Alt-Country / Americana / Bluegrass / Country / Folk / Interviews

INTERVIEW: Nick Payne

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Taking the leap from being part of a band to standing on one’s own feet as a solo performer had never occurred to Dear Orphans’ Nick Payne. When it was suggested, he decided to approach the Rise Up Like A River project with 100% commitment and passion.

As a founding member (with partner Lyn Taylor) of Sydney folk/bluegrass group Dear Orphans, Nick Payne and the band released an album (Stereo, 2009) and an EP (2011). The distractions and responsibilities of day to day life kept putting a second album on the back-burner until one day Taylor suggested, “why don’t you do a solo album”, something Payne had never previously considered.

“I’d never thought about Nick Payne as a standalone solo artist. When you play with Lyn there is so much safety. If you’re not into talking to the crowd you can just play guitar. As a frontman you have to be on it all the time. Seeing Hayward Williams play live inspired me and I knew I had to be able to stand up there and command an audience’s attention. That was around the time Karl Broadie stated up Bunker Songwriters so I went along to that and played three solo songs to push myself. It wasn’t long after that I thought ‘yeah, I should try and do a solo album’,” recalls Payne.

Keen to find a way to shape a meta-narrative for Rise Up Like A River, Payne sat down wth the songs he had written and began to map out a range of themes and two contrasting musical formats the various songs could inhabit.

“I really love traditional old-timey sounds and songwriting but I also thought it’d be great to rock out with a band. ‘How could I do both?’ I wondered. Then I had a lightbulb moment looking at the songs and I saw that some were set in the past and others were set in the present and what if they were played with different bands. Then the songs began to fall into slots and I paired them up into subjects like hardship, revenge, death, repose, loss and salvation and it all made sense,” Payne explains.

One of the key songwriting techniques that Payne employed on the album was using specific Australian locations in which to set his stories.“I didn’t start out to write an ‘Australian’ album,” Payne confesses. “It was just what interested me and those things fell out.”

“One day I had the shits with the bluegrass police and I wrote a straight up Scruggs-style bluegrass song that mentioned North Carolina and all the cliched places and I didn’t feel right writing about them. I’ve never been there, it is just ingrained in the style. I wondered if I could put in Australian place names, something more authentic. I do lament the lack of the Australian voice in country music. Where’s the authentic middle ground? Guys like Paul Kelly have it in spades. He sings about the MCG and no-one cringes. Nigel Wearne is my go-to guy in that respect. There’s something in his songs that I can relate to,” Payne enthuses.

With a strong involvement in the local Americana music scene, both as a gig attendee and proactive supporter of other artists, Payne has some lucid observations on the state of the independent folk and alt-country scene in Australia.

“We do not have the population the US has with lots of niche markets and genres that stand alone. There’s a business around Americana music there with charts and stations. That’s one of the problems here. The Americana scene here in Sydney is way ahead of where it was two years ago. There were all these individual artists who didn’t know each other and weren’t talking. Now there’s this second phase where they are starting to coordinate things, play shows, work together and collaborate. The next phase is building an audience that isn’t just each other, getting the general public to attend the shows. We need an infrastructure that enables that.”

Chris Familton

this interview was first published in Rhythms magazine

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