Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Adam Brand and the Outlaws set to blaze

Adam Brand is one of Australian country music's busiest performers, regularly releasing albums and touring the country. He's also someone who, as I've discovered in the past, doesn't mind a side project. Now he has a new side project, which is actually going to be his main project for the first few months of 2016: Adam Brand and the Outlaws, which sees Brand gathering the considerable individual talents of Drew McAlister, Travis Collins, Matt Cornell and Mike Carr into one outfit. The band will launch their debut album and their national tour with a headline show at Blazes during the upcoming Tamworth Country Music Festival. Recently I spoke to Adam to find out more about the story behind  the Outlaws.

So whose idea was the Outlaws?
It was my idea. I’ve been mulling it over for quite a few years, actually, probably ten years. And it was always one of those things I thought, One day I’m going to take a little bit of a break and get together a bunch of my mates, and we’re going to start this band and do an album and a tour full of all these big, classic anthems, and we’re just going to go out and have some fun. It was as loose and as broad as that. And all the planets aligned and it just came together.

I love the idea of you saying, ‘I’m going to take a break and …’ because for you that seems to be code for, ‘I’m going to take on another big activity or project’.
Yeah, that’s it – I’m adult with ADD, that’s for sure.

The last time I spoke to you, you said you’d taken a break and opened a restaurant.
[laughs] Maybe ‘adult’ was a stretch – I just have ADD.

This is an incredible collection of musicians to have in one place, let alone in one band. You said you first had this idea ten years ago – some of these guys would have been in that plan ten years ago. How did you pick them?
When you want to do something like this you have to do it with people who, first of all, you respect and most of all they have to be people you really get on with and great mates. These guys are some of my best mates in the industry, so the process of asking who’d be in there was fairly easy and straightforward. The difficult part – or in my mind what I thought was difficult – was whether everyone was going to be able to [take part], with the schedules. Everyone’s got touring and gigs and all that kind of stuff. First of all to record the album and then get everyone’s schedules to align so we can go out and tour. I felt that if all the pieces of the puzzle didn’t come together properly then it wouldn’t have been the right time and it probably wouldn’t have happened now.

How did you get the time to record the album let alone tour with these people?
I started talking to them about it all in December last year, so it’s had a bit of planning time. People are in between things and it’s sort of the right time – Drew [McAlister] was coming out of McAlister Kemp, Travis [Collins] was at the end of an album, Matt [Cornell] was at the end of an album plus Matt tours with me as well, plus Mike [Carr] hasn’t done anything for a long time, so I’ve been on him saying, ‘Come on, it’s time to get out there and release another Mike Carr album’. So that was motivation for him. It was the right time for everybody.

I have to confess that this is the first time I realised that Mike is Buddy Goode.
[laughs] No, he’s not. Buddy Goode is Buddy Goode. I’m keeping the illusion alive.

Yes, he’s the creator of Buddy Goode. Buddy Goode definitely has his own persona.
There we go.

So if I was to ask you to describe each of these Outlaws in one, maximum three words … Drew McAlister in one to three words?
Huge mountain of a man.

Travis Collins.
Cheeky guitar slinger.

Matt Cornell.
Old rock dog gone country.

Mike Carr.
Hmm, what’s the word I’m trying to look for? He’s unstable, that’s what he is [laughs]. Always keep watching, because you never know what he’s going to do. He’s a wild card, that one.

And if I was to ask any of them about you, how do you think they’d describe you?
I don’t know what would come out, but it could probably be summed up as something like ‘non-stop Energizer bunny’. I don’t know.

