Bluesfest Interview: Kim Churchill

Kim Churchill on the Woodford Stage, photo and interview by KT Bell

Here at Timber and Steel, we’ve developed a bit of a crush on Kim Churchill and we’re always keen to see what’s next on his agenda. Since we caught him side of stage at Woodford, he’s flitted through the US and Europe, so we couldn’t resit the opportunity to catch up with him properly after his Bluesfest sets.

KT Bell: I’m sitting here, drinking Scotch with Kim Churchill, because that’s what you do on the last day of Bluesfest!
Kim Churchill: That is! The interview’s started well. [laughs]

KT: The last time we saw you was side of stage at Woodford and you were about to disappear off to Peats Ridge.
KC: Oh yes!
KT:You were doing that crazy 2 festivals in 2 days thing. And you’ve done 2 shows here at Bluesfest, how have they been?
KC: I guess probably what every artist would say after playing a set at Bluesfest is they’ve been amazing and that is kind of the only thing that a show at Bluesfest can be. It’s one of those festivals that has created over the course of 22 years or however long long they’ve been running, similar to Woodford, they’re the gigs you live for as a musician, they’re the ones that you play all the other shit gigs, not that there’s many shit gigs, but you work through whatever tough times we have, be them small tough times or large tough times, you work through those to get to the sets at Bluesfest and stuff like that.
KT: I’m glad you had lots of adoring fans to see you and the Mojo Stage must have been great.
KC: I don’t know if they were my adoring fans, but I stole a few off Dylan.

KT: Excellent! Now, you’re just back from touring overseas, Europe and America, how was all of that?
KC: Intense! For me, the transition between being an adolescent living out of the back of a van, busking and doing small pub gigs, the transition came a lot quicker than I thought it would. All of a sudden, we’re living out of hotel rooms and planes and the whole thing was pretty intense to be honest. I don’t look back on it with complete happiness and lovely nostalgic feelings, it was hard work. But, an amazing experience, one of the most amazing I ever had and we’ll be touring Canada and America and Europe for the rest of this year, so it’ll be a chance for me to find my comfort over there more than anything. Because, to this point, I’ve sort of, especially with no surf, it bloody hurts. Like, we got to LA and had a couple of days where the booking agent, he said we were gonna go surfing and it rained, and if it rains in LA, all the poo and crap comes out of the rivers and you can’t surf in the water because it’s too dirty. So we just had to watch these perfect waves breaking off Venice Beach boarwalk. But anyway, I mean, I’ve hardly got anything to complain about.

KT: You played South by SouthWest (SxSW), how was that?
KC: Yeah, no surf there! Kind of in general, I think ridiculously overwhelming to the point where I have very little to say about the whole experience [laughs].
KT: Lot’s of gigs in a few days?
KC: Oh yeah, the gigs, SxSW is, every gig is amazing. The whole vibe of the festival is kind of like “Who are we going to find? What are we going to stumble across?” So as an artist, who, your biggest goal is to be that person that somebody stumbles across. It’s a nice situation to be in because you’re kind of handed everything on a plate, and all you have to do is deliver and then there’s always going to be a couple of thousand people that are going to wander past your set wherever it might be and they will either stop and be intrigued or continue walking. So, in that sense, it was kind of easy, and fun for that reason. I would say playing a wedding 2 years ago was a lot harder. SxSW, at the end of the day, it was a lot of fun, I certainly wouldn’t tell anybody to go there to be ‘discovered’ because there’s 120,000 people and maybe 5,000 are good for doing something in terms of helping you break America and the odds are that they’re probably doing something terribly wrong on the 20th floor of a hotel at any given time. [laughs] But it’s a festival at the end of the day, so you see a lot of amazing bands and you have great gigs.

KT: How does the music and festival scene overseas differ or compare to Australia?
KC: It’s larger, definitely larger. It’s more intense, kind of you have to, I find with festivals in Australia, it’s quite easy to wake up early in the morning and go for a surf and have a bacon and egg roll at the surf club and there’s that kind of relaxed element that only Australia offers. Whereas, overseas, bam! 9 o’clock starts and there’s interviews and there’s breakfast and there’s coffee with this person and you’re in the middle of this city and there’s thousands of people watching shows and you’re watching shows with them. The whole thing is just more intense. At the same token, you get that kick from it, being at those kinds of festivals, you sort of get the kick out of masses of people and the animosity of the whole event. But I feel a lot less at home, naturally.

