Dave Graney

I became a Dave Graney listener in the 90’s.  Wearing polyester, $2 shop bling and with an offbeat yet fabulously intelligent song writing style, he fit the scene of mis-fits who created their own niche between grunge and alternative rock. He gave the impression that anything goes and don’t take yourself too seriously.  His eccentricity was welcomed with wide open arms, by a Triple J audience and then the general public after winning an ARIA for Best Australian Male Artist in 1996.

Although at first listen you hear catchy pop chord progressions, closer attention to the lyrics reveal layers of images and themes giving insight and humour to rock celebrity and other cultural challenges.  By the 90’s Dave had been around in many bands for many years, experimenting with different styles, line ups and influences including The Moodists, The White Buffaloes and The Coral Snakes.

Recent 2017 album ‘Let’s Get Tight’ with partner and collaborator Clare Moore, Dave says began from ‘Starting (a) project of writing, recording and releasing a song every month, for a year or more.’  He describes the album as ‘the most varied collection of songs I’ve ever done’.

With a vast body of work to reference, my questions bounced all over the place, eager to get a glimpse into his song writing process.

I’ll begin with ‘Rock n Roll is Where I Hide’, as it was the first song of yours I heard, which I totally loved.  Did that song begin with the guitar riff, and build from there? 

We started The Soft N Sexy Sounds sessions in the same rehearsal room as the previous years album, ‘You Wanna Be There But You Don’t Wanna Travel’.  That album had debuted in the top 10 in Victoria and top 30 national and we had made it after a lot of touring nationally (for the first time).  It was a product of that touring and was a great rock n roll album, quite sprawling with 14 tracks and initially came with an extra 7 tracks we chucked down after the album sessions.  We were bursting with music and I wrote pretty much all the material.  Also, it was a new thing to be recording music for an audience that was waiting for it, and also a business that was interested.

During that touring through 1994, Clare Moore had started to buy exotic, weird vinyl in junk shops when we travelled.  It was all so cheap and we got into Arthur Lyman and Martin Denny, Perrey and Kingsley and a lot of jazz and soundtrack stuff. At the time we felt a lot of kinship with the Beastie Boys and their instrumental album ‘The In Sound From Way Out’ was great (named after a Perrey and Kingsley album and the same cover design).  We also loved ‘PULP’ and through our label Universal Music we used to get all these Island record comps with lots of trip hop on it.  We loved ‘Tricky’ and ‘Portishead’ and ‘Tupac’ and a lot of the ‘Wu Tang’ solo stuff.

BUT we were a rock band in Australia.  We played the Big Day Out in 93/94 and 95.  94 was a horrible rock BDO year with Primal Scream and the Cult.  I hated Grunge rock in general but those acts were really lame too.  We (Clare and I) started to think of making a more textured kind of recording, like the stuff we were listening to.  We’d done two albums with Tony Cohen and wanted a change. Victor Van Vugt was an old friend who’d left Australia with our band The Moodists when he was 17 and stayed in Europe. He’d just done an amazing album with Beth Orton which we loved. He was back in Australia so we planned on doing it with him and did just that. We wanted to do a “studio” album with emphasis on production as distinct from just putting it down on tape which is what the previous two albums ‘Night of The Wolverine’ and ‘You Wanna Be There’ had been like.

We had all the songs for it and just went ahead. There was a lot of tension in the studio as the process kind of sidelined the band in some ways. We wanted to do songs and not represent a band.

At the last day of rehearsal I played everybody ‘Rock n Roll is Where I Hide’ and I had all the licks and the arrangements thought out and that was it.

When the album came to be released it had a song called ‘I’m Not Afraid To Be Heavy’ as the first single.  It was given to Triple J who thought it was some sort of ironic joke, like ‘TISM’.  At some point ‘Rock n Roll Is Where I Hide’ was chosen as a lead song.  It had the most overt guitar on it.  It was 6 minutes long and had no chorus, just a groove and a bluesy story half spoken and half sung. It was edited to 4 minutes and got thrashed on Triple J.  I still play it at most shows.  It has such power and the guitar lick is primal.  It builds and surges.  Sometimes I do it solo (after many years trying to do that) and it also gets powered up.

