The hardest-working band in Australian country music has to be the Wolfe Brothers, but they still found time to invite Shannon Noll to join them for a special show at the 2017 Tamworth Country Music Festival on 25 January at Blaze Showroom in West Tamworth League Club. Towards the end of 2016 I caught up with Wolfes guitarist Brodie Rainbird to ask about the gig, the band’s massive year and what lies ahead.
Your This Crazy Life tour– how did it go?
It was so good. For all intents and purposes it was a complete success. The boys and I were so happy with that. We were really nervous about going out on such a big tour and it was all on us, money wise and profile wise and advertising. All this big, proper adult stuff – it was all on us, there was no one else to blame if no one showed up. If it didn’t work we were up the creek. It was a great success. All the other artists brought something that none of the others could bring to that kind of show. It was fast paced. The punters loved it. It was constantly changing. People didn’t want to leave to go to the bar and get a drink because they weren’t sure what they were going to miss. It was awesome. Could not be happier.
And maybe the only thing you could have done differently was have more dates.
At the end of it we all felt a bit sad, like, ‘Why are we stopping again?’ But it definitely feels like we could have toured for another six months with that show. I know it was only a fairly short tour. But, as I said, the whole thing was a bit of a gamble and we didn’t actually know it would go that well. Maybe we can do it again [in 2017].
As it was sort of a test of concept and it’s worked, you could roll it out – the only thing is whether you have enough time to do a longer tour given all your commitments.
Yes. It’s just a case of ‘do you want to be on two tours at once?’ because we’re going to be touring with Lee Kernaghan and can you do both at the same time? I reckon we could. Another feather in the cap.
Well, if any band can, you guys can.
[Laughs] Bring it on – bring it on, I say.
Isn’t that your band motto?
Something like that, yes. I think the official motto is ‘you gotta do gigs’. So if we’ve gotta do gigs, we’ve gotta do it.
I think the experience shows in the way you play because your shows are always entertaining. And speaking of entertainment, I’m here to talk to you about your 25th of January show with Shannon Noll at the Tamworth Country Music Festival. So this seems like a marriage made in musical heaven – how did it come about?
It really is. It’s surprising that it’s taken us this long to do a gig with Shannon, because we love him. We’re all country boys; we all grew up in a similar way, on a farm. We all love our old Aussie rock and Shannon is now taking a more country approach to how it does things, and that’s really cool. The universe just brought us together one night after a gig that we’d both headlined at, and it’s taken us this long to find some spare time to actually be able to put on a gig with him – and where better to do it than Tamworth on Australia Day Eve.
How are you going to divvy up your time – are you guys playing first? Is he? Are you sharing some songs? How’s it going to work?
I don’t know yet! Being that it’s not a tour, it’s just a one-off gig, I think we’ll just go with the flow. We’ll just have some fun. We’re going to obviously share some time on stage – towards the end will probably be everyone on board, get everyone out on the stage and just really rock it out.
I was just thinking about what you said about the mini-tour and maybe trying something in 2017 … I’m foreseeing perhaps Shannon joining your line-up next time.
Maybe. There might have already been some talk. Nothing confirmed but it’s a cool idea and we’ll wait and see what happens.
As you said, that tour was all on you and organising it was moving into entrepreneurial behaviour, in a way – not that you guys haven’t always been business focused and that comes across in how professional you are, but taking those sorts of risks is a way to move your career forward and it’s exciting when it works but it is always nerve wracking. It looks like the impetus is there to keep going, though.
Yes – and people see the success more than they see the failure, because we had to fail so many times to get that success. We tried quite a few things in the past that hadn’t worked and we were due for some good luck, you know. We were due for a taste of success and we got it, and we’re so grateful.
There’s a lot of clichés about learning from failure but I would think in the case of your band, you might have learned from the failures but it seems like they give you a whole lot of motivation to keep working. What I find interesting about the Wolfe Brothers is that success seems to be a by-product of your willingness to work really hard.
Well, this way of life is all we’ve ever wanted to know. When we first got together in high school, in the very early days, this was all we ever talked about doing. We dreamed about putting arena shows on and how we would open them and the big curtain would drop and we would have lights going on over our heads, all this sort of stuff. So we just keep our eye on the prize, enjoy the success when it comes and when the failure comes it’s just gigs – that’s how life is, you just have to do it.
I think that is a very good motto for any kind of work. But back to Tamworth: apart from that show with Shannon I would think you aren’t doing another show at the festival, but is there anything else you’re looking forward to?
Just looking forward to enjoying the festival because we missed it last year – we were in Nashville writing and recording. Really looking forward to getting back. We do a lot of media stuff – radio interviews all day every day, they’re always cool fun. I wouldn’t mind getting out and seeing a few gigs, actually. Our festivals are usually so busy we don’t get the chance to enjoy them but I’ve decided to put my foot down and I’m going to see a gig. It’s going to happen.
What a revolutionary idea – seeing music at a music festival!
[Laughs] It’s usually the last thing we get to do.
And it’s not just seeing the music – it’s seeing the people you know. You can catch up with them fleetingly at a radio station but if you get to go to the gigs you can probably spend a bit more time.
Exactly. And it would just be nice to be out there supporting some other artists.
As we come towards the end of 2016 – and leaving the This Crazy Life tour aside – what have been your other highlights?
