Touring in support of her new album, The Welcome Fire, Wendy Matthews performs this Thursday, September 12, at Friends Restaurant; Friday, September 13, at the Ravenswood Hotel; Saturday, September 14, at the Charles Hotel and Sunday, September 15, at the Bridgetown Hotel. BOB GORDON reports.
The word went out last week from the ARIA people and for good reason. Wendy Matthews new album, The Welcome Fire, had put her back in the Australian charts for the first time in 12 years.
The singer, herself, however, remains too focussed on the business of playing music to be much fussed over such things.
“Oh God, charts smartz!” she laughs down the line from a tour stop in Adelaide. “I didn’t know I was. I’ve just been working on a brand new record and it’s out there. That’s what I know.”
2001’s Beautiful View, was Matthews’ last album release of original songs. It was followed by 2004’s Cafe Naturale and 2008’s She (online only) featuring cover versions of her favourite songs. Embarking on an original album was centred mostly on having the time to approach it properly.
“Basically, it was about just taking some time to do some fantastic road trips and get together with some people and put together the personality for a brand new record,” Matthews explains.
“It was brilliant, but it’s different, these days, putting a record out there. I have the luxury of paying for this whole thing myself, so I did exactly the songs I wanted to do and exactly the photo cover that I wanted to do and it was great.”
The Welcome Fire includes co-writes with Josh Pyke, Megan Washington, US singer/songwriter Kim Richey and album producer, John Castle (The Cat Empire, The Drones, Bamboos).
“I had a bit of a wishlist and I have a very pro-active publisher who was wonderful. She had a couple suggestions about people with similar sensibilities and I followed those.
“I’m not an extremely prolific songwriter, so the people I got together with I trusted implicitly. I wasn’t holding onto anything precious, that’s for sure.”
With a number of co-writers came a variety of styles. Comfort zones weren’t adhered to.
“I don’t know what I’m used to,” Matthews says. “Everybody was really diverse, very different songwriters. So the songs I brought to John Castle were his forte and what was fantastic is that he put a sonic thread of similarity through the whole thing. And he played almost every instrument on the album. We had very few additional players. It was just him and me, really.
“This is the only record of mine that I’ve listened to three times, back-to-back. And that’s really saying something.”
Following their success with recent albums by Russell Morris and Renee Geyer, Ambition/Fanfare Records (Matthews prefers the Fanfare aspect of the name) have released The Welcome Fire. However it remains the singer’s album in every sense.
“I’ve been very fortunate in that I don’t get how you can bow if your name’s on the cover,” she says. “It’s nobody’s else’s decision and it’s nobody else’s creative input, in that way. It’s funny, because they said I needed to list myself as Executive Producer. To me that simply means that I had a whole lot to do with what I wanted on my own record. Which of course I always have… I can’t imagine not.
“My last record came out on my own label, so really there was no one to answer to whatsoever. It’s hard to go back and I wouldn’t want to go backwards on that. But you just have to find somebody who gets it and likes it as much as you do, because when things are independent the trickiest part is letting people know it’s out there.”
Matthews and band are enjoying playing the new songs and the fact that Castle “has given us a few new shades to paint with.” Her hit songs such as The Day You Went Away, If Only I Could, Token Angels, Woman’s Gotta Have It and I Don’t Want To Be With Nobody But You are still a strong presence in her live set, but have evolved somewhat over time.
“We’ve got to keep it fresh and fun for us,” Matthews notes, “but there is a bit of a code there, a basic pattern to follow. Though I also do a hell of a lot of work with just my guitar player and piano player, some of the songs are really stripped back. Year-to-year, they do have to change.”