Image Courtesy of Buffalo Tales
With the release of his new Americana tinged album Roadtrip Confessions the reinvention of Wes Carr as Buffalo Tales is complete. The former Australian Idol winner and pop singer has gone back to his roots and is producing some of his best music to date. Currently touring NSW and VIC for Timber and Steel we sat down with Wes Carr to talk about the album, the tour and what Buffalo Tales really means.
Gareth Hugh Evans: The last time we chatted was about 18 months ago just before you played at Folk Club in Sydney the last. That was kind of the beginning of what has eventually become the Buffalo Tales project…
Wes Carr: Yeah! That would be the initial explosion – as soon as I did that gig heaps of people saw the video including my manager now [Jesse Flavell]. That’s how he found me. He saw the video of that night at Folk Club that we did, of “Blood and Bone” and he contacted over Facebook. It was the birth of the new direction. That was such a definitive moment in the whole plan that was Buffalo Tales and what it is. It created a huge opportunity for me. It was amazing actually because I met [Jesse] and then we had a chat about where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do. He was the first person I’d heard in the industry that actually talked to me about being an artist and talked to me about my songs. Everyone else wanted to talk about how much money I could make in a short amount of time. So yeah it was an incredible moment – thanks Folk Club and you guys!
GHE: It’s kinda cool that I had a small part to play in that.
WC: It was definitely one of those moments that you’ll never forget – it changed my whole life, my whole belief into who I am and what I do. I’ll forever be in debt to that night.
GHE: And it’s great that your manager is in the same headspace as you were when I chatted to you 18 months ago.
WC: You get bogged down – and fair enough too. If anyone takes their eye off the ball these days they’re pretty quickly assassinated because it’s such a competitive industry no matter what you do, no matter who you are. Everyone’s looking to get more money, more notoriety, more success or whatever. In the world of pop music it’s desperate times for every artist – it’s hard to be heard and get your art out there, get what you want to say to the world out there to an audience and to be able to live off it, to make a living. In saying that, it’s changing as well and I’m really positive about it. On one hand you can look at it negatively and on one hand you can look at it positively and I choose the positive. My experience was I had a choice – I could have gone off and do a covers album and tour it, which is completely fine for artists to do but that’s really not who I was, and at the end of the day I would have been really dissatisfied with that. There would have been no passion whatsoever and no creative outlet at all. I just want to be remembered for my songs and who I am as an artist more so than how much I get from it. I’m very much positive and looking forward to what’s in store.
GHE: 18 months ago it felt like the foundations for Buffalo Tales were already there. A lot of the songs you performed at Folk Club that night appeared on the new album Roadship Confessions and you were kind of in the midst of defining your sound. You started with the EP and now the album’s out and you’re in the middle of a national tour which has included some high profile TV appearances – your exposure has just gone through the roof. Would you say that you’ve defined who the new Wes Carr is or what Buffalo Tales means as a project?
WC: I don’t think you can ever define yourself because I’m constantly changing. One day I’ll wake up and listen to a Bon Iver record or whatever and the next minute I’m listening to Indian chant music or something and then the next minute I’m checking out Kanye West’s new stuff. I’m so eclectic with my choices of music and I think a lot of people are these days – they buy death metal records and they buy Miley Cyrus records in the same sitting. What defines me most is songs that have an honest, raw truth from what I feel and think through my songs. There’s no real intention to go out and try and capture one thing, it’s all about whatever feels right at the time. And that was the mantra for this album – if it feels right then that’s what it is. When we recorded it we layered all this stuff up – we put banjos and mandolins and stuff on every track – and then it was by muting all the instrumentation and bringing it back to the core of the song to actually hear what I was saying. And that was a thing I had to relearn I think, coming from the last bubble where everything’s overloaded with production. For me to be able to let the song speak for itself and let it go so to speak.
GHE: The reason I ask about defining your sound is that Buffalo Tales does have a leaning towards folk, west coast and Americana. And the name itself evokes Americana elements as well.
WC: It’s funny because I never really thought about any of that, it just sort of all happened. It was so natural to me. The story behind Buffalo Tales is that if the native American Indians would dream of a buffalo they would have to return back home again. I read that in a book of different cultures of the world and thought that was really cool. It’s what really rang true to me and what I wanted to do at the time – I thought “if only I could dream of a buffalo I’ll return back home to where I came from”. A lot of people are commenting on the Americana thing and some of it really is. And some of it is really Australian too – it reminds me of where I grew up in Adelaide as well.
GHE: I know Roadship Confessions isn’t a concept album as such but there is the through line in the album, a sort of roadtrip theme. And it starts with the sound of feet crunching on gravel, walking up what I assume is a driveway, and then there’s these little interludes all the way through the album as well. What was the decision behind linking the album like that?