I wrote about where the lyric came from in my book ‘Workshy’.  Like a lot of my songs it begins with one idea in one pace and then wanders and fly’s off.

I felt very out of place in the Triple J “youth music” world and grunge rock as well.  I felt like a visitor from another scene.  We had been playing music for years in the underworld and had that kind of perspective.

I also remembered sitting in a dressing room in Hamburg in a club on the Reeperbahn in 1984, sharing it with East Germany’s premier rock band, who looked like POISON.  I wondered what would happen to a band of spies in a rock band who were on tour, perverting western culture, when their whole communist system fell over and they were stranded.

Over the years have you found your song writing process change, or do the same techniques still work?

I have no techniques, I have a voice and with that, a flow.  That’s all you need.  Some sort of trick to trick yourself into flaming on.

This year I got a guitar and put it into an open tuning and tried a slide and three songs fell out.  I also occasionally eat a pot cookie and sit at a keyboard.  I get into concentrating on a single chord.  Another time I put a lot of compression on a drum track and it “pumped” really hard so I got Clare to drape a string of pearls on and off a cymbal while we recorded it so it had the drums “pumping” down below and then this strange, whispering, soft cymbal sound up high.  No “hitting” just swishing around.  I put some bass and synth down and had a track called ‘This Is The Deadest Place I’ve Ever Died In’.

Do you remember the first song you wrote?

I was a little kid and I ran around the back yard singing a song about a St Kilda footballer I loved called “Cowboy” Neale.  It was called ‘Up High Goes the Cowboy” and was kind of like a Roger Miller tune.

You also have experience with other forms of writing, notably two novels and regular articles.  Is writing in general something you have done from an early age?

No, something I started doing in the 90s, writing for magazines.  For money.  I wish I’d done two novels but there have been two memoirs and a book of lyrics.  The latter was supposed to be all the chords and words but I got distracted.  Most of my songs are quite literary inspired in their ways.  I’m not usually a confessional type.

Electric guitar features in most of your songs in some form.  Even on the new song ‘You’re all Wrong’, although slower, there is still the similar guitar sound to the earlier days. Do you mostly write on guitar?

I wrote on guitar but never performed or recorded with one regularly until after the Coral Snakes period, after 1997.  Most people would associate my music from that earlier period with the great piano players we had.  Louis Vause and then Conway Savage and then Robin Casinader. I n the Moodists it was Steve Miller and Mick Turner thrashing their guitars.

After the Coral Snakes finished I wanted to perform differently and playing guitar brought me back to being within the music more.  There was no piano and less reverb and two clean sounding guitars and a lot more vocals.

Many of your songs seem (to me) to focus in on an idea, a commentary on a cultural observation. Do you begin with the lyric idea or the music first? For example, the songs ‘I’m Never Off’ or ‘Feelin’ Kinda Sporty

I go off from titles or words.  Not some sort of “classic” beatlesque form.  I like street language and slang.  It’s a country music or rap thing.

Did you feel pressure with writing around the craziness of the 90’s, winning an ARIA, and the expectation which accompanies that?

Yes I did but at the same time I enjoyed all sorts of different doors being opened and different opportunities.  I had a policy of saying “yes” to anything.

Aside from your partner, has there been song writing collaboration with other members of your past bands, and how has that experience been?

On ‘The Soft n Sexy Sound’ I asked all members of the Coral Snakes to write music for songs and Robin Casinader wrote and sang one called ‘Salty Girls’.  Stu Thomas has written some music for mistLY songs.  Clare Moore did most of the music for a great album we did in 2009 called ‘Knock Yourself Out’.

I’ve written a couple of songs with Matt Walker .  I think he is a spectacular musician and singer and songwriter.

A young studio guy called Greg Den Hartog called me saying he had a track for me in 2005 and I chucked a vocal on it and we had ‘My SChtick Weighs A Ton’.

I loved working in the studio with Billy Miller and with Greg Walker from Machine Translations.  Clare and I recorded two albums in our studio for Kim Salmon and Ron Peno’s band The Darling Downs.  I have a rap duo with Will Hindmarsh from Go Go Sapien called WAM AND DAZ.

