Interview: Clint Wilson

Victorian singer-songwriter Clint Wilson has been steadily releasing outstanding singles, including ‘Couldn’t Promise You Rain’, ahead of the release of his new album, Another Death in the Family, in September. As it turns out – and perhaps unsurprisingly, given the quality of the singles – the album is full of great songs, and right from the first track, ‘Sons and Daughters’, it is captivating, heart-wrenching and fulfilling.

By the sound of it Wilson writes constantly. While he has written as a regular practice, he says that lately he’s been writing when inspiration strikes.

‘When I had that album, I think I had all the songs for the album,’ he says, ‘but I just kept writing – and I think a lot of people do it – hoping that you’ll write something better and you can bump one off the list with a better song.

‘But something I’ve heard, which I think is right for me – the 10,000 hour rule. Someone described it as turning a tap on and at the start muddy water’s coming out and every now and then some good water will come out then some more and you’ve just got to run the tap until it’s clean. That makes a lot of sense to me.’

Quite a lot of the songs on the album were written at songwriting retreats at the DAG Sheep Station in Nundle, NSW.

‘I went to two, both of them in 2018,’ says Wilson. ‘Magic. Just the best place. Johnny K [who runs the DAG] is a gentleman and there are just beautiful people there … Hopefully we’re allowed out this November and if they run it I’ll go up there again. It’s a really special place to me.’

At the DAG Wilson met esteemed singer-songwriter Kevin Bennett, a connection that led to the creation of a song, even though the two weren’t paired as songwriters on the retreat.

Right when I had the “Family Tree” story, he’s got an interesting story about his family and found out that he was part Aboriginal and wrote songs about it. So I thought, I want to catch up with him to try and pen the song “Family Tree”. He’d be perfect. So we wrote that song together and since then I’ve gone and stayed with him and his wife. It’s really cool. That just came out of going to the DAG.’

Another collaboration on the album is the song ‘High School Sweethearts’, which features Gretta Ziller, whom Wilson met when his primary school friend Andrew Swift invited Wilson to join one of his tours with Ziller.

Says Wilson of Ziller, ‘We were both writing for an album coming up, so we’d catch up nearly every week or every fortnight and just have coffee and maybe write a song as well. I think we wrote maybe 10 to 15 songs together. And most of them weren’t great, but I think three or three or four might’ve made it onto the album. She’s such a legend.’

Several songs on the album were produced by Lachlan Bryan and Damian Cafarella, who are producing so much music these days that Wilson seems to be lucky to have found a slot in their studio.

‘When I was first thinking about recording the album I met Damian in Tamworth,’ he says. ‘I think we were Facebook friends, and I’d been to a few Lachlan Bryan shows as well, where Damian was playing [Cafarella is a member of The Wildes]. And I bumped into him in Tamworth and we had a chat and sort of hit it off and I said, “Oh, we should record some stuff.” And he’s like, “Yeah, yeah” – he probably hears it all the time.

‘A few months later I called him and said, “Man, I want to book in to record some music.” So we recorded the whole album there and then a few of the songs I thought needed redoing. So I re-recorded them – but we were in lockdown so I re-recorded them in the home studio. And the duet with Gretta as well, we recorded that in February – this was after the album was done – and that was just going to be a standalone single to release next year. But it was so nice and we thought we might as well put it on the album.’

The album’s title indicates that family is a strong theme throughout the songs; Wilson says it’s a theme that emerged rather than being consciously developed.

‘A lot of my stories are about family,’ he says, ‘and I don’t have a really good relationship with my immediate family. I don’t really have anything to do with them. I think a few other stories are about my mum being a bad mother and it just came out that way anyway. I didn’t set out to write songs like that but that’s just what came.’

One generation of Wilson’s family was partly responsible for his musical direction.

‘As a kid, I spent a lot of time with my nan and pop, and they loved Johnny Cash, Slim Dusty, all that sort of stuff,’ he explains. ‘We’d drive from Melbourne to Darwin in the caravan and just listen to Slim Dusty, looking out the window. It was just magic.

‘I try to do it with my kids now. They hate it. They’re like “just leave us alone”, he says with a laugh.

‘But [I have] awesome memories of that. And my mum was into more modern, still a little bit country sort of storytelling thing. And I grew up listening to lots of Paul Kelly. He’s probably my biggest influence.’

Wilson played guitar and piano from childhood, but says, ‘I hated piano. I was sort of forced to play piano as a kid, lessons and stuff, and I wish I’d stuck at it. I love it now, but I’m useless. I’ve tried not to force my kids into playing anything. I’ve just left little subtle subliminal hints around the house, like set up a drum kit somewhere or leave some guitars hanging around. But I just remember being forced to play piano and I did not like that.’

He says that he would sometimes put the guitar aside and ‘playing drums in some garage band, sort of punk rock stuff. And then I’d go back to the guitar. But it was pretty much just guitar from maybe 13 onwards, that was my main instrument. But again nothing special, just strumming and chords.’

He was last in a punk rock band when he was 28; it was called Unholy Robot, ‘which is not as dark as it sounds. It wasn’t great, though – with that name we got put in with heaps of heavy metal bands and stuff and we’d rock up to nights and play and the crowded just be all dressed in black leather and stuff, and they hated our music It wasn’t a great experience,’ he says, laughing.

Quite apart from the calibre of songwriting on the album, Wilson’s voice plays a big part in the appeal of the songs – even if you didn’t listen to the words you’d know what story he’s telling because of how it’s delivered. So it’s interesting to discover that Wilson says, ‘I don’t really see myself as that much of a singer.’ He says that he used to hate singing in front of people, even when he was performing several nights a week.

‘I used to have to be half drunk to sing in front of people,’ he says. ‘Then I think I had to go to a gig and I had to drive. So I thought, All right, you’ve got to stop this. And it was fine. It was still a bit nerve-wracking, like they always are. So I did that for a while. And then maybe four years ago something just flipped a switch and I felt like I had to get my music out there. I had a few songs, enough songs for an EP, and thought, Let’s get these recorded.

‘They’re a bit embarrassing. I took them down off iTunes and stuff maybe six months ago,’ he says, laughing. ‘I thought, I can’t leave these up. But it’s all part of it, I think.’

Part of Wilson’s current musical life is the radio show that he hosts each Friday morning on 3MDR. When asked how he came to be on radio, he says, ‘A friend of mine told me about this whole vision board thing and writing stuff out that you want to do. So I wrote down that I wanted to be on the radio. I wrote it down on a bit of paper and put it in my wallet.

‘This one week the track [that he’d just released] got a few spins on Triple M – national Triple M. Late at night, but that happened. And then I was at the gym and a friend came up to me and said, “Oh, do you want to do a radio show?” And I said, “Yeah, I’d love that.” And I didn’t mean that when I wrote down that I wanted to be on radio. But that happened a few days later. It was weird as. And that was maybe four or five years ago.’

Wilson was originally planning to release Another Death in the Family in July but it – like his radio show – was put on hold while Australia managed the pandemic. Just as his home state is emerging from lockdown, Wilson is back on the radio and the album is in the world. While he can’t yet tour in support of it, that just gives listeners more time to become familiar with the songs and enjoy the care that Wilson has put into them.

Buy/stream:

Apple Music | Artist’s store

www.clintwilsonmusic.com