Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Interview: Lachlan Bryan (part II)

This is the second part of a multi-part interview with Lachlan Bryan, who has made an extraordinarily good album, Shadow of the Gun. In this part of the interview we talk about how Lachlan came to country music and about the album's producer, Rod McCormack, and how he and Lachlan came to work together.

Part I of the interview can be read here.

Now, I’m going to ask you about your country music story, by which I mean how you came to play in the genre, because some people start off in rock 'n' roll, and some people are always country.
Yeah, sort of a bit of both, I’ve always liked country music but I did play in a few bands in my late teens, early twenties which weren’t really country ... I went to England with a band probably about five years ago, and we were just the kind of young indie band that weren’t very good – but we did get to travel around and it was, weirdly, in England that I actually heard a lot of kind of Americana music, a lot of country music. Actually, alternative country is quite big in England and Scotland, and I started getting into country music again through that. When I was a kid I really liked Gram Parsons and probably even older country music like Hank [Williams], I guess. Really I just probably always try to think of someone different to say other than Hank but he really was the first country music I heard. My family are quite into country music and my uncle plays the lap steel and guitar and he was in a lot of country bands before I was born. So, there was a lot of country music around and then I rediscovered it through some of those Americana artists, your – kind of like Ryan Adams and all those people who were big in England when I was over there, and it sort of brought me back to the source, I guess, it brought me back to the country music that I enjoyed when I was younger.

And I did get a bit of a Ryan Adams feeling watching you play, but not in a derivative way, just in that you seemed to have the same family tree of music you were coming from.
Yeah, probably that’s true. I guess – yeah, I think that happens a lot with people that play this kind of [music] – we all inevitably go back to the same sources: Townes van Zandt, Gram Parsons and John Prine and all those really great songwriters. It's pretty hard not to get into one of those guys. Ryan Adams is an interesting one, because I don’t love all of his work but I do like what he does when he goes really country.

I agree completely with you there.
Yeah, like that Jacksonville album – Jacksonville City Nights is probably my favourite.

I don’t know if you’ve got Ashes & Fire, but I think that’s the best thing he’s done in a very long time.
I haven’t actually got it but I have heard a couple of songs off it and it does sound really good.

Well, as Molly Meldrum would say, you could do yourself a favour.
That’s all right; I’ll check it out then.

You’ve written all the songs on this latest album and I’ve only downloaded The Wildes' album from iTunes, so I don’t have the liner notes, but I’m presuming you wrote either a lot or all of the Wildes' songs.
Yeah, I did, yeah.

From a songwriter’s perspective – a songwriter and performer’s perspective what’s it like to write a song and then have a producer put their interpretation on it?
Well, it’s actually interesting. I think with the Wildes album, the producer probably put a lot more interpretation of his own on the songs than with the solo album. The album that we’ve just recorded with Rod [McCormack, producer of Shadow of the Gun], we were really, really true to the original demos. I did some demos for Rod earlier in the year, just at home, of the songs, I think I demoed fourteen no, I must have demoed fifteen songs just with an acoustic guitar and vocal, and we recorded twelve of the fifteen for the album, and Rod was really good in that he didn’t say, 'These are the twelve you should record', or anything – we really just decided that stuff together and I feel like he had a really gentle hand on the recording process. Whereas with the Wildes album, we were a bit less experienced and I think that the producer probably had a firmer hand on that record. We actually worked with the same producer recently again, [the one] who worked on the Wildes record, and we did some recordings with him the year before last and we didn’t end up doing anything with them, and I think that we probably had got to the point where we didn’t want to have someone having such a firm hand on the recording. Which is not to say that I don’t like the Wildes album I still really like that album, and Jon’s ideas – Jon Burnside produced that album - Jon’s ideas were better than mine were at the time, so I certainly think he did a really good job of it and I have total respect for him. But I did really enjoy working with Rod because he really didn’t try to change me too much; he just made the recordings sound good and made sure that the arrangements around the songs were very much focused on what I was doing, hopefully, what I was doing with the acoustic guitar. I think he added a tremendous amount but he did it without interfering with the songs, which was something that I really appreciated.

And did you just meet him around the traps? Because it seems like Rod and Nash Chambers are everywhere as producers, I’m just presuming you met him somewhere and the relationship came out of that.
We actually met at Tamworth last year. I knew the name but I didn’t know a lot about him and I think he had the Wildes album and he came to see a Wildes gig and then he showed some interest, and my management was keen for us to work – she had a good vision for us working together because she felt like we might need a bit of middle ground between the sort of mainstream stuff that Rod’s done and the fairly un-mainstream stuff that I’ve done. And she was right – Rod and I really hit it off from the first time that we had a proper meeting, like we had a proper meeting about February of this last year [2011] and we just started talking about music and we like so much of the same music and we really appreciated the same things in that music, like the way it was recorded, the lyrical content. We both had an appreciation for the songs that are really, really strong songs. He got me into some music that I haven’t heard before; he really got me into Mickey Newbury, for instance. I was a bit behind with that stuff and I discovered some great singers and players through him, so I got Darrell Scott, who plays in Robert Plant’s band now andis a good singer/songwriter/performer in himself. So we just started talking about a whole lot of music and it was all down the direction of the record that I wanted to make. I felt really confident that he and I wanted to make the same album. This album was so easy to make, from the very first time I talked to Rod, I did have in my mind that I wanted him to produce the album. I didn’t know at that time that he was going to arrange a record deal for me to do it, but that was great, because there was no way I could have afforded to – and so I really did want to work with him from the first time that we talked about music together. I also listened to the album that he’d made with Paul Kelly a few years ago, which I really loved, the Foggy Highway album. So, from then on it was really easy. because I felt like the songs had come reasonably easy, the recording process was easy – we recorded it live with the whole band in, I didn’t overdub any vocals or anything – I played guitar and sang it at once, and the band did it at the same time, and we felt like we would only need to do three or four takes for each song and that was right, we just chose the take that we liked best and we ran with that, or we mixed that, and it was a really easy process. And even in the mixing and the mastering, these are things that I’ve normally interfered with heavily befor,e but I felt really confident that Rod and I were trying to get the same sound and same-sounding album, so it was like that. I was happy just sitting there and enjoying what I was hearing back and it was very low stress, I guess, and I think you can kind of hear that ... When I hear the previous stuff I’ve done, I can hear all the little battles that we had in the studio and stuff like that, but with this, it just felt really right the whole time.

Well, the album does kind of sound like your sitting in a log cabin, if that makes sense, it’s got that – it’s got a kind of cosy – not a rustic feeling but an intimate sound, and certainly what you mentioned about Rod’s decisions about where to put your voice in the mix, it’s really strong, it’s not being overwhelmed by the instruments at all.
Yeah, we decided that right from the start and that was what he pitched to me right from the start.

It’s got quite a warm, close sound, it doesn’t feel like you’re keeping the listener at any kind of arms’ length.
Exactly and I think that the songs needed that too. That was one of the reasons that I really decided to make the solo record rather than a band record, is that these songs really needed to be one-on-one songs – I almost considered doing the solo album just with an acoustic guitar and vocal, because I really felt sick of the songs that I was writing at that time. To be honest, the songs that I continue to write are very much singer/songwriter stuff, very kind of concessional, which I’ve sort of avoided doing before. I think my attempts at that previously have sounded too immature, so I just felt like I was ready to do that now.

The next part of this interview will be published tomorrow.

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