Danielle Spencer – Happiness, Music, Family, Friends… And Football!
During the month we caught up with local musician and wife of Russell Crowe, Danielle Spencer, who is currently touring Australia’s east coast and will play locally at The Vanguard on November 10…
Where are you originally from?
I am originally from Sydney. I was born at Mona Vale Hospital but spent half my childhood in England. My mother’s English, my brother’s English, my father’s Australian and I’m Australian, so we used to to-and-fro all through my childhood until I was about 12 or 13.
When did you first move to the east?
I moved to the east when I was about 20. I moved to Paddington and then I stayed around Paddington/Potts Point/Elizabeth Bay/Woolloomooloo area until last year.
And now you’re in Bellevue Hill… or is this Rose Bay?
This is Bellevue Hill. It’s right on the cusp.
What do you love about the Eastern Suburbs?
I enjoy the atmosphere of the Eastern Suburbs. I love the trees. It reminds me a bit of England. There’s something slightly English about Bellevue Hill and those sort of areas, the space, the trees. I like the combination where I am right now, having water and the leafy streets. It’s quite peaceful but you still have that access to the water, and you’re still not far from the city so you don’t feel as though you’re cut off from the world. It’s peaceful, it’s good for kids, it’s close to Bondi, it’s close to restaurants and cafes, and it’s still buzzing.
Is there anything you don’t like about it? What gets your goat about the east?
I think it’s overpriced. I think the houses are overpriced over this side. It’s getting pretty ridiculous but aside from that I enjoy living here.
Do you have any favourite local haunts?
I like to meet people in Bondi for a cup of coffee or a drink. I like the restaurants at Woolloomooloo Wharf – I do eat there quite a bit and I have over the last several years.
Do you miss living at Woolloomooloo?
Because I lived there for 7 or 8 years and I kind of felt ready to move. I lived in an apartment there so I didn’t have a backyard with grass and space for the kids to run around in. I’m really enjoying having a garden and being able to swim through summer and it just feels like I’m back to nature a bit.
Are the boys loving having a hell of a lot of space to run amok in?
Are they menaces?
They are menaces, yes. But they’re nice menaces.
Could you see yourself living anywhere else these days or are you happily entrenched in the Eastern Suburbs lifestyle?
Aside from stints overseas this is suiting me fine right now, yeah.
How do the boys go adapting when they have to move overseas then come back here?
They’re pretty good. They’re fairly seasoned travellers so they’re pretty good at adapting, but like any kids it’s always an upheaval if you’ve got to pull them out of school and put them in a different school. It’s always a big deal, but they’re pretty good overall.
Do you spend much time up at your farm, Nana Glen?
We get up there for holidays and special occasions and things like that but now that the boys are at school I’m a bit more locked into Sydney.
Do you prefer Sydney to the farm?
It’s different. For me I look at the farm as somewhere to go for a break and a holiday and Sydney is home.
You’re about to hit the road on a tour for your album, Calling All Magicians, which you released in April last year; can you tell us a bit about the album?
It’s all written on piano. I play piano and write on piano. I basically just got a bunch of songs together and found a producer and then we worked them up with a band and we recorded it. They’re all my songs; I wrote them all.
Can you describe your style because I read somewhere that you’re a cross between Kate Bush and David Bowie, have you read that before?
I believe that someone described me that way to my producer, Tony Visconti, when suggesting we work together. Tony worked with David Bowie on Space Oddity and all of that back in the ’70s. He came over from New York and produced Calling All Magicians for me and I think that sort of came up. I’m not going to complain about that at all. You could do a lot worse.
How would you describe your music?
I think I keep using the phrase ‘atmospheric folk pop’, whatever that means, because somebody else described it that way and I can never think of how to describe it myself.
Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming tour?
It started on October 15 at Lizotte’s in Dee Why, then I’m playing on the Central Coast on October 22 and heading back to Sydney to play at The Vanguard on November 10. I’m also playing at The Toff in Melbourne on November 27.
Are you nervous about getting up on stage in front of a crowd again?
No, we did some gigs not long ago so it’s only been a couple of months since I was last on stage.
Do you ever get nervous before a show?