In those situations I’m there for the spontaneity.  I don’t ever sweat it writing songs.  I like to get it down really quick.  I also escape from the architecture of the chords and get to really come at the song from a  different direction.  I sing right over it.

The song ‘Night of the Wolverine’ is an example of a heavenly chord progression and feel, with a deeper lyrical story.  How was that song written?

Quickly.  It was more about the arrangement.  I had it for a while in 1991 and we didn’t put it down until the end of ‘92.  I played it with the Coral Snakes but I didn’t want to bash it around in pubs too much so I put it away.   I arranged it to be like Lou Reed’s STREET HASSLE which had all these “movements” around a simple theme.  In his he had a middle part with Bruce Springsteen speaking some words softly and I asked Tex Perkins to do something similar.

The chords, like ‘Rock n Roll is Where I Hide’, come from some 70’s rock direction. The latter is steeped in Southern rock (Allman brothers/ Skynyrd/ Leon Russell) which I loved as a kid and Wolverine is really coming from the kind of 70s rock singer songwriter which I have realized I always wanted to be and have become in many ways.  Like Lou Reed or Tim Buckley.  Electric guitar songwriter with a hot band.  That’s my thing.

Who do you draw inspiration from in 2018?

I’m in a quite creative, sweet spot. We played every Sunday in April and May in a pub in Melbourne and played 70 minutes of my songs each week.  A different 70 minutes for 9 weeks.  It was intense and made me really appreciate my band so much. the mistLY.  Clare and I have been playing together so long, Stuart Perera joined us on guitar in 1998 and Stu Thomas has been with us since 2004.  The longest lasting outfit of all.  We also do a show every once in a while with the Coral Snakes and I have really loved doing that.  Just a power packed show.  No guitar duties for me, just singing and bringing the drama.

 

LANKS (Will Cuming)

 

Lanks

Will Cuming, aka LANKS, is an Australian songwriter and multi-instrumentalist.  His debut album twentyseven is full of sweet, melodic layers and sometimes reflective moods of an artist expecting more from life and himself, as he moves through his late 20’s.  Songs such as ‘Yours’ and ‘Comfortable’ are cruisy and easily accessible, whereas the title track ‘twentyseven’ has an urgent and driving rhythm.  Although this release is a debut, it arrives on the back of three EP’s which have garnered loads of attention, leading to festival requests, a record deal and various collaborations.

Will and I spoke over email, due to his album promotion and tour preparation commitments.  I was keen to hear how he writes his folk/electronic driven songs.

Do you remember the first song you wrote?

Yes. I mean, there were a few when I was playing the flute originally but the first proper ones were as soon as I started playing the guitar at 12 years old. There’s a riff from one of those songs that I still want to rework now into a new song. That’d be pretty cool, collaborating with my 12-year-old self.

You’re a multi-instrumentalist, coming across as an electronic singer/songwriter.  Do you write song ideas on varying instruments, depending on your mood or inspiration at the time?

Absolutely. Whatever is feeling good at the time or even just a musical chairs approach where I jump from instruments when I feel like it. That’s a good approach. My brain has a different approach with these instruments and the language on each has small differences that can help unlock good ideas.

Guitar and piano seem more prominent on older tracks, while the new songs on ‘twentyseven’ seem to have more electronic layers.  Were the electronic elements added in the studio or written while the songs were in their early stages?

Actually, the twentyseven LP was one of those bodies of work that I approached with production and song writing simultaneously evolving, and I love how it influenced the outcome. It was like composing with an orchestra in front of you instead of just you and a piano and then arranging the parts out for orchestra later. I was searching for sounds and sometimes they were from guitars and sometimes they weren’t. The next body of work will probably be completely different.

Have you done much co-writing? If so, who with and how did you find the process?

Over the past 2 years I have done a whole lot of co-writing but on twentyseven I wrote every track by myself, except for two songs that producers worked with me on (circles and yours).

