New album Sassafrass! is bright, bold and fun, just like Tami Neilson, writes Karl Puschmann.

"It's funny," Tami Neilson says, "It's a bit like that gestation period of pregnancy. You've been creating and growing this for so long that you just can't wait for it to be out in the world. Like, 'Okay, I'm done with the gestating, let's get this out there.'"

"Besides," she says, "my feet are way too swollen."

Then she laughs. Before pressing on, let's briefly pause to say that Tami Neilson possesses one of the world's great laughs. It's seismic. Exploding out deep and full to send her head ricocheting back and often accompanied by a thunderous hand clap. A little denotation of joy on this rainy Auckland Wednesday.

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We're talking about her new album Sassafrass!, which after an almost two-year gestation has just come out but was still a week away from release when we spoke. She's excited, saying she's caught up in "the adrenaline of anticipation".

"As an artist, when you create something you can enjoy it but it's not until it's out in the world do you see if it connects with people. The main motive behind anyone who creates music is that hope that it's going to connect deeply with people."

The safe money suggests Sassafrass! will do just that. It's bright, bold and fun. Much like Neilson herself. She's never been short of confidence but the record has a confident confidence about it. It struts and swings. Her voice, rightly respected for its power, has never sounded better, something she credits to getting older.

"A female vocalist, her physiology changes," she explains. "Your larynx drops when you are late 30s, early 40s. For me it's the power. I've never had this power, physically, with my voice that I do now. I want that power and that rich deep, guttural singing. I feel like I've hit my sweet spot."

And, beneath the album's bright, glossy polish, a newfound DGAF 'tude.

"Three big milestones happened in the past five years, along with the social climate that we're in right now, that all intersected to create this perfect storm," she says. "Becoming a parent completely changes your perspective . . . losing a parent your world's axis shifts, and turning 40 was a big milestone as well.

"They change your priorities, change your perspective, set you on a different path and make you really realise what's actually important. It really drives home not only death and loss, but the birth of your child drives home your own mortality. There's an urgency to make sure you're doing what you need to get done before your time's up."

Then she laughs that wonderful, room-shaking laugh and says, "And turning 40 you're starting to get old and grumpy. You've lived some life, you know who you are, and your tolerance for bullshit disappears. You've earned the right!"


Sassafrass! also marks the first time Neilson has ventured into the political. It happened organically and, she says, she was as surprised as anyone when noticing the emerging themes.

"A lot of the songs were written before those movements were triggered," she says referring to #MeToo and the equality conversations happening today.

"I've not shied away from political music, I just never thought about it because I write really personal music. But right now these politics are very personal for me as a woman.

"That just naturally poured out of me because that's what happening in my life. I connected really deeply with what's going on. I'm not a 'stand on the soap box and point my finger' kind of person.

"I wanted this album to be bright, it's a celebration, its colourful. But under all this candy-coloured packaging is a real message of depth."

LOWDOWN
Who: Tami Neilson
What: New album Sassafrass! and nationwide tour
When: Sassafrass! is out now, the tour is in August.