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BERNARD FANNING The X-Press Interview

Releasing two albums in a short space of time while simultaneously touring everywhere from the Tamworth Country Music Festival to shows with Kasey Chambers, Bernard Fanning likes to keep his schedule loaded. Ahead of a newly announced tour taking in two shows at the Rosemount Hotel on October 11 and 13, Fanning talked with JOSEPH WILSON about this Friday’s release of the companion piece to 2016 album Civil Dusk, called Brutal Dawn, as well as the state of pop music and the way songs should be written.

How has 2017 been for you so far?

Pretty good. We did some festivals – Falls Festival around New Year’s, we did a few of those and went to the Tamworth Country Music Festival at the end of January which was really fun. I had never been there before, it was awesome actually. It’s got a completely different atmosphere to any kind of music festival I have been to in Australia.

We did a tour with Kasey Chambers around New South Wales and Victoria and in between that I was finishing off the record Brutal Dawn.

Is touring and recording an album at the same time difficult? Rather than say a normal record cycle…

That’s ordinarily what I had done. But this was released with two records within 8 months of each other. So it was a different story for me this time, normally I would be recording, then you would go and start doing promo and then you would go on the road and then you would go away and write another record for a while.

These albums were happening within a small time of each other. It’s been a really busy couple of years but it’s what I do. I’d rather be really busy than looking for work. It’s been great; it’s been a totally different process putting together that many songs in a short period of time. I guess it’s more of what people did in the 60s or 70s – a record every year.

Is this the first time you have recorded an album(s) in this capacity?

I haven’t done that before, this is different for me. To be honest I am recording at my own studio. It’s like going to the office almost every day and just working away. We did it every day, had weekends off and just kept going until it was all done.

I’ve got little kids also. You have to manage around that a little bit. So you’re not a total stranger to them. I haven’t done it in this way before, but it’s been really fun actually. To me the thing I am most interested in is writing songs anyway, that’s the main reason I do this whole job. To have the luxury of just keeping on writing, and writing, and writing – it’s like going to a carnival every day. I can’t wait to just go in and keep working on something.

How do you feel your solo career has gone from your first solo release Tea & Sympathy in 2005 up until now?

When I put out that first record it was on a break from Powderfinger which had had a year off. I just went back to making records with my band after that. There were a couple of more records after 2010. I just make records myself now. I don’t really think about things like that very much, I don’t think about my career or anything. I just look at what’s coming next.

As a band, we were never going to be on that scale anyway. That was very much part of the idea of not being in the band anymore, that I didn’t really want to be anything on that scale. I am very happy with how it’s been. Especially Civil Dusk was very well received, so people loved it and the touring was really fun.

How does Civil Dusk compare with Brutal Dawn? I notice there are a few thematic differences…

Decisions and their consequences was the main thing with Civil Dusk. Brutal Dawn is looking at memory and reality and looking at the way you remember things and whether those snapshots you have in your mind are very accurate. Trying to hold them up to the light and look at them to see if they’re real or not from memory and whether they affect how you go forward.

There are a couple of songs on there, the first song Shed My Skin is about renewal and the idea of making a fresh beginning after looking back at all of these incidents that have happened in your life. Just taking your life away and leaving behind what you have done – going to a different space.

The final song really is about dying , it is about a soldier that has gone to war and killed someone and realised what it is to kill someone and how much more devastating it is than to actually die; to kill for your country. It’s probably harder than it is to die for your country because you have to live the consequences of it – how do you look forward from there and what do you do about that.

If you look at Remembrance Day, it focuses on sacrifice – it focuses on that idea that the soldiers gave their lives for the country. It’s starting to change a little bit now but it doesn’t really focus on what the mental impacts are on the people who survive and come back and have to live and fit back into society after having killed somebody.

I have never been to war; I’ve certainly never killed anybody. It’s me completely speculating on that, but that idea, especially within that context of the first World War where Australians often saw it as an opportunity to go and travel, have this big adventure, where in the end they were going into something way more serious than they thought in the first place. It’s a brother writing a letter to his little brother saying don’t sign up, don’t get involved – you don’t have to kill someone, you don’t have to watch them die like I did.

When you write songs, do you get a lot of ideas from what you observe around you? Or does inspiration come internally from within you?

I think it’s both, I think it has to be both. For me it has to be both, because a lot of the time there could be a story there you could follow in a linear way. But most of the time for me, usually my songs draw from lots of different incidences, whether they are things that I have witnessed or actually done, read or seen in a film. They all get pronged together into one experience or song. You have to draw from your reality, the things you actually experience.

Those two songs I was talking about, those are inventions. I have never been to war, I have never been to jail. But try to put yourself into the position of someone that has been – who is about to be released from living in jail for a long time, I think anybody who has been caught in a situation that they don’t like and won’t get out of can empathise.

My songs are really not specific and I don’t really explain them to a great degree usually. I really like that idea of people just having their own explanations to songs and that’s what I loved about music when I was growing up. There was way less information available about songs and what they meant when I was growing up. Now we could receive a personal message from fucking Kanye explaining exactly what he was talking about in a particular song these days as a marketing exercise – that wasn’t available when I was growing up.

That’s one of the ideas I loved about it, that idea of deciphering stuff and putting the jigsaw together yourself.

There’s an emphasis these days on record making where you have to think about the audience and what they want to listen – so do you think that should be different and the let the audience figure it out for themselves?

Absolutely – I think that’s absolute fucking poison to creativity. I am not saying that there aren’t certain concessions that are made. Lots of people, I especially, conform to, for example, the structure of a pop song. There’s those kind of norms people follow and are part of the art of it now but the idea that you think about who is going to wave their hands in the air or how much they are going to sing along to a particular “woooh” part that you write into your chorus – then fuck that man, I’m not into that at all, I think that’s really dumb.

I think it’s part of what’s wrong with a lot of music. The politics of today, society is just so obsessed with populism. It’s like populism within a song, that idea of just how openly people talk about hooks and whatever else these days. They’re marketing devices; they’re songs that are spoken about in a business sense these days. It’s disheartening and pretty sickening from a point of view, coming from that tradition of writing songs, because you’ve got to write a song about something because it’s troubling you so much or it’s so important for you to express something.

Is the songwriting art form in Australia being undermined?

Not necessarily, it’s just where it is at the moment. I mean pop music; pop is very all-pervasive at the moment. It’s very dominant and even in the way that a lot of music is presented, the collaborations and stuff. You’ve got the marketing power of two artists together to do something – so they can reach twice as many Instagram followers when they release a song – maybe that stuff is here to stay, I don’t know.

I don’t think it’s just in Australia – I think it’s everywhere. Australia is probably a version of what is happening in America and the UK to an extent. That’s not to say there’s not amazing music being made, there are lots of music being made that is incredible. Lots of people still write whilst thinking about the charts – that’s pretty obvious, that has always been the case anyways.

What else do you have planned looking forward?

We won’t be playing any shows till Splendour in the Grass. We are going on tour in October/ November. Hopefully we’ll be playing pub shows over there actually, so trying to do something differently to last time (Fanning has just announced shows at the Rosemount Hotel on October 11 and 13 to back this claim).

All the touring will be announced around May when Brutal Dawn is released.

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