I have to agree with that, given the amount of stuff you do. Now, the album’s recorded and it’s coming out in January. You mentioned that you’re covering some other people’s songs. Is that because you all thought you’d squabble about songwriting if you were left to your own devices?
[Laughs] No. If we all got together and wrote an album it’d probably be pretty interesting. The idea for this album was centred around the shows. And the idea of the shows was to go out and play songs to a crowd that just wanted to have fun. And from the first ten seconds of every song that we play, people turn to each other and go, ‘Awhhh, I love this song! Remember this song?’ It’s anthemic. It was a little daunting, because sometimes when you decide to cover a song – especially when a song is a classic – you always think, I’ve got to come up with some different way of doing this but I’ve also got to pay respect to the song. Because sometimes you just don’t mess with something’s that a classic. We covered a whole album of classics, so what we had to do was, first, before we decided on a song we had to really try to define our sound, and then whatever song we picked we just had to apply our sound to it so that we stayed true to this Outlaws theme. So that’s how we did it.

I think it was Drew who said there were a few dodgy gigs along the way trying to become good at what you do. Is that true?
I think what he meant was that we’ve all done a lot of miles, a lot of gigs over the years, to get to the point where we’re all ready to embark on something like this.

You mentioned that idea of having fun as being central to this – do you think that the mood in the country, in the culture, at the moment suggests that people do need to have a bit of fun? Have you been picking that up as you’ve toured?
Most certainly. Life’s not easy for your average everyday Aussie. I think fun being the central theme and a devil-may-care attitude is a healthy thing sometimes. Not that we don’t care what’s going on around the world, around us, but sometimes you’ve got to take a break and say you’re going to blow off some steam and let your hair down.

And certainly I think the role of country music when it comes to country towns, in particular, is really important – it does give people a break from some fairly serious concerns.
Definitely. Sometimes just that respite from what’s going on is enough to give you a bit of a kick and a bit of an energy boost to keep going.

The band is billed as Adam Brand and the Outlaws – does that mean you get to do most of the singing or do you let the other guys have a turn?
I suppose it’s billed that way because I’ve had a lot to do with all of these guys and their careers at some point. But what it means is quite the opposite: I can delegate everybody else to sing and I can sit back and have fun, just jump around the stage. And these guys are fantastic singers, they really are – I just stand back in awe. For me this tour is going to be a dream come true, you know. There’s one song in particular I sit back and hang around and probably carry on like a pork chop, and three times during the song I come in and deliver one line. I love singing, I love performing, but I get great satisfaction out of watching these guys do their thing. They’re going to be introduced to some new crowds as well, so it’s going to be fantastic.

You said earlier that it would be interesting if you all did some songwriting together – given how long you’re going to be on the road together and the collaborative nature of country music, I wonder what will come out of this tour.
You just never know. If a few of the boys can stay sober enough, we’ll see what happens [laughs].

You’re going to kick off the tour at Blazes [in West Tamworth Leagues Club] during the 2016 Tamworth Country Music Festival – was that always the plan, to launch during the festival?
It was. The Blazes midnight show has been historically my Brand Birthday Bash that I do every year and it’s just one of the biggest parties of the year for me and the boys in the band, so I just thought this would be the perfect time, the perfect kick-off, the perfect environment for the Outlaws to be unleashed. It’s going to be our very first gig. We did two songs at the [Gympie] Muster just to introduce people to us but this will be our very first full gig and it’s going to be a big night.

It sounds like you might need quite a long set to fit everything in.
We’re going to play the whole album and have a couple of surprises. But it’s not going to be an Adam Brand concert with all of my songs, it’s going to be the Outlaws songs and then a few little other things dotted in there.

It’s one thing to get you all together to record an album, but rehearsing for the tour – is that mainly going to happen in those days when you’re all together in Tamworth just before the gig?
We’ll probably go into the rehearsal studio before we go to Tamworth, just to have a bit of a blast-out. Before we went into the studio [to record] we did the same thing – we went into a studio for a week to rehearse these songs and sort out the arrangements and all kinds of stuff. So we’re going to be prepared for it.

And you’re all incredibly seasoned professionals, so I would imagine that in itself means you can all walk into a rehearsal room and you know what you’re doing.
The guys are very professional that way and we’ll all learn our parts and go there. It’s probably going to be more about choreographing our dance moves [laughs]. It’s more to work out how much fun we’re going to have, I think.

