I was already a fan of Lachlan Bryan’s after hearing his debut solo album, Shadow of the Gun (with The Wildes he had previously released Ballad of a Young Married Man). Recently Lachlan and The Wildes released Black Coffee and, lo, if it wasn’t another stunningly good album. Two such fine albums in a row is not a coincidence – as you’ll discover when you read what Lachlan has to say about songwriting, recording and a whole lot more.
Well, first of all, congratulations on another amazing album, I’m starting to suspect you may be a genius but I don’t want really want to overstate the case.
Oh, thank you very much.
I’ve got to say, to back it up from Shadow of the Gun so quickly ‑ this has been a very quick turnaround to have such an exceptional album last year too, to doing it this year, so I was reading in your bio that you wrote it while you were travelling across ‑ wrote most of it while you were travelling across the United States, but how quickly has it come together, really?
Oh, too quickly. I mean, I want to do a record a year, that’s really my goal and this has actually taken longer to put out than I wanted, just Shadow of the Gun was a solo last year. As far as the writing goes, after I put out Shadow of the Gun I didn’t really write anything for a few months. And then I went travelling through the States and did a lot of shows over there and I think I really just wrote all the ideas over there and just came home and in my first couple of weeks home the end of last year wrote pretty much all the songs. There was a couple that came together early this year and then ‑ in fact, there was a couple that came together just a week or so before we got in and recorded, and so we went in and recorded in, I guess it would have been April and we completed the whole album in the weekend. I don’t really do a lot of overdubs or anything like that, so it’s really a live album and the band playing in the studio ‑ I believe in doing the vocals at the same time as the guitar and all that kind of stuff, and for me it’s important that the [spirit] of the songs gets captured pretty early in the piece, so I don’t really like to put the drums down first and then layer the guitars on and all that sort of stuff, I just prefer to do it all at once and that’s what we did and you kind of get in a position where you go either it works or it doesn’t, you know ‑ if you didn’t sing it well you have to do the whole thing again, and I like that pressure, so it came together very quickly. We recorded it in two days and we mixed it in four, so it was a six-day album, really, and while we were mixing we added a few extra little bits of percussion and that kind of thing, backing vocals. So it was a really fast process.
You say you just recorded it in two days, but I think of how tortured some people’s ‑ or how long some people’s recording processes are, and I guess it’s just that ‑ you strike me as someone who is quite knowledgeable about your own creative process, or maybe it’s on the subconscious level that you are … You said you had the ideas for the songs last year, then you wrote them and it’s almost like they have this marinating process, so that by the time you get to record them, they are as fully formed in your mind or in your brain as they’re going to be and that’s why it can be recorded quite quickly. Does that seem a reasonable thing to say?
Yeah, I think so. I think that really what we tried to do – at least with the last two albums – is just capture the songs exactly as they are and as raw as possible. And in terms of Shadow of the Gun, it was more polished, we had session musicians and things playing on it but we still tracked it live … I’m open to writing all kinds of songs, but the songs I’ve written over the last couple of years have been very much singer/songwriter songs and the kind of songs that you could ruin if you thought too much about, so I guess I’m usually pretty tight with my writing process. I don’t claim the song as finished unless I’m really happy with the shape of it and the lyric and where everything goes, and so it’s really just a matter of the band playing around it, and in this case I didn’t really direct people what to do. The last album, Rod McCormack produced it and he had certainly a lot of ideas on the arrangements and things; this time Rod co‑produced it with me and with the band, really, and the reason that we said that we co‑produced it is because we all really just did our thing and we all threw in bits of advice in there or suggestions, but usually most of the songs – there’s two songs on there that we only did one take and we thought, yeah, that sounds good, so we’ll keep it. So it’s just one of those things that I think we’re in the right headspace and it’s the right group of people working together at the right time ‑ there’s not really any need to labour over it. Like, I would love to make a David Bowie kind of album one day where you are in the studio layering things and getting crazy with arrangements and everything, but it would have to be the right songs and these kind of songs don’t lend themselves to that kind of production.
I do think there’s an argument that your lyrics suggest that if you wanted to go for more and more layering as time goes on there’s certainly space there to do it, just depending on the way you play the song.
Well, definitely. Kike I said, I would love to do that one day but you know, if I was going to do that, I would probably do something completely outside of the country music genre, which is not something I’d ever rule out, you know, I think in some ways this album might be seen as less country than the last one and who knows, the next one I do might be completely left field, but I do agree, I think that there is room for all kinds of production, with all kinds of songs.
Was your relationship with the band different this time, because to me this album sounds more like Shadow of the Gun than it does like Ballad of the Young Married Man, stylistically and also in terms of how it’s played and maybe how it’s produced as well, and that’s probably because of Rod McCormack and you both being the common denominator. But did you find going back into the studio with The Wildes, that because you’d had that time on your own it was a little bit different?
