West Australian songwriter Carus Thompson is making his way through WA showcasing his seventh studio album Shakespeare Avenue with a show in Geraldton at Cutler & Smith on Friday, October 11 and Fremantle at the Aardvaark on Friday, October 25. BRAYDEN EDWARDS spoke to Thompson to learn about how the album was inspired by travelling the world, his favourite folk artists, indigenous history, and his desire for a “kind Australia”.
Each one of the songs on this album feels like its own story, is there some overall theme or idea you feel ties them all together?
I wanted to make a record that talked about life – the struggles and sacrifice that we go through and make as part of our journey. At its core the album is about what it is to be human – to love, to hope, to battle adversity and to find a place. Sometimes our struggles are of our own making and sometimes it’s taken out of our hands – victims of government policy for example. I interweaved personal, imagined and political, historical narratives to find stories that expressed these ideas.
And where do you feel that approach to songwriting came from for you? Were there any artists that you listened to growing up that inspired you to write that way?
Always loved Paul Kelly and recently I’ve taken a huge influence from Springsteen and Mellencamp. I love how these guys take small stories and make them epic in their delivery. That was the lyrical approach but in terms of the sound of this record the last couple of years I’ve been heading down the folk path – listening to heaps of Richard Thompson, Paul Brady and Dick Goughin. That’s English, Irish and Scottish folk respectively. Recording the album in England I was driving around the Moors or Dartmoor on my way to gigs with this trio cranking on the stereo. Shakespeare Avenue is my take on this kind of folk music.
There are references to so many different places on this record. Were you travelling a lot while you were writing it and do you think that influenced what you felt compelled to write about?
The whole album was recorded in Dartmoor in the South West of England. I lived there for three months earlier this year with my family in a little village just near the studio. I was drawn to this area as my good friend Seth Lakeman, he is a huge part of the local and international folk music scene. Dartmoor is amazing – you feel the history in the land, in the villages and in the people – almost like being in The Lord Of The Rings or The Hobbit.
We had sessions with local musicians in pubs, immersed ourselves in the folk music scene and travelled around a heap. Lands End off the album is written about the most western part of England, and other English references litter the album. With Australian stories being told as well those places make it onto the record too. I’ve always loved to give songs a location and a sense of place, I think it makes them more true.
Some of these songs like Yagan share real life stories that make up Australian history. Did you have to research to be able to write these songs and did you learn anything new about the country in the process?
I chose these stories because they expressed or exposed things I wanted to say. I’ll come across ideas for songs just by moving through life and trying to be present and open to what human go through. But then with a historical narrative like Yagan then there is a research process to find the essential part of the story that really drills down on what’s important and emotive.
With songs you have a limited amount of words so you need to find what gives you maximum punch. I was lucky with Yagan because I’d done a series of songwriting workshops for an aboriginal group out in the country and the elder there knew a lot about Yagan. Then whilst researching I found out that there was upwards of 15,000 sets of Australian aboriginal remains still kept in collections around the world and that ended up becoming the main crux of the song.
Do you feel like hearing other people’s stories is a way in which people, or the country as a whole, can develop empathy for others and can songwriting be a powerful way to do that?
I absolutely believe that and this is why I make the album and write the songs I do. As a songwriter we have a unique ability to be able to make people empathise through the characters and stories told in our songs. I believe that’s an important role of all writers in society, but with songwriters we have the advantage of getting them to sing along to a catchy melody. You stand the chance of getting someone to get inside the story, and maybe feel and empathise for someone whom they normally wouldn’t give a second thought to. If someone cares for their child, you should be able to make them care for every child; you just need to present the information in a way that gets past their walls.
On Shoulder you say you are “Waiting for the country to grow a heart.” What did you mean by that?
To me Australia is cruel country today – so many people are marginalised or forgotten about and we have international condemnation every day for our treatment of refugees. I believe partly this is because we have never really dealt with our past – apart from our aboriginal history we are such young country. That line is saying that hopefully one day we will make it through this cruel stage and finally become what I dream we could be – a kind country.
If there is one message you would like listeners to take from the record, what would it be?
That we are all human, we are all the same, and these are some of the experiences we all share.