Yeah, I think most people do. There is a natural anxiety that goes with performing and it’s not always simply about your performance either. I’m generally always slightly anxious about the sound system and making sure that we’ve got good sound in the place and that all the equipment’s working properly – so it’s the technical side as well. Until you actually get out on stage and hear that everything’s sounding good and you’ve got a good mix then you relax and go with the show.
Who generally comes to a Danielle Spencer show?
I think it’s quite diverse. We have everything from younger guys to women in their 20s to their 40s. It’s quite broad.
So just your general atmospheric folk pop loving crowd?
Yeah, pretty much (laughs).
Your father, Don Spencer, is a well-known musician; when did you first start singing and playing piano?
When I was really young. When I was 4 or 5 he was teaching me how to play piano and I always sang from a young age. My brother’s musical as well so the household was always very musical, guitars and pianos and dad sitting at the kitchen table just kind of playing guitar while you’re having a conversation, it was just that sort of household so it was a natural progression for me into music. It was always there.
Have you ever ripped out a ‘Feathers, Fur or Fins’ or ‘Bob the Kelpie’ cover at one of your shows?
You have done your research, haven’t you?!
Your dad was a big part of my youth…
Yeah, I’m a big fan. I think you should definitely work on a Don Spencer cover…
Yeah, that’s a good idea, I’ll work on that one. We’ll do ‘Bob the Kelpie’ at the next show. I’ll have to get Dad up to do one of his songs at one of my gigs.
Will Russell be getting on stage with you at all?
He doesn’t mind a sing, but he’s actually away through most of this tour so it’s highly unlikely he will be getting up.
Have you ever done a duet with Russell?
We haven’t done a duet but we just worked on a bunch of songs with a friend of ours from Newfoundland, a guy called Alan Doyle who fronts a very successful band over there called the Great Big Sea. Russell and Alan write together and they invited me to be a vocalist with them, so it’s like a three-man vocal group. We just did a couple of gigs in Newfoundland a couple of weeks ago. So we have sung together but not as a duet.
Are you critical of him? Who’s the dominant musician?
We both have a fair bit to say about anything and everything.
Do you ever critique his acting work?
I don’t tend to give him a lot of notes on his acting. He seems to be doing pretty well without my input.
How long did it take you to put the album together?
That’s a really hard question because it was probably a bit stop-start, so I’m faintly unaware of when I started writing and when it was all finished. It was a bit of a blur. Some of the songs were written a bit before I actually got the album together and some were written while I was recording it.
Now back to your dad’s music again; have you played his albums to Charlie and Tennyson?
Oh yeah, and they’ve had all his DVDs and everything. They’re well versed in Granddad’s music.
Does he come around and give live performances? Is he still a big fan of getting the guitar out?
Always. You don’t sit and have a conversation with my dad without him having a guitar in his hands. He just sits there with his glass of wine and his guitar. He started writing songs with my 5 year-old. He comes over and he gets Tennyson to come and sit with him and they get a piece of paper and they write songs about Charlie, my older son, so he’s getting him interested in that.
Your husband is the owner of the South Sydney Rabbitohs; do you like the rugby league?
I do. I’m not a fanatic but I’m supportive and I go out and I watch the games sometimes and I enjoy it. I get involved when I’m there but am I obsessive? No.
Were you a supporter of a rugby league team pre Russell?
Not really. I’ve got to be honest.
So you are a Souths fan now though?
Do you wear the red and green jumper to the games?
I wear the cap and the scarf generally.
I’m not a Rabbitohs fan but that’s a whole other story…
You’re not? You didn’t tell me this…
Shall we stop the tape?
Do you have a favourite player?
Sam Burgess. I probably know Sam more than I know most of the other players. He’s a lovely guy.
Russell’s taken him under his wing a bit since he’s come out here, hasn’t he?
Yeah he has. And he’s from northern England, and my mother’s from northern England so we’ve got a bit in common there.
How did you and Russell meet?
You know the answer to that.
I know that but my readers might not. I’m well researched; I’ve looked at Wikipedia…
We met filming a movie called ‘The Crossing’.
An Aussie film, wasn’t it?
Yep, and we worked together on that. We weren’t going out then though. We were friends for a year after we finished that and then we sort of got together the year after we’d done that movie.
That was back in 1990 in country NSW, wasn’t it?
Yep, we did some time in Junee and also Condobolin. And it was unbelievably hot.
Was Russell a charming young man?
