Raised By Eagles

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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??

Yes! (laughs)

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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Raised By Eagles albums

Liz Stringer

 

“Well you’ll have a better life. You’ll have a better life, you mark our words. Have a better life, you’ll all get what you all deserve. Oh man, this is too f*****  up.  In anybody’s language it ain’t good enough. ‘Cos I’ve been here almost fifteen years. In anybody’s language, this is fight or fear” Anybody’s Language – Liz Stringer

Liz Stringer is a traveller at heart, offering insight into the ongoing cultural and political issues facing regional Australia and the world.  Her songs insist us not to turn a blind eye, as she hasn’t been able to, while touring the county and overseas limitless times.  She’s a straight talker – no bullshit, yet laughing easily when we meet on a cold Melbourne night, portraying her understanding of the complexity of human behaviour, which she explores in her song writing.

Do you remember the first song you wrote?

Yeah I remember the first full song that I wrote. Probably when I was 15.  Before that i’d written lots of little sort-of songs, but not fully formed.

Do you remember what it was about?

My mum had died a year earlier, so I wrote it about that which was pretty full on.  That was the first one I wrote and definitely the first I recorded, about a year later or something.

That’s pretty young.

Yeah I was using it as a cathartic process, I guess I felt like I had to say something, although I don’t think it was a conscious process.  I just did it you know?

You seem to share a lot of personal stories in your songs, intimately telling someone a story with a melancholy feel.  Is there a sense of therapy with your writing?

(There) is but it’s not always actually my story.  I grew up with the kind of old Irish folk tradition- sort of adopting voices instead of writing from my own perspective. It’s funny, i’m just writing a lot recently, the last 6-8 months and writing a lot more personally than I have for a long time.  I guess it’s more the story telling that im interested in but there’s natural catharsis that happens when you’re writing about somebody else.  I think that it is used as a form of therapy, or just as a form of expression or exercising kind of emotional demons.   People do that in different ways and that’s how I do it I think.

Sometimes more in retrospect, you’ll listen to it a bit down the track and go ‘I was actually writing about such and such’.  Also as i’m going through different stuff it can take on different meaning.  Which is what everyone does as a listener, you take what you need from it – and I do that with the songs i’ve written.  I think that I write in the darker end of the human experience spectrum because it’s a bigger palette than the happy bit and also what im interested in.  I find it really beautiful and it moves me and moves things around in me that singing songs about being happy and in love don’t do.  And that’s not because I haven’t been in love or i’m not a happy person but that’s just where – as a creative person – that’s where I find the best colour.

Are you more drawn to other people’s songs that are melancholic?

Yeah I would think so.  I think my only criteria for liking songs is authenticity.  If I feel like they’re telling the truth in whatever they’re singing about, in whatever form that is – not  necessarily literally – the way that they get across what they’re trying to get across, then I like it.  I dunno, it’s such a funny thought to think that we’re meant to be happy all the time because we’re just not. And that’s not a bad thing, that’s just part of the human experience – it’s that area that people respond to the most, because that’s where everyone is most of the time- and its art and music and thought and the luxurious things we can do that’s aside from just surviving – is working out what it is to be human.  And I write a lot of stuff that’s musically upbeat, rock n roll stuff, so it’s not about being depressing or deliberately morose, I just think it’s about discussing and tapping into areas that I feel have the most common ground, (and) is probably what I listen to.

Those other emotions are often harder to put into words, and easier to get across a feeling in a creative way.

Yeah, totally.

A song that has resonated with me is ‘Anybody’s Language’.  It comes across as a personal song, but easy for people to relate to in a communal or political way – even without the audience knowing the origin of the story. How did that song come about?

It came about from being on tour and particularly just over the years, on the Hume for example, how many towns had been bypassed and what that’s done to certain communities.  And then, I think it was during the Abbott time or just before, I guess it was my only attempt at singing about what I felt like was wrong. That people are so easily shat on and given gambling and booze and all this other shit to distract them for the fact they’re getting f***ed by the people they vote in.  It’s a very abstract song – basically imagery – doesn’t really have a narrative or anything, just a loose idea.  Then funnily enough later when I was involved with the James Price Point fight, north of Broome – a bunch of musicians were there to play for the ones defending the land, so the stuff that i’d written, the pipes on the beach line – i don’t think I even knew about James Price Point at that stage, but that then became relevant.  I didn’t get that line for that experience, but it fit it well.

