Image Courtesy of Lachlan Bryan
A year ago our very own Evan Hughes chatted to Lachlan Bryan, the then frontman of Melbourne alt-country band The Wildes, in the lead up to their appearance at The Gum Ball. So much has changed since then with Bryan releasing his debut solo album and announcing some pretty amazing support slots so we figured it was time to sit down again and find out what’s been happening.
Evan Hughes: We last spoke about a year ago just before The Wildes played at The Gum Ball but a lot has changed since then
Lachlan Bryan: Yeah it has been a big year.
EH: So talk us through the changes. You started writing and recording your solo album while you were still working with The Wildes. Have The Wildes finished as a project?
LB: I’m still in contact with The Wildes – I live with Shaun the bass player – they’re my best friends as well as my band. It’s interesting because we all came to the conclusion that [going solo] was what we had to do this year for a variety of reasons. I was wanting to do music full time, and the others had other things going on – I guess bands get to a point where they have different priorities in their lives and I’m kind of in the unfortunate (or fortunate) position that aside from writing songs there’s not really much else I can do successfully. For me it was a bit make or break – I thought “I’ve gotta get out and try and get this record made”. We’ve been trying to get it made for a while and I’ve been writing songs which weren’t really band songs and trying to get everyone to play the way that those songs needed. It was pretty important through the transition process first and foremost to remain friends – a lot of people form bands with people that have auditioned or they’ve met along the way or have been in other bands but our band was formed out of friends and we kind of got to the point where we were wondering what the best thing is with everyone wanting to go in different directions. And the best thing was for us to go our seperate ways as friends and also I had to get my music out there. The Wildes as people and as musicians are very dear to my heart.
EH: Well congratulations on all the success you’ve had as a solo artist so far. You seem to be popping up everywhere at the moment.
LB: I guess that when we put out the last album we didn’t really have anyone involved helping us and didn’t have a great idea of what you actually do to promote a record or how you get it out there. To be honest my professional instinct is to under-play everything so I probably wasn’t the ideal person to have promoting the first album. When your an independent band and you release your own thing you have to do everything yourself and you have to try and get people interested in listening to it or interested in playing it on community radio. It’s been interesting over the last few months having people involved and supporting me who know what they’re doing. And luckily the press so far has been really good – you never really how people are going to respond and I’m grateful that people are listening.
EH: I saw your album being promoted as a “must buy” country record in a record store the other day.
LB: That’s great! I’m such a fan of country music – doing this record has given me the opportunity to stamp the country-ness on it a bit more than I have previously and I’m proud of that. I’m a little bit tired of, if you live in a city like I do, of having to apologise for playing or liking country music. The nice thing about this is I’ve been able to go “look, it’s a country record and if you don’t like country music then f*** you”. It’s been quite liberating like that.
EH: I was just listening to the album today and it’s funny that you mention living in a city – in Australian country music there’s a real connection to the land and rural living and the hardships involved in that whereas a lot of American country music covers more universal themes, and your music is very similar to that.
LB: To a point anything you write about as a songwriter has the potential to be a cliche but I’ve been pretty keen to steer away from Australian country themes – for the main reason that I didn’t grow up working on the land or shearing ship or milking cows. It’s fine to write that kind of music if that’s the life you relate to but I would be lying if I wrote that sort of stuff. I’m a bit more convincing when it comes to personal relationships and city life and the things that I write about. I think Australian country music is quite patriotic and I’m not really into writing about topics that big – I’m more interested in conversations and relationships and the bad things and good things that people do to each other.
EH: I think there’s a lot of heartbreak in the record which is still a very “country” theme.
LB: Yeah we do associate that with country music but in a way it’s just part of all music.
EH: Yeah, love is a universal theme but there’s just something about the way it comes across in country music.
LB: It’s more direct. When I listen to Hank Williams I think there’s hardly a metaphor there. It’s all straight “this is what’s going on, this is what you’ve done to me”. And you could say that that’s simplistic or not intellectual but it affects you when you hear it – they’re brilliant songs that people are still singing years after his death.
EH: I want to touch on the production of the album because I really like the way it’s been put together. You worked with Rod McCormack right?
LB: Rod McCormack produced it and played banjo and a couple of other instruments and Jeff, his brother, engineered the record in a studio that they run together.
EH: He really puts your vocals right out front to focus on your story telling lyrical style.
LB: It’s great that you can hear that – that was definitely our intention. I made a few different demos in the lead up to meeting Rod and the ones that he really liked were the ones where I had recorded them with an acoustic guitar and my mic really close up so I was singing right into it. They were a bit more intimate or something. That was one of the first production decisions he made was to get the vocals right up front and make sure that no matter what’s going on in the arrangement the song’s always about the acoustic guitar and the vocals. I’m not really someone who can record the guitar parts separately, I have to do it at once. We didn’t do any real overdubbing, we played it essentially live and the vocal and guitar takes that we got in the first couple of takes are the ones that we used on the album. The same with everyone’s parts. We wanted to make it really live and really natural.
EH: Did you quite a good working relationship with Rod?
LB: The interesting thing is that Rod interfered less than any producer I’ve worked with. I felt like he really trusted what I was trying to do and the same the other way around. Before we made the album we’d only met a few times but we had really long conversations so he knew exactly what album I wanted to make and we were able to stick to that because he also agreed that that was the sort of album that I should be making. A few people have brought up the production in interviews mainly because Rod is well known in a certain field as a producer but the actual producing that was done during the recording of the record was fairly minor – we decided let’s just record the instruments and have them sound as they sound, let’s have my vocals sound as they sound int he room. There was no studio trickery at all. Believe it or not that’s something with The Wildes that we never really did – we analysed stuff so much and would often rerecord and rerecord and rerecord.
