“And you may ask yourself, “Well… how did I get here?” Once in a Lifetime by Talking Heads
First of all, thank you for listening or reading this series. Three parts of instigation, inspiration and explanation of where the ideas, music and thought behind my debut EP, Boy On A Wire, came from. Part One focused on the moment of change when I realised I indeed had something to say and do with my time on this planet. Part Two was about accepting the responsibility for my goals and how that discipline breeds a special kind of motivation and understanding; you cannot delegate your vision, it must come from you.
In Part Three I want to share with you the detail behind the many miscellaneous endeavours, ideas and thoughts with direct inspirations from my favourite minds that have carried me through the thickness of the creative haze and some hopes for the future of the music we found there.
Let’s start with the tough task of creative leadership. No-one builds a castle by themselves, good luck to you if you want to try it, but if you did it’d probably look like an absolute sordid mess of concrete, stone and gaff tape. Not to mention how lonely that would be.
Sun Tzu, in his infamous book The Art of War, writes, “A leader leads by example, not by force.”
On this creative endeavour, it began and ended inside my own head and so I found it to be remarkably difficult to explain the sound of the EP to others, which was a problem because it was my original music. But I’m not musically gifted; I can’t read music, I don’t count time, music is and always has been to me a means of expression and entertainment, nothing else. I’ve never seen it as something that lives on a page, it lives in the ether between people and in the empty pockets inside our souls, hiding in forgotten nooks of our body until a moment in time or a person’s face or an unexpected emotion cracks the seal and it escapes us. Bursting into the world.
I’m not particularly academic, but I like words, and so I had to trust that if I never wavered in my delivery of ideas or in the style of playing my guitar or in an honest and truthful attempt to convey the story inside of the songs with just my words, that the tone of my vision would be understood. I had to hope that the other musicians and collaborators would hear my honesty and very present emotion and would hopefully bring to bear their own mature thought and passion. It sounds like I’m dealing with children, I’m not, but the seriousness of what I was trying to achieve was real to me, very real. I wanted to make this work and I wanted everyone involved to feel like a part of them was on this record and so each day I a made a conscious decision, whether it was rehearsals or a simple coffee catch up, to come with a quiet, sincere openness and an unflappable authenticity in the hope of reciprocation from those building this castle with me.
And so it went, that the colour and detail in the pictures that were in my minds eye as we created this music were teased out of the songs and their finer details became tangible. But only through the recognition of one another, not by forcibly shaping it. Nothing could be forced, I had to be patient and offer space for Stuart and Robbie Macpherson (who played percussion and bass guitar on the EP) to create the cornerstone that would stabilise and secure the entire sound of the sessions.
I’m so thankful for the work they did and the selfless offering of their talents, thank you boys.
If you want to get the best out of people, give them space to create. Lead with intention and a clarity that inspires them to contribute rather than question. Because once they start fuelling the fire that you’ve created new sparks will surge out of that blaze and fill the sky, carrying light to places you never knew existed within that landscape. Their collaboration will expand your vision beautifully if you choose to lead by example and not with force.
In saying this, I still had no idea what we were doing or how this would all pan out. To say I had absolutely no idea is a lie, I had the flavour of a faint smell on the back of my tongue, I had to work backwards from the smell to form the recipe. But this glorious cluelessness was a treat and I relished it.
“To some extent I happily don’t know what I’m doing. I feel that it’s an artist’s responsibility to trust that,” that gem is from David Bryne, the frontman of Talking Heads.
I couldn’t agree more. My favourite moments on the set of a film or television show have come from situations where no-one knew what was going to happen. For example, there’s a scene in Safe Harbour, directed by Glendyn Ivin, where Ewen Leslie’s character and I catch a fish off the back of a boat and bring it on board. In the script Ewen’s character catches the fish and holds it up to the sky in celebration. In real life, Ewen had never held a live fish and didn’t want to start now, nor did anyone else on the boat so the task fell to me; the country kid who grew up deep sea fishing and dealing with heavy duty fish. What made it even more hilarious is that the real life fish we were using for the set up was a Barramundi, a commonly known freshwater fish, while in TV land we were sailing out into the Indian Ocean… ridiculous. Needless to say the scene was insane and nothing went to planned, but it remains one of the most exuberant and spontaneous moments I’ve experienced on set.
I think you can also set that quote to the idea of performing live. On Wednesday, the 27th of November, Stuart, Robbie, Courtney Clarke (backing vocals) and I performed the six song EP for the very first time to an audience of friends and family. My nearest and dearest, my closest supporters and also my harshest critics. I had three ideas of big moments for audience participation inside the set, Sunday, The Bicycle Song and Two Wrongs Don’t Make A Right. We never had a chance to rehearse them, how can you without a live audience, and so it was impossible to know if it would work or if we’d be overwhelmed by the mass of egg that found it’s way to our face. But the thrill in the absolute spontaneity of that moment was unbelievable. It was perfect. It was exactly the kind of chaos that should exist at a live event and they didn’t all work. Two of them did and exceeded my expectations while one absolutely fizzled and it fell on deaf ears. Which was also strangely satisfying, at least there was resolution and now I know what to strive for next time.
