Speaking with musician Gretta Ziller is a rollickingly delightful ride. Anyone who utters the phrase “hang on a cotton pickin’ second” with absolute authenticity is someone I want to spend time with. The topics of discussion are also as varied as the styles of music in Gretta’s new album, Judas Tree, her second outing after debut Queen of Boomtown.

Written before Melbourne’s 641st lockdown, Judas Tree showcases Ziller’s desire to “not fit neatly into any box” in terms of genre. She describes it as an album made up of “hurts and wounds, insecurities and affirmations” and this grasp of imagery and feeling is evident in her songwriting, wrapped in many a different sounding “skin”. Damage Done lands as a rocking, almost pop-ish anthem and Dry Town unfolds as a mature ballad. Ziller describes her varied influences and the process of creating a playlist to support her creative process. Among others, she lists: Patty Griffin, Lucinda Williams, Hozier, St Phoenix, The Preachers and Rag and Bone Man as current stimuli. This list feels like a gift to expand my musical horizons, along with the cranking of her songs in my car. Like Ziller’s niece, a favourite in our house with the under-fives is Slaughterhouse Blues from Queen of Boomtown.

While Ziller describers her style as 'Americana', she ultimately defies categorisation, a situation that has brought with it both rewards and challenges.

She describes her diversity as creating a “harder path to track along” and can recount being declined to perform at festivals because she was “too country”. She has also found that sending new music to different radio stations based on where it seems to best fit has been a successful approach. Our new world order of being at home, and online, has also created a different platform for exposure and Ziller has embraced “necessity encouraging creativity” in using social media for connecting to fans, both new and old.

While participating in the worldwide Global Music Match has exposed Ziller to some varied and eclectic musicians (check out Global Music Match on Facebook for more info), she holds great passion for promoting Australian music and has been part of the Our Soundtrack, Our Stories campaign started by artist Jack River. The campaign is an invitation to Australia to discover, champion, share and consume more local music. Ziller shares her belief that it “is bizarre that Australian media doesn’t use Australian songs and radio stations can play nominal quotas of Australian content”. This leads us down a wonderful rabbit hole of imagining being able to wander over to the kiosk in all our major supermarkets, to check what tune is playing and learn all about the local artist.

Connection is another, ever-present theme of our conversation, from the camaraderie within the country music community that she feels stems “from a shared passion for writing about often universal experiences” to the feeling visiting Tamworth for the first time evoked in her. Despite the constant challenge of our reverse angle parking, Ziller has a fabulous “must-do list” upon return to our fair city. First a stop at Ruby’s Café to be fuelled by the famed Café Bon Bon (do yourself a favour…), then the tradition of a dinner out at Chinese institution the Wing Wah. Ziller had been a visitor to Tamworth’s Country Music Festival for 15 years in a row before it was cancelled due to COVID-19 in 2021. She has dates booked and fingers and toes crossed for a return in 2022, and we can’t wait to see where her journey has taken her until then.

{words: Erin Baxterphotography: Mitch Power}