Features November 9, 2017

EXCLUSIVE: The Aussie women behind the scenes of Kesha’s powerful comeback single ’Praying’

Kesha’s first solo single in four years, ’Praying’, is a ferocious and satisfying new chapter in her story – one that sees the star emerging from the depths of an ugly legal and personal battle.

For anyone who’s aware of the nasty saga of how Kesha’s professional partnership with producer Dr Luke – who she alleges abused her emotionally and sexually – the lyrics of ’Praying’ speak for themselves. The slow burn and build of the gospel-inspired arrangement has been praised across the board.

As the track emerged a few hours ago to wide acclaim, a number of Australian creatives were able to reveal a secret they’d been keeping since late last year – that they’d had key roles in helping bring the song to life.

’Praying’ was written and recorded with Ryan Lewis (of “Macklemore and” fame), Andrew Joslyn (who’s worked extensively with Lewis and Macklemore) and Melbourne singer-songwriter Ben Abraham (who’s signed to respected indie label Secretly Canadian, which is in the Inertia family here). 

In an essay Lenny Letter published overnight, Kesha speaks about surviving “feelings of severe hopelessness and depression”, and praises Abraham and Lewis for helping her turn her grim experience into such a powerful work. 

Lewis and Abraham came into Sydney’s Studios 301 in October last year to lay down a guide vocal, some piano and a backing choir. Sound engineer Antonia Gauci, who freelances with 301 regularly, happened to be assigned to help them record.

“It was just an absolute chance sorta thing,” she told TMN this morning. “I was one of the in-house engineers who was available on the day and I didn’t know it was them until after I’d been assigned. 

Even once the pair told Gauci who the song was for, she wasn’t sure anything would come of it. “I was like, ’Oh this is gonna be like one of those LA sessions that you hear about that never turns into anything’, and then it actually turned into something which is amazing for everyone involved.”

On the second day of Lewis and Abraham’s session at 301, they brought in Sydney indie-folk four-piece All Our Exes Live In TexasHannah Crofts, Elana Stone, Georgia Mooney and Katie Wighton – to record the hair-raising gospel harmonies in the background of ’Praying’. 

The Exes were also in the dark initially about what the project was for. A friend emailed Crofts to ask if she knew of any leads for choir vocals; she jumped on it, thinking she was simply nabbing the band a cool session gig.

“I wrote back and said ’We’d love to do it – don’t get a choir, just get us, we know how to do harmony and we can layer it and do whatever’, not really knowing who it was,” Crofts says. “And then we went into the session and it was Ryan Lewis and Ben Abraham.” 

The pair taught the Exes the song and the arrangement, they had a few hours to get the vocals down, and that was it. 

“You get sung the line, and then within five minutes you’re doing the actual recording so that’s a very intense environment, but it’s also – you just get full of adrenaline and you get really excited to do good takes,” Crofts explains.

“To be in a room with two songwriters who are amazing, and getting to learn something immediately and to be like ’Okay, I’m just gonna sing it with all my heart, let’s go’.” 

“As backing vocalists it’s so fun to go in and hear someone sing such a passionate song and then get you to sing it with as much passion as you can. It’s very rewarding. It’s such a powerful song.”

“Ryan was yelling at them over the talkback, like ’More this! more that!’,” recalls Gauci. “Everyone was just laughing and having the best time and it was really cool.” 

The Exes left thinking they’d simply recorded a demo for Kesha with two talented songwriters, an experience that Crofts says was “daunting” but “just so fun”.

It wasn’t until last month ago that the band found out that those recordings wound up on the final version of the track.

“Maybe a couple of weeks ago we got an email saying, ’No, that’s actually the track and you guys are the backing vocalists’, and here we are,” says Crofts. A longtime Kesha fan, she’s stoked with the final product. 

“It’s one of those songs… you’re just waiting for the bridge to click in and you’re like ’Oh my god! Next level!’”

Gauci is one of only a handful of women working in the male-dominated field of sound engineering, as well as a producer and musician in her own right, and the significance of the song’s real-life context wasn’t lost on her. “It was so amazing to be a part, a small part, of something that is such a big issue in the music industry.” 

But as Crofts points out, the song’s message of grace, forgiveness and hope is also relatable on a broader level.

“It’s just a song that speaks to people going through struggle… [O]bviously Kesha wants to show to other people that you can get though stuff and come out strong.”

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