I love co-writing and have explored that process a lot for other people’s work that I have been involved with (Woodes, Tia Gostelow, and more) and have a lot of new work in the bag that I did in that way. It honestly is the best experience, as I feel inspired by all the amazing artists I get to be in the room with and learn from.

We met through the Push Songs mentorship program.  Does being around other song writers have a positive influence?

Huge influence. I spent so much time doing things on my own in the past few years (until recently) and that was an important phase of exploration. It helped me find myself a bit.
But now my improvement has been very rapid (especially since making this album actually) and I am very happy with that. It’s been an amazing period of growth post the LP and I’m pretty excited about some of the new work coming out.

Do you have any writing routines? For example, a coffee before sitting down with an instrument, or find that things flow better late at night?

I don’t drink coffee, which most musicians find incredibly odd for some reason. I don’t have any routines really, except to do it a lot. Just write as much as I can and explore a lot outside of pre song writing sessions too. I am definitely a morning person when it comes to anything also. Though most rules (especially that one) are often broken and great results come from it.

You have featured other singers on your songs.  Do you write with these artists in mind? For example Ngaiire on the song My Own Mystery, or Airling on the song April.

They’ve all been different! April was a song that Hannah (Airling) just really loved and connected to and wanted to sing on. It was a special part of our connection and friendship that I still feel when I hear it.

My Own Mystery was written but I wanted to add the other perspective and my partner Tacey asked if Ngaiire could play the role of her. I love Ngaiire so it was such an amazing honour to have her on a track I wrote.

I think future features etc will end up being more collaborative than those ones, but it’s just different every time.

Do you have any recurring writing struggles? Some examples other writers have mentioned are finishing choruses, writing lyrics or coming up with song titles.

I certainly have in the past, but I’ve really enjoyed overcoming those deficiencies. It’s very rewarding.

I used to struggle with lyrics a lot because they were so vague and I felt like I got lucky every time they all lined up. It paralysed me when I needed to edit them or improve them. But then I started just writing 10 verses when I needed 2 and it opened it up a bit.

Then I used to struggle with finishing off songs but slowly overcame that through doing sessions where time deadlines pushed me.

Actually, a lot of the answers I find are in collaboration. We think we need to do everything ourselves but getting someone in who’s good at your weaknesses is really smart.  And you often learn from them so you rely on it less later, which seems counter-intuitive but, essentially we are all each other’s teachers so it’s like working alongside someone who can show you how to do things.

How is it working with another producer, being a producer yourself?  I would imagine it would be heaps of fun creatively.

When the session is good it is awesome. I seem to only have really good sessions mostly. You hear horror stories but I haven’t had a lot of those so from my perspective it’s all good. If you bring the right attitude and are prepared to work hard and not have an ego that prevents good team work then you should have a very rewarding experience.

How much is improvised on the spot when recording?

It’s hard to answer this question. It depends on the context. Some bands will have rehearsed a lot to record something and other times you are recording as you write so there are imperfections everywhere, but you may grow attached to them and keep them.

I studied music improvisation at VCA for my uni course so improvisation is a big part of my studio process and I love it. It’s a very, very easy way to bring human-ness to music created on computers where we can take shortcuts so easily (like not re-recording multiple choruses etc etc)

Who did you look up to in the Australian music scene growing up?

Big Scary. And I still do. That little musical family is such an inspiring hub of giving and supportive artists. They are all amazing but they aren’t arrogant at all, and they’re all very thoughtful and constructive with their words and thoughts. Big love to them.

If you could choose anyone to write a song with, who would it be and why?

This is such a hard question! It’d be pretty cool to write with one of those huge writers like Julia Michaels or someone like that. I’d love to see her process, that’d be really cool.

How do you know when a song is finished? How do you finish a song?

I used to think it never was! But not as much anymore. I think when there is a full fleshed form that makes sense and all the sections are written. And then production-wise it can go pretty deep but there kind of comes a point where you hit your wall and that’s where I like to get someone (Andrei Eremin for me) to come in and help getting all the production cleaned up and editing it basically. Then it gets mixed and mastered and you usually (ok, sometimes not true) don’t go back from there. There are always exceptions.

