National Folk Festival Interview: Sian Evans

Sian Evans
Image Courtesy of Sian Evans

Brisbane based singer-songwriter Sian Evans hits The National Folk Festival for the first time this weekend as part of her current east coast tour. We caught up with Sian Evans to discuss her new sound, the stresses of being a touring artist and what we can expect from her performances at The National.

Gareth Hugh Evans: You’ve just released your new single “Cold Feet”. I love it – there’s a pop sensibility about it while still maintaining your folk and country roots. It feels like you’ve written a pop song.

Sian Evans: I did write a pop song. I wanted it to be accessible to a wider audience. I wrote three songs last year and that was one of them – they all kind of have this pop sensibility. At the moment my head is in a space of wanting to write singles and then maybe put out an album full of singles. I really want to work on something that’s really bloody awesome and that I’m really really proud of. I feel like I’ve got the maturity to actually deliver something like that whereas when I did an album years and years ago I just so wasn’t there as a song writer yet.

GHE: Is part of it to separate the solo work from your work with The Rusty Datsuns?

SE: I guess so, yeah. A lot of people didn’t really know who any of the The Rusty Datsuns were individually anyway so I’ve started from scratch. The stuff that we wrote is different to where I’m at at the moment. My last record was more traditionally focused – it had one song on it that was mine and a bit pop. And I guess after you’ve been slogging at it for ten years you want stuff that’s going to be favoured by radio stations [laughs]. It’s not all about the financial side of things, it’s not all about money or anything like that. Anyone who comes into the the music industry with the idea of making money, unless they’re doing pub covers, then they’re absolute idiots. But to just have it sailing its own ship at some point, or maybe getting the closest that I’ve ever been, would be really nice.

GHE: And I guess if you’re performing under your own name it’s music that represents you as an individual.

SE: Yeah, totally. I’ve never been very good at themed writing – I’m pretty authentic to the cause and whatever mood I may be in. To some extent I’m probably a bit of a sad person [laughs] – it reflects in my music.

GHE: I really like the production on “Cold Feet” as well. I think that might contribute to why I think it’s a pop song – it’s really tight.

SE: [Producer] Josh Shuberth used to drum for Josh Pyke and I love Josh Pyke, I’ve been listening to him since I was in high school. I’ve been rolling around with my stampy box and jingles which is basically my broken down drum kit that I play with my feet while I play at the same time because I can’t afford a drummer and because I don’t want to have to deal with another personality. My last record we slapped on our hands and our knees and stamped my boots on the ground – I really like natural sounds. So this time we set my mate Mike in the studio with whatever we could find and there was a hundred different tambourines in the studio and a wine bottle with a spoon – so we just tapped on heaps of shit and again I got into the studio and tapped on my thighs and my stomach and my hands.

GHE: You’ve already played a couple of shows around Brisbane to support “Cold Feet” and you’re about to head out on some east coast dates – are you looking forward to those?

SE: Hell yeah. I’d be playing everywhere if I could afford to but I just decided to stick within my means for this tour which meant not going back to my home town of Cairns and it also meant not going to Melbourne. I had such a great time in WA last year – Perth and Fremantle were just amazing. So that’s kind of sad but I figure maybe I’ll pick up a bit of momentum for the single and I’ll pick up those places for the next tour. But I’m really looking forward to heading down to Canberra – I’ve never actually spent any time in and around Canberra before. And I’ve never been to The National Folk Festival before and it’s the 50th anniversary so if that’s not some kind of sign, I’m not sure what is.

GHE: I think you’re going to absolutely love The National. It’s one of my favourites – it’s a community coming together.

SE: Is that not the nature of these types of festivals? Except it won’t be so hot that you want to keel over and die [laughs].

GHE: Is it just going to be you and your fiddle player at The National?

SE: Yeah! Unless if a friend happens to be going or we happen to meet someone at a jam – by the end of a festival everyone is just like family. If you make special, chemical connections with people you want to share that on stage. If I happen to jam with a bass player or someone else and it works I have no issues with having guests on my stage ever.

GHE: As well as The National you have shows around Queensland and Northern New South Wales as well…

SE: Like Nimbin Mardi Grass!

GHE: I’m not familiar with Nimbin Mardi Grass at all.