Kim Churchill on the Mojo Stage big screen at Bluesfest.
Photo Courtesy of Tao Jones

KT: So have you been writing much while you’ve been on the road, or have you just been too busy playing?
KC: No, the more busy I am, for some reason the more I write! As soon as I stop, and I have time to write songs, I can’t f*cking write one! [laughs] It’s a pain in the arse. So, say when we were touring in Europe, it was one of the most thick, dense periods of songwriting I’ve ever had. I feel like there’s so much new stuff to write and record now that I’m a bit lost as to where to go in the future with my music. I’ve been writing a lot of very heavy  stuff on electric guitar and stuff that would probably suit a band, and then lot’s of calm and pretty folk stuff that’s finger-picking on acoustic guitar, and then everything in between. So, writing a ridiculous amount of music and now just kind of trying to process how to find the best stuff from that and create an album that isn’t half a heavy metal album and half a folk album [laughs], something in between.
KT: So, Folk Metal?
KC: Folk Metal! Yeah!
KT: Kim Churchill shall master Folk Metal.
KC: [laughs] I like Folk Metal!

KT: When we spoke at Woodford, you said that you were on track for recording later this year, is that still  on the cards or is it pushed back a bit?
KC: Oh no, it’s been happening, we’re just waiting to pull the right things out. We did quite a bit of recording at Sun Records in Memphis, which was amazing! We got to record though the mike that Elvis sung through for the first time. And, that was amazing. We’ve recorded quite a bit in Byron and we recorded  in Canada as well. Just waiting to grab the songs in the right way I guess. It’s been quite a complicated process and it’s taken longer than I thought it would, to reach something that I want to release. Probably now there’s about twenty songs that we could release and we could put two albums out or two singles and an album, or two EPs and an album or something. But, it’s not right yet.  So, recording will continue until the stage where it’s right enough.

KT: At Timber and Steel, as you know, we spotlight artists who we see are coming up and we think we should support.
KC: You do an amazing job too, I’ve got the mailing list.
KT: Thank you. And we try and cover as much of the Australian scene as we can and I actually interviewed Ash Grunwald earlier this weekend and asked him one of the things we ask a lot of established artists, which is who to watch out for and who is coming through on the scene who we should follow, and he said instantly, without batting an eyelid, Kim Churchill.
KC: [laughs] He’s a legend
KT: And he did tell me that you toured with him, you supported him a few years ago
KC: Yeah man! you know what, I actually , I pushed that guy and he proved himself as an amazingly nice person. I was 18 or something and that was when I was trying to get a gig, at a wedding, busking at market, you know, whatever! And, I saw he was playing this venue about half an hour away that some acts used to tour through, and he could pull a big crowd there, sort of five or six hundred people. I begged him, I found his number personally, Ash Grunwald’s number and I called him and I said “please let me play’. And he did, and I’ve had the utmost respect for that guy since then, he’s an amazing person, so I’m quite honoured to be the person that he mentioned.
KT: He just had such great things to say about you, so I wanted to make sure you heard that one from me!
KC: Oh, good on him! Man, I saw a bunch of his music on a Hollywood movie, the other day.
KT: Yeah, he was saying, Limitless.
KC: Yeah, the amount of work that guy has done, and the element of old blues  he brings in to a very new sort of rock music style, he deserves everything he gets. He blows my mind, that guy.

KT: He’s one of the legends here this weekend, and you jumped up with Micahel Franti on Thursday, because you’ve been touring with Michael Franti, which must be amazing.
KC: It has been amazing!
KT: Jaunting back to Sydney in the middle of the weekend for gigs with him, that must have been a bit mind blowing. So with all these legends in Bluesfest, are there any musicians that you haven’t played with yet and you have an absolute burning desire to meet, play with, jam with, any of that?
KC: Oh man, there are so many names that I would want to say, and the first names I would want to say, this Bluesfest has given me the opportunity to see some of my favourite acts from previous tours and stuff, the Hussy Hicks, A French Butler Called Smith, The Mojo Bluesmen, Transvaal Diamond Syndicate, all those acts, they’re the acts you see at festivals all the time and you go “they should be playing the big festivals, they should be doing the big stages”, and that’s what Peter Noble [Bluesfest’s Creative Director] I think has nailed, as he gets everything from them to Dylan to Elvis Costello, to BB King to Wolfmother! Like, he gets it all. The act that I would most like to write, record, meet, everything with is Dylan, and it always will be, so that is my answer to the question is, Bob Dylan. Whether that will ever happen is something that we will wait to find out about and we shall see.

