Image Courtesy of Burrows
You may recognise the members of Canberra nu-folk four piece Burrows as being from bands like The Ellis Collective, Mr Fibby, Fun Machine, Pocket Fox and more. But Burrows is more than the sum of its parts, with music that draws you in and captivates you. With a new album on the way Burrows will be playing a series of shows at this week’s National Folk Festival. We sat down with front man and songwriter Sam King to talk through the evolution of the band.
Sam King: Yeah, it actually was! I applied to the festival solo because I’d not really done much solo before, I’d always played in bands. I had a solid hour of songs at that point so I thought I’d give it a shot. Then very kind of close to the festival I decided that it’s definitely much more fun playing with other people so I invited three people to come and play with me. We were still credited as “Sam King” in the festival program. It was only meant to be a one off thing, a nice excuse to play with some friends. But we ended up being quite taken by it and continued doing it.
GHE: I was at The National that year and called you out as an artist to watch in a Timber and Steel feature. And then every now and then I’d check in online to see what was going to happen to “Sam King” project but nothing had ever eventuated. I thought maybe that was it – I didn’t realise it had evolved into what has now become Burrows.
SK: Yeah – it’s a slightly less Google-able name
SK: Yeah, a lot of those bands have the same people in them. We definitely stick pretty close to each other project to project. I mean Grahame [Thompson] is definitely my go to cello guy. They all kind of evolved out of different things. For The Ellis Collective Matty Ellis is a huge part of that. The name we were never really stoked with but it kind of came about because early on there was a lot of us playing in the band and we were all quite busy. It was more just an idea that Matty could be at the centre and whoever he was playing with could be The Ellis Collective. As it turned out we pretty much all made it to all gigs so it wasn’t really necessary. For [Burrows] I’m sort of at the centre of it. I’m slightly uncomfortable with that idea but I like to think of it as a more collaborative process than just a single singer-songwriter. I feel like we’re much more than the sum of our parts from that point of view. So I guess what makes it different from the other projects is really that I’m playing less of a supportive role – usually the catalyst for all the songs comes from me and then it evolves from there pretty quickly.
GHE: And it’s not just you doing the songwriting right? I got the feeling other members of the band were contributing.
SK: Yeah. And that’s a great deal for me. Usually the way those songs come about is often I’ll get a third of a way through a song – I might have a melody and the chords – and I sort of take it as far as I can then flick it to them. Whether they totally finish it from there or they flick it back to me, that process can go on for a little bit – but in most cases I’ll get it part of the way and they’ll write the lyrics, then maybe as a band we’ll change things structurally. I’d really love in the future for it to be much more collaborative. After a while you get sick of the sound of yourself.
GHE: So you’re just about done on the Burrows album right? You’re pretty close to releasing that?
SK: Yeah, it’s being pressed and printed now. It will be available at The National Folk Festival but we’re not officially launching it – it’s just a little sneaky prelaunch. I think we’ll be officially launching it and touring it mid year. Our initial plan was to launch it at the festival and then tour it around that time but it had to get pushed back a little bit – I was al little bit too picky with the masters. It came back the first time and I wasn’t thrilled with the mix, I had to change one or two things.
GHE: I caught you guys at the Summer Hills Folk Festival in Sydney and from what I gather you pretty much played the album from start to finish in your set there.
SK: Yeah, that’s right.
GHE: It’s sounding gorgeous live. I guess the way I would describe Burrows’ sound is “lean in music”. The kind of music you want to listen intently to.
SK: That’s a very good description – that’s definitely what we’re aiming for. We’re trying to be miles away from the play-louder-than-the-pub kind of band, which I’ve definitely done in the past but it gets kind of exhausting. These days we hope to invite people in rather than try to compete with them.
GHE: Are you playing more intimate stages at The National Folk Festival?
SK: Generally The National’s pretty great for [that type of music]. We’re playing Scrumpy, Majestic and The Lyric – we’ve just got the three gigs. Intimate is what we’ll be aiming for and we’ll cross our fingers that there won’t be some sort of dance band in the next tent.
GHE: Just as you’re launching into a sweet folk tune the Brass Knuckle Brass Band will march past.
SK: Those guys would do that just to spite me, even if they weren’t scheduled to play at that point they’d hop up on stage [laughs]. The festival tends to evolve every year with where venues are and the size of them. Scrumpy and Majestic have been pretty consistent over the last few years.
GHE: I feel like The Majestic is your spiritual home. That’s always traditionally been the “youth” tent at the festival.
SK: Yeah. There’s a very funny story behind The Majestic. The two years before The Majestic came about and was on the oval Mr Fibby was there. We didn’t get in [to the program] but we were all there with The Ellis Collective and I think [Adam] Hadley was there with something. – we just put up some posters in toilets saying “Mr Fibby. The Oval. 10pm”. So there was a tradition for a couple of years where we would play acoustically on the oval and sometimes more people than could really hear us would show up, which is awesome. And then the Majestic was kind of put there based on those performances. I think the festival director had been invited to come down and look at these scallywags playing on the oval and then they put Hadley in charge of the venue for three years. Then hilariously we couldn’t get a gig there anymore [laughs]. But yeah, definitely our spiritual homeland based on that. It was brought about by Mr Fibby in an indirect way – and it also coincided with the fringe festival’s funding getting diverted to The National. It was nice to see all that stuff in one place – it was often hard to get a seat in there.
GHE: Definitely – when The Majestic was on the oval I could never get in. People would just come and park themselves there all day.
SK: Yeah – it was funny wasn’t it? I would always just sneak backstage and watch from there.
GHE: As a Canberra based band how important is The National Folk Festival for you guys?
SK: It’s definitely a great opportunity to play in Canberra to a lot of people who are from interstate. I think it’s a good stepping-stone – it’s a nice gateway for other festivals around the place. A lot of the other festival directors come to The National and they see you and that has some nice flow on effects. And I guess as a Canberran, I’ve not done anything else for Easter since I was 17. I’m sure other stuff goes on but I wouldn’t know about it. It’s a very special time of year and it’s always very nice when they get you along to play – particularly when I was younger. The first few breaks they gave me in bands like One Night Jam – they were hugely supportive. For younger performers it’s a great stepping-stone to all of a sudden be playing to 200 people who are hanging on your every word. There’s not really any opportunities in Canberra – or anywhere to for that matter – to do that outside of the festivals. I cannot praise it highly enough.
GHE: Well thank you so much for chatting with me today. I can’t wait to see Burrows again!
Thursday 24th to Monday 28th March – National Folk Festival, Canberra, ACT
– Saturday 5pm – Scrumpy
– Sunday 10:30pm – The Lyric
– Monday 4pm – Majestic