What is wayward about you?
Probably just in the way we’ve lived our lives, I suppose. Me and Natalie, the other songwriter, we’re husband and wife in the band. We’ve known each other since she was sixteen and I was eighteen. We’ve been together and been apart and gone off and done our own things, made some crazy decisions, some good ones, some bad ones, and we’re still together. And nothing’s ever straightforward with us. Gigs normally end up something crazy and something happening. Nothing’s ever smooth sailing but we enjoy it anyway.
You say you make crazy decisions, some good ones, some bad ones – it’s all good songwriting fodder.
That’s right, exactly. We’re never short of material, that’s for sure.
It says in your bio that you grew up immersed in an ‘offbeat country record collection’ – what did that collection contain?
It contained everything from the classics like Waylon and Willie and a lot of early Canned Heat. Stuff like Chad Morgan and Tex Morton. The whole gamut of weird Australian country guys and a lot of the American standards as well.
I was listening to a Chad Morgan song on ABC digital radio the other day and it was really clever and funny, and I thought, This is why he’s lasted as long as he has.
Exactly right. I remember as a kid my dad used to play him and we used to laugh and love it. He’s still going now. He was old then [laughs]. Maybe it makes me feel young, I don’t know.
So you’ve got that in your musical background – I imagine Natalie has her own musical background. How did you arrive at your joint musical style?
She sort of dragged me into it. She grew up in a country music household as well, and of course she hated it until she got a bit older and then she loved it. I played in other bands and listened to a lot of punk and other sorts of music, and she dragged me into playing and listening to and performing more country-orientated stuff. So I blame it all on her. It’s funny – the stuff you grow up listening to and don’t like, eventually you come around. Classic songs and classic songwriters, eventually you appreciate them, especially as a musician.
In punk there’s a certain amount of discipline – you really have to keep those lyrics tight and keep the song structure tight. I can hear in your music the discipline in the lyrics in that you’re not self-indulgent. Is that something you learnt in punk?
For sure. I definitely take that attitude across into songwriting. I was listening to a lot of that music before I really understood what it was all about, because I had older brothers who were into it. I think in the alt-country genre a lot of people take that punk attitude across to it.
It’s a can-do attitude, in a way, isn’t it?
That’s right, and I think it’s the way the music industry is these days – you’ve got to have that can-do attitude whether you realise it’s got its origins in punk or whatever. No one’s going to do anything for you – you’ve got to do it for yourself. You’ve got to get up and play in front of people and you’ve got to push your music, and you’ve to believe in it, because if you don’t nobody else is.
Especially these days when a lot of artists are crowd-funding their albums, which makes a lot of sense in music because you’re essentially pre-selling the albums. The standard of what’s coming out of crowd-funded or independently produced albums is really fantastic. Certainly that part of the punk-rock attitude is working really well in country.
It’s sort of a double-edged sword, that crowd-funded thing. I think it’s great for pre-sales and stuff like that but when you see bands on Gofundme because they want a trip to Nashville to go and make an album, you think, Am I just paying for your holiday? [laughs] There’s plenty of good producers and studios in Australia where you could knock out an album. I suppose it’s each to their own.
Some of the information about your album says, ‘It’s the break-up album minus the break-up’, so how did you and Natalie get to the point of thinking you’d make a break-up album without breaking up?
It just sort of happened, and then when we started to get the songs together for the album we said, ‘This is a break-up album. Are you trying to tell me something?’ We were both thinking the same thing. We’ve got a couple of young kids and in my day job I work a lot – I was away for long periods of time, and she’s stuck at home with kids, and there’s that isolation. You get used to being on your own. And just the normal ying and yang of relationships, [they] aren’t always rosy, especially when you’ve been together for as long as we have. We thought, well, this is one way to get the anger and the frustrations out without actually breaking up because we obviously love each other a lot and we’re never going to break up, hopefully. But you have your moments when you think, It’s probably not that bad an idea. [Laughs]
I suppose the album is therapy, then.
Absolutely. It’s our way of dealing with it. And it’s also that coyness – I’ll write a song and she’ll be thinking, Is this song about me or is this about someone else? We don’t interrogate each other too much with the songs – we just think, Oh yep, this one’s about me – but it might not be.[Laughs]
It’s lovely because it preserves that mystery in your relationship, which could be why you’ve been together for so long.
But on the other hand I suppose you’re both desperately wondering who it’s about.
That’s right. If it’s a particularly nasty one I just bury my head in the sand and say, ‘It must be about someone else.’
Well, of course!
So is your songwriting process a bit like Lennon and McCartney where one of you writes the bulk of the song and then hands it over to the other one for a little bit of tinkering, or is it more of a collaboration?
