Image Courtesy of Andrew Winton
It’s been ten years since I first walked into a random tent at The National Folk Festival and became mesmerised by WA based singer and lap guitarist Andrew Winton so it’s amazing to see him returning again this year. We sat down with Winton to chat about The National, his unique guitar and his brand new album Glorybox Mechanics.
Gareth Hugh Evans: I first saw you at The National about ten years ago. I was wandering into one of your shows knowing nothing about you and was blown away by this amazing performance. It was all slide guitars and knee slapping – just amazing. Is The National a special festival for you?
Andrew Winton: It has been. The first time might have been 2006. We were on one of my first national tours and it was just an experience. We had a caravan and an 18 month old – it was a real whirlwind. It was one of the first bigger festivals where we thought “oh, this is very interesting”. We were put in a bit last minute but we had such a response and we’ve been back a few times.
GHE: I remember you in 2006 well.
AW: Yeah, I had dreadlocks and the whole thing. That was at that point where to play that music you had to have a uniform.
GHE: You were the “other” dude from WA with the dreadlocks and the lap guitar.
AW: Yes! Mr Butler, is that the man?
GHE: And I distinctly remember your 18 month old son with Karen Winton holding him. In fact she may have gotten up on stage to sing with you while still holding him.
AW: Yeah – she’s very strong. I think we’ve been at most of the festivals either pregnant or with a young child. We’ve stopped breeding now but there was a period when we were ready to have a kid it was mid festival. It was a real lifestyle for a while.
GHE: Has having a young family informed your playing folk festivals as opposed to the big blues or rock festivals? They’re a bit more family friendly.
AW: Yeah. It’s interesting, that year or the year after we did that circuit and then got invited to SXSW which is the big rock and roll festival in Austin, Texas. And that’s when we felt like “wow this is a bit different”. At [folk] festivals people will actually listen, it’s not all about drinking. And you don’t have to go to number ten on the energy – people will listen to quieter songs, a range of material. People are actually interested in the instrument, in the playing. On the whole the folk festivals have a diverse audience interested in different things., not just stomping and drinking and hollering.
GHE: Speaking of being interested in the instrument – your guitar is called The Beast right?
AW: Now when you saw me I had a thing called the Winton Beast which was made by a Victorian luthier. Then several years after a small American company saw me and said “we want to endorse you and make weird instruments for you” and that’s still happening these days. What they make is these instruments out of the roots of cyprus trees in Alabama. So the Winton Beast morphed into this instrument that is two in one. The Winton Beast was a seven string and I introduced a six string so it’s a 13 string tree root that I play.
GHE: Do you go to the luthiers and say “this is what I want? Or do they come to you and say “what do you think of this crazy idea”?
AW: In both instances they’ve said they’ll make me anything I want. And I’ve gone a) I don’t know what I want and I don’t know much and b) I just used my limited strange creativeness to invent something and they made it happen. And with the guys in Alabama it was all over Skype. I’m a non-practical person, I can’t hammer and nail – I just said “can we try having this many strings with this type of tuning”. I didn’t know if it was going to work and it’s all very experimental. And it’s mostly paid off and I guess in my own little world I’m known as this person that plays weird instruments.
GHE: I think I saw you play at a guitarist showcase at The National and everybody was just fascinated by your instrument.
AW: That’s right! People are more intrigued by that than me. On stage everyone was looking at my groin! Some could consider that a gimmick but in a landscape where everyone plays the same instrument with the same sort of tunings it’s just something different. And as a soloist it allows you to occupy the bass area, the chordal area and the melody at the same time.
GHE: You’ve been pretty prolific over the years and you’ve just recently released your album Glorybox Mechanics. Did you self produce that album?
AW: I have a friend here who has done a lot of recording for me. I chose to go down the path of not wanting any of the gear in my house – I didn’t want to go down the rabbit hole of recording. But very close to me is a very good engineer and basically I just did it on my iPhone and then went and replicated with him. In some ways it’s self produced but with someone who knows the buttons and the screens and the boring bits.
GHE: It’s always tempting as a musician to become a gear junkie.
AW: I’m anti that [laughs]. Because those guys end up becoming computer engineers and their musical skills fade into the distance.
GHE: You’ve been Glorybox Mechanics quite a bit recently – how’s the reception been so far?
AW: Quite nice actually. It’s tricky because the last album Happy won a bunch of awards and was a whole different level, so there was a little bit of pressure with this one. So it’s nice that ABC Radio National and a lot of community stations, and even one or two of the bigger ones, are playing a couple of songs. It doesn’t change the universe but I was just worried if these were going to work – it’s just my nature. And I’ve been pretty pleased. Especially in a landscape where people don’t buy CDs.
GHE: Except at festivals!
AW: Exactly! It’s the last arena where you go to see an act and straight away go and talk to the person who’s just played and take a bit home with you. It’s that kind of instant performance energy. That’s why these festivals are still trucking along well. As a musician it’s a privilege to play at them because people face your way and they might buy something and you get to talk to everyone.
GHE: At The National Folk Festival this year is it just you solo? Is Karen coming?
AW: Because I’m coming over for a couple of festivals it’s just me – we’ve got too many children now. And I think we’ve got some nice spots there – we’re going to be doing a filming in The Buddawang.
AW: That’s already been arranged! Liz and I live a long way from each other but whenever we get to the same suburb we do something.
AW: Exactly. I stir her about that [laughs].
GHE: Where else are you playing while you’re on the east coast.
AW: I’ve got gigs at the Django Bar in Sydney and the Union Bar in Melbourne.
GHE: Oh lovely – I’ll have to try and get down to one of those shows.
AW: Great! I haven’t been over there for a while.
GHE: Thank you so much for chatting with me. Looking forward to seeing you play again.
AW: Fantastic – thank you!
Wednesday 23rd March – House Concert, Temora, NSW.
Thursday 24th to Monday 28th March – National Folk Festival, Canberra, ACT
– Friday 4:30pm – Budawang
– Saturday 3:15pm – Marquee (Infinite Song Contest)
– Saturday 7pm – Flute ‘n’ Fiddle
– Saturday 9:30pm – Flute ‘n’ Fiddle (Liz Frencham Album Launch)
– Sunday 10am – The Terrace (Lap Slide Guitar Workshop)
– Sunday 9pm – Marquee
Thursday 31st March – Django Bar, Sydney, NSW
Friday 1st April – Selby Folk Club, Selby, VIC
Saturday 2nd April – Union Hotel, Melbourne, VIC
Sunday 3rd April – House Concert, Mount Franklin, VIC
Friday 8th April – The Herdsman Lake Tavern, Wembley, WA
Saturday 9th April – Caves House Hotel, Yallingup, WA
Sunday 10th April – Settlers Tavern, Margaret River, WA
Friday 15th to Sunday 17th April – Fairbridge Folk Festival, Pinjarra, WA
Sunday 24th April – The Vic Hotel, Perth, WA