So is this the point at which we can call you a boy band?
Yeah, we’re a boy band, for sure. There’s going to be costume changes, feathers and sequins.

And you may all need to get matching haircuts.
[Laughs] That’s right. Although it’s mostly going to be Mike in the feathers and sequins, I’d say.

Well, one hesitates to ask if Buddy Goode is going to be your support act – I guess that will have to be one of the surprises.
Time will only tell.

Adam Brand already has a busy country music career, releasing albums regularly and touring Australia in between. When I've interviewed Adam in the past it's also become clear that he's fond of a side project - and now he has a new side project that's actually going to be his focus for the first few months of 2016: Adam Brand and the Outlaws, which gathers the considerable individual talents of Brand, Drew McAlister, Travis Collins, Matt Cornell and Mike Carr into one band. The Outlaws will launch their album and kick off their national tour during the 2016 Tamworth Country Music Festival (dates below, after the interview) and recently I spoke to Adam about this exciting new venture.

Now, your fans are probably hoping that this new band doesn’t keep you from your solo career for too long. Do you have plans already for your next solo project or are you going to do the Outlaws tour first and see what happens?
No, this definitely has a life span, the Outlaws. We’ve got the tour booked in, we’ve got a certain amount of time in which we can do it, and once that’s done we’re all back to our individual careers. I’m already working on my next album, actually, for the end of next year [2016].

Given that your idea of a ‘holiday’ seems to be opening restaurants and things like that, is there any plan for an actual holiday?
Ah … no, not really [laughs]. I’ll probably take a couple of days maybe after New Year’s and go away for a couple of days fishing, maybe. One and a half days. Two days. Something. We’ll see.

A lot of people may not realise that to have a career like yours – or anyone else who’s in this band – it’s consistent hard work. You need to have the talent to do what you’re doing but it’s that consistent hard work and realising that actually it’s fun to do it, but you still have to show up every day and do it otherwise things come to a stop.
Certainly. And in my regard, anyway, there’s a lot more hard work than there is talent. You’ve just got to keep working at it. You’ve got to keep on trying to be creative. I wake up every day thinking about performing songs, tours, different ideas, and while it is hard work it also is a labour of love, because it’s something that we’re passionate about.

And have you, over the course of your time touring, worked out how you can – this is possibly going to sound a bit woo-woo – work that energy of the crowd so you don’t run yourself down?
You always go out with the best intentions of not trying to completely drain your tank, but the very nature of what we do on stage is to be emotional, to just let everything out and connect. I actually don’t feel like I’ve done a good job and done it justice and given people what I should if I don’t come off stage feeling completely drained and exhausted and like I’ve given them everything I could. I don’t want to feel like I’m going through the motions. I want to go out there and if I’m feeling like jumping off the front of the stage or running around the stage five times, I’ll just do it because that’s what it’s about – it’s about being emotional, letting those emotions out, letting that passion speak for itself.

Which is great for your audience but I’m looking at this run of gigs and you’ve got quite a few day after day after day, so obviously you’ve worked out a way to give that much in a performance and still maintain your energy levels for the next night.
Yeah, I’m going to have a lazy-boy onstage so when the others are going for it I’m going to sit down and have a drink and watch, and then jump up and do my bit.

I reckon secretly you’re eating lots of vegetables and keeping yourself healthy is how you do it.
There is a little bit of that – but then there’s the other as well.

The debut album from Adam Brand and the Outlaws will be released on 8 January 2016.