You relate it to that?

Yeah I do, and I introduce it as that, but chronologically it doesn’t work.  But I knew of offshore gas hubs, and the barrier reef and desecration of the natural environment of Australia, particularly in the Kimberley – I think that’s probably where it was bubbling.

I guess with the sentiment there’s a lot of ongoing things that can relate to the feel of that song.

Yeah, totally. Because it’s such a depressing state of affairs.  For someone that was lucky enough to be born into a family that had enough money to educate, clothe and feed me – that’s not everyone’s experience. That’s the other thing about being a songwriter or observer. I feel like it’s important to be able to understand other perspectives.  I mean my people are pretty f***ed as well.  We’re not rich, but I am compared to someone who grew up with nothing, you know what I mean.

Yeah the more you travel, the more you meet people and realize.

Totally, particularly since touring.  You don’t have to go far out of the north of Melbourne to tap into the vein of racist, misogynist Australia. I wrote a song about this on my last record, you just have to understand that that’s their experience of the world – I mean we’re all getting f***ed, that’s what that song’s about.

I used to get really angry at people who had different political views to me, just couldn’t understand it.   But I think the older i’ve got I realise it’s more about listening to each other and not judging each other and saying well that’s how you grew up, and this is how I grew up – that’s how I know what I know, and you know what you know. No-ones better than everyone else.

I know it’s not as black and white as we think – but then sometimes it is black and white!

Totally! Some things are just wrong.  But we’re all united under one fact that is we’re getting f***ed by corporations.  Basically the law is that if you have enough money you can do whatever the f**k you want. It’s just what happens and that’s supremely depressing to me (laughs).

Lots of material to write songs from.

Absolutely, infinite. On-going.

I was thinking about how you said with Anybody’s Language, you started then added to it later. Do you have any song writing routines?

No I don’t have any routine.  I really am pretty um, what’s the word – pretty relaxed about it.  Which I don’t think has necessarily served me that well.  At the moment i’m in a period of song writing, and have been for the last 8 months to a year which co-incindently coincided with me not drinking booze for that amount of time.

Cold turkey?

Mmm Hmm.  I just thought I needed a rest. Began with a month, now it’s gonna be a year.  And that apparently has been really good for my song writing, which is interesting.  Because many of my contemporaries in the music world, drink too much. I needed to recalibrate that, it sucks my creativity and I realise that so I had a period before that of not really writing a lot.  And kind of feeling like well maybe now I have to put some sort of practice in place.  But now the way I do it is generally have a guitar around the house and I play guitar alot and i write songs almost daily which is what I used to do.  And that’s another reason.  I’m not going to not drink booze again, but im gonna be careful, because i realise you need energy and you need to be clear and present and able to accept the flow of whatever’s going on.  And maybe it works for some people but it doesn’t work for me and that’s been a real revelation.

The same with performing?

Yeah performing sober – oh my god.. the same thing with everything.  I realise that (with) performing, there’s so many natural highs that are going on  and it’s such a euphoric intense experience that you just totally squash when you drink.  I mean early on I used to drink a lot and play, then the last 2 years i’d have two or three drinks which wasn’t a lot for me.  But that’s actually something that I think, that I won’t drink on tour.  Just at the end of runs, or weeks if I have a few days off because really, i’m so much more open and sing better, I perform better, im more present and clear. It’s ridiculous that it’s such a revelation.

I used to perform a bit and could only have a couple at the most – after that i’d make heaps of mistakes, wouldn’t care and it just wasn’t good.

Do you have that thing where you felt like the signal was taking longer to get to my hands?

Yeah slow – it just never worked for me and I couldn’t understand how people could perform well.

I’ve known people that are incredible when they are but I know that i’m not.  I was talking to someone about this yesterday – I don’t subscribe to the idea or myth in the music industry still about the romanticism of the f***ed up artist.  I’ve seen incredible people not change their ability to play, but it’s like I was getting to the point where I was like ‘F**k I have to perform’, and now partly because I don’t drink, and have nothing else to do with my time, I get really excited about it and look forward to it and I really enjoy it which is good because it’s my job and a very intense process.  I don’t want to turn this whole interview into drinking but for the creative process for me, it’s completely changed and just stripped away all of the block– im at my most creative.  Better at performing, better at writing, everything.

