National Folk Festival Interview: Lucy Wise

Lucy Wise Trio
Image Courtesy of Lucy Wise Trio

Having just released her new EP A Painting of the Universe the Lucy Wise Trio are hitting the festival circuit this Autumn for the record’s launch, hitting the Port Fairy, National and Fairbridge folk festivals. I sat down with Lucy Wise to chat about the EP along with her experiences at The National Folk Festival.

Gareth Hugh Evans: Let’s start with the new EP, A Painting of the Universe which has a pretty interesting story behind it right?

Lucy Wise: It all started early in 2014 when the Lucy Wise Trio were invited to write some music for the 30th birthday of a national schools poetry competition, the Dorothea Mackellar Poetry Awards. Lots and lots of schools participate in it and its for kids from age 6 to 18. So what we did was we read through 100 of the past finalists poems, so that got us through the past 10 years of the competition, and then we chose five poems to write songs about. We performed those songs at the awards ceremony last year and because we were so excited by the material and the creative realms it had opened up for us we wanted to record them on a CD of their own, so that’s what this new EP is.

GHE: It’s really cool. It feels a little different to the stuff you’ve done before. There’s a really nice, comforting feeling about the EP if that makes sense?

LW: I suppose the excitement and freedom of that creative process might come across in the songs? I think it’s because that directly transferred across from the kids’ poetry I think. The poems that we ended up choosing had the most honesty and freedom of expression. When I was writing the songs I responded to those poems and really enjoyed seeing where those poems could lead me. It was a really different process for sure.

GHE: How much of the original poems actually made it into the songs? And how much is your interpretation and inspiration?

LW: It depended on the poem. There were a couple of poems where the images and the way they were portrayed were just really clear and beautiful. I ended up using maybe half their words and half mine for one of the songs. And then for a lot of them it ended up being maybe four or five phrases out of the song would have come directly from the poem. It was a totally open and free process, I just left it open to wherever I felt the song needed to go. If it needed those lines from the poem then I popped them in.

GHE: Did you write the songs and then bring them to Chris Stone (violin) and Holly Downes (bass)?

LW: Yeah. We made up a process for selecting the poems, so we all agreed on our favourite five together. And then we drew a narrative shape on a piece of paper for each one and that kind of represented the shape of the song that might result from that kind of story. Then they left it up to me to see what would happen, going away and writing a song about each poem. When I came back to Chris and Holly with the songs we arranged them. We worked out what the instruments could do to best serve each story.

GHE: It feels like these songs are very arranged specifically with Chris and Holly in mind. With them being such amazing musicians you definitely get a sense of landscape from their playing.

LW: It feels really different. All the playing that we’ve done together over the past year and a half as a trio has led us to approach this new project with a whole lot more experience of arranging together and of telling stories together. That’s cool that that comes across – we feel like we’ve developed lots but we like to know that other people can sense that too [laughs].

GHE: And you’re launching the EP now?

LW: Yeah, we just launched the EP at Port Fairy Folk Festival in Victoria and we did a Melbourne launch on Thursday night. We’ll be taking it to two more festivals – The National and Fairbridge in WA.

GHE: I feel like The National Folk Festival is a bit of a “home” festival for you. I’ve been going for the last 15 years and have watched you grow on stage there through the Wise Family Band, to your work with The B’Gollies to your current trio project. Does it feel like a homecoming for you?

LW: Yeah it does. The National’s always been a special festival for me. It was really one of the first festivals that my family played performed on a big stage. It’s where I made a lot of life long musician friends who I still work with and still love seeing and catching up with at the festival. It’s great to be able to launch the EP there because it certainly does feel like a bit of a folky homecoming.

GHE: I always recommend The National to my muso friends because it is such a collaborative festival. You meet so many amazing people and even if you’re not on the lineup you can still bring your instrument and get up and play in so many ways.

LW: Absolutely. I suppose the session bar has always provided that great opportunity – it doesn’t matter who you are you can just mix with everybody and you might just accidentally meet one of your folk idols and get to have a jam with them. It’s just that kind of place.

GHE: Finally, what’s the next plan after this tour?

LW: We’re about to have a little bit of a break from the trio and I’m going to be doing a little more solo stuff during the year. Chris and Holly are about to head off on a lot of touring with The String Contingent again – they’ll be doing Australia and the UK this year. And then it’s possible there’ll be a regional tour of the EP early next year.

GHE: Thanks so much for that Lucy! I’ll see you at The National

LW: Great! Thanks Gareth.

The remaining dates for the Lucy Wise Trio’s EP launch tour and a stream of A Painting of the Universe are below:

hursday 2nd to Monday 6th April – The National Folk Festival, Canberra, ACT
Friday 10th to Sunday 12th April – Fairbridge Festival, WA

2 Comments

  1. March 27, 2015 at 15:56

    […] “All the playing that we’ve done together over the past year and a half as a trio has led us to approach this new project with a whole lot more experience of arranging together and of telling stories together” – Lucy Wise chats to Gareth Hugh Evans. Interview here […]

  2. November 26, 2015 at 08:27

    […] of a national schools poetry competition, the Dorothea Mackellar Poetry Awards,” Lucy Wise told Timber and Steel earlier this year. “Lots and lots of schools participate in it and its for kids from age 6 to 18. So what we […]


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