Friday 22nd January 2016
Blazes – West Tamworth Leagues Club, TAMWORTH NSW | (02) 6765 7588

Monday 25th January 2016
Dargo River Inn, DARGO VIC | (03) 5140 1330

Wednesday 27th January 2016
Flying Horse Bar & Brewery, WARRNAMBOOL VIC
(03) 5562 2254

Thursday 28th January 2016
Hallam Hotel, HALLAM VIC | (03) 8786 0200

Friday 29th January 2016
Gateway Hotel, GEELONG VIC | (03) 5275 1091

Saturday 30th January 2016
Kinross Woolshed Hotel, THURGOONA NSW

Sunday 31st January 2016
Capital Theatre, BENDIGO VIC | (03) 5334 6100

Wednesday 3rd February 2016
(02) 6543 1700

Thursday 4th February 2016
Ettalong Diggers Club, ETTALONG NSW
(02) 4343 0011

Friday 5th February 2016
Toronto Workers Club, TORONTO NSW
(02) 4959 2011

Saturday 6th February 2016
Waves Towradgi, TOWRADGI BEACH NSW | (02) 4283 3588

Sunday 7th February 2016
Goulburn Workers Club, GOULBURN NSW
(02) 4821 3355

Thursday 11th February 2016
Caloundra Power Boat Club, CALOUNDRA QLD
(07) 5492 1444

Friday 12th February 2016
Kedron Wavell Services Club, CHERMSIDE QLD
(07) 3359 9122

Saturday 13th February 2016
Twin Towns Services Club, TWEED HEADS NSW | 1800 014 014

Sunday 14th February 2016
Blue Mountains Hotel, TOOWOOMBA QLD
(07) 4632 3258

Friday 19th February 2016
Country Club, LAUNCESTON TAS | 1300 795 257

Saturday 20th February 2016
Wrestpoint Entertainment Centre, HOBART TAS | 1300 795 257

Thursday 25th February 2016
Inverell RSM, INVERELL NSW | (02) 6722 3066

Friday 26th February 2016
Laurieton United Services LAURIETON NSW | (02) 6559 9110

Saturday 27th February 2016
Moonee Beach Tavern, MOONEE BEACH NSW | (02) 6653 6199

Sunday 28th February 2016
Club Forster, FORSTER NSW | (02) 6591 6591

Thursday 3rd March 2016
Norwood Hotel, NORWOOD SA | (08) 8431 1822

Friday 4th March 2016
Old Mill Hotel, HAHNDORF SA
(08) 8388 7888

Saturday 5th March 2016
Mundarring Weir Hotel, MUNDARRING WEIR WA
(08) 9295 1106

Sunday 6th March 2016
Ravenswood Hotel, RAVENSWOOD WA | (08) 9537 6054

Thursday 17th March 2016
Dubbo RSL, DUBBO NSW | (02) 6882 4411

Friday 18th March 2016
Club Mudgee, MUDGEE NSW | (02) 6372 1922

Saturday 19th March 2016
Rooty Hill RSL, ROOTY HILL NSW | (02) 9265 5500

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Greta Stanley on tour

Queensland singer-songwriter Greta Stanley is on the road, touring her delightful sound to a handful of lucky venues. I caught up with her while she was in Brisbane for a chat.

How long did it take to plan this tour? I imagine you had to first of all find venues to play at.
It took a fair bit of planning, actually – just contacting so many venues. This is always a busy time of the year, Christmas and all of that, so a lot of places are busy from mid-year because they’ve organised it. So it’s a lot of planning, a lot of contacting and waiting, but it’s good – now I know how to do it.

So you’ve done all of that yourself?
I had some help from a friend of mine, Courtney, and a lady who co-manages me, Fleur McMenamin. I have a bit of a team behind me, so that’s good.

Now you started playing near home in Far North Queensland and you’ll be heading home for Christmas. What do you have planned for your Christmas Eve gig in Cairns?
I’m playing at the Woolshed – it’s the first venue I ever played at when I moved to Cairns. I was busking on the straight and they said, ‘We need you to play here’. So it should be a nice vibe. Christmas Eve is always very family orientated, which I think is good, because the Woolshed has a nice outdoor setting and kids are always welcome to sit in the outdoor area. There’s a playground across the road. I think it’ll be a good one.

I know you’ve already played your gig in Atherton but I’m curious about the venue: Petals and Pinecones.        What sort of place is that?
That place is like a really cool cafĂ©. It’s kind of unexpected. You go into this little complex and there’s a Super Cheap Auto and then around the corner you walk into this shed and it’s full of fairy lights and flowers and all these old vintage couches, and it’s really nice. It’s an awesome little gig. It was really nice to play there, it was a good turnout. Atherton’s got beautiful weather and I love the tablelands as well.

