Callum possesses the grace and relaxed delivery of some of the greats as he blends the finest aspects of folk and country sounds into his own sound and style. From Isbell, Van Zandt and Petty, to locals such as Sean McMahon and James Thomson – Callum knows his way around a song and that melancholic thread that binds the head and the heart.
With the release of his new single, Callum kindly took the time to dig into our Six Strings Q&A, where he talks about Levon Helm, Covid-19, Ry Cooder and his school years as a self-proclaimed “choir geek”.
What was the album that first led you down the dusty path of alt-country/Americana music?
Very hard to say. I think I’d always feigned a bit of interest in the genre, listening to bits and bobs here and there starting with a lot of Dylan in late primary school. I think the first time I really sunk into a whole album that blew me away was maybe Boomers Story by Ry Cooder. I got this deluxe multi-album pack that I just smashed in my pizza delivery years. Boomers Story is just such a perfect album, with the title track/opener being the main one to suck me into the genre and dig deeper.
Describe your latest release…
It’s a labour of love. The writing happened over several years and the recording took about a year and it’s my first outing with a full band and some serious production. The sound is eclectic ranging from pop music to a 10-minute murder ballad (featuring a famous dictator…) all with tinges of Americana and all stemmed from banging out a song on my own on an acoustic guitar. There’s a lot of love, heartbreak and escapism. No stone was left unturned in the process and working with Andrew Beck on this was inspiring. He matched and often exceeded my dedication and passion for the songs. It’s been powerful making this record and neither of us can wait for people to hear it.
What’s been the most memorable gig you’ve played?
Probably opening for the Ahern Brothers at The Spotted Mallard a few years back. The gig sold out, I was on tour with them and playing bass in their band. It was just so fun holding a room of strangers to silence and then getting to play with my buddies who I really look up to. Making me teary eyed thinking of my Melbourne pals. Hang in there!
How did you learn to play your main instrument?
A few lessons and the mainly ham-fisted self teaching on the guitar. I took my biggest leaps when I got into Ry Cooder and Blake Mills in my early 20’s and then got on the Travis picking train after listening to a lot of John Prine and Townes Van Zandt. Singing was something I did quite seriously at school though. I was in all the choirs, did lessons, musical theatre, I was in the school a cappella group. A full on choir geek! I really wish I had kept it up a bit more to be honest. It’s such a disciplined skill and I sometimes miss the precision and range I had at school.
What do you consider the finest song you’ve written?
That changes a lot. I’m so wildly proud of this record so it’s likely something on it. ‘Storm’s Coming’ is just so balanced and chugs along with some serious power. They way it turned out filled everyone up with so much pride. It’s definitely one of my favourites to play. I guess it’s one of those things though where you’re constantly chasing your new favourite song. I’ve knocked out some pretty sad but sweet ones this year during the pandemic and I’m really excited and proud of them as well.
If you could sit-in with one other musician (living or dead) who would it be?
Has to be Levon Helm. The pure love of the game he had plus his amazing singing and drumming. EASILY best singer/drummer to play live. I’ve also always thought I could have been a good drummer and cannot help but air drum to ‘Up On Cripple Creek” every time I listen.
Do you feel there is a strong Americana music community in Australia?
Strong is a strange word. I think the music is out there but Sydney can be strange. I’ve really felt it around the East Coast and in Melbourne in particular. I’ve had some great moments of a feeling of that community welcoming me in Sydney but still I think we need more people taking a risk and coming to shows. It’s also tough for venues but some have really come out in full support. Yulli’s Brewery in particular are doing some really cool things and getting around the scene. I think it’s great that after so many people toiling away fighting for this music over the years it’s finally getting some more respect and air time. I think it’s definitely a growing community and that can only be a good thing.
How has the current COVID-19 pandemic affected you as a musician?
I made the shift to casual work this year, booked more shows than I’ve ever done before and an East Coast tour to support my single release. COVID-19 turned all that to shit but my story is so similar to many others. It’s really bummed me out but there is a certain morbid level of solidarity going around at the moment where we all know we’re in the same boat and have been stung somehow. I still have this album, I have people willing to listen and the hope of shows on the horizon and that’s enough to keep me going. Though a big fat record deal wouldn’t go astray!
What’s been your favourite release over the last year?
Easily Teamwork by Futurebirds. They’re this sort of shoegaze country band from Atlanta. Three singers, three guitars, three songwriters. It is just supreme music, beautiful harmonies, amazing guitar tones and even better songwriting. ‘Crazy Boys‘ and ‘Wandering Minds‘ are serious standouts. I have not stopped listening to that album since I heard it in January. Still my go to dinner prep music.
What are your musical plans for the next 12 months?
My plans are vague! I think book whatever shows I can. Hopefully a tour early next year or late this year with the band in tow. At the moment I’ll just be slowly releasing about three singles and my main focus is to get them as much exposure as possible and hope that people feel something similar to what I feel about this record. If COVID can keep it’s pesky mitts away from us long enough I hope that I can embrace some beer soaked alt-country fans at Yulli’s Brewery with my band by my side and my guitar ringing with feedback. That would be nice.