Our trip to Nashville was pretty great. We did some low-level touring over there. We did county fairs and we travelled all up the way up the Midwest. We did ten-hour drives a day in our old Chev that we bought. That’s probably a trip I’ll never forget. We worked really hard there; we met some great people. We sort of tested the waters to see if what we do would translate over there. It does, and people really enjoyed the shows and they love our accent. All they wanted to do was keep asking us about Keith Urban, for some reason.
Because Australia’s so small you must all know each other.
Yeah, yeah, exactly – we must have grown up next to him, right? He plays music. You talk the same. You must be the same person … But it’s funny – you tell people over there that you’re from this place called Tasmania and they’ve got no idea where that is. It sounds exotic – ‘oh my god, your accents’. So that was really cool; it was a great trip. We did a bunch of writing as well so we’re demoing up some songs for maybe the next album. That was a huge thing. The tour – god, what else happened this year? So much stuff. The ARIAs were a huge thing to be a part of [the Wolfe Brothers were nominated for best country album]. I don’t think you can go to an ARIA award ceremony without witnessing Australian music history, which we got to with Crowded House being inducted, so that was awesome. Met Roy and HG – that was really nice. They’re a good pair of guys. It’s been such a big year. We brought the album out. Hopefully we do some new singles soon from that, but we brought out the best album we’ve ever written and recorded, and hopefully the next one I can say the same thing as well. But it’s been a massive year – I hadn’t realised until I sat down and talked to you, how big it’s been.
And if you think about the fact that there are only fifty-two weeks in a year – the amount of stuff you guys have fit in, if you look at it like that …
Only fifty-two – yeah, that’s crazy. And we haven’t been home. This is the longest we’ve been home all year.
After such a busy year, are there any lowlights?
One low point, which was [when we were] over in Nashville – we got halfway through Kentucky and our car broke down on the side of the road. That was bad. That was really bad. The alternator broke. We had no electricity in the car. Couldn’t even push-start it because the battery was dead flat. And it was freezing cold outside and there were trucks rushing past the freeway. We had no lights. They didn’t even know we were there. So it was kind of scary. But we got through that – we managed to get a tow truck out. But that’s the only one that comes to mind, it’s just all been hard work and good times.
Hopefully you didn’t miss a gig because your car broke down?
No, we didn’t miss a gig, that was the thing. We managed to get there at about five a.m. We got to the hotel, checked in, went to bed, got up a couple of hours later and went to do the gig. That was an adventure. If I think of all the hours we spent on the road in the last few years, that’s the only time that’s ever happened – and it had to happen in a foreign country.
That’s rock ’n’ roll, I guess.
That’s rock ’n’ roll. That’s gigs. That’s life. That’s how it is – wouldn’t have it any other way.
Having that kind of experience in the United States, does that change your music in a way – you seeing that there’s a completely different sector to your audience now than the one you’ve had in Australia, so do you start to think differently about how you communicate to the audience and what sort of music you might play for them?
Absolutely. Stuff like that, it’s hard not to be influenced by it. Every corner we take, we learn something, and being in the US was a big learning curve too. Some things had to be approached a little differently – we had to learn to talk a bit slower because the accent, they think we’re from England and they find us a bit hard to understand. Australians are very lazy in the way we talk and the boys and I are probably the worst in the world at it [ed. note – Brodie actually speaks very clearly!]. So we had to learn to fit in a bit better. We watched a few Keith Urban interviews and realised that that’s what he was doing as well. He spoke very slowly and clearly so that people would understand what he was saying. Just little things like that you pick up along the way. We changed the way we did the gigs and played some different songs we probably wouldn’t normally get to play in Australia because we don’t have the big radio airplay for country in Australia. But over there one of the biggest things is country radio – it’s all over the [US].
As you head into 2017, you’re obviously kicking it off with a bang in Tamworth. Lee, of course, has you on the road again. And you mentioned that you wrote some new songs, possibly for a new album, so that’s on the cards for 2017?
Definitely on the cards. I think we will go back to Nashville to write and record again because it went so well last time. We know it works and we know when we put the pressure on we can really write some cool stuff and get it done. And we’ve just a week in the studio with Lee, cutting his new album too.
[Laughs] Again, I remind you, Brodie: fifty-two weeks in this year.
[Laughs] Well, that was one of them in Sydney with Lee. And that was so cool – it was something we never, ever thought we’d get to do. Well, we never thought we’d be Lee Kernaghan’s band but we didn’t think we would get a studio guernsey and then he said, ‘I want to change things up a bit, I want to get you guys in the studio and I want your sound on my record’, and we went, ‘Yes, you can have that.’
He would be really unlikely to find anyone more experienced – you’ve been playing with him so consistently – so it makes sense.
Yes, and Kerno’s always had a formula that’s always worked for him, and to step outside that formula and take a risk on us again, because he’s obviously already done it [with touring], was such an honour. We had Garth Porter in there, who’s produced almost every single Kernaghan album and it was a bit of a thing for him, too. I think he realised after the first day that this was not going to be your typical album. We did things completely differently. Everyone was sitting there getting a feel for it and how it was going to work, and it was awesome, there were no hassles at all. Everyone was really enjoying the change in the studio, the different mindset. It was really cool.
The Wolfe Brothers’ latest album is This Crazy Life.
Catch them during TCMF 2017 at Blazes on 25 January – buy tickets here: www.wtlc.com.au