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INTERVIEW: Caitlin Harnett

LATE NIGHTS IN THE INNER WEST

Caitlin Harnett & The Pony Boys dish up a sonic smorgasbord of soulful country-rock on Late Night Essentials.

by Chris Familton

Sydney songwriter Caitlin Harnett knew from an early age that music was what she wanted to pursue and as an 18 year old she was quickly thrust into the limelight on the back of her debut EP, produced by Matt Fell, a grand final appearance in the Telstra Road to Tamworth and a publishing deal with Mushroom Music Publishing. 

Still trying to figure out the type of songwriter she wanted to be led to the recording of her debut 2014 album in Canada. “The River Runs North was very much a folky Joni Mitchell time in my life and I was still figuring out my songwriting then. I was trying to be Joni and Laura Marling. I still love some of those songs and I’m really proud of them but this stuff is more me and I’m just writing naturally now,” says Harnett.

The transition from folk-pop to indie folk and now an electric country-rock sound took shape when Harnett moved to the city and met fellow songwriter Andy Golledge and Josh Piltz who would become her drummer. “When I played my new songs to them they became more of an Americana/rock thing. Then decided I wanted to play electric guitar and this band sound just happened. The next album is probably going to change again and sound more 90s Sheryl Crow country from the songs I’ve been writing. I’m a Gemini!” laughs Harnett.

Though it may seem like a lengthy gap between albums, most of songs that make up Late Night Essentials were written in Canada and then recorded in Sydney in 2018. “Then it was a two year process of me just me thinking “now what?!” Harnett recalls. “I got a bit disheartened after The River Runs North. I had great feedback but felt like no-one wanted to work with me and I was doing it all on my own. I got a bit too consumed with that side of things, it felt too hard to release music,” she admits. “I had to have a bit of a break to re-focus and realise why I started making music – not to get a manager or get signed to a label – just to make music. Now I’m just going to make music and release it and I don’t really care if we get signed. I think we’re doing pretty well on our own!”

Recording took place in producer Joe Ireland’s living room over just one day, in what was a successful exercise in capturing the live sound of Harnett and her band the Pony Boys. “It’s so important to me for people to hear us as we are – with some extra things like horns to make it sound even better! It’s pretty DIY but I think it worked. We were really nervous about it releasing it and that it might be too live-sounding and like a demo. I do think people do like it for that aspect though. Now I’m so happy and proud of how we did it!”

Not to be pigeonholed into one genre, the record blends, country, folk, soul, 70s soft rock and a smoky late-night bar noir. It sounds like a musical coming of age, both in the way it chronicles the thrills and spills of someone in their twenties in the inner west of Sydney and also in its sonic and songwriting maturity. It’s also acts as a postcard from the local scene that Harnett has helped create. “We’re so lucky to be a part of this Americana country club or whatever it is. Especially in Newtown it feels like we’re really trying to start and pave the way for other musicians like us,” she says emphatically. “People love this kind of music. It pisses me off that media like triple j don’t get behind it. If we all support each other, with things like starting up the Evening Records label, which is for all of us, and we get a big enough group of people loving the music, then the bigger people have to take notice. 

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