Interview: Direwolf

Image Courtesy of Direwolf

The new EP from Sydney singer-songwriter Direwolf, AKA Matt Dewar, is released this week so we thought it was as good a time as any to chat to the man about the process of putting it together.

Gareth Hugh Evans: You’ve been playing the Sydney scene for a while but your debut EP is just coming out this week. What’s gone into putting the EP together? How did you select the tracks?

Matt Dewar: Man I can tell you that’s definitely been a mix dose of unrelenting stress, but I’ve been lucky to have worked with such incredible people that the end result is something I’m 94% happy with, which is quite a lot. I’m sure I’m not the only songwriter to have written a whole EP and then rolled over one day saying “I can’t believe I almost released this. No thanks, bin them all”. That happened twice unfortunately, but after getting out of my head for awhile and taking some time to be inspired the tracks kind of chose themselves. And it felt right.

GHE: I’ve seen you name drop artists like Bon Iver and The Tallest Man on Earth as influences – how much do you think these artists find their way into your songs?

MD: Definitely in more ways than one huh. I’d probably say melody is the main one. Both have an incredible sense of weaving notes so poetically they hardly even need lyrics.

GHE: I saw you’ve been busy shooting a video – tell us a little about the experience.

MD: Ah that was a doozy. Myself and 5 companions headed up to the frost stricken Barrington Tops over one weekend. It was wonderful, the scenery and solitude up there couldn’t have been more fitting for what we were trying to capture. I distinctly remember driving hours through the mountains trying to find snow, and once we did a friend of mine Dave (cameraman, has never seen snow) jumped amongst the sleet on the side of the road and was tossing it about. A nice moment.

GHE: It feels like the Sydney folk and acoustic scene is really exploding right now with bars and clubs and even shops and cafes taking a punt on live music. Do you think the Sydney live scene is in a healthy place right now?

MD: I think it’s arguable depending on who you ask. I’d personally agree and say that things like house concerts and small shows are exploding like fireworks. But even the people who play / watch these shows make it healthy. There’s so much love and respect between songwriters and onlookers that I rarely walk away from a show feeling ignored.

GHE: Once the EP’s out what’s next for Direwolf?

MD: Tour it, most likely along the east coast and possibly to Adelaide. Then I’m aiming to write an album / head overseas. After making an EP I’m ridiculously excited to start writing an album.

The new untitled Direwolf EP will be available on Friday 1st August. Direwolf will be launching the EP at Hiberninan House in Sydney on the 1st August with Brendon Moon and Karl-Christoph in support – for more details check out the official Facebook invite here.

Watch the New Video from The Acfields “Grabbed Me By The Heart”

The Acfields
Image Courtesy of The Acfields

The wonderful, heart warming video for The Acfields new single “Grabbed Me By The Heart” debuted this week. The track is taken from an upcoming album that they recorded recently at a friend’s house on the Mornington Peninsula, which is where this video was filmed as well. Check out the video below:

John Flanagan Announces Sydney Shows in July

John Flanagan
Image Courtesy of John Flanagan

Following on from their April tour to raise funds to head to Nashville to record their next album John Flanagan and his fiddle playing partner in folk Jane Patterson are returning to Sydney for a couple of very special shows.

Flanagan recently recieved a $15,000 grant to help home head to the states to record with producer Viktor Krauss and is currently running a Pozible campaign to raise the rest of the funds needed for the project – you can find out more about the campaign here. This month’s shows will help spread the work to John Flanagan’s fans in Sydney and he’s chosen a couple of established nights to showcase at – Little Features at Hibernian House and Menagerie at the Welcome Hotel.

