LIAM NAUGHTON Building on the cornerstone

Local singer-songwriter Liam Naughton has teamed up with a full band to form Liam Naughton and the Educators, who are set to celebrate the launch of debut album Leaning In at the Indi Bar on Friday, January 4. It’s been a while between drinks for the Irish born, now Perth resident Naughton, building on his debut EP Cornerstone from 2013 to create a full length that showed a bigger and more detailed picture of his style and personality. BRAYDEN EDWARDS caught up with Naughton to get the story behind the release and what we can look forward to at the show. 

It’s been a while since your first EP, what have been up to musically in the meantime?

There wasn’t supposed to have been as much daylight between Cornerstone and Leaning In. Cornerstone was released in 2013 and recording began on Leaning In in 2016. Ideally the album would have been released back then but a few things got in my way so it was delayed until now. I’ve had an on again off again relationship with getting out and about performing, be it solo or with the band, but things never really stopped at home. It’s a rare week that I won’t be tinkering with my guitar, scribbling down ideas for songs or humming a melody into the voice recorder.

You come from a musical family in Ireland, tell us a bit about that and how it got you onto the path of what you are doing today…

I come from a small town in Country Limerick, called Kilmallock. It’s couldn’t be further from a rock and roll story. My Dad was the choir master and my Mum the organist in the local church – she still is. I was in the choir and used to give solo performances from a young age so I developed an understanding of harmonies, vocal sections and a neck for public performance. My Dad was more into the classical, opera, that kind of stuff, but my mum is more of a top of the pops girl.

My sister is a gun on the keys so we were always in the piano room belting out the hits, harmonising and that as kids. I kinda veered off the path a bit and when I should have been following my interest in music. I was just being a dick for years. So it’s taken me a while to backtrack and do what I should have been doing.

One day I was at work in Dublin, we were commissioning a pharmaceutical plant, one of the guys put Neil Young’s Harvest Moon on the stereo. I was just working, signing off some test records and when the album finished I asked if we could have that over again… I loved it, I was mesmerised by the beauty of the lyrics and just the way he put things across. I’d known of Neil Young for a long time but never sat through one of his albums. That was it, I was going to learn the guitar and become a songwriter. So I did.

There seems to be a diverse range of musical influences on this album. Who do you feel have been your greatest inspirations musically and how did that come out on this release?

Bands like The Beatles, Nirvana, Radiohead, The Sex Pistols, artists like Neil Young, David Bowie and various snippets form a multitude of others have caught my attention over the years. I’ve loved the melody of The Beatles, the chord progressions of Nirvana, the time signatures and inventiveness of Radiohead and Bowie, the aggression of The Sex Pistols and the gentle beauty of Neil Young. These have influenced what’s on offer on Leaning In.

There definitely seems to be real focus on lyrics and storytelling on the album, are there any songwriters you think you have modelled yourself on in particular?

I guess I’ve mentioned Neil Young… What I got from his songwriting style was that he’s able to express the subject matter in a way that breaks it down into a single line or a phrase. Where another writer may take a few lines to get their point across he can just nail it to almost a feeling. For me, the challenge is to be honest, unsheltered and get the balance right through a song. Sometimes on this record I’ve been really blatant (Combat Kevin, Infidelity) where I felt it was needed it and at other times just creating an atmosphere (Bipolar, Promise X Ur Heart) rather than spelling it out. Also, too much of one or the other approach can get tiresome so it’s good to mix it up, but every song gets only what it needs. Finding that Goldilocks zone can be tricky but recognising when you’re making a dog’s breakfast of something is also very helpful. Most songs get numerous revisions before I’m happy to say they’re ready.

It’s one thing to write songs but bringing them to life with a full band is another, who are “The Educators” you got on board and how did their involvement influence the result?

The Educators is the name given to the excellent group of musicians that arranged their own parts and played on the album. They’re called that because they’re all music teachers. The core of the group is Lauren Reece on drums, James Vinciullo on bass guitar and Cameron Hayes on lead guitar. It began with just me and Lauren nutting things out in rehearsals and that’s where the feel of the album took root. Everything that came after just added to it. Lauren plays in a punk band called The Shakeys and her feeling of where I was heading coupled with her punk background landed us somewhere in the middle I think.

After a few months James came on board but we had the feel of each song by then. Obviously some ideas popped up in rehearsal. For instance the musical stop in Life In Technicolour and the outro of Where The Chips Fall came from James during that time. I think he’ll make a good producer someday. He’s full of bright ideas.

When we went into record, it was just the three of us and the original idea was to leave it at that. I was going to do some guitar fills but I’m not a lead guitarist, so no cake is better than half baked. I was introduced to Cameron, he came on board and within a week had all these awesome lead guitar parts that changed the course of my thinking about how far I was prepared to go with this album. Where I still felt there were gaps, keys were added later to fill those by Shai Martin.

Three of the songs on Leaning In were in fact the result of pre-production work I had done previously with Jerry Freedman of Jericho Music who also produced Cornerstone. Jerry has co-producer credit on Leaning In.

Were there any songs in particular that turned into something different from what you originally expected once you took it to the studio?

Yes, we went into recording as a trio but just like the previous record, once I got a taste for things I decided to loosen up my wallet and add additional instruments like lead guitar and keys as well as overdubs. There wasn’t any dramatic overhaul of songs, just tempo increase or decrease here and there. I’d say it went in sounding thin, but came out sounding fat.

You’ll be bringing the album to the Indi Bar stage on Friday, January 4. Are you able to replicate these songs live? Plus who and what else can we look forward to catching on the night?

Yes, one of the things that was at the front of my mind was that the mix of this album must always sound like there is a band in front of you. I didn’t want to lose that. We have Elise Campione joining us on keys as well as some overdubs and effects that will help replicate the sound. I expect it to differ from the record but not a great deal. I’m cool with that though, don’t want people to feel like they’re listening to a CD – they can do that at home! There will also be support from The Midnight Mules, Atlas Chasers and Platform 2. By that stage I think people will be just about ready for another night out after New Years.