Casey Barnes, Kaylee Bell, James Johnston & More Reveal How Their Songs Come Together

April 23, 2024 - News

This year’s APRA Music Awards highlights the strength of Australia’s current crop of country singers and their songwriting teams, with Casey Barnes, James Johnston and Brad Cox dominating this year’s Most Performed Country Work category.

Johnston is a dual nominee, with two of his songs up for grabs: Got It Good and Same Songs. As APRA AMCOS honours songwriters, Johnston’s songwriting team, including Melanie Dyer, Michael Delorenzis, and Michael Paynter (Got It Good), Kaylee Bell, Gavin Carfoot, Jared Porter, and Nolan Wynne (Same Songs), are nominated alongside him.

Delorenzis and Paynter were also nominated for their work on Casey Barnes’ Summer Nights. Along with Johnston and Barnes, Brad Cox and Morgan Evans have been nominated in the Most Performed Country Work category.

Brad Cox has received a nomination for his song, Last Time Last, with writers Phil Barton and John Pierce by his side. Morgan Evans has received a nod for Over For You, and writers Madison Love, Timothy Sommers and Geoffrey Warburton are up for the award.

To celebrate their nominations, Casey Barnes, James Johnston, Kaylee Bell, Morgan Evans and Melanie Dyer have revealed what goes into their songwriting—and their all-time favourite karaoke songs—exclusively for Countrytown.

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What is the best thing about being a songwriter?

Morgan Evans: It’s like a language. I communicate things and connect with people through music in a way I’m not sure I could without it.

Kaylee Bell: The fact you walk into a room in the morning and sometimes with strangers and get to create magic. You start the day with nothing and end with a song and often new friendships; I find there to be some kind of unknown magic in that. 

James Johnston: A writer I was working with once said, ‘When we write songs, we are trying to solve a puzzle, but there are infinite pieces’. I love that idea. That when you walk into a write, you have to try and figure out how everything will come together, but you have no idea what the end result will be. That thrill of creating something from nothing is still what drives me to keep writing! 

Casey Barnes: [I love] the freedom of expression and being able to convey an experience or emotion through a song. I am extremely grateful to be able to do it for a living.

Melanie Dyer: There’s nothing like that rush of magic you get when you’re in the room creating something from nothing. I love cracking the code of a song; whether that’s the landing of the title or the melodic hook, it’s so rewarding. I also love seeing people connect with a song I’ve written; knowing that it’s making an impact is really special to me. 

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Who or what inspires you to write songs?

Morgan Evans: Life & living it…

Kaylee Bell: Life, relationships, friendships, and I feel a need to get things out of me in the way of melody and words. 

James Johnston: I find inspiration from all parts of my life, as a lot of my songs are stories I often pull from my own life. My past, present, and sometimes where I envision my life in the future!

Casey Barnes: It can be all sorts of things. Quite often, it’s personal life experiences, or sometimes, it’s a riff or melody that pops into your head that then sparks a song idea. I love it when you wake up and a lyric or melody has come to you in a dream… that’s pretty cool.

Melanie Dyer: For me as an artist, I am inspired by everyday conversations, relationships, travel, and the music I’m listening to. When I collaborate with other artists, I am inspired by their experiences and style, and I love stepping into their headspace to help shape their story. 

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Who would you most like to collaborate with?

Morgan Evans: Jack Johnson or The Zac Brown Band.

Kaylee Bell: Shania Twain, Keith Urban, Pink.

James Johnston: I am a big fan of Jordan Davis and Old Dominion. I love the way that they can write a lyric that feels so conversational but, at the same time, construct them in a way that’s never been said before.

Casey Barnes: Ah, so many people! I guess at the top of my list would be someone like Keith Urban who I have a huge amount of respect for.

Melanie Dyer: Around the time I started writing songs and figuring out my style as an artist, Avril Lavigne and Katy Perry were huge influences on the pop side of my writing. It would be a dream to do a country collab with Avril or Katy!

I’d also love to collaborate with Dan & Shay, Old Dominion and Jordan Davis. As a songwriter, shooting for the mega stars here, it would be incredible to experience writing a song with Taylor Swift, Kacey Musgraves, Elton John, Ashley Gorley, Liz Rose and Julia Michaels

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What is your all-time favourite country music karaoke song?

Morgan Evans: Friends In Low Places by Garth Brooks.

Kaylee Bell: Shania goes off in every situation, so I’d say anything of hers. 

James Johnston: Friends In Low PlacesGarth Brooks. It’s the first song I sang at four years old, and I still love it to this day! 

Casey Barnes: Haha, geez, that’s taking me back. It’d probably be an Elton John song…. maybe I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues.

Melanie Dyer: I love a karaoke ballad moment, so probably From This Moment On – Shania or Amazed Lonestar.

The 2024 APRA Awards take place on Wednesday, 1 May, at ICC Sydney, Gadigal land, with host Tom Gleeson and guest presenters Jen Cloher and Bumpy.

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