There are a handful of artists that are constants in my life – the ones that I return to periodically and who continue to sustain me spiritually and musically. Among them are two Australian acts who are big musical touchstones for me – Paul Kelly and Midnight Oil.
When I left school I spent a year in Australia, working on farms. I also took several long journeys across the continent; my face pressed to bus windows, drinking in the vast empty scenery, Midnight Oil in my headphones.The Oils meant a lot to me then, and still do. They rocked hard with devastating songs like Forgotten Years, that spoke of the uniquely Australian experience in an unfiltered Aussie accent. They weren’t afraid to wear their heart on their sleeves and rail against environmental greed and bad politics. I loved they way they summoned the spirit of the Australian outback in songs like Dreamworld and Dead Heart. I went and saw them play in a bar in the small rural town of Mudgee, near where I was working at the time. Peter Garrett was explosive. I drove back through the Australian night, my headlight beams sweeping across the red dirt verges, watching out for kangaroos, thinking about how I had experienced something truly Australian that night. I was falling in love with the country, and that fascination remains, as does my appreciation of great Midnight Oil albums like Diesel and Dust and Blue Sky Mining.
I found Paul Kelly in Sydney, via a CD in my aunt’s apartment in Bronte where I was staying. Again, it was the raw Australian accent and the stunning songs that grabbed me. “From St Kilda to King’s Cross is 13 hours on a bus” was something I certainly could relate to! I love Bradman, Deeper Water and many of his songs. It just feels raw, Australian and real. These essentials chararacteristics of Kelly’s work, with a New Zealand focus, are something I really aspire to in my own songs. And as with Midnight Oil’s best work, I do my best to recreate local landscapes with my music. To me that’s so much more useful than trying to emulate music from elsewhere. This country of ours is rich in stories and culture – I think many people are blind to that, and look elsewhere for those essential elements of identity.
I plan to return to Australia very soon to tour and I’m intensely looking forward to once again drifting across that wild, hard land and playing my own music there.