That sounds like an amazing venue.
It’s really sweet. And they’re known for their crazy shakes – like milkshake to the extreme. I didn’t try one because I’d probably be really sick but I got a banana smoothie and it was awesome. But they’re known for these crazy ‘creation jars’ which have Mars Bars, chocolate – everything. If you look them up on Facebook you’ll see what I mean.

Is it a slightly different crowd closer to home? And I guess in a place like Atherton where there’s not necessarily a lot of gigs going on, does a bigger range of people come to a gig in a small town than might come to a gig in a city?
I think in a small town it can be easier because it’s easier for people to know you and know who you are just through word of mouth. Atherton, Innisfail, Cairns, they’re all pretty close to each other, so I always have a people I recognise or familiar faces at gigs. Which is good, and I think it’s good in a place like Atherton. They’ve actually got a pretty good music scene. I just think it’s good for young kids to have something to do all weekend. When I was living in Innisfail I thought, I wish I could go listen to some music or listen to someone I really like play. There was never really a lot of opportunities for it, so I love doing it because I would have loved it when I was a kid. Now I get to give that to other people. In Brisbane it’s been really good. A lot of my friends from Innisfail and Cairns live in Brisbane now. I’ve had friends come along to gigs. But it’s always awesome to meet new people and make new friends.

So you’re happy to do that side of things – happy for people to come up and chat to you? You don’t want to run off at the end of the show?
No – unless I’m having a really bad day or something! Usually I’m fine to talk and I love talking, and I think that’s so important. If I really like an artist and I want to go up and say thank you or express how much I like them, I don’t want them to run off [laughs]. So I definitely won’t be doing it to people.

I guess some artists’ personality types mean they want to get up and leave …
Well, I would just give people the warning that I am quite bad at socialising [laughs]. So if it seems like I don’t want to talk or something, it’s probably just because I’m nervous.      

Do you get more nervous talking to people than getting on stage?
Yes! Definitely. I know how to play my songs but I don’t know how to talk to people.

Because for most people, the idea of getting on stage would probably make them feel sick.
It’s so strange – in high school, doing public speaking, I would cry and just be a mess, and it would come to music class and I’d say, ‘Yep, sweet, I can get up and play in front of lots of people.’ I’m not sure how that works.

I also noticed – again, a gig in the past – you played at the Powerhouse in Brisbane, which is a great venue. Did you enjoy playing there?
Yes, I did, I loved it. Awesome venue. I’d never been there before, so it was good to check it out. Really nice crowd for the Brightspark event. There was another band on that were pretty cool. My dad’s old friends who live in Brisbane came – it was nice to see some people I hadn’t seen in a while.

After Christmas you’ll be doing a bit of travel around Queensland, at a very hot, humid time of year – will it be hard to keep your guitar in tune?
It is. I’ve even noticed that coming from Cairns to Brisbane, just because it’s a lot cooler here than it is in Cairns. There’s no humidity here [in Brisbane]. It’s already been a bit funky with me. But I carry strings on me so if they snap or whatever, I’ll be fine. And I just bought a new tuner to make sure everything’s in schmick condition. So I’ll be fine, I think.

It’s an occupational hazard that a lot of other people may not realise – that the instruments can take on a life of their own depending on the weather.
[Laughs] It’s so true. Sometimes I’ll get up and my guitar will do the weirdest things and I’ll be, like, ‘Come on! Just be okay for tonight!’ It’s probably just getting me back for not playing it for a little while. It does have a mind of its own.

So you’re driving yourself around to these gigs?
The ones up near home I’ll be driving but the others I’m flying and bussing and training and Ubering. First time using Uber.