Check out the full Sydney dates below:

Saturday 26th July – Little Features, Hibernian House, Sydney, NSW
Sunday 27th July – Menagerie, The Welcome Hotel, Sydney, NSW

Watch the New Darren Cross Video “Slings and Arrows”

Darren Cross
Image Courtesy of Darren Cross

When he’s not busy releasing music and touring as one half of Jep and Dep, Sydney’s Darren Cross is busy releasing music and touring as a solo artist. Cross has just released the clip to his new single “Slings and Arrows” which is taken from his upcoming EP No Damage (due this August). Check out this alt-country gem below:

Darren Cross will be touring No Damage this August presented by Post To Wire. Check out the full list of dates below and check out the official Facebook event here:

Thursday 7th August – Django Bar, Sydney, NSW
Saturday 16th August – The Retreat Hotel, Melbourne, VIC
Saturday 23rd August – Rhino Room, Adelaide, SA
Friday 5th September – Padre, Brisbane, QLD

The John Butler Trio Announce Regional Queensland Dates

Image Courtesy of John Butler Trio

With their new album Flesh & Blood doing big things around the world and a national tour already under their belts for the year the John Butler Trio are setting their north for a bunch of regional Queensland dates this October. It’s been a while since the John Butler Trio made it out to regional Queensland so fans are no doubt excited at the prospect of their return.

Mama Kin has been announced as the support for the tour. Check out the full list of dates below:

Saturday 4th October – Caloundra Music Festival, Sunshine Coast, QLD
Sunday 5th October – Empire Theatre, Toowoomba, QLD
Tuesday 7th October – Moncrieff Entertainment Centre, Bundaberg, QLD
Thursday 9th October – Mackay Entertainment and Convention Centre, Mackay, QLD
Friday 10th October – The Venue, Townsville, QLD
Saturday 11th October – Kuranda Amphitheatre, Kuranda, QLD

Musical Lineup for AW14 Finders Keepers Markets Sydney This Weekend

Martha Marlow
Image Courtesy of Martha Marlow

This weekend the Autumn/Winter Finders Keepers Markets hit Sydney and as usual they have a fantastic lineup of folky musical guests to keep us entertained. If you haven’t attended a Finders Keepers Markets before you’re in for a treat – the event, held twice a year showcases the best in local and national designers and creative folk as well as a host of food trucks, music and more.

The AW14 event will take place at the Australian Technology Park on Friday 6th and Saturday 7th June and will feature music from the likes of Leroy Lee, Brian Campeau, Martha Marlow (above), Fanny Lumsden & The Thrillseekers, Bec Sandridge, Hannah Marjorie, Boy Outside and more.

For more information on Finders Keepers check out the official site here. The full musical program is below:

Friday 6th June
6:00pm – Leroy Lee
7:00pm – Brian Campeau
8:00pm – Martha Marlow
9:00pm – Fanny Lumsden & The Thrillseekers

Saturday 7th June
10:00am – Jack Shit (DJ)
12:00pm – Bec Sandridge
12:45pm – Hannah Marjorie
1:30pm – Boy Outside
2:30pm – DJ Dylabolical

Watch the New Jep and Dep Video “Babe Come Down”

Jep and Dep
Image Courtesy of Jep and Dep

Sydney alt-country duo Jep and Dep have been busy for the last week launching their new single “Babe Come Down”. Sydney was treated to a launch show last week and Melbourne will get its turn on Saturday 10th May at The Retreat Hotel with The Weeping Willows in support.

Check out the brand new video for Jep and Dep’s single “Babe Come Down” below:

Happy 4th Birthday Timber and Steel!

Bagpipe Birthday

Roland Turner: “What’d you say you played?”
Llewyn Davis: “Folk songs”
Roland Turner: “Folk songs, I thought you said you was a musician”
Inside Llewyn Davis

Late last year the mainstream Australian country music scene made the headlines with the resignation of John Williamson as the president of the Country Music Association of Australia and the withdrawal of Troy Cassar-Daley and Adam Harvey from the 2014 Golden Guitar nominations. Williamson’s resignation was accompanied by a letter published in the The Northern Daily Leader where he surmised that “it’s as though the Golden Guitar Awards are the American Country Music Awards of Australia. If we are NOT respected as a legitimate organization to promote original Australian Country Music, I cannot be associated with it any longer. Mainstream is really now American style country rock”. Cassar-Daley and Harvey’s withdrawal from the awards, where their duet album The Great Country Songbook had been nominated six times, came in reaction to Williamson’s resignation and was meant to ensure the stoush didn’t overshadow country music’s night of nights.*

