BOOKMARKS IN TIME
Mark Lucas charts the last two decades of his solo career on a new retrospective, Prisoners Of The Heart.
In June of 1981, Mark Lucas stepped off a plane at Sydney Airport and before they’d got home, the girl that he’d followed across the world dumped him, which he half-jokingly says “got me started as a country singer!”. 37 years later he finds himself at a songwriting retreat in California getting tips from Rodney Crowell and Joe Henry. It’s just one of many examples of the colourful life Lucas has led.
When he returned from California, Lucas decided to compile the retrospective album Prisoners Of The Heart, covering the last 22 years of his solo career. “I went over there and played some gigs in California and Dublin and England and then came back and thought I’d go ahead with doing the retrospective. I first designed the cover and it was going to be all protest songs but I thought it was too heavy in places and people wouldn’t dig that. Then I decided the best approach would be to take the perspective of my journey through Australia since arriving here,” he explains.
It wasn’t just a matter of choosing his ten best songs, Lucas was more concerned with the arc and narrative the chosen songs formed. “It was mostly about the story, songs that spoke to me about my experience,” he says. “I don’t write about myself all the time, sometimes I find ideas outside my realm of experience and explore them but mostly it was a matter of choosing songs that were a product of my own experience, or an Australian story – such as ‘Monster’s Ball’ about the legend of Ned Kelly. I’m always fascinated by coming from another culture and finding what drives this culture – the good side and the bad side. There are always stories to be told and always things that give an insight into what it means to be Australian.”
After a fairly successful run through New Wave bands in the 1980s, Lucas found like-minded musicians in the honky tonk alt-country band The Parwills, culminating in their album Bootheels of Desire in 1996 and though these days he operates primarily under his own name, he’s still a firm believer in the communal aspect of making music.
“I find the collaborative ingredient essential for bouncing ideas off people, otherwise I tend to get a bit insular and inward looking,” Lucas admits. “I’m finding now I really enjoy playing solo. Opening for Kevin Welch recently was one of most enjoyable gigs of my life. I had a lot of people listening and then asking me questions and buying CDs. It was a real thrill,” he enthuses. “The Dead Setters became very collaborative which is why I’ve stuck with them for so long. We used to get together and write quite a lot but we don’t as much now because we don’t play as much. We haven’t rehearsed in a long time. Now we just get together at gigs and remember the records we made which seems to work.”
The recent experience of the Californian songwriting workshop left him questioning his writing process after Rodney Crowell stressed how analytical Guy Clark was with his songs. “As much as as I admire Guy, I’m just not that anal about anything in life. I came back though and thought maybe I should look at my songs from that perspective and I did start noticing some things,” Lucas recalls. “It’s more about getting the vibe right though. I haven’t had a huge writing burst since I came back from California. I had two albums worth of songs written so I’ve tweaked a few of them. I’ve not been in the best place since I got back. I just got really depressed with the state of the government and world affairs and was drinking too much and lost the creative urge to some degree. I had that crisis of whether I have anything to say that people need to hear or am I just blowing my own horn?”
A special annual jam session with his long-standing band The Dead Setters was the thing Lucas needed to reignite his passion and give him some perspective. “It was great and felt like a new lease of life. That encouraged me to shelve my other album plans and just record with the Dead Setters and celebrate that we’re still here and still a damn good band. That’ll happen in the new year and we’ve got 30 songs to choose from. I’m hoping to tour the retrospective in February/March too.”