A little bit. Certainly I think the fact that we were in the same studio and the fact that Rod’s playing on it and the fact that Jeff McCormack was engineering it, there’s certainly some common denominators there. I think also I probably have a greater understanding of what I do than I did when we did Ballad of the Young Married Man. I mean, the other interesting thing probably is that Ballad of the Young Married Man actually was a lot more layered and it wasn’t recorded as live, it was a much more arduous recording process; we were all quite inexperienced in this industry at the time, so that album actually did take a long time to make. So I guess the similarity between this and Shadow of the Gun is that they were both made quite quickly. And as far as the band goes, this is really the first time since the first few Wildes gigs that we have worked with our original guitar player, who’s one of my best friends, Andy Wrigglesworth and he went off and did his own thing as well, Weeping Willows.
So it was the first time we sort of had him back in the four, and I think our relationship had changed because we used to really labour over things and we used to try and change what each other was doing all the time and second‑guess things. So we just turned around, we just kind of said play, play what feels right and everyone played what felt right and we didn’t really muck around with it too much. So I guess we trusted each other a lot more and we’d grown up a bit as musicians as well. Everyone kind of heard the song and we knew what had to be done this time around, whereas with Ballad there was a lot of trying to find our feet and we also had a lot more session players play on Ballad as well … we had a different bass players play on some songs, different guitarists play on some songs, so this was much more just the four of us – or the five of us including Rod- playing together at the same time, and that, to me, made it a really exciting recording project and a really stress‑free recording project as well.
Of course, the billing for this album is different because it’s now Lachlan Bryan and The Wildes. Are you feeling more responsibility, having had a solo album and being the figurehead almost or when you’re in the band does it still feel like a collective?
Well, it’s a bit different, I guess, because my commitments are different to the guys’ commitments. I’m still going to be playing solo a lot, so really I feel like the band was together for the recording project, not necessarily a touring act at the minute, although obviously we’ll play together at festivals and certain shows. But it feels like a real halfway in between. A lot of this is very much solo but at least the recording process did feel collaborative, and the rehearsal process. We’d just done a little tour before we went into the studio, and then we rehearsed for a few weeks and then we went into the studio and recorded, so it felt very together at that stage. And then we kind of go off and live our separate lives and then we come together for certain shows and that kind of thing. So it’s not the type of thing it was when we were just a young band, where no one really had any other kind of aspects to their lives that they were worrying about; you know, now my drummer has a drum building business and he teaches music, and our guitar player has another band and so on, the bass player runs a business as well. So I’m kind of the only one that’s left that’s just a kind of, you know, travelling musician. So the feeling was different but lots of things are the same ‑ it feels nice to be with the guys again, I guess that’s the best thing I can say.
It’s also a testament to you and the other guys in the band that your relationships are solid enough to withstand that amount of change in all of your lives, and also in your musical work, so there’s obviously some kind of affection that keeps you together, quite apart from being able to work well.
There definitely is, and we really are best friends ‑ it’s funny, because the guitar player had left the band, like I said, but in the time that he left the band, he and I probably became the closest friends that we’d ever been and it was hard doing the solo thing as well, doing a record without those guys. Matt [the drummer] and I had played together for years and it was weird making a record without him around, so we’re really lucky that we did keep a strong friendship. We had our moments in the middle, for sure, our moments or our weeks – I don’t know, months – but it did all come back together and we are, as friends, very strong.
Now, more about the songs on the album. For me, Shadow of the Gun felt like a song cycle in a way, whereas Black Coffee is a collection of individual tales, and that probably reflects the different way you wrote it or the location you wrote a lot of the ideas in.
Was Shadow of the Gun a song cycle or was it just that all those songs sounded like they belong together?
No, I don’t think it was really a song cycle. There was a common theme, I guess, of a break‑up that I’d been through that in hindsight affected a lot of the songs. The process in a way was similar. I haven’t really changed the way I write songs … Black Coffee, the songs were written much closer together; Shadow of the Gun, the songs had been written over quite a long period of time, whereas this one the songs are very much how I was feeling in the moment and they do reflect the places where I was. When I started writing the songs I was on the road in the Midwest and Texas and then when I came home I was on the road a lot in sort of similar landscapes in Australia, so I guess to me ‑ in a way it was sort of more of a collection ‑ or more of a song cycle to me simply because these songs seem to be united by a sense of place or setting, you know. It’s kind of like a road record or a highway record for me, whereas Shadow of the Gun, maybe I didn’t want ‑ because it was such a personal album, maybe I didn’t want to look at it so deeply.
