Andy Bull’s second LP, Sea Of Approval, is released this Friday, July 11. He’ll hit the road in spring, stopping by The Bakery on Friday, September 19, and headlining Rottofest on Saturday, September 20. BOB GORDON reports.
Andy Bull has been left to his own devices for some time now, but things are about to change.
His second album, Sea Of Approval, is released this Friday and it marks a moment when Bull is released from his creative bubble, with his new songs in tow, to share them with the world. There’s lots to talk about and all of it for the first time.
“It feels… like so many things,” he says. “It’s definitely nice to be finished with the record, in terms of making it. I finished it about a month ago, the relief has worn off and now it’s me figuring out how to craft succinct answers to people’s questions, rather than just ramble on and on.
“When I was working on the record there was a lot of internal conversation, so now I have to work out how to string sentences around it… how to externalise some of those thoughts (laughs).”
In the effusive, eloquent album bio penned by former triple j breakfast host and comedian, Tom Ballard, it’s stated that Bull could have made any number of albums, however Sea Of Approval was the album that was made. How that result is determined is an interesting part of the process, but it can’t be allowed to stall the process itself.
“In the middle of it I was just thinking about just generating stuff and finishing it,” Bull explains. “Then, occasionally, you check in and go, ‘where am I going with this? If I was to stop now, what would I have?’ I remember thinking that a couple of times. That’s when it gives you pause to think about those things, like consistency and coherency and that kind of thing. But that certainly can’t be your motivator, I would consider that part of the editing process, culling things and making those decisions. Maybe it’s in the back of your mind but it certainly can’t be the main driver, because that’s the secondary step. That’s the editing.
“I think you just have to generate so much material before you can start making those sort of judgements. So it’s a momentary thing when you check in. It can give rise to encouraging feelings or panicky feelings as to whether it is or isn’t working as a body of work. You have to, to a degree, be naive of those things at times.”
Songs such as Baby I Am Nobody Now, Keep On Running and Talk Too Much, have already received wide airplay and connected with an ever-building audience. That connection is important, as the songs are not based around a protagonist as such, but what Bull refers to as ‘The Actor’, who assumes the roles required in each of the songs.
“It seems that there maybe is, in the mind of people who perform, certainly for a number of us, there’s a sense of being pretend, or being a phoney or a fake or something like that,” he offers. “But you’ve got to move beyond those sorts of doubts in order to tell your story. The actor is really more a concept for me that for the audience, I suppose. It’s something I’ve invented just so I can do it; not necessarily so that other people can understand it.”
Accordingly, if not appropriately, it would appear that The Actor is suiting up for this very interview.
“This is not normal,” Bull states. “Being the centre of attention, or performing in front of groups of people or talking on the phone about it… I mean, none of this is normal. It’s not normal stuff, it’s not something you would normally do in your every day kind of existence, so I feel like I’ve had to find a way to justify why I deserve to do these things. Or how I can do these things.
“If in my mind I can change hats and be The Actor, then it allows me to tell a story and use the symbols and write the songs and perform and not feel ashamed. It allows me to do it confidently, I think. The birth of the actor kind of came out of that. Wanting to do something, but feeling a bit conflicted about it.
“In terms of the music, everything is symbolic. Words are symbolic; sounds are symbolic; everything is symbolic. You’re putting together a kind of world and there’s no escaping it. It doesn’t matter what kind of music you play, if it’s folk music or folk or dance music or pop or rock, you are participating in this symbolic vernacular. So I felt that at the centre of that there needed to be a character who was a symbol as well.”
Bull points out that taking such an approach is more about method than any kind of moral choice.
“At all stages in life everyone is kind of playing a role,” he notes. “Depending on where you are, you may be a husband, or a son, or a colleague, or a boss, or a tyrant or the victim, or the lover or the scorned. You’re always playing a role; at all levels of society, even if you’re just driving your car, there’s no escaping it. There’s no sin in playing a role, but damage can be done when you don’t acknowledge that you’re playing it.
“And as you go through life you have to change roles. You go from being someone’s child to being an adult, then being the boss of other people, or working for them. Or if you have a family or a relationship, all these roles keep changing and it’s kind of hard to keep up.”
While an actor is separate from the role, Bull feels that precious little separates the music from the musician. Interestingly, he is now at the stage, with a national tour in the offing, where he is now sharing The Actor’s roles with other musicians and therefore again with his audience.
“You have to strip away some little details and then exaggerate other things,” he says of the studio-to-stage process. “It kind of changes again; it becomes a different sort of beast when you involve other people. I’ve got a really good live band. They’re friends of mine whom I’ve been playing with for a while now and there’s a really good chemistry around that and the sounds we use and the spontaneity of playing live.
“It’s a little bit different every night and very exciting for us as well because it morphs onstage every night. It’s pretty electric. I get goosebumps listening to the other guys onstage.”