Melbourne-based songwriter Riley Catherall has just released his debut solo album When I Go and as far as first records go, this is one of those where the artist arrives seemingly fully formed. The evidence of that is in the way Catherall delivers such well-crafted songs with consummate ease. When I Go has a clear streak of country running through it but it also has a folk patina – of the wistful, reflective kind. It’s a blend that sounds like Neil Finn, Jason Isbell and Elliott Smith workshopping songs in Laurel Canyon.
Riley was kind enough to answer some questions for our irregular column Six Strings. Here he reveals his favourite song that he’s written, his thoughts on the local Americana/country scene, his future plans and more…
1. What was the album that first led you down the dusty path of Americana music?
Probably Heartbreaker – Ryan Adams. In saying that, I think after hearing an album like that, I realised that one of my favourite Neil Young records, Comes A Time, highlighted the fact that this “Americana” tag was a relatively new one and that artists that I’d always enjoyed like Neil Young, James Taylor and the like, tread the line or even pioneered that Americana sound well before we started that label.
2. Describe your latest release...
This record is very important to me: obviously being my debut, full-length record it has a certain weight that will probably never be matched – though, it also represents a specific period in both my personal and songwriting life that I can happily say that I’ve moved on from. The album is about leaving: from the very first step out the front door and moving to Melbourne that I sing about in Mother Please, to the struggle to find where I fit in after having my house and home ripped out from under me at times like in Vacant Lot and I Don’t Remember. I’m relieved to say that I’m more settled in my life right now, both physically and in the place in which I’ve found my songwriting voice.
3. What’s been the most memorable gig you’ve played?
We played a courtyard gig in Surry Hills earlier this year to a close-knit audience of about 40 people. We were co-headlining a tour with Gretta Ziller and we struggled to find a venue in Sydney that would host us. My friend Jack agreed to put on the show, and he worded up his neighbours that there would be some noise that Friday night. We got 20 seconds into our first song of the soundcheck, and one neighbour came out and yelled at us, hurling insults and threats to call the cops if we didn’t shut-up. In fear of embarrassment in front of some music industry VIP’s we had invited, we tried to reason with him and diffuse the situation to no avail. In the end, we played a 45 minute set completely unplugged, insisting everyone gathered in close. The intimacy of the gig, partnered with the unforgettable high risk of the Police knocking on the door at any minute made that gig one to remember.
4. How did you learn to play your instrument?
I started learning guitar when I was four or so. Early on, my Dad always had a guitar in his hand around the house and mum was a piano teacher, so there was always music happening in the house. I remember taking Slim Dusty songs I had learnt in to Show and Tell in primary school. I had a real fascination with songwriting from an early age, though I spent most of my adolescence with that in the back pocket as I went down the paths of jazz & blues and studying at Uni, after a short stint of trying to be Slash – a mother’s worst nightmare. I was glad for that training though, as I feel it enhanced my vocabulary on the guitar and allowed me to transfer that knowledge into playing in a few Country and Americana bands.
5. What do you consider the finest song you’ve written?
Although Germany is probably my favourite song I’ve written, as it’s a song I wrote for me and features some of my proudest lyrical moments, I think that The Ferryman is a song that represents both my songwriting and melody writing ability. The concept is one that’s very personal to me, and I feel as though I managed enough professional disassociation to ensure the song itself was a good, cohesive piece of music and lyrics and not just some emotional dribble onto a page.
6. If you could sit-in with one other musician (living or dead) who would it be?
7. Do you feel there is a strong folk/country music community in Australia and if so, what does it need to keep growing?
I definitely think so, and I owe a lot of my development as an artist and as a songwriter to the small Alt-Country scene in Australia, particularly down here in Melbourne. Being around talented songwriters who have the same inspirations has been integral in honing my own songwriting and figuring out whereabouts I sit in the ether that lies between “Not-Quite-Folk” and “Not-Quite-Country”. I think it is important that it continues to sit in that space, but also rejects any heightened air of importance in its attempt to be neither of those things. As long as good songwriting and great storytelling is the focal point of Americana and Alt-Country artists, we will continue to have the respect from both the industry as a whole and our peers.
9. What’s been your favourite Americana release over the last year?
Reunions – Jason Isbell, of course.
10. What are your musical plans over the next 12 months?
Just to get out and play as much as we are allowed to. I feel as though the last 18 months have been about recording and making plans and now the end game for the remainder of 2021 and into next year is to just take these songs to stages around the country and hopefully overseas again soon.
Sunday 1st August – Americana Festival – Wangaratta – VIC
Saturday 7th August – Curious Rabbit – Wagga Wagga – NSW
Sunday 8th August – Church St Hotel – Wodonga – VIC
Friday 13th August – Finding Fillmores – Kiama – NSW
Saturday 14th August – House Concert – Bundanoon – NSW
Sunday 15th August – House Concert – Nowra – NSW
Sunday 22nd August – Geelong Cement Bowls Club – Geelong – VIC
Thursday 9th September – Little Alberts Room – The Vic – Bathurst – NSW
Friday 10th September – The Old Bank – Dubbo – NSW
Friday 17th September – The Wheatsheaf – Adelaide – SA
Sunday 19th September – The Curtain – Melbourne – VIC
Thursday 23rd September – Petersham Bowling Club – Sydney – NSW
Friday 24th September – The Stag and Hunter – Newcastle – NSW
Sunday 26th September – The Canberra Irish Club – Canberra – ACT
Thursday 7th October – Oodies Cafe – Bundaberg – QLD
Friday 8th October – The Junk Bar – Brisbane – QLD
Saturday 9th October – Bar Wunder – Toowoomba – QLD
Sunday 17th October – Tumut River Brewing Co – Tumut – NSW