That’s okay, because I’ve done it for you [laughs] and I can tell you that I actually think it was much more melancholic album, but given the background to it that makes sense, and whereas on Black Coffee there’s more light and dark, and it seems to me like Black Coffee has quite a few different narrators, whereas I often thought on Shadow of the Gun that it was different aspects of you that were narrating each song.
Yes, Shadow of the Gun was just this one real sad guy.
Not the serial killer one, not that one.
Yeah. Yeah, well, you’re probably right, actually, in that degree in the sense of different narrators in this song or maybe I’ve just grown a few more personalities since the last record.
For me, on Shadow of the Gun, ‘Going Straight’ was the song that I thought really exemplified the whole tone of the album, thematically and musically, and on Black Coffee, when I heard ‘Big Fish’, I thought maybe it would be the same, but it’s not. ‘Big Fish’ is an echo of the previous album in a way and then it fits in with all these different songs which kind of make up almost a short story collection.
You’ve probably analysed it more than me, but I think, you know, I suppose if there was a song on this album that is kind of an essential song, is probably ‘Deathwish Country’, that was kind of the first or second song written and it was going to be the album title for a while and everyone kept saying to me, you know, you really need to stop talking about death, and I took that advice, and then when I thought about it, that the collection of songs as a whole group was more uplifting and ‘Black Coffee’ kind of exemplified the feel that I wanted people to walk away with from the albums, so that’s kind of part of why that became the title track. Interestingly, you said ‘Going Straight’ for the last album, and obviously the title of the last album came from the lyric in that song. So maybe I was more aware than I thought.
‘Going Straight’ is the one song I can’t let go of from that album, in that I listen to it constantly, because there’s just something about the whole cycle of it, I think it’s ‑ I’m not trying to flatter you too much, Lachlan, but I think it’s … actually, I will flatter you, because I think it’s a song that actually could be used as a textbook to how to write a really perfect song, it’s just this great story arc in it, great musical arc in it and it resolves itself without lyrically resolving anything in a way. So, congratulations.
Well, thank you, I’m glad you’re referring to the songwriting technique as opposed to the state of sobriety I was in when I wrote it.
What I found curious on the last album which is not so much present on this one is references ‑ religious references essentially and they were particularly in that song, that kind of mining of a person’s morality that went on in the last album, but in this album certainly it’s not so much there, that heaviness of thinking about moral compromise, in a way, is not there.
Yeah, yeah, maybe. I don’t think I’ve resolved those things in my life, but sometimes you have to take a break from them and so there’s only a couple of mentions in there.
And now you’ve got Melody Pool singing backing vocals on quite a few songs and duetting pretty much on ‘Forty Days and Nights’. Having her there, it gave a different atmosphere to the whole album – it’s a little lighter in tone musically. Was that a conscious decision to introduce a female voice or did you just want her on the album?
There’s female voices on the last record but I guess they’re much more traditional backing vocals on the previous album.
It was Catherine Britt last time and Kasey Chambers on one song, wasn’t it?
Yes. Melody and I, we’ve known each other for years. We used to pretend that we were brother and sister at gigs and on radio interviews and stuff ‑ it’s getting harder to pretend now, she’s getting kind of famous. But I wanted her on the previous album, too, to be honest and I think that as far as singers that I’ve sung with, to at least to the point of recording this, like, in the Australian country scene I get to sing with a lot of great girl singers … but Melody, even though I guess she’s not really a strictly country artist, there’s something about just singing with her … she’s like a child prodigy or ‑ she’s not a child anymore but, you know, a person who’s kind of like a child prodigy and she has the kind of same dark twisted mind that I do. She’s one of the saddest people you’d ever want to have a conversation with. And she was actually travelling with me for some of that American stuff last year, so that there’s definitely a number of those reasons why she ended up on the record and then when she started singing, I just wanted her to sing more and more, and she’s on a lot of it, her voice is all over the record, but we’ve actually cut it back from where it was originally because we sung so much together that we never sing out of phase with each other or anything like that, it’s like it is a bit of a sibling kind of thing. And to be honest, the other guys in the band, I mean, we were all like family with her ‑ always her family has put us up when we’ve been in the area and we’ve always hung out together, so she’s kind of like a sister to all of us, and she’s pretty much in the band as well – whenever we go to Tamworth shows or shows in New South Wales, she’s kind of always been playing with us. But it’s harder now because she has her own career really going, but I’m really glad that she ended up as much on the record as she did. I guess the other side of it is that the backing vocals she’s done, we’ve been careful not to make them really traditional country vocals, they’re a little bit more folky, a little bit more, I guess, she doesn’t go for the obvious part, she doesn’t go for the high harmony all the time and that kind of thing; , that’s something that’s really interesting about her, her approach to singing, and something that I really wanted to have on the album.