KT: Like I said, we ask who to listen too and people have said you, so I’m asking you who to listen to, who we should check out.
KC: Alright, at this festival, everybody should go check out Mavis Staples, she is brilliant, she blew my mind, Trombone Shorty, in the Australian scene, the Hussy Hicks, A French Butler Called Smith and the busking comp winner Minnie Marks, she plays guitar like nothing I’ve ever seen before, she sings like Janis Joplin, she’s 17 and she’s going to blow the world apart.

KT: Thank you so much for your time Kim, pleasure again, see you again soon. Thanks for the Scotch!
KC: Thank you, cheers. Oh, you’re welcome!

Whiskey in the Jar: A Drunken St Patrick’s Day Playlist

Ben David
Image Courtesy of Ben David

We asked Ben David, front man of Adelaide folk-punks The Thieves, to order himself a pint of Guinness and give us a list of his favourite Irish drinking songs for St Patrick’s day. The results speak for themselves – and if you’re not a fan of bad language and drunken revelry we recommend you click away now.

Drinkin’ Drinkin’ Drinkin’ Drinkin’ Drink Til’ You Throw Up!

A bottle of Jameson in one hand and pint of Guinness in the other. A drunken mouth, aching to sing at the top of yer’ lungs. All the words that you don’t know to the songs you are too drunk to remember. An out of tune acoustic guitar and beaten up banjo. A stolen Mandolin and a drunken choir of the whole town young and old.

This is what i like to think it would of been like years ago at your local irish pub, (you know before The Pussycat Dolls and Kei$ha signed a deal with PJ O’Briens – the finest in hip and happening irish pubs)

So lets drink to forget what we won’t remember. Keep the folklore flame alive and learn a thing or two from Irish. Drink and drink and drink and drink and drink and drink and fight.

Happy St Patrick’s Day – Drink Your Guts Up Tonight

Here’s some of my favourite Irish and Irish influenced drinking songs from yesterday and today. Enjoy!!!!

11. “Sally MacLenanne” – The Pogues
“So buy me beer and whiskey cos I’m going far away” another Shane McGowan hit. Not one of the Pogues’ biggest hits but definitely one of their best.

10. “Kiss me, I’m Shitfaced” – Dropkick Murphys
Honest as all hell punk-rock-Irish by Dropkick Murphys. Being drunk and being everything your not, getting laid and passing out alone. A few American quotes here but fuck it let’s get drunk.

9. “Dirty Glass” – Dropkick Murphys
Dropkick Murphys featuring the female stylings of Stephanie Dougherty of Deadly Sins. A kick ass duet for that special someone who drives you right up the boozer…

8. “Barroom Hero” – Dropkick Murphys
Another Dropkicks pearler so sing your guts out ‘n’ raise those dirty glasses for your local barroom heros.

7. “Fuck You I’m Drunk” – Various (feat. Flogging Molly)
“And I’m gonna be drunk til the next time I’m drunk”

6. “Dirty Old Town” – The Pogues
Traditionally an English song written by Ewan MacColl in 1949. The Dubliners adapted it but here it is by The Pogues. “Chop her down like an old dead tree”.

5. “Bound for South Australia” – Traditional (feat. The Thieves)
Packing up and leaving home. Bound for South Australia. What a state and what a Country. Grab a pint and grab a brother. The best Patriotic sing along i know to date. Possibly the unrecognised national anthem. “Heave Away, Haul Away”.

4. “If I Should Fall from Grace with God” – The Pogues
I’ve said too much.

3. “Drunken Lullabies” – Flogging Molly
Flogging Molly, as Irish as you can get, kick ass song to sing to, drink to, skate to, fu** to and fight to. Banjo driven and full of balls. If you don’t know this song, you’re shit.

2. The Belfast Mill – The Fureys
Storytelling at its best. Thanks Ben and Simon (The Timbers) for this one. A favourite from the very first breathe. Surprise is, no reference to drinking. Just a kick ass song.

1. “Seven Drunken Nights” – The Dubliners
My personal favourite. “As I came home on Sunday night as drunk as drunk can be, I saw a thing inside her thing where my old thing should be. So i called me wife and said to her would you kindly tell to me who owns that thing inside your thing where my old thing should be. Your drunk your drunk you silly old fool still you cannot see, that’s just a tin whistle that mother sent to me”. I have heard versions of this track, some missing the last 2 verses (the best 2 verses). Make sure you check out all seven nights. Leaving nothing to the imagination, once again for the special two timing son a bitch you fell for. I know I’ll shore as hell drink to that.

