sometimes it feels like there are a million suns out there.
I really like that one. I think it's a real standout. I also love "Come Home" and "Long Way Home". There almost seems to be a bit of a theme throughout a lot of these songs...
Yeah, there is a little bit.
Have you been in the dog house?
Yeah! "Come Home" definitely is a reconciliation song but "Long Way Home" explains all the not-so-glamorous parts of the business. I think before you're actually involved in it, you just look at the glossy parts. It's not all parties and gigs and after-parties. It's a business and it's a career. There's so much involved in the day-to-day. Like I've got friends back home who just think that I do gigs and that's it. You'd be surprised at the actual amount of time taken up by the interviews and by the writing and by the recording - all them things you do in the day time. And then you've got the weekend work as well.
For me the big surprise on this album was the cover of "It's A Man's World". That seemed a bit adventurous. Are you moving into the Jazz field?
No. It's just everybody I worked with in the States that had no idea who I was or where I came from or anything, said time and time again I must have negro in my family somewhere because the soul or technique I use with my vocals. It's soul, I think. It's a big ask trying to do a song that James Brown sang. There's only one James Brown but it's a song that really suited my voice with the gravel in it and that sort of thing. I love it and we wouldn't have done it if we didn't think it was going to come up good and everybody who's heard it.. and I wanted to add another dynamic to the show too. So I'm going to put it in the live set as well. And it's something that just takes it away from the ballads and the rock stuff and the mid-tempo stuff. It's a complete different place in the show. It's a real moment.
Did you also cover it to show your versatility?
Definitely. It's an example to say what do you think about that? I enjoy that. It's another string to my bow.
Do you think that there's any kind of lingering stigma attached to Australian Idol or is that just so long ago now that nobody remembers or cares?
Mate, at the end of the day, I got my start in Idol and I'll never forget that but it's not the reason why I'm here today. There's been a lot of hard work and time put in to continue my career. The show was only ever an opportunity and it was up to the individual then to make the most of it and push forward and try and create a career from it. Given the fact that I got the start with it, I think that plus what I've done in the last 10 years is the reason why I'm still here.
That's a really good point because how many hundreds of people have gone through that show...
And maybe five are still working.
Yeah, that's right. That's the whole thing about it, there's no guarantees with it and it doesn't mean for one minute that you've made it. It's a foot in the door. You've got to keep your head down and work as hard as you can to walk through that door.
Do you think that's what set you apart from a lot of Idol alumni - that you went out there and played show after show?
Yeah the whole thing is... the live side of it is what I dig, that's my love. That's why I do music. So it was something that was natural for me to do next. Going to a show is so different from sitting in your room and listening to a CD. You get the vibe and it's entertainment. It definitely helps because a lot of people, who are your fans... they'll be your fans but if they can get to see a show then they'll be a fan forever. As much as they'll support somebody else the next year, they'll still keep you in their heart.
Do you think your approach has something to do with the fact that you're a little older than some of the kids that go through Idol. They just seem to think that it's all just going to fall in their lap, while you went out there and grabbed it.
I actually think it's a little bit more that we were the first. The first show was massive and because of how Guy (Sebastian) and I handled it, people saw that and thought that was because of the show initially. There was no template for us because it was the first season. We went out and did the best we could to try and make a future out of it and I think a lot of people who were sitting at home watching it, just thought that came because we were on the show. They didn't see the behind-the-scenes, the hard work put in to build it into something special. So I think a lot of the kids that go on the shows these days think that just because they've got into the top 5 or 10 that they think that we did post the show, is what happens.
Do you still remember that moment 8 years ago when you thought fuck it I'm going to apply for that show?
Does it feel like fate?
Yeah I'm a strong believer that things happen for a reason. I saw the ads for it (Australian Idol) back in Condo but they didn't show where the auditions were. I was 6 hours drive from Sydney. I just happened to have to go to Melbourne to pick up my wife and the kids because she was down there for a dress fitting for her sister's wedding and her sister said to me "are you going on Idol?" and I said I dunno, I dunno where the auditions are. So she got on the computer and said they're here in Melbourne next week. There are too many parts of it that came to pass for it just to be a luck thing. I was put in that situation so close to when the auditions were on that it was fairly uncanny.
That's a cool way of thinking about it. Getting back to "A Million Suns", are you going to promote it the same way you did the first couple - by playing as many shows as you can?
Yeah, that's been the best thing about the little bit of downtime in the last two years. I'm so excited again. I think I'm more excited now than I was after the show. Because I've been around and done the shows in the past, I know what's coming and I know how to approach it. I'm really excited about it. Plus the repertoire now is great. I've got all the singles that have been really massive and now the only other songs in the set are the new ones off the new album.
So it's your greatest hits plus your new stuff?
Exactly! There's six or seven tracks on there that are from the previous albums but they're all songs that people wouldn't let me leave the building if I didn't play.
One question that I've always wanted to ask - with your greatest hits album was that originally supposed to be a fourth studio album?
Um... I sort of got pushed into a corner with that one because that was at Sony's discretion in the contract to release a 'best of' whenever they wanted. I mean, I wouldn't have done it... I think it was a little bit early for it in my opinion. You do a 'best of' when you've got a 'best of'. I don't think the time was right for it then but it was out of my control. That was the beginning of the end for my relationship with Sony.
"Summertime" also broke your run of all these huge hits.
Yeah, it did. Like I said, it was something that I had no say in, so I just had to go with it. It was a little bit disappointing at the time because I was wanting to do another studio album and then I got thrust into that but you can't worry about that sort of stuff. You just move on and keep looking forward.
Were there more songs from those sessions that didn't make the greatest hits?
We sort of had a handful but we weren't ready for a new one and they just wanted to do it right then and there. I think I should have just kept working in the studio until I had the next album instead of putting that one out. And the once that one was out that sort of put me out of the market for the next 18 months.
Then you had a lot of interesting things happening in the UK...
Well in saying that... if you... what they do when they release you internationally is they put all your biggest hits together on one album and that's what that 'best of' really did, so it was handy for that reason. So it worked out well in that respect. It gave me the album that I needed to release.
Is the international market something you're thinking about with "A Million Suns"?
Mate, you know. It's always been in the back of my mind from the start but it doesn't hold the priority it used to. I just want to try and get back on track here in Australia. I've written this album in Australia for Australians. I'll cross that bridge when I come to it but my first thought is to try and make it work here. As I'm getting a bit older, I sort of realise How lucky we are to be living here in this country. And I'd prefer to be here that have to relocate. You can go over there and waste a lot of time, do you know what I mean?
The songs have a distinctly Australian vibe. Did you take your inspiration from where you came from?
Definitely. I wrote with guys who knew my history and knew my past. The ideas that they put on the table are ideas that I just clicked with straight away because they were so me. They knew where I was coming from, what I'm about and where I was at at that point. So it was awesome to know that instead of going and writing with a bloke from America who has no idea what you're about or what you stand for.
Do you feel in a way that you have come full circle with this album?
Yeah, definitely. I think now for the first time really, new label. I feel now it's legitimate. Not that I disrespect the past at all because I'm so lucky but now it feels right. It feels like it's real now and not propaganda from a TV show. I'm with a new label. Signed as an artist not a celebrity.
Good luck with the album. Thanks for your time.
Here's the awesome video for Shannon's latest single "My Place In The Line". Get downloading!