Nashville’s newest Australian transplant is paving the way for his new solo career in the US despite the crazy journey it took to get here! Troy Kemp has been one of Australia’s most well-known talents for more than a decade. He was part of the McAlister Kemp duo with Drew McAlister, the Tailgate Drive duo, with Damien Baguley, and worked with Australian country artist Jayne Denham on the duet Hung Up On You. His impressive list of accolades includes multiple CMC #1 Singles, 3 People’s Choice Awards, a Frank Ifield International Spur Award, a Golden Guitar, and 3 CMC Awards.
Troy Kemp was born in Kempsey, a small country town on the east coast of Australia. His mom was a nurse and played piano at home. His father was a physiotherapist, played guitar, and had Troy surfing by the age of ten.
Music was a big part of his childhood, his parents loved ABBA, the BeeGees and often had others over to entertain while singing and playing music in their home. At the age of six, Troy’s grandmother bought him a cassette by Kiss called Dynasty, he admits that the sounds of the rock guitars in their music made such an impression that he knew he wanted to be a musician. In the years that followed Troy grew his guitar skills and began writing his own rock music.
“I remember my dad playing Back in Black by ACDC when that album came out, the sound of those rock guitars was a big influence on the music I wanted to play.”
As a self-taught singer and songwriter Troy put a band together with some of the guys in high school. The rock band was called White Light but would later be changed to FOXX. They learned Australian cover songs from groups like INXS, Midnight Oil, and The Angels, eventually playing top 40 pop-rock music at venues around town. While Troy appreciated the traditional country music sound coming out of Australia from artists like John Williamson and Slim Dusty, at the time Rock was his primary focus.
After graduating from high school, Troy moved to Sydney. His interest in music continued to shift toward commercial rock bands like Bon Jovi, and before long he was growing his hair out to build his own look. He started a heavy metal band called Court Jester and they played head-banging music at local venues wearing leather jackets, tassels, and jeans tucked into their western boots.
In early 2000, Troy moved to Toronto, Canada with a one-year holiday working visa. He started doing music with different musicians and teamed up with composer, singer, and songwriter Kent Rock. They started an acoustic rock duo called Kemp Rock, playing in venues around town. Troy slowly started transitioning into Country when he met a girl named Sarah, who was into musical theater. He started writing music that was more country-folk-oriented, but when they parted ways he moved back to Australia. His fans back home really liked his new singing style, commenting on how much they loved his voice so he decided to pursue Country music.
Troy explains, “people were saying to me, Troy, when you’re not screaming and trying to sound like a heavy metal rock star, you actually sound good so I began turning my attention to country music.”
In 2007 Troy visited Nashville for the very first time. He recorded a 6-7 song EP with Australian producer Mark Moffat and took it back to Australia to release it to the public. The first single, Throwaway Day, from that EP, was featured on Australian country music television and he was asked to be a part of the Aussies Walk The Line tour, a tribute to Johnny Cash and The Highwaymen show. In 2010 he and Drew McAlister, one of the guys in the group, started co-writing songs in their spare time.
“One of the group members came in one day and said, you guys sound really good together, why don’t you start your own country duo like Brooks and Dunn? We thought it was a stupid idea. We had no interest at the time but he kept bringing it up and eventually we caved. That decision led to our opening up for Adam Brand, which then led to touring for the next 12 months,” Troy explains.
Adam helped Troy and Drew get a record deal through ABC Records, six years later, they had won a Golden Guitar Award and three CMC Awards. The duo was opening up for country stars like Alan Jackson and Big & Rich to huge audiences on their Australian tours. During that time they would travel back and forth to Nashville to write and record songs. After years of meeting and working with talented musicians in Nashville Troy says he knew he wanted to live in Music City and in 2015 he decided he was ready to take a leap of faith.
After six successful years together, both Troy and Drew wanted to pursue solo interests so they decided to part ways in late 2015. As Troy began putting together his plan to come to the US he was offered a solo record deal that was too good to pass up. That project locked him into staying in Australia for an additional two years promoting his album and touring. In that time he gained several number ones from the album, was named The Planet Country Radio Awards “Male Artist” and “Australian Artist of the Year” and was then “Fan Voted” as one of the 5 finalists for “Male Artist of The Year” at the 2017 CMC Awards alongside Lee Kernaghan, Troy Cassar-Daley, Adam Brand and Travis Collins
In October 2017 Troy and Aleesha were married and soon after began making their plans to move to Music City, they sold their home in Newcastle, Australia as well as all of their belongings. They started the application process to get their green cards that would normally take nine months. Two years and twenty thousand dollars later due to government shutdowns and other obstacles, they finally got approval to move to America on March 3 of 2020. On that day in Nashville, a terrible tornado caused much of the city to shut down. While that created concern they still decided to book their flights but a week before they were to leave all flights were canceled due to COVID-19. With only three months to leave before losing their application, they then had to deal with additional paperwork in order to get the Department of Foreign Affairs to grant them the clearance to leave during a pandemic.
On May 7th of 2020, Troy and Aleesha flew thirty-one hours across the world in face masks with three layovers on empty planes and airports before arriving in Nashville, Tennessee with only a few suitcases worth of belongings.
“It was the strangest experience of my life, arriving in Nashville at 11 o’clock at night in a pitch-black airport with no people, walking through the corridors hoping that our bags were going to be at the baggage claim,” Troy says.
Eight months later, they were still trying to get work due to the effects of COVID so they had to find ways to generate some income. Troy began offering live-streamed shows on Facebook for tips and his hairdresser wife Aleesha gave haircuts to the people living in their building in order to pay their rent.
“We had a few really tough days, and some sad days but we survived. I’m now getting gigs and my wife is working with a salon so we made it. We’re going to survive and things are starting to feel good. I’m really proud because we hung on and I’m excited to be in Nashville getting to do what I want to do,” Troy admits.
Troy says he writes five songs a week and loves the creative energy he feels from being in Nashville. He plays 4-6 weekly gigs around town in restaurants and at well-known downtown Honky Tonks. While he still has a standing publishing deal with an Australian company his hope is to get both a publishing and artist deal in Nashville. He co-writes with people he meets around town usually through Zoom and also with neighbors in his building. When he writes solo his work is more personal and structured, he explains,
“It’s always the music first, I start with some chords and try to formulate a verse, chorus, second verse, chorus, and maybe a solo or a bridge. Once I like what I have I do a quick acoustic guitar demo singing into my phone voice memo app. I take that idea later into Logic, add some drums, a quick bass line, with my midi keyboard and in a couple of hours I can have a rough demo.”
Today things are finally opening up and Troy has started to secure some steady work around town playing at various venues. His wife Aleesha is working in a local hair salon and the couple is starting to finally feel settled. They are enjoying their new life together in Nashville and look forward to the future. Troy has a lot of new music he hopes to share soon as he ramps up his solo music career in the US.
I learned of Troy through a private music event called Bands In The Barn, which some friends of mine host out in Franklin, Tennessee. Once a month they showcase a local songwriter or band in support of their own music in a beautiful outdoor space that once was an old hay barn. If you missed the backstory you can find it here. I interviewed Troy the week before the live event via Zoom for The Creative Push artist interview series in the video below.
You can find more about Troy on his website.
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