So happy St Patrick’s Day. I’ll meet you in the gutter…

Ben DavidThe Thieves

Know Your Genre

Record Store

Defining musical genres is always a tricky subject. On the one hand artists hate to have their music pigeon-holed even if they clearly fit inside a particular category (Peter Garrett always maintained that Midnight Oil played dance music). On the other hand music journalists and aficionados are constantly coining new genres in order to help them discuss the artists they love (or loath). I know that I’ve had often vented my own frustration at the limitations iTunes puts on its genre field (what do you mean there’s no “Afro-Carribean-Post-Punk-Garage-Rock” genre?) to a point where I will leave the box blank in protest.

We here at Timber and Steel use the genre “folk” pretty liberally, probably to the distaste of many folk purests, but we do feel it’s appropriate to most of the music we cover. But in most cases it is possible to refine an artist’s work beyond the catch all category of folk. You may have noticed in our Artist Profiles that we usually try to classify a bands by genre under the heading “File Under”. This is not an attempt to pigeon-hole these artists, merely to give you, dear reader, a reference point for the music to work out whether it’s going to be something you like.

And I’m sure you’ve already come across genres on this site that you’ve never heard of or don’t understand. So in order to make your lives a little easier we thought we’d provide you with a reference list. This is by no means definitive and probably needs refining but it’s probably a good starting point for exploring the vast world of folk.

    Folk Music Genres

Nirvana UnpluggedAcoustic – not so much a genre in and of itself, acoustic usually refers to music created by artists from other genres (rock, pop, r&b, etc) who have stripped back their sound to only include acoustic instruments. Probably the best example of acoustic music is the MTV Unplugged series from artists such as Nirvana (pictured), Eric Clapton and Pearl Jam. The genre’s link to folk music lies mainly in the similarity of instruments used (acoustic guitars, upright bass, mandolin, etc) and not so much in the style of music played.

Rufus WainwrightAlt-Country – emerging at around the same time as the alternative rock movement of the 90s, Alt-Country refers to music that falls outside the popular notion of Country music but still maintains many of the same hallmarks of the genre. Alt-country often incorporates elements of other genres such as rock or roots but still maintains a country sensibility. Popular artists in the Alt-Country scene include Rufus Wainwright (pictured), Wilco and The Old 97s. The genre is almost exclusively American.

Ryan AdamsAmericana – a term coined buy the Americana Music Association in an attempt to combine all the various American musical forms (country, rock, blues, etc) into a type of traditional music. Americana is distinctly American in in sound and themes (even when the artists aren’t American) and is often used retrospectively to classify rock acts that stray into country such as The Band and The Eagles. Modern Americana acts include Ryan Adams (pictured), Calexico and Joan Osborne. Many Americana artists take their inspiration directly from the music of Bob Dylan.

Diane CluckAnti-Folk – a relatively new genre that takes the earnestness of politically charged 1960s folk music and attempts to subvert it. While it’s characteristics are often hard to pin down most artists in the Anti-folk category tend to mock the pretension and seriousness of modern music. Diane Cluck (pictured), Emmy the Great and Regina Spektor are all said to be proponents of the genre however their music has also been classified under nu-folk and the two genres are probably one and the same.

Soggy Bottom BoysBluegrass and Old Timey – a form of traditional American music that has grown from the music brought over with early Irish and Scottish settlers and mixed with the music of African-Americans such as jazz and blues. The music is typified by fast rhythms, religious overtones and the use of the banjo. Bluegrass and Old Timey saw a resurgence recently after the success of the movie “O Brother Where Art Thou” (pictured). Australians have also embraced the genre with bands such as The Lurkers, The Wilson Pickers and Dev’lish Mary putting their own spin on the music.

Willie NelsonCountry – another American genre that emerged out of the southern states of the USA, Country music draws on the same blues tradition as rock and pop but adds a distinctly traditional sound to its melodies. Country enjoys popularity in both Australia and the USA and in recent years has begun to cross over more and more into mainstream popular music. Older artists such as Willie Nelson (pictured), Dolly Parton and Slim Dusty have made way for a new generation of country singers such as Shania Twain, Lee Kernaghan and Taylor Swift.

