By Emma Swift.
Broken hearts, broken promises, broken dreams, that’s the story behind the latest album from Brisbane alt-country band Halfway. A series of songs set in Central Queensland, Any Old Love tells the tale of a young couple slow-dancing between hope and hopelessness in the 1970s. It’s part romance and part survival story with a soundtrack that combines the best parts of narrative folk, classic country and Australian indie rock.
To celebrate the launch of the band’s latest single ‘Dulcify’ this week, Halfway’s principal songwriter John Busby spoke to Emma Swift about the making of the record.
Any Old Love is a broken-hearted love story set in the Australia in the 1970s. What gave you the concept for the album?
As a kid in the mid-1970s I lived in Barcaldine for a while. It is loosely based on that time. The main road in Barcaldine has all of these beautiful old pubs, all lined up in a row. In the afternoons, the pubs would always be full of workers. One of those pubs is the Shakespeare Hotel. The album really started with that song. Once we had that song I realized that there were other parts of the story as well that overlapped ‘Shakespeare’. Before too long we had ‘Hard Life Loving You’, ‘Sunlight on the Sills’, and ‘Waking Hours‘. We had also been listening to Willie Nelson’s ‘Red Headed Stranger’ a fair bit. It is a good example of telling a story without being too linear with the narrative.
The tracks are quintessentially Australian in landscape and lexicon, what kind of Australians – be they artists, poets, performers, bartenders, jockeys have inspired you as a person?
I find all kinds of people inspiring. Everyday working people’s lives can be pretty heroic. Those types pop up in my songs a lot. When I lived in Rockhampton as a kid in the mid-1980s I used to read in the New Musical Express about Grant McLennan & Robert Forster (The Go-Betweens) and how they were playing in London and all these exotic places. Grant was born in Rockhampton so that was very inspiring.As for other Australians – Brett Whiteley, David McComb, George Moore, Lionel Rose…
The band bio mentions country legend Tom T. Hall and Cosmic American Gram Parsons, can you expand on the kind of sounds that drew you to country music?
When we lived in Barcaldine, my dad and his mates were listening to a lot of heartbreak country stuff – Charlie Rich, Freddy Fender, Willie Nelson, Tom T. Hall, which I kind of grew up with (along with a bunch of AM radio stuff) and subsequently disowned when I got into indie rock as a teenager. I think I realised that I liked country music again through J. Mascis (Dinosaur Jnr) in the early 1990s. His stuff was a cool mix of punk/country and psych rock. Shortly after I got into Gram Parsons, Gene Clark, Townes Van Zandt and then it all went full circle when I realized that Freddy Fender actually did a version of Poncho & Lefty! It seemed like 20 years of music listening to end up back at the same point.
What would you say is the most important song on the album?
‘Shakespeare Hotel’ is the centre piece. We built the rest of the record around it.
The central character in Any Old Love is a down-on-his-luck jockey. Why horse racing? Why 1979?
My family has always been involved in horse racing. Dad was a jockey and a trainer and later a
bookmaker. So I got to see all of the highs and lows of the industry. When we were working on the artwork for the LP we discovered that in 1979 a guy from Brisbane called Michael Kenniger did a study on regional Australian architecture. He did a huge road trip all through Central and Western Queensland from Rocky to Longreach and everywhere in between, taking a series of beautiful pictures on his way around. The photos really captured the time and place perfectly, they looked exactly as I had remembered it in my head. So we tracked him down and asked for permission. Fortunately for me he was kind enough to let us use them.
You recorded with Robert Forster [The Go-Betweens] and Peter Jesperson [The Replacements] for this album. Can you expand on how that came about and what that experience was like?
We have worked with Robert on and off since Chris Dale and I won the Grant McLennan Fellowship here in Brisbane in 2008. We did our third album An Outpost of Promise together. It was a lean live record and we enjoyed the experience. He is very confident and clear in what he likes and dislikes. We have eight band members so with someone like Robert around we can just concentrate on our individual jobs: writing, playing or whatever it may be. Forster is also a big fan of 1970s AM country and he was really into concept/narrative idea.
Peter Jespersen came along to a show we played at BigSound [music industry conference]in 2010. Halfway are huge Replacements fans so it was a big deal. When he got back to LA, we just stayed in touch. We sent him demos of the record and he was encouraging and interested so the next time he was in Brisbane we spent a couple of days in the studio together. We did ‘Dropout’ with him and early versions of ‘Shakespeare Hotel’ and a few others. It was a great experience.
If Halfway could tour with any band/artist past or present, who would it be? Why?
Bob Dylan. Any era really. Maybe on the Oh Mercy tour in the mid-1980s, or Infidels? We love all that stuff. Dylan’s effect on the musical landscape is huge to all the Halfwayers. We love him. Particularly in his awkward 1980s period.
You released on cd and vinyl – do you have a record player? If so, what’s on high rotation at the moment?
I have a good record player. We like vinyl a lot. The sound and the artwork.The Candidate Waltz by Centro-matic is the thing I have played most over the past few months. I am sure they are the best band in the world. Maybe even better then Richmond Fontaine.
In support of the release and on the back of wide-spread acclaim for Any Old Love, Halfway will tour the east coast of Australia in June.
JUNE 2014 EAST COAST TOUR
June 7 – The Zoo, Fortitude Valley, Brisbane – w/ Harley & The Haymakers + The Casuarinas
June 14 – Lazy Bones, Sydney – w/ C R O W + Bryan Estepa
June 20 – Wesley Anne, Melbourne – w/ Rob Snarski & JP Shilo + Chris Pickering