Live music is real, it exists between people. It’s a living thing that is born and kept alive by the entertainer and the audience. It does not come from one in particular, but rather developed inside of the mutual recognition of each other. We’ve all seen incredibly talented musicians who are so consumed with their own sound and pleasing themselves they forget to check in with their audience or an audience that fails to recognise the wonder that is being created just for them and the musicians remains on a lonely island, circumnavigating themselves in their search for a listener.
I’ve always believed that music is secondary to the atmosphere in the room. In every room there is this crazy amount of potential energy. Potential energy is the scientific term for the energy that remains stored in an object; like a car brake under tension, if you release that brake the car will move or if not, that energy will stay static. The same can be said about any room, the potential energy could easily dissipate to nothing or something could ignite the fuse to explode it, setting fire to everything in it’s path. Music is the soundtrack to the explosion, but the ignition for that potential energy to turn into relentless, ferocious, kinetic energy is the interaction between entertainer and audience. Without it lyrics are just words that someone is mumbling, a chord is an arrangement of fingers on wire that sound like fence wire rattling on the road and a drum beat is a mechanical thing like a jackhammer waking us up early on a Sunday morning.
Andrew Hearle, my sound engineer for the recording session, and I chose to capture the music on the EP without a click track, which is normally always used to ensure that the tempo of the music remains seamlessly perfect. It plays a ‘blip-blip-blip-blop’ melody in your head as you strum away and it’s a very common practice. But to me, it’s a betrayal of the energy in the room. That recording session was a performance, to and for each other. It wasn’t about capturing perfection, we engineered the day to allow for the discovery of beautiful mistakes. Each song was allowed a maximum of three takes and three of the tracks were captured in the first take, Two Wrongs Don’t Make A Right, Bronte and The Bicycle Song. There were one or two moments of jumping in and out to perfect a little blip in an otherwise great take, but apart from that each and everything you hear came from that room, our relationship to the energy inside it and the hope that someone might connect to it and start their own fire.
After all, a thing is never created to not have a life of it’s own. Children grow up, leave home and start their own family. A boat is built to sail towards a new destination, discovering worlds untold and unfathomed. Now is the time for this music and the energy captured inside it to live outside of me and inside you, between yourself and a moment in time. It’s yours now. Andrew Hearle, Robbie Macpherson, Stuart Macpherson, Courtney Clarke and Rod McCormack; our wonderful producer, winner of four golden guitars as best producer by the Country Music Association of Australia, have all added to the powder keg of the bomb sitting between your hands waiting for you to press play and start the dissolution of the wall between you and I. To bring us together in a room where you’ve never been and I never knew others could exist.
This EP has been an absolute joy to create and simultaneously the scariest thing I’ve ever contemplated creating. The financial risk, to back yourself with your own money in a venture that does not create money but a sensation and recognition between people, to incessantly ask those you respect to give their time and talents to a creation that is not their own on a daily basis, pleading with them to give to your idea and step into your world. To gather the people you love most into a room and ask them to listen to the music that has only otherwise existed in your notepad and bedroom. But I hope it is the beginning of something remarkably special. The small construction along the way has cumulated into a beautifully modest castle built by many hands over a long, sometimes tedious and boring, process of creation and destruction. Re-modelling when we’ve needed to and obsessing over a detail when inspired. From the outside looking in six songs with nothing but four instruments and two voices could seem like a meagre achievement, but in my mind it’s the most honest creation I’ve ever had the privilege to step into.
I hope you take the time to share in it. Listen and re-listen to it. Dissect it, it’s their to be torn apart and put back together again. The deeper you dig, the more you’ll find and the harder you tear at the fabric of these songs the softer the blanket will be when you need it. I wrote this music for us; for all our shitty mistakes, for the lowly betrayals of our trust, the empty promises and the moments our heart could burst with happiness buoyed on a blanket with the love from another. This music is not an empty pursuit. It’s going to grow and grow and grow and I want you to be with me from the beginning. I want us to know one another, sing with one another, share with one another, grow together and dance together. Make this music your soundtrack, I promise it won’t let you down.
Together the endless energy that surrounds us could be fused into something meaningful and purposeful. I can’t wait for you to play this music and I can’t wait to one day soon play this music for you and share in these choruses, the dance breaks, the heavy handed corniness and the deft touch of tongue to defy those who might others define us. This music was made to be set free inside the jungle of your soul, plant the seed and let it grow with you. One day it might offer you the shade you need or the branch to climb to see over the fence into that part of yourself that lies undiscovered. I hope so, I really do.
Words by Joel Jackson Images by Indiana Kwong