EH: There’s a couple of tracks on the album – “Unfortunate Rose” and “Lily of the Fields” – which have appeared on a previous Wildes EP. When I realised that I went back and listened to the originals and I think they’ve come a long way as songs.
LB: The Wildes’ versions were demos that we liked enough to put out there. I think probably the biggest production difference on a song was “Unfortunate Rose”, the one that changed the most. We just mucked around with playing it a few different ways in the first couple of takes and the way we ended up recording it sounded so different to the original – I never felt like that song quite had the magic that I thought it had in it and then all of a sudden we started putting the emphasis on a different beat and I was like “this is actually really cool”.
EH: We should really talk about the special guests that you’ve got on the album as well. You must be pretty chuffed to be at a point in your career where you’ve got not just Kasey Chambers but Bill Chambers playing on your record.
LB: Bill is the most generous musician I’ve ever come across. If he likes what you do then he’s really willing to help. In the case of the album he played the lap steel and he has his own way of playing it which no one else really does. It’s a really old fashioned sound but it was just what we needed. I’ve been able to play with Bill a few times since and he’s just such a cool guy. He gets it. And he writes great songs as well – since I’ve started going to Tamworth I’ve started to hear his songs and there’s a lot of depth to them. I can’t speak highly enough of Bill and his contribution to my music and my career. And Kasey [Chambers] and Catherine [Britt] both were very generous and totally professional. Catherine came in so well prepared and I didn’t really know her at all at the time – I really respect her. The music she’s into is what I call the “real thing”. Her and Kasey, I loved having them both on there. I’m really lucky I suppose – I don’t know if I’m particularly at that point in my career but they were all really generous with their time and they happened to like the songs.
EH: I was going to comment about Catherine Britt. I’m not really that familiar with her music but the voice she pulls out on the backing vocals of your songs is just magic. It has a real Emmylou Harris quality about it – it’s just this gorgeous voice.
LB: You’ve probably come accross her ode to Emmylou ["Sweet Emmylou"] so I do think she’s a big fan. In fact I did a Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris cover with her at Tamworth, “Hickory Wind”. She does a show up there where she gets everyone in to do some duets. I probably thought she was more of a mainstream country person before I got to know her a bit because you see the marketing or whatever. It’s been nice to mingle with people that are into Gram Parsons and Emmylou and Steve Earle and Townes Van Sandt and all those guys. It’s nice to see that the guys out there are carrying that torch on.
EH: That’s quite a nice segue – you’ve just been announced to a couple of pretty cool support slots, one of them being Steve Earle for his Bluesfest sideshows.
LB: Yeah, that’s going to be great, I’m a big Steve Earle fan. He kind of fits into that group of songwriters like Guy Clarke and Townes Van Sandt, that are real story tellers and smart writers and funny writers as well. It’s always weird when you do support slots because you never know if you’re ever going to see the person face to face. I’ve spoken to people who’ve been on six month tours with Bob Dylan and never met him – so you don’t know what things are going to be like. But I’ll be keen to see him play close up at the end of the day. And I’m also playing with an English band called Ahab – they seem like the kind of act [Timber and Steel] would cover. I’ve been listening to a bit of their stuff and really liking what I’m hearing. That’ll be interesting too as they’ll be pretty new to Australian audiences I think.
EH: We discovered Ahab a few months ago and put a Spotlight up on the site about them and then literally the next day they announced their Australian tour.
LB: You always get there first!
EH: And you’re also on the Bluesfest lineup right?
LB: That’s right yeah. I’m obviously pretty excited about that, from a fans perspective. I’ve actually never been and every year I’ve wanted to go. I’m just going to stick around for the whole weekend and catch everyone I can.
EH: And then what happening for you for the rest of the rest of the year?
LB: Straight after Bluesfest I’m playing up in a few regional places, some of which I’ve been to before. I’m going to Nimbin, the Sunshine Coast Hinterland and a bit of Queensland. One of my favourite things is going and playing at off-the-beaten-track venues so I’m doing a few of those. After that I’m coming back to Melbourne for a couple of country festivals in May and June and then heading back to the States in July/August and I’ll hopefully still be there for the Americana Festival again this year.
EH: It sounds like you’ve got a big year ahead of you. Thanks so much for your time today!
LB: Cool, thanks very much mate.
Upcoming dates for Lachlan Bryan are below:
March 15th – The Toff in Town with Ahab (UK), Melbourne, VIC
March 21st – The Vanguard with Ahab (UK), Sydney, NSW
April 5th – Bluesfest 2012, Byron Bay, NSW
April 7th – Bluesfest 2012, Byron Bay, NSW
April 8th – The Factory Theatre with Steve Earle (USA), Sydney, NSW
April 12th – Nimbin Hotel, Lismore, NSW
April 13th – Upfront Club, Maleny, QLD
April 14th – Royal Mail Hotel, Goodna, QLD
July 6th – Lizottes Central Coast with Harmony James, Kincumber, NSW
July 7th – Lizottes Newcastle with Harmony James, Newcastle, NSW
July 8th – Lizottes Dee Why with Harmony James, Dee Why, NSW