I discovered Raised by Eagles with a bunch of friends at a crack-up of a gig at the Queenscliff Bowls Club, part of the 2015 Queenscliff Music Festival in south coast Victoria. Fluro lights, old ducks, families and festival goers danced as the band rocked Americana style songs from their first two albums. Noting that their charisma matched with well crafted songs, I was looking forward to chatting to lead singer, Luke Sinclair. Sitting in an outdoor beer garden in Brunswick, Luke is affable and warm. Concerned about not being articulate, he actually gets his thoughts across very clearly. This seems to be a common motivator for songwriters, as Ash Naylor has previously mentioned, and why collecting your thoughts and feelings in a finished song feels very rewarding.
Do you remember the first song you wrote?
Ah man I was writing songs a lot when I was a teenager – I think you’re kind of narcissistic by default when you’re a teenager. I always had a morbid fascination with broken hearts and pain, and all that crap I guess most teenagers seem to be fascinated by, and I was writing really, really bad love songs from when I was 13. But I remember the first fully formed song I ever wrote and actually played on guitar was like a hillbilly song about an alligator that got loose in somebody’s front yard. Me and Sam Nolan (laughs), wrote it verse for verse and sung it in year 9 I think at high school. We just called it The Alligator Song and yeah it kinda went all over the place but essentially it was about everything going wrong in a small town, and making it out of there. I grew up in Beechworth and went to high school in Wangaratta. It was all football, there was a prison and 5 pubs (laughs), and a psych hospital up on the hill. There wasn’t that much else to do. I think i’ve still got it on tape.
How did you come to perform it at school?
We just appointed ourselves as the muso’s of our year group, and for better or for worse we used to bring our guitars to school and inflict these songs on school assembly. ‘Does anyone wanna do a song at assembly’? ‘yeah we’ve got a song!’ (laughs). We’d usually get in trouble for whatever the subject matter was.
That’s pretty early.
Yeah it’s interesting– i’ve just written a song in the last couple weeks and that song – The Alligator Song, makes an appearance.
Oh really, you reference that first song?
Yeah I was writing about the nostalgia of growing up in the country and the friends that you lose as you get older – he was one of my best friends that I wrote that song with and I was just wondering where he was. I guess that’s come full circle too, because it’s in the most recent song i’ve written.
Do you have a title for the one you’re writing now?
No. That always comes when I record it and I have to come up with a title. That’s my least favourite thing about writing. I hate it – i’m so bad at it, I never know what to call a song, you know. I usually end up calling it something that’s in the song.. I could call it Alligator Song. I don’t know why we came up with Alligators (laughs), we have crocodiles here- we were so heavily into American country music, even then.
Was it a similar sound then? Listening to your stuff now, like Doorstep – sounds influenced by Steve Earle or the Jayhawks.
That song was actually written by Nick O’Mara (laughs). So we’re both influenced by the same kinda music and I know he draws from that a lot. It’s a beautiful song – we’ve been talking about it a lot lately, it’s interesting you bring it up. We don’t play it much anymore and we’ve had people say after gigs ‘Why don’t you play that doorstep song?’
It’s one of those ones that crept up from the second album (Diamonds in The Bloodstream), and Honey.
That’s Nicks song as well
Really? And Waterline?
Waterline we wrote together.
So how does the writing process happen with you guys?
He’ll write some songs, bring ‘em in and we’ll record them. But initially that first record was just some songs that I had written that I really wanted to get recorded. I was in a band that had dissipated over time. I’d had those songs written for a while and I wanted to record them so I put the band together from the guys i’d known from the circuit.
Same guys as now?
Yeah. Nick had played guitar for the Idle Hoe’s – that was the band I was in before this one. So I nabbed him. Luke Richardson, I knew from The Stetson Family who were good friends of ours, and Johnny Gibson.. I had recorded with Van Walker in Tasmania years ago and played bass on one of his records and Johnny was playing the drums. So I just grabbed those three guys said ‘Hey, i’ve got these songs if you wanna record them’ and we did – and that was the first record.
Nick had some songs – he was doing some solo gigs around town – and he brought ‘em to rehearsal and we were like ‘What’s that?’ – one of them was Honey and then he brought Doorstep in and we loved that so we recorded that as well. Waterline was a song that he had the music for a couple of lines – he sent to me and said ‘Do you wanna write something around this idea?’. So I wrote the rest of it. That song was a bit of dual process and then on the new record there’s another song that he sent me all the music called Everyday, Everyday. So I wrote some lyrics around that idea which was a really nice way to write.