American folk singer Pokey LaFarge took aim at English singer-songwriter Billy Bragg during a TEDx talk, taking offence with an article Bragg had written citing the influence of the UK’s mid twentieth century skiffle movement on the modern US Aemricana scene. Bragg, who was in Australia touring and on the same bill as LaFarge at WOMADelaide, responded via social media where the disagreement played out. Bragg and LaFarge apparently spoke backstage at WOMADelaide, although no resolution was ever reached.**

Both incidents were the result of pre-concieved ideas of what folk and country music is, that it exists as a static, classifiable entity that can be kept perfect in a box until the end of time.

But that’s not folk music.

Folk music is about evolution. Folk music is about tradition informing songwriting informing tradition. We know what folk music sounds like, what it looks like, what it feels like, but the moment you tie a string around that and say “this is what folk music is” someone else will come along and blow your preconceptions out of the water.

I’m not going to pretend I know where folk music is going to go in the next few years. There’s so much amazing music from the past, present and future that I’m yet to discover and there’s so much more still to learn about this music. I’m going to more festivals and concerts than I ever have before. I’m listening to more music than I ever have before. And I’m only just scratching the surface of this loose collections of ragtag genres that fall under the umbrella of folk.

The past four years writing Timber and Steel have been amazing and there’s plenty more to come. Seeing live music, hunting out brand new tracks, interacting with other folk fans all over the web is my passion, and while that remains a fact so too will Timber and Steel remain.

And while I can’t say for sure what I’ll be covering, what direction the blog will take in 2014, at no point will I be trying to define what folk music is, because that will be the point where I’ve lost, the point at which I’ve wrapped myself in my own comfortable blanket and shut out the rest of the world. So for now meet me up the back of the next folk gig – I’ll be the guy nodding along to the music with a smile on my face.

Happy 4th Birthday Timber and Steel!

Gareth Hugh Evans
Editor in Chief

*Read more about the John Williamson, Troy Cassar-Daley, Adam Harvey and the Golden Guitars row on the Sydney Morning Herald here
**Read more about the Billy Bragg and Pokey LaFarge saga on The Music here

Review: Catch Release, Asleep Is a Friend of Mine

Asleep is a Friend of Mine
Image Courtesy of Catch Release

Review by Sheridan Morley

If there’s one major parallel I can draw between nu-folk and doom metal, it’s this: it’s so tempting, and unfortunately common, for bands in both styles to jam five superfluous players onto a stage. Personally, I’ve never quite understood the reasoning behind it – each of these extra players usually only serves to diminish the already-threadbare live pay packet of the core group by a significant percentage, restrict the other players’ movement on those tiny stages even further (both genres, unfortunately, usually deal with performance spaces smaller than your average pub corner), and usually, usually, add no particular value to the overall sound or vision. The hierarchy of excessive live members across both disparate styles usually descends thus: keyboardist, violinist/cellist, third guitarist, miscellaneous horn player, flautist.

Before you lick the virtual envelope on that hate email, I will tell you that I have personally been classified as two of five of those modern-day instrumental expendables many a time, and I, along with anyone else who has ever picked up one of the above instruments, will attest to the despair caused by gig after gig of playing dull, needless, carelessly-thrown together peripheral lines to sate the ego of a songwriter with little knowledge of instrumental range, capability, or, well, composition. It’s enough to make you completely rule out ever listening to either genre ever again.
Catch Release have completely changed my mind.

Catch Release, a five-piece collective multitude of instrumental ability, describe their style as a “Soul-Folk Soundscape”, which couldn’t be more apt. Every single sound, every different timbre, contained within their unique soundscape is wholly essential, and no note played by any instrument featured on debut EP Asleep is a Friend of Mine is ever anything less than masterfully executed. Guitar, bass, French horn, violin, percussion, and the occasional virtuosic display of beat-boxing (by frontman Tom Lee-Richards) are gently tipped into a melting pot and whisked through expert production values to emerge as a unique, delicious six-track creation which you will have no trouble devouring in full.