Dropkick MurphysFolk Metal – a sub genre of Heavy Metal, Folk-Metal bands generally take traditional folk songs or melodies, as well as traditional folk instruments such as the fiddle or bagpipe, and layer them with distorted guitars and heavy drumming. Traditional Irish music in particular lends itself very well to the Folk-Metal genre with it’s rollicking melodies and easily shouted lyrics. Probably the best know Folk-Metal band in the world today is Dropkick Murphys (pictured).

Folk-Rock – spinning out of the 60s after Dylan first “plugged in” folk-rock has evolved a lot overtime. Originally referring to folk music that had been amplified and had a rock drum beat added to it (think Fairport Convention) modern folk-rock music now tends much more to the latter than the former. Bands such as The Counting Crows (pictured) and the Dave Matthews Band have infused their brand of rootsy rock with elements of folk and the result is a brand of rock music that only really touches on its origins.

Joanna NewsomFreak-Folk – describes artists that take traditional folk instruments, melodies and sensibilities and infuse them with the avant-garde and psychedelic often resulting in a sound that is far removed from the folk genre. Although Freak-Folk originated in the 60s and 70s it has really been defined by modern artists such as harpist Joanna Newsom (pictured) and Devendra Banhart. Definitely an acquired taste, Freak-Folk features uncommon vocal sounds and instrumentation.

The ShinsIndie – not a strict genre as such, Indie is a term used to classify independent, alternative artists. Modern folk artists are often lumped into the Indie genre as they usually have very similar sensibilities. Add to this that many Indie bands will incorporate instruments that are traditionally associated with folk and it’s easy to see why the crossover occurs. REM are often credited as the first Indie band and current alternative darlings like The Shins (pictured) are reffered to the “kings of Indie music”.

Mumford and SonsNu-Folk (American and British) – two distinct folk music styles have emerged on either side of the atlantic and both are being referred to as Nu-Folk. On the US side of the fence sits artists like Fleet Foxes, Grizzly Bear and Midlake who draw on the medieval and harmonic influences of bands such as Fairport Convention, and Simon and Garfunkel. These bands are distinctive by their harmonies, layered instrumentation and almost etherial lyrics. On the other side of the pond artists such as Mumford and Sons (pictured), Laura Marling and Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit are producing a more stripped back, grassroots form of Nu-Folk music. The harmonies are still there but the melodies tend to pull from the long tradition of singer songwriters like Bob Dylan and Richard Thompson. History will probably see the “Nu” dropped from this genre and these bands just considered straight Folk in all its glory.

Rogues GalleryPirate and Sea Shanty – describes folk and traditional music that is particular to the sea-fairing way of life. Normally incorporating the melodies of traditional Scottish and Irish music Sea Shanties arose out of shipboard working songs in the 19th century. They have been popularised by the Rogues Gallery compilation (pictured) put together by actor Johnny Depp as part of his research for the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films

AlestormPirate-Metal – a sub-genre of Heavy Metal music, Pirate-Metal is distinguished by its incorporation of Sea Shanties into heavy rock music. Quite often the singers in Pirate-Metal bands will sing these songs in a “pirate accent” and due to their rollicking speed will often include elements of Punk. Probably the most recent example of Pirate-Metal is the band Alestorm (pictured).

Ben HarperRoots – drawing as much from traditional blues as it does from Folk, roots is a form of laid back acoustic music that has long been associated with the surf culture. Roots musicians will generally prefer the guitar or lapsteel as their instrument of choice and will normally use eclectic forms of percussion (such as a stomp box) and funk bass lines. Popular roots artists in Australia and around the world include Ben Harper (pictured), Xavier Rudd, Jack Johnson and The Beautiful Girls.

Trouble in the KitchenTrad and Celtic – traditional (Trad) music is often what is most commonly thought of when the words “folk music” are uttered. Drawing on the songs and tunes of the UK and Ireland, Trad is music that is either traditional in the literal sense of the word or written in the traditional style. More often than not Trad songs are stories that quite often teach a moral lesson or tell a funny tale. Probably the best Trad band in the country at the moment is Trouble in the Kitchen (pictured) however the genre is widespread and well loved by people from all walks of life.

So there you go. There’s probably a sub-genre of folk that we’ve missed (and if there is, feel free to comment below) but that hopefully captures much of the music we cover here on Timber and Steel. And if you’re still after more can we suggest a little game: pick a genre not covered above (say “rap”), append “folk” to the end of it (“rap-folk”) and look it up on your favourite search engine. We can guarantee you’ll find something you’ve never heard before. Enjoy!

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