You write most of the lyrics as well?
Yeah. He’s always got 2 or 3 songs on each album. It surprises me and I think it’s cool that often people cannot tell who’s written or who’s sung it. It’s a very collaborative process when it comes to the music side of things. I might write a song, but there’s guitar riffs and things that might take it to a whole new direction. The band sort of re develop the song and it turns into something that’s significantly bigger once getting into the studio. When that happens, we like to give each other credit (laughs).
Sort of work it out at the time?
It’s just been a natural process really, it’s not something we really think about or discuss. If it’s a good song, it’s a good song and it ends up on the record.
Do the other guys bring in any songs?
They haven’t at this stage. Luke Richardson isn’t a songwriter. Johnny is. He’s put out records of his own – Johnny Gibson and the Hangovers.
I read that you were writing up until recording the last album.
Yeah, it was a strange way. We’ve usually got everything locked down by the time we go into the studio. But this time (was) a bit of a different process, we’d sort of built an audience and all of a sudden there’s this expectation. ABC Music got on board and said they wanted to put this one out, we had a manager and a booking agent. So yeah I guess I felt like it had to be good – where as the other ones I haven’t really cared, it just is what it is because we were writing all the time anyway. And to be honest I wasn’t really ready to put out a record. So we were polishing things up and finishing things off when usually we’d been playing the songs live for 6 months before recording- that’s how we’d always recorded so quickly. The last record (Diamonds in The Bloodstream), we recorded the whole thing in 5 days – because we’d been performing so many live shows. This one was much more ‘Oh should we do this, or should we do that’. I was even tweaking lyrics when I was in the vocal booth. So that was a new process and I thought maybe it wasn’t as good as it could’ve been but when it was done and I spent some time with it I started to like it. Which is really strange because that’s what a lot of people are saying too. It’s like the energy that you put into it, is what comes out of it. We hadn’t fully realised what the songs were until it had been recorded. Then we sat back and listened – and thought this is something we can be proud of you know.
It’s good you have both processes now to compare.
That’s true. Yeah. I’ve done it and I didn’t like it (laughs). Think next time I’ll make sure that i’ve got the songs, and i’m already confident in the fact that I have strong songs.
You could do a Beyonce and sneak off and do an album and no-one knows.
Ah jeez i’d love to do that.
Yeah with no pressure – I think she’s done that on her last two albums.
Dunno if we’re in the same level of pressure yet or freedom – financial freedom anyway. But it would be good. There’s so much pressure on bands these days to have a social media presence and to look like you’re moving – I see that happen a lot and I feel like that too. As soon as you start recording, you start posting about it. So it’s like you know, there’s something happening. I guess because it so saturated now and so many records coming out you feel like if you don’t stay on the circuit, they’ll forget that you’re one of the players.
Yeah it’s so different now.
I mean I kinda feel like that’s dissipating a bit as I get older, not so desperate to be churning stuff out. I’m having a bit of a rest now and its good. I mean it was a busy week just gone, but I don’t feel like I need to push things, I really want it just to happen on its own.
So, do you have any writing routines, where you write better in the mornings, or coffee first?
Definitely not in the mornings (laughs). I’m a real night owl, i’ve gotta force myself to go to bed at the best of times. All I need is an empty house. That’s when I inevitably sit down and start playing guitar and find out i’ve written a verse of something. The later at night, it seems the better. But the problem with that is as soon as the muse starts to come, you get creative and you start getting excited because you feel like ‘i’m onto something here’… I start pouring wine, rolling cigarettes – like it really seems to feed that self destructive beast in me as well. I can quite easily look after myself, until i’m playing music (laughs). So that side of it’s not so good, that’s what I want to try and change.
So you can drink and still write as you go?
Yeah it really locks me into what i’m doing, for whatever reason. But maybe that’s just a delusion and I could do a whole lot better if I wasn’t doing that. That’s not to say I haven’t written some songs where I haven’t started to get drunk or smoke a bunch of cigarettes but when I get excited about a song and i’ve done the hard part, written a chorus and a first verse, i know what im saying and I know how im gonna wrap it up- I start to celebrate it. (laughs) ‘Yes!’
Another one in the bag!
And it feels great when it’s done, such a sense of release you know. You’ve gotten something done, and something’s off your chest. You can really feel it, physically.
Liz Stinger talks about giving up drinking and writing and performing.
Yeah she’s a friend of ours. Liz is one of those people that doesn’t really say anything unless it’s worth saying, and she doesn’t sit there and talk about herself a lot.