 

LANKS Tour dates:

FRI, 03 AUG | JIVE, ADELAIDE SA (with MANE)
SAT 04 AUG |  MOJOS, FREMANTLE WA (with Chelsea Cullen)
THU 09 AUG | BLACK BEAR LODGE, BRISBANE QLD
FRI 10 AUG | KINGSCLIFF TAVERN NSW
SAT 11 AUG | SOLBAR, MAROOCHYDORE QLD
THU 16 AUG | CAMBRIDGE HOTEL, NEWCASTLE NSW
FRI 17 AUG | THE LANSDOWNE, SYDNEY NSW
SAT 18 AUG | UNI BAR (STRATTON ROOM), WOLLONGONG NSW
SUN 19 AUG | TRANSIT BAR, CANBERRA ACT
THU 23 AUG |  SOOKI LOUNGE, BELGRAVE VIC
FRI 24 AUG | THE BRIDGE HOTEL, CASTLEMAINE VIC (with Eliza Hull)
SAT 25 AUG | NORTHCOTE SOCIAL CLUB, MELBOURNE VIC (SOLD OUT)
SUN 26 AUG | NORTHCOTE SOCIAL CLUB, MELBOURNE VIC (2ND SHOW)

Supported by Tyne-James Organ (full tour) and Essie Holt (all shows except Adelaide, Fremantle and Castlemaine).

Tickets available from  lanksmusic.com/tour

Mick Thomas

 

When you hear about Mick Thomas around Melbourne, you’re pretty much told he’s approachable, an interesting conversationalist and a familiar face in many a pub front bar. He even recently co-owned a pub.

We meet at the Wesley Anne – for its quietness, and Mick says the beer is good. It’s dark and there’s candles, even though spring is near enough for Mick to have ridden his bike there.

We find a relatively quiet table and we’re on our way, covering topics including modern problems, history and literal song writing. I’m keen to hear his differences between writing for bands (Weddings Parties Anything, The Sure Thing) and his solo projects.

Do you remember the first song you wrote?

I was pretty young, 14 or something like that. I’d started playing with American R&B Rock n Roll bands and I couldn’t really get much traction with that music. While I loved it, it didn’t really speak to me. I’d sort of just discovered folk music, and my father had a big country music thing, so I liked Johnny Cash growing up.

I can remember quite strongly it was (about) my cousin, there were three brothers and the eldest one didn’t want to be a farmer. It was called ‘Leaving the Land’ from his point of view, singing it to his father.

It was pretty rough, I remember Mum and Dad were shocked that I’d come up with something so close.

Did you write it with your cousin?

No, I don’t think he even heard it. It was way before I had any repertoire to play to anyone – but it was a song.

You were hooked.

Yeah I remember the feeling of writing something very close to me.

I recently spoke to Nick Barker about song writing sometimes being like therapy.

Yeah it can, song writing can be very confessional. I remember much, much later when I’d become a songwriter of sorts for the Weddings, there seemed to be a period where songs were very confessional. Paul Kelly had some really confessional songs, like brutally confessional. Billy Bragg had a couple. It was like ‘Oh that’s what you do’. I think it’s different with everyone, but with me it was definitely just a period I went through, then went ‘hang on, I’m going to hold back a bit about my life – and I really have. I haven’t written anything about having a kid. First child songs are generally pretty awful – well quite often they are.

What about special projects, you’ve written music for productions?

That’s where, as an older writer you tend to go. I’ve had a lot of luck in that regard. My older brother runs a production company out of Hobart and we’re very close culturally in terms of what we like. I guess a lot of the things that he cooks up are ideas that i’m pretty across, so I tend to get the call for short films, documentaries and theatre productions that get a run. Even with projects I run myself i’m pretty lucky – I had a period when the Weddings started and it was really exciting. I was writing all the time so by the time we did our first album I had another two albums of material sitting there.

Did you use the songs for the next albums?

Yeah over the years. For the first album there were probably 30 or 40 songs we picked 12 from. By the time the next album came along we’d written another 12 or more so i’ve had that backlog and probably in the last 15 years start to cut into it.