And apart from all these touring plans, I’m sure you have something in the works in terms of a second release. Are you writing songs?                                   
Yes, yes, I’ve got lots of songs – but I’m still writing. I’m always writing. It’s just a matter of what makes it onto the second release. The first one was hard to pull down to six songs. But I’m working on that. That’s the plan for next year – to work towards putting something out. I have an electric guitar now, so that’ll be fun. Still have the acoustic but I do have the electric to mess around with, so that might make it onto some of the new stuff.

Is your heart still with the acoustic or you like them both for different things?
I like them both for different things. I think my heart will always be with the acoustic but it is fun to play an electric.

Byron gig on 16th at Ginger Pig in Byron Bay
Wednesday16th December 2015 | 7pm

Friday 18th December 2015 | 7pm

Thursday 24th December 2015 | 5pm
The Woolshed, CAIRNS QLD

Thursday 31st December 2015 | 7pm
Bramston Beach Motel, BRAMSTON BEACH QLD

Saturday 2nd January 2016 | 6pm
$5 at the door

Friday 8th January 2016 | 8pm

Monday, December 7, 2015

Album review: The Mountain by Lachlan Bryan & The Wildes

There is a television show that has had several productions around the world. It’s called The X Factor. It’s named after that indefinable quality that seems common to star performers of the musical and acting variety (although, in the case of the show, just musical). While it’s debatable if any of the contestants on these shows have that X factor, there is no question that Lachlan Bryan possesses it. Or maybe it's magic, because he produced magic on his last two albums, Shadow of the Gun and Black Coffee, and he’s done it again on his latest, The Mountain.

Part of Bryan’s magic no doubt stems from something he identifies on track 9, ‘Fool for Love’, when he sings that he has always been a complicated boy. Complication is a seam running through his whole body of work, along with melancholy, guilt and responsibility. These are high-stakes themes to work with, but he also knows the difference between grand and grandiose. That said, on every album Bryan reliably produces several songs that are destined to break a listener's heart. On this album it's 'Afraid of the Light', 'View from the Bridge' and 'Fool for Love'. But lest anyone think he’s spending too long in the shadows, he’s not afraid of a major key, as songs like ‘The King and I’ and ‘I Don’t Make the Rules’ attest. 

There is one mystery on this album: the song ‘The Secret I’ll Take to the Grave’ appeared on Shadow of the Gun and no reason is given why it’s repeated here. Still, long-time fans are advised that you’re not confused: it is the same song. Otherwise, all the songs are original to the album and they show both the talent that has always been evident in Bryan’s songwriting and his maturation as a writer and singer. They also give the Wildes plenty of opportunities to display their own talents, and this does sound like a band's album rather than Bryan superimposed over session players. 

Bryan has a distinctive voice: rich, often smooth, never brittle. That voice is more relaxed and also more commanding on this album than in the past. In general Bryan sounds more at ease, and so he should. He knows what he’s doing, we know what he’s doing, and while he could never be accused of producing ‘easy listening’, it is very, very easy to listen to an album as good as this one.  

The Mountain is out now through ABC Music/Universal.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Don McGlashan brings his Lucky Stars to Australia

Sometimes I'll stretch my definition of 'country music' to include artists who aren't at all country but who I think the country music audience might like - storytellers who write great songs and whose musical style is not too far away from country. And the definition is happily stretched when the artist concerned is someone as esteemed as Don McGlashan, who hails from across the ditch. McGlashan was the singer-songwriter for the Mutton Birds and has since released three solo albums, the latest of which is the magnificent Lucky Stars. Don McGlashan is about to tour Australia to support the album, and I spoke to him recently. 

Having read your bio I thought I’d start by saying that you seem to be a bit of an underachiever. I’m not sure you’ve quite done enough in your life – scoring movies, recording albums …
[Laughs] I talked to Stuart Coupe the other day and he seriously accused me of being lazy, but that’s mainly because the solo album output’s pretty low. I promised to fix that up. There’s been three solo albums since 1999, which is a bit … yeah, that’s scandalous. But I have been doing other things.

