Kerrie Hickin speaks to Simon Burke from The Lost Ragas
Picture yourself in a fast-moving vehicle at dusk – maybe a truck or a train, a motorbike or a glossy classic car. Where are you going? What are you doing? Maybe you’re a kid with Dad behind the wheel on family holiday with the radio on, maybe leaving home for the first time, travelling to meet a lover, or running from the law. Or just moving for the sake and sensation of it. There are as many reasons for travel as there are potential destinations, which is to say, infinite.
Melbourne band The Lost Ragas seem to capture the essence of this feeling in ‘Phantom Ride,’ the lead and title track from their recently released album. It’s simple, but effective. Matt Walker’s vocals, confident and warm, sit atop a driving, moving rhythm and tasty pedal steel. There’s a hint of the mystical on the verges, spectral harmonies and an almost garage rock tinge to the guitar sound hailing the song on its way into the night.
The Lost Ragas formed under Walker’s aegis, but is very much a collaborative effort. Bandmates Simon Burke, Shane Reilly, and Roger Bergodaz, are experienced musicians and craftsmen: to say ‘musical veteran’ is to confer a perception of seniority that belies the engaging invitation to go for a musical ride. Sure these guys have been around for a while, worked together in the past in various permutations, but the album bristles with freshness and understated energy. The versatile musicians have enjoyed the challenge of switching instruments to jump-start the musical mind into creating new neural and sonic pathways.
Simon Burke, originally a keyboard player who plays drums on this album, takes up the story. “We started out as Matt’s touring band and it developed from there. We all had songs, so Matt said, let’s make it a collaborative affair. That would have been a big change for him, and for us as well. We all contributed a lot and it was great to get that feeling of being part of the record, and owning the record. Between us we have a wealth of experience and are comfortable working together. We’ve been lucky, I guess! I’m not playing my usual instrument, and I’m having a great time. We’ve been giggling like school kids. It’s a bit like a holiday. There’s an interesting effect caused by your limitations. Neil Young, for example, would get his bassist to play piano. People approach what they’re doing a little bit differently.”
Matt Walker has had a diverse career, with acclaimed solo albums, collaborations (most notably a longstanding partnership with drummer Ashley Davies) and as an in demand band member for respected musicians such as Archie Roach, Mia Dyson, Broderick Smith and Tex Perkins to name but a few of many. “Matt has a way to deliver a song that really makes sense. He’s got a really great way of getting the story out. He gets to the guts of a song. I come from a soul, jazz and blues background and I have my own original band, Meltdown, that’s soul, R&B and a bit of country.”
Burke is also a qualified pilot. “It’s certainly a different world to music. I like having other interests. Everyone here has their own outside enterprises. Not many people know, but Matt keeps bees, and Shane is an incredible chef.”
He’s enthusiastic about the writing and recording process for this album. “Everyone contributed. Whoever brought in the original idea, it’s really worked over by all of us, and ends up really different. It’s a great experience. I don’t think I’ve been in a band before where it’s been so equal, and everyone’s given a huge amount. And it feels natural. You don’t come across that too often. Roger engineered, and we all produced it together. ”
Here and there throughout the album one may perceive echoes of Seventies-era Stones, Van Morrison, Wilco or the under-rated Chris Whitley. Third track ‘Open Window’ is a slow, sensuous beauty of a song, languid and heavy-lidded with elemental mystery and subtle promise. Elsewhere, dusty boots walk along open roads, the horizon changes, things are lost to memory then rediscovered, textures evolve and evolve again. It’s a testament to the dexterity of the musicians that, for what is essentially a debut album, it sounds both crafted and casual. “We recorded it over a very short period of time, four to five days, and work-shopped half the songs in the studio.”
With the ink barely dry on this album, they’ve already stared thinking about the next one. “There’s already plenty of songs ready to go, and we enjoy being in the studio. The band’s developing and changing all the time. Some records seem to get a particular flavour. It doesn’t seem to matter what you bring to this band, it comes out a particular way. We’ve got a ‘sound’, I guess,” he chuckles, then adds “in development”.