The last proper album we did for Liberation was the one we did in Portland, Oregon and Darren Hanlon produced it. I gave Darren 30 songs I thought were candidates and 2 of the ones he picked were from the early 80’s. He said ‘What happened to those songs??’ I said ‘I dunno they just didn’t make the cut’.  Some less kind might say ‘Well that’s because you had better songs in those days’ but it was just where the bands were at and those songs just sat there.

Archiving is pretty important – and again, this is a modern problem, archiving is different now. It used to be a bundle of tapes – all of a sudden you go there’s f***ing hard drives everywhere! You have all these new concepts, especially coming to the internet late. The second Weddings song book I did on this typewriter thing with a screen. You’d get to the end of a line and you hit a button It was so awful to work on. I didn’t even realise a word processor and computer were the same thing! Now you go ‘its all on dropbox’ Its still on a hard drive somewhere – dropbox is just a hard drive.

Yeah I get confused by it!

And the cloud, my mate goes ‘its not up there (pointing upward)’!

What even is it?

It’s just a f***ing hard drive.

Is it based in LA or something?

Probably, who would know! As he (his mate) was saying, well sooner or later someone’s gonna come along and wipe them all out.  (Archiving) becomes more important. You get older and you write less.

Why do you think that is?

You use a lot of your ideas up. You have themes and ideas and most artists who go for a period of time would have certain ideas to keep going back to.

But you’re not sure you want to say the same thing?

Yeah. When I went to work with Darren Hanlon he said ‘I’ll pick 10 I think we should do. Inevitably you will write another song on the eve of going in there’. And he’s right.

And that’s your favorite song.

Your most recent song is always your favorite. You tend to write that song because it’s got somewhere to go. Especially if you’re like me – backlog – don’t get me wrong, some songs jump the queue. I can tell you Fathers Day went into the set the day after it was written, everyone just knew. But a lot of those other songs – you write them, you think ‘Yeah, maybe I’ll finish that’.

And then at some point i’m guessing you go back and listen and get a feel for what is working?

Yeah, I reckon I could be a bit more diligent. I had this thing called the Monthly Music Club, where people could subscribe and i’d send them out stuff every month. I’d send a couple of demo’s- a couple of older songs. Some that id never released, and sometimes it’d be a first demo of Fathers Day or something like that. 2 years of doing that was really what led into the last album.

At the moment what I’m trying to do is this series of singles but with a download of the single , a bit more stuff – 3 or 4 songs with it. It encourages people to download – legally, and it encourages me to be more active.

Do you have any song writing routines?

I cant say i’ve ever had a routine. One of the things that’s really affected me is not being on the road so much. I wrote a lot on the road, that’s why the Weddings always had stacks of songs to choose from.

I really like sitting in a hotel room and writing. I never wrote about the hotel, that was much, much later – there might’ve been a few road songs there, but I was so happy to be on the road – so happy.

More than routine it was about a state of mind, just being happy and inspired. And we’d just talk about music. Dave Steel joined the Weddings, he moved into this house we were working out of in Carlton, and if we weren’t playing (music) we were talking about it. ALL day. It was amazing, we just never stopped. So in terms of routine, it was just sort of down time.

People tell you having a kids not gonna effect it – well it does. You just don’t have time.

The great Oscar Wilde quote is his kid said ‘What did you do at work today Dad?’ he said ‘In the morning I put in a comma, and in the afternoon I took it out.’ That’s kinda what it’s like, it can be very slow and painful.

Every artist is keen to tell you about the song they wrote in 5 minutes, they don’t tell you about the days sitting around, going nowhere, or working at stuff. It’s all over the place. Its kinda what attracts me to the form, it’s very hit and miss.

When writing a song, how do you know it’s finished?

Usually show someone. It really does depend. If you’re taking it to a band, sometimes you’re happy to leave it. I’ve got a criticism of my work – i’ve been quite slack lyrically over the years and that’s because i’ll quite often go –“i’ll tidy that up in the studio’ And you f***ing don’t! And I find myself still scribbling lyrics..

Photo by Leigh MacKenzie

http://www.mickthomas.com