Was interesting what she said about drinking and not drinking.
I’ve certainly had long stints off cigarettes and booze. But I find i’m not very creative. But the stuff that you have created is really enjoyable to play. The gigs are great and you have so much more energy, and like she was saying you have so much more clarity. It’s like the haze has lifted off the way you feel and you’re so much more articulate and you can speak to people when you’re performing, and you don’t get so intro and disappear into yourself. It’d be nice to be like that all the time. It’s a beast.
The great irony is that you use all those things to try and get you into that place but they actually hinder it. And it’s not until you’re in a good place emotionally and psychologically anyway that you can start to achieve what you set out to. And feel the way you always wanted to by doing this thing.
Who did you look up to in the Australian music scene growing up?
Chain, Matt Walker & Ashley Davies, Nick Barker, Tex Perkins, Tim Rogers, Mick Thomas, Hoodoo Gurus, Midnight Oil, Paul Kelly, Sandpit, Something for Kate, The Avalanches, Gerling… We recorded our first EP in Mick Thomas’ back yard and he gave us gigs at his Xmas shows at the Corner- when we were just a shitty little back yard band who really didn’t know how to perform. Now he’s covering one of my songs! All these things have started to happen – I remember I used to lie on my bed ‘if only this would happen, or this would happen’ and now all that stuff has happened and more- we played Queenscliff, Port Fairy, toured the country. If you had’ve told me i’d be doing this- sitting here talking to you about music, I would’ve looked through those eyes at me now and thought id fu**ing made it and so its just about trying to keep that in mind – not always the next thing, the next thing (like) ‘When are you gonna go to America?
The lyrics on the song Night Wheels– is that your song??
Some really beautiful lyrics, do they flow out naturally?
Um, yeah. I listen to that song and I feel like it’d be confusing. So it’s interesting that you bring it up. I’m glad you feel that way about it, because to me it sounds quite fragmented in what I was trying to say. That song is really just about letting go of something that you’ve been dealing with for too long and it was self destructive. I guess I felt that song let me down. I love it, I loved it from day one and I expected a lot more from that song. Its probably fragmented because I wasn’t really saying anything linear, just a bunch of stuff that eluded to letting go.
I didn’t know what it was about but lines jumped out like ‘My heart held an ocean to the island I was swimming to’ It’s just really sweet, and seems like it flows out in the moment.
Yeah I guess it does, because I know what i’m trying to say, but not how to say it. Which I guess a lot of song writing is based around. All I need from a song is one or two lines to hold onto.
As in someone else’s song?
Yeah, i’ll hear a line and go ‘Yeah what a line!’ And then I love the song because that line gives me enough.
Is that how most of the lyrics come?
Yeah – the best songs come really quickly usually, which is really bizarre thing. I find it bizarre that it’s common to hear so many artists say that. All of a sudden its like ‘ I know exactly how to write this song’ and it’s almost like you can’t write fast enough. And its usually the songs people want to hear or ask about. If i’m labouring too much over something it generally falls by the wayside and I don’t use it. It should come pretty easily, you just have to know what you’re trying to say, that’s the hardest part
Do you have people assume things about the songs, or psycho-analyse you, like your friends?
Yeah. Sometimes they’re way off, but I think it’s really great that they’ve come up with something else, you know? It’s awesome! Half the time I write really cathartically anyway to get shit off my chest, which is quite narcissistic in itself, but we’re all going through this stuff.
When Nick sent me that piece of music and said ‘this is called ‘Everyday, Everyday’’, the emotive element was already there because the music was and the anchor for it was already there because the title was, so then I just kept writing and bringing it around to that idea- Everyday, Everyday. There was enough for me to get this verse and chorus. I sent that to Nick and then he just doubled it so I had room to write another verse and chorus. But the melody for the verses just came from writing the lyrics, you know. It was a really great way to write. So much easier than having to come up with that shit yourself too.
Sounds like a good partnership.
It’s a great musical partnership. Nick can really play those guitar lines that bring out the emotion of the songs and how they were intended to make you feel.
How do you know when a song is finished, does it help having the band?
Yeah that really helps. Like you might have half of the song but the music is telling you how much [more] it needs to be rounded and done. The music I guess lets me know when it’s done. It will tell me if i’ve gotta write more, or whether i’ve written enough. I could quite easily write only a verse and a chorus and get 10 or 12 songs in no time. The last half of the song is always the hardest part.
Image credit: Tajette O’halloran
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