He was, yeah.
Was that a feature length movie?
Yep, directed by George Ogilvy. It was well put together. It was nicely filmed. I think the cinematographer won an AFI for the cinematography.
Have you done any other feature films?
I did a film called ‘What the Moon Saw’ and I’ve done a bunch of telemovies, which I won’t bother going into.
Are there any plans in the future to do any more acting stuff or are you just focusing on music?
I’m definitely focused on the music but at the same time I’m not shutting out acting and I would like to do some acting again. It’s just a case of finding the right vehicle and the right timing.
Do you find it difficult dealing with the media attention?
It’s kind of okay now. When I was first married it was really full on. I think it’s eased off quite a bit. I’m reluctant to say this in case I invite paparazzi to my front door. There are times when it’s tougher than others. You can kind of live under the radar if you choose to do that and that’s what I try and do, unless I’m out there promoting something.
Was it a tactic of Russell’s to always wear the same jacket and same hat when the papps were around or did he just really like that jacket and hat?
It’s a combination, I think. I think it was a bit of a tactic. It makes for a boring shot when every time you step out you’ve got the same hoodie on, and you’re wearing the same cap.
How many of those bomber jackets and hats has Russell got? Or is it just the same one that sits in the back of the car and really needs a clean?
Oh no, he’s got a fair few.
Are your boys well aware of your public profile? Are they fully aware of the whole situation?
I don’t know that they’re fully aware. My older one is kind of aware. Like he will notice the cameras sometimes and get a little perturbed if he feels like we’re being chased, and there’s the odd comment passed at school or someone might be Googling certain things on the computer. At the same time though they’re very blasé about it because this is the only life they’ve known and the only parents they’ve known.
Do you worry about them growing up in the limelight?
A little, yeah, I really try to keep them out of the limelight. I don’t like them being photographed so I try and keep them out of things as much as I can. Aside from the travel, and they’ve had a lot of travel, I really try to keep their childhood totally normal.
Do the boys have a preferred musician out of you and Russell?
That’s a provocative question.
It is, isn’t it? I had to throw it in there though…
You’d have to ask them, wouldn’t you, and they’re not here so I can’t answer that for them.
I think they’d like you more but don’t tell Russell that.
Why do you think that?
I don’t know, you’ve probably got a better voice… Do you have any other talents besides acting and music that people don’t know about?
I’m a good eater.
Do you partake in any strange, obscure celebrity hobbies?
I love yoga, I’ve done yoga since I was a kid.
That’s not very obscure though these days…
It’s not obscure at all. If I did do something crazy and obscure I probably wouldn’t tell you anyway.
Are you a sporty person at all?
I’m an ex dancer so I’ve always been very physical but for me that comes out in yoga and walking and swimming and that sort of thing now.
Are the boys little sportsmen?
It’s a bit hard to tell yet. I think my younger one is going to be. The older one is really into books and computers; he’s a thinker. He’s starting to embrace sport a bit more but so far he hasn’t been hugely sporty. They both started piano lessons though. The older one is doing violin and piano and the younger one’s doing piano, so we’re going to see if the music thing is there.
Has Russell tried to trick them into supporting the All Blacks or have you managed to keep them away from the dark side?
Yeah, that one hasn’t come up yet, but I will be steering them towards the Wallabies.
I can’t believe he supports the All Blacks then claims to be Australian…
Yeah, I know, not good, is it?
Do you support any charities?
The Australian Children’s Music Foundation (ACMF) is run by your friend and mine, Don Spencer, and they’re doing amazing things for underprivileged and indigenous kids around the country, getting music out there and teaching these kids to latch on to music as a way through their difficulties. They’ve got all sorts of educational programs going on in the outback and all over the place. So I support that and I’m on the board and I’m a patron. And I performed at the Pink Ribbon Breakfast for breast cancer recently and last year I did the Girls Night In, which is also a cancer thing. If it’s anything to do with women’s cancer then I’m definitely behind it but the charity that I’m most actively engaged with at the moment would be the ACMF.
Do you have any advice for youngsters looking to make a career out of music or acting?
Study medicine instead. No, just joking… follow your passion with determination, practice your craft and believe in yourself.
And in an ideal world what does the future hold for Danielle Spencer?
Happiness and music and family and friends, is that profound? Oh, and football.