And so many positive things coming out of it to prove it.

Totally – the writing is very clearly on the wall to prove how much better it is for me.  1st October, Grand Final day, will be a year so im gonna see.  Just re-introduce it slowly and see how I go. But i’m gonna be very careful around that because that’s something I don’t wanna shut off again.

It’s really hard for me to come back to Melbourne and not drink, because I spend time in other countries and it’s just not the same.  I’ve spent most of my adult life here getting smashed, so there’s a lot of association for me.  Im really happy for it not to be a thing in my life.

Have you done much co-writing?

I just started in the last little bit.  It’s funny, I really resisted it – it just didn’t enter into my thought process – it felt like it was just gonna complicate matters, like ‘I can write songs, I don’t have to worry about someone else fu**ing it up’ (laughs).  ‘This is not a democracy! I’m the dictator of this thing’ but then I started.  Dyson, Stringer, Cloher the band with Mia and Jen – we’ve written a bunch of stuff together.  I wrote with this Canadian band called the East Pointers.  They just recorded a song we wrote together.  It’s gonna be on their new record and they’re really pumped about it, which is great… and I just wrote with Linda Bull, Vika and Linda are putting a record out later in the year – that was really fun.  I’m much more into it than I used to be and when I go to the States and Canada in a few weeks i’m seeking out people to do that with.  I’m gonna go to New York and write a bunch with a friend of mine there.

Is it a bit of a writing tour, or are you playing as well?

I’m playing for most of the time but not as full on as the last few years.  I’ve got a couple of two week blocks where i’m not doing much.  One in Nashville at the end, i’m gonna search out some people there.  Cos it’s such a massive thing there.. whether or not anything comes out of it, it’s just a good exercise.  I’ve found it’s been a really fun, informative way to spend time.  That’s the other thing, having irons in the fire like that and that’s ultimately my job, that’s my skill, to write songs so I should use it.  But yeah, is a very new thing.

So you’ve been doing the ’String-Along’ shows, starting last night. Any song writing surprises, any surprises in general?

Yeah did the first one.  It was really good.  We had about 30 or 40 people there.  It was great – it was a real pilot season for me.  I’ve never done this before.

At the Gasometer?

At the Gasometer.  And Micks doing one – Mick (Thomas) and I are old buddies so that’ll be fun.  Deborah Conway is next week and Neil Murray.  So it’s really an indulgent thing for me cos I enjoy talking about songs and about industry stuff and people’s experience.  I had Dr Lou Bennett on last night and she was great.  The work she’s doing around songs and language, it’s just amazing.  In the same way that co-writing is so collaborative, im interested in all these people who’ve done really diverse stuff, and within the music world use their skills to do such a broad range of things – which is necessary to sustain a career, but it’s also necessary to take yourself away from your own shit, like pushing your own songs. They’ve all run projects, all been in different bands, all played at festivals.  I mean, you know how much Mick’s done – its really inspiring for me and interesting.  The feedback last night was overwhelmingly positive – they were like ‘its so great to watch you interview people who are knowledgable about something, talk about what their exited and interested about’.  Even if there’s not a direct line into the conversation for everyone at all points, it’s still two friends talking about stuff that for us is very obvious maybe, but for punters not at all.  So I’m hoping it builds, there’s already a lot of interest for Mick’s show at the end of the month and i’m hoping that people come and enjoy it because it’s really fun.

So you play some songs and chat.

Yeah it’s a 3 part set – I play songs at the start of the night, then we chat and they play songs at the end.  I’ve asked them to pick songs based on certain categories ive given them, but it’s pretty loose.  Its so nice for me to have access to these people who are all friends of mine, but to have a more formal ‘I wanna pick your brains about stuff’ I think that’s what makes it good for the audience, that I am interested.  Im asking questions that are based on knowledge around that person, not just ‘whats your favourite pub?’ (laughs) ‘What was the name of your first band?’ I want to get further into stuff.  I’ve already had interest from other venues in Victoria wanting to put it on –and i’m like ‘just hang on a second I don’t know if its gonna work’.  It’s not a new format, or new idea but it hasn’t been done here very much.

