When Liz Kinninmont and Rae Moody - The Harmonators - set about preparing for their sophomore release their intent was clear ... to raise the bar they'd set for themselves on their previous releases. Now, just days away from the physical release, even they are amazed at the actual heights they've been able to achieve.
Recorded in Nashville's Fool On The Hill studios with a selection of the world's finest country musicians, Big Mouth will see the light of day on Friday and is sure to make an immediate impact.
Its ten tracks are fresh, vibrant and abundantly harmonic.
To celebrate the album, two free launches will be held.
The first will take place this Sunday at the Royal Cricketers Arms Hotel, Prospect from 1.30pm. The second will be held on Friday, May 11, at The Pub, Tamworth, from 8pm.
Sydneysider Liz, said she couldn't wait for the fans to hear the new material, which was co-produced by award winner and long time Harmonator producer Matt Fell and song-writing collaborator Sam Hawksley.
''We kind of had an inkling that this album was going to be a step way above the rest,'' Liz said. ''I think definitely song choice was a big thing on this one. There was no, 'oh, we need to put this song on the album because of xyz', it was like, best song wins out, and that comes down to a lot of assistance from Sam Hawksley.
''I'm in love with every track on this album and that's a reason why we decided to only go with the 10. We didn't want to have any fillers on the album, we didn't want to go, 'oh well we’ve got this song, let's just lay it down and put it on'. It was like, 'no, we've got 10 amazing tracks here, let's just release the ten'.''
Tamworth-based Rae agreed.
''We felt our last album [2008's Here And Now] was great and we thought we'd done really well with it, but it didn't really create as much buzz as I think we were expecting,'' she said.
''We thought it's been a while and people may have forgotten who we were so we really need to come back and hit them between the eyes.''
As hinted on their 2010 EP, Something More, the new album boasts a contemporary country gloss that wasn't as obvious on their debut EP and album. Of course the duo's trademark vocal exchanges remain intact.
''I think with this album we are in a completely new place with each other and with our music and that's a really cool thing,'' said Liz.
''We found with the Something More EP there was a definite shift where we were vocally as a duo. We'd noticed that there was a natural blend to our voices. Not that there has ever been anything forced, but we feel like we're now really fitting in the pocket with it.''
Rae said the initial planning for Big Mouth started in 2010 during the recording of Something More.
She says the plan to record in Nashville was suggested by Sam Hawksley.
''Matt has produced or co-produced all of our previous projects and we definitely knew we wanted to use Matt again, and I said to Liz I had heard a couple of things Sam Hawksley had produced and I was really interested to hear his view,'' Rae said.
''We had known Sam socially and had put a couple of his tracks on our previous albums. So we had a bit of a chat to Sam, and with him being based over there, he asked had we thought of recording in Nashville ... it's sort of a bucket list thing to do for country artists.
''He said he and Matt were putting packages together, where Matt would do things from his end, here, and Sam would do things from his end. So Liz and I came up with a budget and they came back that it could be done. We were like, 'well that's kind of it'.''
Liz said the Nashville experience was a little daunting at first, considering the pair had become so accustomed to the way studios worked locally.
''We had a two week block and we had the guys in the band in for two days of band tracking and then it was all on for doing a couple of the colour plays and the vocals, so I think specially with Rae - she's the organiser, she's really on top of time-tabling and making sure everything gets done when it needs to - I think for her it was a case of, 'are we going to get it done, is it going to be what we want','' Liz said.
Both agreed, it didn't take long for their nerves to ease once the band started playing the new material.
As opposed to their previous studio experience in which the tracks are gradually brought to life piece by piece, for Big Mouth's songs the core band track was recorded as a whole, giving Liz and Rae a near complete picture of the full track virtually instantaneously.
''They'd listen to the song once and go 'cool', then go off into their booths and lay it down maybe five or six times,'' Liz said. ''Straight away Rae and I were like, 'oh my god, there's the song in an instant'. Once we had a groove for that first song - within an hour - all that stress started to dissipate.''
