The lead singer of this acclaimed alt-country/Americana band from Melbourne, Australia, tells us about his inspiration and approach to songwriting
The Wildes are an award-winning alt-country/Americana band from Melbourne, Australia, formed around the songs of their lead singer Lachlan Bryan. Over the past eight years they have released four records, toured Europe and the USA multiple times, shared stages with major Americana and country artists and won a string of awards, including the Golden Guitar for Alt Country Album Of The Year with their landmark release, 2013’s Black Coffee.
Lachlan Bryan & The Wildes are returning to tour the UK in June which includes a second appearance at Maverick Festival, following their very impressive appearance last year; along with the European release of their fourth album Some Girls (Quite) Like Country Music – a ragged, poetic, alt-country gem which will no doubt earn the band more praise and attention.
Before he ventured off on the tour with The Wildes, we caught up with Lachlan to discuss what inspires his particular brand of alt-country…
How did you get into making music?
“I was surrounded by music as a kid. My brother Andrew is quite a bit older than me, and when I was four or five I’d often find an orchestra in the living room, or at the very least Andrew at the piano working out an arrangement for a fifteen piece band. Because he was so obsessed with music, and because my family encouraged it in both of us, I couldn’t really escape it – though I did try!”
Who were your music heroes growing up?
“When I was a young teenager my brother moved to England so there wasn’t as much music in the house – and though I was having piano lessons I didn’t really take them seriously. But then my English teacher introduced me to Tom Waits. For some reason Tom’s songs just struck a chord with me, and he became one of my first musical heroes, though discovering Bob Dylan happened around the same time.”
Who or what inspired you to first write a song?
“I can’t remember really why I first decided to write – I suppose I was always interested in writing stories, and at high school I intended to grow up to be an author. I didn’t really write songs til I left school – an early one that I remember was called Clear Blue Sky and it was about leaving your home town, which is probably a fairly typical song for an 18 year-old to write. My friend Kris, who went on to form a great Aussie band called The Basics (with Wally de Backer, aka Gotye) liked that song though – and encouraged me to keep writing.”
Who are your heroes now?
“There’s an Australian songwriter named Don Walker who has become an increasingly big influence on me. If you’ve seen much Australian cinema you may have noticed we tend towards stories that are bleak, but have a sense of humour. Don’s writing epitomises that. Sticking close to home, I’m also a fan of Nick Cave for the drama and beauty that exists in almost all his work. But of course I’m inspired by the legends – Dylan, Tom Waits, Carol King, Willie Nelson – I’d even add Bob Marley to that list – and I was recently introduced to the music of Judee Sill, who I’ve become a bit obsessed by lately. Oh and then there’s a guy I met in the USA called Phil Lee – he’s not very well known but he’s written some of the best songs I’ve ever heard. As far as singers go I love Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald. Oh, and Wilco and The Stones are my favourite bands!
What advice would you give to an aspiring songwriter?
“I’d say try not to get stuck in a genre or a particular musical aesthetic. I feel like it’s easy to paint yourself into a corner and keep writing the same song over and over again. Sometimes you have a little bit of success with something and you feel like that’s what you need to stick to, but I really don’t think the greats do that – I think they move on, even if the audience isn’t ready to move on with them. And hey, deep down we all want to be one of the greats don’t we?”
Do you prefer writing alone or collaborating?
“I do both, but I’d say that overall I have better success on my own. However one good thing about co-writing is that it makes you finish ideas you might otherwise abandon – and sometimes good songs come out of that. Lately I’ve had some success with a different form of co-writing, where I come up with the bulk of a song and take it to someone I trust (Shaun or Damian from the band, for instance) and we finish it together. Those two guys do the same in reverse with me, and that’s how several of our new songs came about.”
How do you choose collaborators/artists? Do you have a choice?
“With co-writing, often other people ask me, and if the timing’s right and they seem interesting (or even just really nice) then I say yes. I don’t think I’ve ever asked anyone outside of my band to write with me, but my publisher has set up a few in the past – most of which have gone okay.”
Where do you like to write?