SE: I was meant to play there last year but I was supposed to do Urban Country Festival as well. Urban ended up getting cancelled and I made the call not to try to drive to Mardi Grass because it was too sketchy with the weather, as to whether everyone was going to get flooded in or not. I didn’t really need that. But I love Nimbin, and I love the area. It’s just really beautiful – that appeals to me a lot. I’m not a really massive pot smoker so that side of it doesn’t necessarily appeal to me, but if that’s people’s thing that’s fine. But it’s a nice place to go for a couple of nights – it’s nice and cool and there’s generally some really bloody good music.

GHE: You had a pretty massive 2015 in terms of touring. Is 2016 shaping up the same way?

SE: No. Last year I basically just fell apart. It was too much for me – too much back and forth, too much travelling. By the end of it I couldn’t fly without being sedated on valium because I started having panic attacks on aeroplanes.

GHE: That’s not ok!

SE: It was really full on. I was still running a business in Brisbane and trying to get back to my son in Cairns – it was just too much. And touring solo, being on my own for a lot of the time and doing all the driving and lugging in of gear myself, I just felt the camaraderie wasn’t there. I lost so much money as well – I was just banging my head against a wall going “am I really doing the right thing? I really thought my calling was music but maybe I’m not good enough”. So I had to just step back and go this is going to have to be more of a hobby and I decided that I would prefer to definitely work another job and make that a priority as well as being a mum. I would put less pressure on performing and maybe try to do just two tours a year – make them x amount of time long so I didn’t burn myself out and so that I could give my audience the best of myself. And now I’m working full time and I’m totally a single mum in the city with no family at all – so that’s pretty hectic. I just really have to pace myself. I’m touring this time for the majority over the school holidays and mainly weekends for the time outside of that. So that is just a walk in the park. No aeroplanes for Sian!

GHE: Yeah, I know a number of artists where the relentless touring and travelling has led to burn out.

SE: It’s f**ked! There’s no other way to say it for what is often no monetary return. And it should be about quality of life. The way that I was living was not fun at all – I wasn’t happy, I wasn’t enjoying it, I was questioning everything and I was so f**king poor.

GHE: And it pulls the joy out of the music which is why you started in the first place.

SE: Yeah. It’s for self expression and it’s for connection. I was in such a broken place I just felt like I couldn’t look people in the eye at some points without drinking. I was so exhausted all of the time and because I was drinking I didn’t know whether I was tired or I was shitfaced [laughs]. When you get to that point you’ve kind of hit a point of no return and I really needed to take a break. And I did – I took a break for four months and then of course got itchy feet. I was like “ok, I’m going to book another tour now!”. But I tried to be really organised about this one and I started three or four months prior, booking the gigs, and basically didn’t push very hard. I just went with what came really easily and what had money attached to it.

GHE: It sounds like you’ve found a balance now.

SE: Yeah, totally. And I think that that’s the way forward. Approaching it a bit slower – smashing it out and then having a break.

GHE: Definitely sounds like you’re on the right path. Well that’s about all we have time for – thank you so much for chatting with me today. I’m super excited to see you at The National

SE: I can’t wait. Thanks Gareth.

All of Sian Evans’ upcoming tour dates, including her shows at The National Folk Festival are below:

Thursday 24th to Monday 28th March – National Folk Festival, Canberra, ACT
– Friday 9pm – The Lyric
– Saturday 4:50pm – The Buddawang
– Sunday 7:10pm – Spiegel Zelt
Wednesday 6th April – The Foundry, Brisbane, QLD
Saturday 9th April – No.5 Church St, Bellingen, NSW
Saturday 16th April Night Quarter, Gold Coast, QLD
Friday 22nd April – Grounded Festival, Brisbane Valley, QLD
Saturday 30th April – Nimbin Mardigrass, Nimbin, NSW
Sunday 1st May – Brisbane Powerhouse, Brisbane, QLD

1 Comment

  1. March 25, 2016 at 09:44

    […] “I did write a pop song. I wanted it to be accessible to a wider audience. I wrote three songs last year and that was one of them – they all kind of have this pop sensibility” – Sian Evans chats to Gareth Hugh Evans. Interview here […]


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