Callum Wylie caught our ear the first time we heard him sing, that forlorn ache of a voice that folds country and folk music into each other, with a touch of weary soul. It perfectly suits his minimal and lyrical guitar playing and songs that have a way of painting evocative characters in often difficult situations.
Callum has a brand new EP out today called Listen. Four tracks that follow his 2016 EP Tomorrow’s Sun. Over the last few years he’s refined his songwriting craft and found that sweet spot between storytelling, emotional conveyance and the power of creative connection between one’s art and the listener.
You can catch Callum launching the new EP at Django Bar in Marrickville this Sunday Feb 10th, with support from Jack Rayne. In the meantime, Callum took the time to answer our Six Strings Q&A to coincide with the release of Listen.
What was the album that first led you down the dusty path of folk/country music?
That’s so hard to say. I’m not the sort who has a photographic memory of beautiful moments of music entering my life. I’ve always consumed so much from so many different directions. I would say that the first album that led me towards that combo of folk and country would have to be Guy Clark’s Old No. 1. It’s about as perfect as an album can get and I think at the time I’d heard that, very few things had held onto me in that genre beyond a single song. That entire album pulled me in and I’ve listened to it front to back countless times since. “Let Him Roll” is without a doubt one of the finest pieces of songwriting of all time. It’s no wonder Dylan rated him.
Describe your latest release…
This latest release is a collection of songs new and old from the last couple of years. I initially went to demo some songs on the Central Coast with Andrew Beck at Riversong studios in late 2017. I’d nearly abandoned all the demos until Andy pulled me back in and told me they were to good to leave so I went back and we finished it off late last year. The focus was on taking the time to get a quality sound and then recording live. It’s a real treasure trove of amazing vintage instruments and mics there and Andy has the most trustworthy ears in the business. Like all my music I just try and capture warmth and sincerity when I’m recording and I feel like we did a really good job of that with this recording.
What’s been the most memorable gig you’ve played?
I was lucky enough to tour with The Ahern Brothers in early 2018. We played a show at Rous Mill Hall in the Northern Rivers and it was amazing to see such a small community rally around live music in such a big way. Mim and Martin were so lovely and welcoming it was a really special show. It’s a really beautiful venue in the middle of a paddock in one of my favourite regions of NSW. Great place.
How did you learn to play your main instrument?
I got a few lessons when I was about 15 but I mostly taught myself. I was really into proper singing at school and for the HSC and was mainly a choir boy/musical theatre singer. I had a huge turn around when I was about 20 though and discovered both travis picking and then the likes of Ry Cooder and Blake Mills. Those guys just put so much emotion into their guitar playing to accompany their virtuosic skill. I may be no virtuoso but I feel pretty confident in being able to impart my emotion into my playing and since that point my playing has developed in a big way.
What do you consider the finest song you’ve written?
I’m really proud of the third track on the new EP, ‘I’m A Mess’. In short it’s about my girlfriend but more specifically it’s about all of the different, sometimes ridiculous aspects of a relationship and the constant feeling of inadequacy that can wrap you up in the early days. The first two verses pretty much fell out in the first couple of months we were together and I finished the last verse much later on, more recently. That last verse is just trying the reaffirm how much she means to me and I think it counteracts the silly nature of the previous verses well. I’m really proud of the way the lyrics flow and she seems to like it which is nice!
If you could sit-in with one other musician (living or dead) who would it be?
It’d have to be with Guy Clark. Blake Mills is a close second but who knows, we’re both young and our paths may cross someday. Guy just had this amazing way about him and his songwriting. I find his music so easy to return to and his voice and playing so pure. His biography Without Getting Killed or Caught gives such an amazing insight into his life and I really regret not trying to hunt him down when a travelled to Nashville a few years ago. I never knew him but I really do miss him everyday.
Do you feel there is a strong country/folk music community in Australia and if so, what does it need to keep growing?
I fee like their is in terms of the musicians but I do feel as though we could always do with more opportunities to play. It’s tough to get a gig for someone like me but I have hopes that it will improve. I just don’t necessarily think that there is as much an appetite for listening room style venues and less raucous music in Australia as there might be in somewhere like the States. We seem to be happy to support touring artists who provide that style of music but there doesn’t seem to be many solo country/folk musicians who attract that same respect and attention. I feel like they deserve it and I hope the public will start to see things that way as well as some point.
What can we expect from your live show?
Lot’s of heart and me stumbling through some bad jokes.
What’s been your favourite Americana/country release over the last year?
Probably Dan Parson’s new album Sunday Morning Cinema. That is a perfectly produced album with amazing songwriting and playing to boot. ‘Made My Bed’ is my favourite. Plus Dan is a top bloke!
What are your musical plans for the next 12 months?
Hopefully play more shows! I’d love to tour this EP a little bit and maybe make it to play somewhere overseas. Additionally when I went to record I also logged about 16 demos for an album so maybe some more recording as well. I just want to keep building my profile and spread my music as far as it will go. Hopefully people are going to want to hear it as much as I want them too.