''With the originals - because I had only ever heard them with a guitar and vocal - to hear a whole band behind them and to hear them come together so quickly was kind of magical and amazing,'' added Rae.
As well as showcasing the amazing vocal abilities of Liz and Rae, Big Mouth also highlights the pair's abilities as songwriters.
Six of the ten tracks were either written or co-written by the girls, including album highlights like the lead single Perfect Storm, penned by Rae with Matt Scullion, and Kiss Me Now, by both girls and Sam Hawksley.
Rae also had a hand in penning the majestic Wherever I Go.
She said that even when it came to selecting tracks written by others, it was crucial the material fit perfectly and that it wasn't just a case of the girls ''liking'' the songs they chose.
''It then means you're able to make it you're own that little bit more,'' Rae said. ''When you really connect with a song - a song that you've not written - it's certainly a lot easier to get in that booth and sing your heart out of it.''
While heaping praise on both producers, Liz said Sam's inclusion was a master stroke. She said he was extremely instrumental in ensuring quality control.
''Even to the point where on the day before we were due to go into the studio, we sat down in our hotel room and were just top and tailing the songs and we got down to the last two songs and I was singing lead on one and Rae was singing lead on the other and Sam went, 'you know what, I actually think you guys need to swap that', and he was spot on,'' Liz said.
Liz said that with Matt and Sam sharing duties, it also allowed for a different studio experience vocally.
''We're used to one of us being in the control booth with Matt while the other is recording,'' she said. ''This time I was working with Sam for most of the time and Rae was working with Matt. After a couple of hours they'd say, 'well you go in and have a listen to what Rae has been doing and Rae will come in and have a listen to what you've been doing'. And it was kind of cool too because I think Rae and I work slightly differently.''
Both of the girls say they are looking forward to incorporating the new material into their live set, starting with the weekend's launch.
''We were lucky enough to preview Perfect Storm during the festival in January [Tamworth], but on top of that Steal You Away for me is the song that I love and am absolutely thrilled that I got to sing that one,'' Rae said. ''Everybody Thinks I'm Lonely ... I think that's a real tongue-in-cheek great song, and Big Mouth I think has got a great groove to it. I'm really looking forward to playing all of those at the launch.''
While admitting it was difficult to pinpoint just a few highlights, Liz said Steal You Away, Save Her Soul and Wherever I Go were definite album favourites.
For both Liz and Rae, sharing the ride together is something they'd not exchange for solo success.
The pair first met in 2001 when studying lead vocals at the Australian Institute of Music.
''It means a hell of a lot,'' Liz said .''We don't know how some artists do it on their own. Because the workload is monumental, but also you need that other person to tell you when you're doing a good job, or tell you when you're over-reacting and stressing over something that's not so important. That's a very cool thing and we really treasure that. We're almost like sisters, we've had to go out on the road and live out of each others pockets and you do get on each others nerves at times. We're both very different people, we have very different personalities, but I think that's what creates such a cool thing about our sound and about our vibe. I really don't know what I'd do without her.''
Rae said she believed had it not been for Liz she would have ''given up the game'' long ago.
''It's great to have success and be successful and have singles that hit the charts but it's great to be able to share that with your best friend,'' she said. ''I think that's the real joy in it ... there's always somebody every step of the way that backs you up that you know is in your corner. It's not always an easy road, but we've got a really good balance going.''
Following the coming launches the girls plan a year of steady touring, taking in festivals and trips to both Melbourne and Queensland.
In fact, forward planning and taking The Harmonators into the future rate high on the agendas of both Rae and Liz.
''We're actually already looking at the next album,'' said Rae. ''I know it seems ridiculous, but we've semi-discussed a time and a place for that. It's not make or break, but we're at the time in our lives where we've really got to decide what we want to do and we think we should give this a real big push and see what happens.''
Liz couldn't agree more.
''Now is the time, this is the album ... I think it's time to step it up.''