“I mostly write at home. I’ve lived in a lot of different homes but they’ve all seemed pretty conducive to writing. Of course, I’ve written a few songs in those big publishing houses in Nashville and I have enjoyed that experience too – there’s something about the history of those rooms that makes you feel like you know what you’re doing. The ideas don’t come at home though; they usually arrive when I’m out driving or eating or at sound check. I quickly jot them down or sing a line in to my phone and then come back to it later.”
What comes first: melody, chords, lyrics, title, concept?
“I think for me that titles and concepts come first – usually a concept followed quickly by a title – then the melody and lyric usually come together. When I sit down to flesh something out I often write on the piano or even away from an instrument entirely, but hardly ever on the guitar these days. I think it’s all hard, to be honest. Sometimes a whole song might come to me really quickly but that’s usually after a long stretch of chipping away and getting nowhere with other ideas.
“I read recently that some scientists believe we’re more intelligent and creative when we think less. It’s a strange concept but I feel like it might well apply to songwriting. Perhaps the hardest part of the whole writing process is actually turning off your brain for long enough to let the ideas take care of themselves.”
What song do you wish you’d written?
“That’s a really tough question… I’d say Perfect Day by Lou Reed, Jesus Etc by Wilco or Isis by Bob Dylan. There’s all sorts of different kind of magic in those songs and I love them.”
What instruments do you use to write?
“In our house we have old piano which is around a semi-tone flat across the whole keyboard – I write on that a fair bit. On the rare occasion that I write on guitar it’s on my old J-45, which was badly damaged on last year’s flight to Europe so now is retired to the studio or the house. I tend to record quick demos on my iPhone in a song’s early stages.”
Do you ever write in the studio, or are the songs completed beforehand?
“I actually do a fair bit of production work now with Damian from my band, so we often write, or at least finish songs, at his studio. A couple of songs on the new record were completed in the studio, but generally they’re written in advance.
You’re coming to tour the UK again this year and returning to Maverick Festival. What were your experiences and memories of touring Europe last year?
“We had a really great time last year. Going to a new place, at least when you come from where we come from, always feels a bit like starting all over again. I remember going to see one of my favourite Australian bands play in London a few years ago when I was there on holiday, and I was one of about twenty people in the room. So that’s always the risk, but I truly love travel and I feel very at home with English and Scottish people – that is my not-too-distant ancestry after all! Maverick Festival was wonderful – we enjoyed playing but we also enjoyed wandering around and watching everybody else. I’m pretty sure we’ll do even more of that this year.”
What can you tell us about the new record Some Girls (Quite) Like Country Music and the differences between previous record The Mountain?
“I think we’re gradually becoming more grown up. We’re all in our thirties now – proper adults allegedly – and as such I feel a responsibility to tell bigger stories and flesh out more details. There’s a lot of piano on the record, and not a lot of electric guitar. All the performances are essentially live – but we did hundreds of takes to choose the right ones. So whilst there’s probably less overdubs on this album, it actually took much longer to make. There are some beautiful guest performances also on there from Shanley Del, Imogen Clark – who’s travelling with us to Europe – and Lindi Ortega.”
How did the duet with Lindi Ortega come about?
“We’ve been friends for about four years. She heard our Black Coffee album and wrote to me saying she liked it and it just turned out that we got along. We don’t see each other often but whenever I’ve been in Nashville she’s been there and in fact I re-gifted a beautiful stuffed rattle snake to her back in 2015 – we’d been given it by an enthusiastic fan in Tulsa. Anyway, Lindi and I had sung Don’t You Take it Too Bad together at one of her shows and I just thought it would be nice to get it down on record. It’s only available on the UK version of the album.”
Who did you work with on the album?
“Aside from the three guest vocalists, we kept this one pretty in-house. Our guitarist, Damian Cafarella, produced and mixed it at his End Of The Road Studios near Melbourne.”
Who would you like to work with in the future?
“I’m actually currently working on a collaboration with Taylor Smith and The Roamin’ Jasmine, my friends from New Orleans, who are also on tour in Europe this year. I’m pretty open to working with anyone if they’re good people and are musically challenging – Taylor is definitely both of those things!
Interview: Lisa Redford
Lachlan Ryan & the Wildes’ UK tour kicks off at Leytonstone, London on 27 June 2018 and their fourth album Some Girls (Quite) Like Country Music is released 29 June. For more dates and information, take a look at lachlanbryanandthewildes.com