Well, you absolutely have. Given that you have these different aspects to your work, and they are quite diverse, do you need to shift gears in order to write and record songs for yourself? Does it require becoming more introspective?
I'm generally sketching stuff no matter what I’m doing. If I’m collaborating with somebody on a film or busy doing something else, I’ve generally got a journal that’s gradually filling up with song ideas and it’s just a question of when I can sit down and give myself space to make them into songs. Sometimes it is consciously putting myself into a more introspective place and sometimes it’s just to do with the vagaries of being a freelance musician in a little country like New Zealand, where there’s quite a bit of work but you’ve got to duck and dive. So that’s probably the answer to that one. It certainly is a different set of skills, though. I guess I’ve always considered myself a songwriter and singer who does other stuff in between gigs rather than the other way round.

Given that you’ve done a few different things, I guess partly it requires being able to think of how the audience is different each time. So the audience for this album is not exactly the same as the audience for a film score or working on a different sort of project. So do you have that sense of audience when you’re creating?
When I’m collaborating with somebody it’s clear because the whole apparatus of the project is set up and I'm just coming in and contributing ideas to something that’s already up and running. I must say that when I’m sitting down to write my own songs it’s more for me. Picking up a guitar is a kind of healing thing for me; if I’m wandering round the house not feeling very good, I tend to pick up the guitar and feel better. Then I suppose having written something, having got a song out – I’m quite slow, I don’t write fast – actually taking that to an audience completes the circle. But I’m not entirely sure that I’m thinking of an audience when I’m writing a song. Certainly when I’ve been in bands and when I’ve been working with other musicians, I think of them. With the Mutton Birds, which was a ten-year band, after about three or four years I’d sit down to write and I’d think, David, the guitarist, would have fun with this bit here and Alan’s going to think up a cool bass line for this bit here. So it’s more like that, I think, than thinking of an audience.

What you’ve just described with the Mutton Birds kind of goes against the idea of the egotistical singer-songwriter who just wants everything in his own image. That’s a real sense of serving the bigger purpose when you write like that.
We became a very democratic band and I think to some degree you have to, if you’ve been going for a while. We were living in vans and travelling all over the place together, and we really tied ourselves to each other’s wagons in terms of our careers. And we started the band quite late, too – I was twenty-nine when I started it. The other guys were younger. But it wasn’t just goofing off and having fun down the pub with the guys – although there was plenty of that. So we did end up taking quite a lot of notice of each other. Even now with Lucky Stars, this album, I got a real kick out of collaborating with the guitarist, Tom Rodwell, on it, because he’s got a particular style – a whole bunch of styles – and he means every note that he plays. And that kicked me up a gear, I think. Once I realised that I was going to get the drummer that I’ve been working with for quite a few years [Chris O’Connor] to work over the top of some of the rhythms that I’d already laid down, that changed it again. We’ve been doing some stuff live, just as a three-piece. I’d really love to bring that to Australia when I can afford to. Right now these gigs that are coming up are solo. But I think it’s a really cool band and it’s changing the way that I write.

I suppose it’s a different experience to the Mutton Birds, though – do you miss that sense of the travelling band of brothers?
It’s got a lot going for it and certainly during the Mutton Birds period I wrote enough songs to put out four albums in the ten years we were going, and that’s probably the highest output that I’ve ever had. So it was certainly good for me. But I’m touring a lot, and even if it’s solo there’s usually a tour manager and a sound person, so it’s still fun, it’s still really companionable getting around the country. In fact, these last few months of touring have been some of the best that I’ve ever done. Something about arriving at where I want to be. I’ve given away a lot of the other work that I used to do. My kids are grown up now so I don’t need to rush out and earn as much as I used to, doing film scores and TV scores, so there’s a really enjoyable simplicity to my life at the moment and I’m getting a real kick out of it. Also we were touring in the spring – we headed around New Zealand just as the blossoms were coming out.

Well, that’s just nauseating! [laughs] As in nauseatingly beautiful. What a wonderful thing to do.
[Laughs] It can be nauseatingly nauseating if you want.