The stand-outs are neighbours at tracks three and four – “Freedom Is a Squeeze” and “Chasing Ideas”. Both are very different tracks, both in feel and in instrumentation, but together provide an exquisite overview of what this band is capable of. The former is the first real upbeat occurrence of the EP, and could quite easily have been broken up to create four different songs, were the sections not so cleverly tied together through vocal motifs and a brilliant dynamic structure. It’s truly amazing how one single horn note between verses is able to create the same impact as many of us would have heard whole orchestral arrangements achieve on higher-budget records. Cheeky little deviations in tempo between sections really shift the momentum and keep us guessing, as we would in a musical theatre number or an iconic rock opera – top that off with a catchy, catchy chorus and Catch Release are on to a winner. “Chasing Ideas”, the musical vehicle driving EP title line Asleep is a Friend of Mine, opens with a harmonious melding of an expert beatbox rhythm (seriously, how is he doing that?!) with a sparkling ride cymbal, leading into an urgent yet sensual interplay between guitar and horn. A winding, deliberately confused pilgrimage through a range of sounds and volumes will bring you out at a vocal-only bridge that will raise the hairs on the back of your neck. Tom’s vocals are emotional and full of intent, but with just enough laid-back to keep it a cool few steps back from territory. Navin Gulavita’s violin provides the punchy hook to this track, and acts as the perfect response to its resounding vocal calls.

Opening track “Motion Sickness” perfectly nails the imperfect – that rare recording quality that manages to communicate a band’s sound as though they were playing live. It starts small and grows gradually, through a skilful use of dynamic on muted guitar, percussion and brass, causing you to just about fall of your chair in delight when the whole band comes in at the chorus, as the tiniest bit of rock influence on the vocals starts to shine. Verses are percussion-free, but the rhythmic interplay of guitar and syncopated horn really nails a 4-over-6 groove like a puzzle that fits together perfectly once the drums enter at the chorus. The band’s rhythmic fetish deepens in “Out of Sight”, where simplistic guitar intertwines with congas, which compete against the bass, which dances with the violin; and we find the downbeat cemented in between. Sliding fingers echo impeccably on Tom’s guitar, and we get a real sense of being immersed in a live performance at an intimate venue – a canny production technique that well and truly suits the style.

Asleep is a Friend of Mine is truly a stellar debut effort, showcasing equal measures of the breathtaking and the contemplative. Catch Release are a well of talent and crossover value, and for those reasons alone they are sure to enjoy great success if they choose to continue along the same stylistic vein for a full-length release – I certainly hope they do.

Catch Release will be supporting Scott Matthew’s upcoming Timber and Steel presented tour. The full list of dates are below:

Sunday 11th May – Brew, Brisbane, QLD
Monday 12th May – Mandala Organic Arts Cafe, Gold Coast, QLD
Tuesday 13th May – Pure Pop Records, Melbourne, VIC
Wednesday 14th May – The Toff In Town, Melbourne, VIC
Sunday 18th May – The Vanguard, Sydney, NSW

Review: Scott Matthew, Unlearned

Scott Matthew
Image Courtesy of Scott Matthew

Review by Sheridan Morley

How difficult is it to unlearn something?

If you’ve ever attempted to teach yourself to hold a pen differently, or if you still haven’t come to terms with the fact that Pluto was never a planet, you’ll understand the struggle of unlearning – of reconsidering what was previously fact in your mind, or of un-perfecting a skill you had worked so hard to perfect in the first place.

Listening to music, after all, is a skill. In its purest form, it is the reception of sound by our ears, combined with the ability to use our brains to interpret and convert said sound into understanding. It is in this interpretation, though, that listening becomes a polygamous marriage of physicality to experience and emotion – in a split second, we, as unique individuals, apply layers of our own differing experiences to the same sound, and decide to like it (or not) accordingly. From our peers who decide to like those songs we reject as affronts to our very being, we demand reformation: “How can you even STAND Justin Bieber?! Get thee to the JB Hi-fi rock aisle at once!” For those songs we accept as our favourites, however, we act as aggressive defenders: “Bohemian Rhapsody is SO the best song of all time!” It is these songs that become hits; and that we want to explore and share and hear performed again, and again, and again.