And for you as a singer, I certainly can hear the progression from your voice on Ballad of the Young Married Man through to Shadow of a Gun, really, there was a change and then I think your voice on this album is consistent with the last album, but on Ballad, I was listening to it again just before talking to you today and I was thinking yeah, you sounded a bit like Elvis in some parts. Were you consciously trying to take on a certain type of voice and then you found your natural voice, or was it just a natural progression?
It’s a funny thing when you’re a singer, because a lot of my favourite singers, their voices have changed from record to record. My favourite singers are people like Bob Dylan and Tom Waits and, you know, you listen to a Bob Dylan record from the early ’60s to the late ’60s, even, and he just sounds like a completely different human being, and I think Tom Waits was even more extreme. I kind of think that singing is like playing an instrument and we sing what’s right for the song … I think with Ballad of the Young Married Man with the Elvis stuff, I was probably a little bit more rockabilly than some of the songs and we had the slight echo on and that kind of thing – and, also, we produced that album very differently. Working with Rod and Jeff, we kind of established in the last two albums a real vocal sound in terms of which microphone we’re using and what sort of reverb is on the songs and what sort of delay is on the song ‑ on the vocal and with Ballad we were much more inconsistent with that, we used different mics for different songs, we recorded them in different ways, we recorded one song in a broom cupboard, you know, we did all those things, because I guess in those days we were kind of an indie band that played a bit of country, whereas now it’s kind of established what we do a bit more and I guess that’s reflected in the vocal.
Just going back to something you said at the start of the interview about producing one album a year; is that something you want to do for career reasons or is that an amount of creative momentum that’s great to have if you can pull it off?
I think both. For career reasons it’s good, because obviously as artists we need people to keep talking about us, and the best place to talk about you is to be either producing music and have new things out and have new things to sell; but from a creative perspective I think even more so, because most artists nowadays they create an album every ‑ the record label only lets you put out an album every two years and sometimes longer, and that’s very tight, and to go on tour for two years and play the same songs is extremely ‑ it’s boring, like, was it Miles Davis that had the quote when he was asked, “Why do you write new songs?” And he goes, “Because I’m tired of the old ones.”
And, you know, I get tired of singing the same thing, I have new ideas, I want to always sing things that I relate to in the moment, and so keeping writing and keeping recording, I love the recording process, I sort of like the writing process and I really love the process of playing new songs to new people or to people that have already seen you as well. So I think it’s for all those reasons. In the early ’70s, artists used to put out, like, 15 albums in three years and stuff like that. Or 15 albums in five years, and it was always new material as well. So I think the more you work, the better you get, so I think doing stuff quickly adds all sorts of benefits.
I’m not quite sure where the belief came in that it was better to space out cultural products, for lack of a better term. If the audience likes you, there is that hunger for new material, same as if you stumble upon someone’s fifth album, it’s fantastic because then there are four you can get straightaway. So I’m interested to know whether it’s just a market control device, but certainly for someone like you who can continue to create, that restriction would really chafe.
Well, I mean that’s the thing – realistically I don’t have a huge market, so it’s a case, I guess, of making the people that do listen to my stuff … I tend to add people that are very passionate about it and so it’s partly about keeping them associated, and it’s partly about the fact that if you put out more stuff, then there are more things that new people can latch on to. I can understand the record label holding back and saying, you know, let’s space this out to make this one properly, but I kind of had nothing to lose, [to] put out a record and go on the road and play it, and I just want to make another one. So I’m not really subject to those kind of restrictions or demands.
You’ve mentioned going on the road – I’ll end by asking you about gigs, because obviously they will follow the release of this album; so what are your plans over the next few weeks and months?
Well, I’m going to play a few shows – I’m in Sydney at the minute. I’ve been playing here more lately … I’m doing a lot of New South Wales, solo and then early November I’m in Queensland and then in November I’m in New South Wales again and then down in Tasmania and then South Australia at the end of November, and then back in New South Wales. The rest of this year, right up until Tamworth it’s not really an actual tour, it’s just lots and lots of playing with different people and doing shows with mainstream country people. I’m doing shows with more Melbourne country people, I guess, alternative country people, and then next year the actual album tour will probably kick off straight after Tamworth, so I’ll have a pretty hectic Tamworth festival and then get into the tour. I want to do 300 shows next year, that’s part of my goal ‑ I’m kind of at a time in my life where I’m happier working than doing anything else, so I’d like to be on the road and playing as much as possible.
Black Coffee is out now. Lachlan Bryan is touring, as mentioned above, a lot. Visit lachlanbryan.com for details or visit Lachlan on Facebook.