WC: It was originally going to be interludes between every song – so basically you’d put on the album, you’d get the car and you’d go off while it just runs with music all the way through it. But then we realised that there needs to be quiet time on the album for it to give the next song a chance. We left three or four interludes on there, the best ones. I’ve spent a lot of time on the road and it’s meant to just evoke that being on the road nature where you put on a mix tape or something. So yeah, it’s loosely based on a roadtrip confessional – I suppose when you’re on a road trip with someone you start talking about things that would probably never talk about with other people. I find sometimes my gigs are like that. I’ll stand up and tell a story of the song and it will all of a sudden come to me what the song’s about, and I haven’t told the story ever or haven’t told it like I’d tell a whole bunch of strangers in a room at a gig.
GHE: I imagine you’ve been getting some questions about whether any of the songs on Roadship Confessions are about your time on Australian Idol and with a major label. There are a few allusions through the album – “Puppet Strings” feels like an obvious one and there’s lyrics about fair-weather friends in some of the songs as well as getting too close to the flame. Is that something people should be reading into the songs?
WC: It’s really a comment on general society. I can only write from my own experience and my own thoughts and opinions. It’s more of a comment about how people are coaxed into this way of life that they think they should be – they’ve got to get the top job because Dad’s going to be proud of me or whatever. But really inside they want to travel or do something. I think everybody has a certain thing that they’ve had to compromise to fit into a certain pigeon hole. You’ve only got yourself to blame but it takes a long time to realise that. I was experiencing a whole bunch of stuff that I don’t think a lot of people normally experience – all of a sudden I was in the public eye and I had to work out what that meant to me. There were times where I felt I couldn’t really relate to people anymore – I felt really alone in it all at one stage. There’s a lot of stuff I needed to get off my chest. But “Puppet Strings” for me is loosely based on what Dad’s story was. He was really a great painter, he’s an amazing artist, and when he was 16 he got the opportunity to show all his paintings of Australian landscapes over in London. His parents turned around and told him no, he was never going to do that, he was going to go get a job with the council. And then his whole life he spent working his way up in local council and becoming the CEO of the biggest local council in Australia. But all he wanted to do was to be a painter and do his art and he was denied that. His whole life he’s been working his arse off to get recognition through something that everybody at the time was like “if you do that then you’ll be accepted in our society but if you’re a painter you’re a hobo no hoper”. That’s what he was told when he was a kid and he’s always felt that way. He just always said, “I wish I’d kept up my painting, who knows where I could have been”. For me that story really rang true at a very poignant time in my life.
GHE: I think my favourite track on the album, and probably my favourite track of yours live as well, is probably “Crazy Heart”. That’s the one that gets stuck in my head. I recently did a roadtrip through Tasmania and Roadship Confessions was my soundtrack. And “Crazy Heart” was the song I just had to skip back and play again any time it came on. The track features Rachel Sermanni right?
WC: She’s an amazing artist. She’s got a beautiful record out [Under Mountains] and my favourite track on there is “Bones”. It was done over email, the whole thing. I sent her the song and she really really loved it and I wanted her to sing the second verse to make it more of a conversation. In my mind her part is my conscience so for me it’s like me talking to me but in a different voice. “Crazy Heart” was a break through song for me as I remembered how I used feel when I used to write a song. That was the first time I got that feeling back because I felt like it had died when you’re creating something for a certain thing – to get your peer approval or radio play or whatever. There was no real agenda with all of the songs on the album, that’s why I chose these songs. They’re just songs that I needed to sing. The best part about this album for me lately is I’ve actually sent it to a lot of my old friends in the mail and wrote a little excert with things like “this verse is about the time when we la la la”. Then after about 3 or 4 days I get a very cheery voicemail or an email or something saying “Oh my god I can’t believe it. You’re album’s great. We’ve been waiting for you to do this since you were 12”. For me that’s been the best part about doing this as well. It’s a sense of release.
GHE: You’re in the middle of a Timber and Steel presented tour of NSW and VIC. How are you feeling now that you’re a few shows in? How is the audience responding to Buffalo Tales?
WC: Slowly but surely people are coming to the shows and actually getting what Buffalo Tales is about and who I am as an artist, more so than the guy they see on the television or read about in the paper. It’s perfect because the people that are coming are actually appreciating my music which is everything that I wanted to achieve. It’s awesome. What else could you ask for?
GHE: Thanks so much for chatting with me today – and good luck with the rest of the tour!
WC: Cheers mate.
Roadtrip Confessions is available now. The remaining dates for the Timber and Steel supported Buffalo Tales tour are below:
Friday 19th July – The Elsternwick Hotel, Elwood, VIC
Saturday 20th July – Ferntree Gully Hotel, Ferntree Gully, VIC
Sunday 21st July – The Workers Club, Melbourne, VIC
Frdiay 30th August – Sandbar, Mildura, VIC
Saturday 31st August – Club Legion, Broken Hill, NSW
Sunday 1st September – Cobdolga Club, Cobdolga, SA