If you think I’ve just taken the most roundabout route possible to overhype a covers album, you’re dead wrong. Scott Matthew’s fourth full-length release, Unlearned, is more than a covers album – it is a creative reimagining of the favourite songs of three generations of music listeners. Like a renewal of wedding vows after decades, Matthew challenges you to reaffirm your love for those very songs that you learned to love so long ago, regardless of their genre. This time, though, he wants you to do it his way.

The tracks Matthew showcases on Unlearned are deliberately eclectic. Iconic songwriters ranging from Whitney Houston to Neil Young are featured, and all rebroadcast in his signature rich, resounding tones. The album opens with what could be mistaken for a Birds of Tokyo keyboard arrangement partnered with a Boards of Canada soundscape. When Scott’s smooth, low vocals enter, it is a surprise and a delight to realise he’s crooning his way through the first lines of the Bee Gees’ “To Love Somebody”. A pretty, nylon-string guitar introduces the second half of the first verse, and ever so gradually, the track builds through layers of keyboard to present a beautiful, yet restrained, tribute to a classic love song.

From here, we melt into a gently strummed ukulele to introduce an unlikely version of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”, joined by a beautiful piano progression – a perfect nod to the ballads of Whitney’s era. The track features one of the album’s only percussive elements, a brushed snare in the chorus, which ends almost too abruptly leading into the second verse, losing a little momentum. We’re quickly distracted, though, by a dazzling three-part harmony in the second chorus, and a decidedly modern, un-cheesy take on the “Don’t You Wanna Dance” bridge to finish. Scott’s voice is surprisingly good in this range, though it’s one more native to a female vocalist – the intensity of such a naturally low voice singing up high really drives an emotional impact that couldn’t have been achieved by a female if they tried.

The sure stand-out track of Unlearned is Joy Division’s classic “Love Will Tear Us Apart” – probably the closest fit to Scott’s vocals which, in the right (or wrong) context, could sound deliciously creepy. The same piano, drowned in sustain, is an excellent substitute for the original instrumentation and effects, while an electric bass references that iconic bass line, but subtly enough to remain cheeky. At just 4:04, Scott rejects the 80s tendency to milk a good groove for all it’s worth, instead including all that needs to be there for maximum impact. It’s easy to see he’s grown up listening to this song. He demonstrates a devastating intensity and phenomenal clarity of tone up high that hasn’t yet emerged on this album. The worst thing is that it’s buried all the way down at number 9 on the track listing.

The more soft rock-inclined of you will be chuffed to note that Radiohead’s “No Surprises” managed to feature on this album, transformed into a ukulele masterpiece. The addition of a female backing vocal separates the texture of this track nicely from the others. While a beautiful track in its own right, those who have been known to throw their support behind the original version will be endlessly frustrated by the omission of that minor turnaround at the end of the main riff – probably the most interesting feature of the original – which instead lands flat with a standard major turnaround. When it finally appears, though, no earlier than the second last chord of the song, you can almost hear the echo of relieved groans from Radiohead devotees worldwide.

The chance to join Scott on this journey through his musical memories is a privilege, and along the way, we start to get a sense of unity in that these favourites of ours were once someone else’s favourites, too. And not just Scott’s – other selections, namely “Help Me Make It Through The Night” and “Jesse”, have been covered extensively throughout the ages by such greats as Elvis Presley, Joan Baez, Janis Ian, Bryan Ferry and more. Hours of fascination could surely be had by considering how each arrangement came to be, but if you don’t have the time, Scott’s stunning homages are enough. Just quietly, I’d love to hear Scott’s rendition of “Bohemian Rhapsody” on his next release.

Scott Matthew is touring for Timber and Steel in May. The full dates are below:

Sunday 11th May – Brew, Brisbane, QLD
Monday 12th May – Mandala Organic Arts Cafe, Gold Coast, QLD
Tuesday 13th May – Pure Pop Records, Melbourne, VIC
Wednesday 14th May – The Toff In Town, Melbourne, VIC
Sunday 18th May -The Vanguard, Sydney, NSW

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