I’m listening to your talking about your experience touring this album and also note that you’ve said that it’s more personal than your previous work and you didn’t adopt characters on it, and I wonder if some of that comfort you’re feeling in the work you’re doing now is because of that – because of you stepping to the forefront as a narrator of your stories.
There’s a link, certainly. And it’s probably just arriving at the age I’m at. There’s a lot to be said for all the different songwriting devices that you can employ, like creating a narrator. Sometimes I’m motivated to write a protest song about something or write an angry song about something and it’s easier in a way for me – just because of the way I’m made – to create a negative persona and have that person try to explain themselves and fail. I find that really interesting and I’ve done a few songs like that. Some people can write a direct ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ type of protest song and I’ve never been able to do that, but I do enjoy that more kind of short-storyish unreliable narrator type of vibe. So I’m not going to give it up completely, I’m going to come back to it certainly. But the fact of this album, everything came out and seemed to be more direct and shorter songs – songs which didn’t take the audience through a story. It’s great to stand up and do that stuff. And also there’s a few other indicators – I don’t think I’ve ever had the confidence to play the whole album from go to whoa when I’ve just made a new album. It’s more traditional to hide the new songs in amongst the old songs so that you don’t frighten the horses. But for this album, the first tour that we went out with, with the three-piece band, that’s what we did: the first half of the show was just the album in order, then everybody went away and had a drink, and the second half of the show was more familiar stuff. And it felt great. We’ve never done that before and it felt fantastic. So maybe it’s to do with the nature of this album and maybe it’s to do with where I’m at, at the moment.

I guess songs change form, in a way, as you perform them to others – you can discover different things in them. Have you found that these songs are still very much as they were when you wrote them, or have they changed a bit?
Well, they’re growing, and I think that’s the cool risk you take when you decide that you’re going to play all the new ones, because you don’t leave the problematic ones in the fridge to take out later. So that’s really exciting. There’s a song called ‘For Your Touch’ on the album and I could have left that out, I suppose, and not played it live, but I’ve really been getting a kick out of playing it live and learning more about how to sing it. It’s right at the edge of my ability to sing, so that’s a real challenge, and just starting it and thinking, Do I have those notes tonight after all that whiskey? [laughs] After all that chatting I did to people after the show, do I actually have those falsetto notes? And then, if I haven’t got them, finding some other kind of thing that still sells that idea. So it’s been a real blast.

Now there’s a line in one of these songs, about dropping your weapons – and just to take it out of the context of the song … a creative life has its challenges and I wonder what sort of weapons you’ve had to wield over the course of your creative life and what have you now learned to let go of or had to let go of?
Well, I’m very good at wielding weapons against myself. Certainly, when I was going through the rock ’n’ roll life of major labels – because the Mutton Birds signed to Virgin UK so we had guys in the employ of the record company coming in and trying to coach us – me, particularly – in how to do interviews and not be self-deprecating. [Laughs] All that sort of palaver. And I came out of that feeling like I’d just been through a wringer. I suppose in order to get through there’s a sort of ‘put your head down, get up on stage, do the photographs, try to manufacture the self-belief or manufacture the impression of self-belief even if it’s not there’. And that’s a weapon that it’s good to get rid of.

It’s exhausting, I would think, having to do that.
It is exhausting. And the thing is, you write for yourself – you’re an artist because you want to be an artist – and all the rewards are there in the act of making something that you’re proud of and putting it out in front of a few people. All the rewards are there and all the other ones are just ancillary, they’re all to do with other people who might want to make money out of what you do. And that’s the thing that’s got to sustain you, and it has sustained me. It’s got to the point that I just love what I do. I’m lucky that I’m famous enough in New Zealand and, to a lesser degree, in other parts of the world that people will come to the gigs. Not famous enough that it’s inconvenient.

Australian tour dates:
11 November - Smith's Alternative Bookshop, Canberra ACT
12 November - Petersham Bowling Club, Sydney NSW
13 November - Clarendon Guesthouse, Katoomba NSW
14 November - Melbourne Folk Club, Vic.