It’s along those lines. Most of the time I’ll write a song and I’ll take it to her and she’ll say, ‘You should do this here and that there’, and she’ll panel beat it around a bit, and I sort of do the same – she’ll have a song written and I’ll say, ‘You probably should say this here or that there. No, try this chord here’, and stuff like that. Lately we don’t tend to start from go to whoa together. Normally we’re finishing off the other one’s ideas.
I think that’s a great process in that it’s always a good idea to have an editor and you both have an idea who lives in the same house.
Which makes it really easy – you’re not sitting around and waiting to organise the time to do a co-write or get someone to try to help you out with stuff. We sort of keep a leash on each other – she stops me from going off into too weird a direction and I stop her from going too traditional country, I suppose.
And you find each other somewhere between those two poles.
Yeah, we find a happy medium – something that we both like and hopefully everyone else does as well.
Well, it’s a great album so you’ve achieved that happy medium. But it’s a big undertaking to put out an album – it’s a lot of songs and a lot of decision making about what goes on it – so at what point did you think, An album is the next step?
Natalie’s the real big driving force in, I would say, 99 per cent of all the things that happen with the band. Writing songs was something we’ve never struggled with – we’ve almost got too many songs. That’s not to say that they’re all classics … But [the album] was just a natural thing. We met Lachlan Bryan, who recorded it, and we knew we had an album in us so we were just really keen to get one down.
Since you mentioned Lachlan – I know he’s been doing a bit of producing. But when you’re meeting another artist like that, it’s not necessarily automatic that you’ll think, You’ll produce us. So how did it evolve that he came to be your producer?
We met him in Nundle, at the Dag Sheep Station. And I’d been listening to his first album, Ballad of a Young Married Man, and I thought it was a really great album. He’d seen us perform; he liked what we were doing and what we were about. He and Natalie wrote a song together, which is, I think, the last track on the album. So from there we built a relationship. We went down to Melbourne and played a few gigs down there. We were talking about making an album and I started asking [if there was] anyone he recommended to make it with, and he said he would love to do it.
He recommended himself.
He did. So we said, ‘Righto, let’s do it.’ So we thought we’d just record some songs and see how they come back. We wanted to put a single out before the album was ready, just to keep something out – because it had been a while since we’d released anything – so we did that, and we loved the results. He was really great to work with, sort of effortless. Cool studios, we loved being in Melbourne, and we decided to keep going with it. It was a pretty long process – over twelve months from the first song till finishing the album.
Give that you have work and family, it’s not surprising.
Absolutely not. The easy part is writing songs and going to record them. That’s all the fun stuff. But after that it’s the editing and getting songs sent back to you – ‘No, we don’t like this, we don’t like that, do this, do that’ – the back and forth and everything else that goes with it.
And then you have a lovely body of work, and one of the great things about an album is that it can stand there forever.
And it’s a real signpost of where you are at that stage of your life and your musical career. It’s something you should be proud of.
I won’t ask you if you want to work with Lachlan again, though, because if the answer’s ‘no’ …
[Laughs] He actually just edited a film clip we just made.
He’s very busy. There’s plenty of strings to his bow. I’m more than happy to do anything with him because he’s just a good guy to be around creatively, and especially when you can sit and talk music with him. I’m more than happy to have him involved in anything we get up to.
Of course you’ll see him again in Tamworth – I’m presuming you’re going?
Yes. We’re looking forward to Tamworth. I think we’ve got a show at the Frog and Toad with Lou Bradley, so that’s going to be exciting. And we’ve got a couple of other shows – I’m a bit sketchy on the details. Nat organises all of that. We’ll be playing out at the Dag Sheep Station again, for sure. John Casula and his crew out there run some great things over the Tamworth Country Music Festival. It’s a really great place to play and sort of feels like home to us when we’re up there, which is good.
And it’s really developed, that programme, over the past few years.
I’d implore anyone going to the Tamworth Country Music Festival to take some time to head out to the Dag Sheep Station. The shows and the catering and the way they look after you up there, and the quality of the musicians, it’s second to none. It’s a real highlight for me to come to Tamworth and head down to Nundle.
When you have a daytime job and children and travelling to do, what’s your inspiration? You might get up every day and write songs – is there music or books that you regularly find inspire you?
Music, for sure – a lot of the older stuff, for sure. Not a lot of the new stuff inspires me. But in saying that, there’s an artist called William Crighton – it sort of blew my hair back when I heard that album. He’s a real inspiration. A lot of it’s in books – old Kurt Vonnegut books and stuff like that. And the human condition – what you see around you.
Cold Love is out now.