It feels like the week of The Morrisons around here. With their new self-titled album garnering great reviews they’re back in Sydney for their album launch this Sunday night (March 12th) at Newtown Social Club with guests Andy Golledge Band and Women’s Auxiliary Choir plus I’ll be spinning folk and alt-country tunes between sets. In fact everything I play will be by women artists in celebration of International Womens Day (March 8th) and the release of The Morrison’s new single in partnership with UN Women Australia.
Emmeline celebrates Emmeline Pankhurst who was a political activist and leader of the British suffragette movement who helped women win the right to vote early last century. All the proceeds from sales will go directly to UN programs in Pakistan and the Pacific to help disenfranchised and vulnerable women.
Ahead of this weekend’s gig, the band’s James Daley took the time to answer our Six Strings Q&A.
What was the album that first led you down the dusty path of Americana music?
As a teenager I was really into Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and the like. And from there I dug deeper into the American roots tradition. The album that first got me really into folk, bluegrass and country music was a Carter Family Best Of.
Describe your latest release…
It was written over a long time, with some of the songs being 5+ years old and some written just prior to the session. We went for a very live sound, avoiding overdubs wherever possible, you have to accept a few mistakes that way but the integrity of the song and ensemble stays more in tact. The songs have a very Australian focus, but we were really aware of not perpetuating myths and clichés. We talk about refugees, class divide, feminism and secular life in modern Australia, and of course there are plenty of good time, fast-picking bluegrass numbers as well.
What’s been the most memorable gig you’ve played?
We played a show at The Basement a few years back performing all the songs off Paul Kelly’s two bluegrass albums Smoke and Foggy Highway. Maybe it was just the opportunity to play all of those wonderful songs but there was a magical feeling that night.
How did you learn to play your instrument – from friends, tuition, listening to records?
It was all about family. I grew up in a musical household, my dad, brother and sister are all musicians. I was just immersed in it from a very young age. I grew up playing the guitar and learnt very informally by absorbing what was around me. I am much more focused on the mandolin these days, which I got into by inheriting one from my great grandfather. Getting the mandolin is what led me down the path of folk and bluegrass music.
What do you consider the finest song you’ve written and why?
There is a song on the new Morrisons album called Emmeline, about British suffragette leader, Emmeline Pankhurst. I’m not sure it’s the finest song I’ve ever written but it’s definitely the one I’m most proud of. Mostly because of the theme and the fact that we released it on International Womens Day as a single in partnership with the UN Women Group of Australia, with all the funds from sales going towards UN initiatives in Pakistan and the Pacific to help disenfranchised and vulnerable women.
If you could sit-in with one other musician (living or dead) who would it be?
I’d love to hear Jimi Hendrix play or maybe a co-writing session with Brian Wilson?
Do you feel there is a strong folk/country music community in Australia and if so, what does it need to keep growing?
There is a very strong community. We have lots of great festivals to play here, sometimes though there is a bit too much focus on international acts, a stronger spotlight on local acts would be great. And more live venues, with good sound, good engineers and better pay for all involved would be a big help.
What’s been your favourite Americana release over the last year?
I’m not sure you would call this Americana but Noam Pikelny (banjo payer from the Punch Brothers), just released a new solo album. The album is great, but in particular the first track ‘Waveland’ is absolutely breathtaking.
What are your musical plans over the next 12 months?
We’ll be touring the Morrisons album first half of the year then hitting a few festivals, hopefully getting back into the studio late in the year to record some new music. I have also been focusing on some very different projects, a duet called Diamond Duck with Brian Campeau and a classical mandolin and accordion duet with my dad. Writing, recording and performing that music will be a big focus for me in the back half of 2017.