There’s a need for that in Melbourne – things pop up here and there, then it’s quiet.

And there’s SO many artists.  This is exactly where it should be happening, because there’s so many people doing really interesting stuff.  To get access to the backend to how that works, and go this is what it is to do what we’re doing and because I feel like everyone’s leading really interesting lives in the creative field, whether or not they’re wildly successful or not – and that’s something I talk about with them – what success is.

It’s very individual – to work in the corporate world it’s like A to B to C, but being creative it’s not like that.  There’s similarities but everyone’s doing a different thing in their own way.

Exactly. There’s no direct way, there’s no system where you’re like ‘now you’re qualified for this job, now you get into this pay wave’.

You need to be self motivated.

That’s a terrifying idea – the trade off for having all this autonomy and freedom, is that you also take 100% responsibility for everything.  And that can be lonely and frightening and depressing, but the wins and the positive stuff is just so incredible.  And that’s the sort of shit you don’t get working in a structured industry or environment.  Its fu**ing rollercoaster.  And everyone experiences those set of feelings but in completely different contexts.

How do you know when a song is finished?

Good question.  What I say to song writing students is you have to keep drafting.  Songs are such a cool medium because you have finite number of words and every word has to earn it place to be there. It’s a drafting process – keep going and going, trim all the fat off it and when you can’t change anything else – every word has to be there – that’s when you’re done.  For me that’s how it works.

So really focussed on lyric and melody.

Yeah musically things happen way quicker for me.  If i play it a dozen times it probably sorts itself out.  Lyrics take way longer and that’s always a thing I finish second so um yeah god there’s some songs (looking back ) i think ‘why the f**k did you stop there you idiot?’ there’s this great song on my first record, I just wish that I… it was inexperience that’s what it was and not doing what i just said to do – keep making every word earn its place.  It’s such an embarrassing one – it’s so lazy – and it’s such a great song – potentially..

So you feel like the essence is good, but wish you trimmed it back?

Yeah trimmed it back, made the lines better and taken out some of the trite imagery.

I bet you’re the harshest critic on that song.

Oh yeah absolutely..  I don’t know actually (laughs). Im not particularly critical about other people’s lyrics – well I know what I like and I think a good lyricist, I can forgive certain things because the overall way they use language and way they craft a song is so good, its like whatever, doesn’t even matter.

Example?

Mick Thomas is a great lyricist – he plays with language a lot. Deb Conway is an amazing songwriter. Um i’m obsessed with this guy called His Golden Messenger at the moment – amazing dude. He’s Southern American – think he lives in New York now – he writes this beautiful stuff thats very imagery rich. I’m not sure what he’s singing about (laughs) but the way he uses language feels authentic, very idiosyncratic.  And that’s the other thing I say to students – cleche’s are shit…the more of your own voice you adopt the better your lyrics are gonna be.  You don’t have to be smart – sometimes it’s gonna take away from the emotional impact of the song. It’s not about having  massive vocabulary, although that helps.

I’m learning this Dylan song at the moment – there’s not many lyrics in it. It goes for about ten minutes (laughs), but its just perfect, how it should be, there’s nothing that doesn’t belong there and there’s nothing that’s missing.

If you don’t have anything to say don’t say it. Don’t take up people s listening space.  Maybe that’s what separates artists from people that just do it.  This is wandering into dangerous territory…

Like any individual voice or way of seeing the world and expressing that, and connecting across to the audience.

Totally, as opposed to maybe a voice that isn’t saying it in a way that hasn’t been said before.  Like Paul Kelly for example, its like ‘Holy f**k that exactly what that feels like!’

I know…

That’s the sign of a good writer, it opens up these parts of your mind – and he’s very idiosyncratic, uses language thats his own experience of the world but it makes it bizarrely more accessible.

That’s what’s so special, to know someone else has felt that way – and someone that you don’t know.  He’ll use everyday words but it’s the way he uses them.

Totally, he’s not using unnecisary frilly language.  Its simplistic, the way he uses words is really skilful and in him..

And the complexity of families.

Exactly. And that’s what works. The fact he can observe and be ‘what is it I feel about this situation’’

He’s staying with his own ideas.

Being able to articulate that and someone else to understand is brilliant.

Image by: Lisa Sorgini

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Anybody’s Language

Liz Stringer – String Along shows