Inspired by a farmhouse on top of the hills of East Gippsland, this Australian singer-songwriter created a captivating closing track
Grace Cummings is a Melbourne-based, singer, songwriter and producer. Her aptly-titled new album, Storm Queen, is a collection of captivating modern folk songs that finds inspiration in the music of Paul Kelly, Bob Dylan and the traditional Irish music that she was raised on. Though refined and beautifully crafted, there’s a looseness to the Storm Queen as if Cummings has given herself over to nature and let the wind take her wherever it pleases.
Storm Queen ends with the plaintive Fly A Kite. Capturing the powerful combination of Cummings’ voice and guitar, a theremin brings the sound of a cowboy whistling to the outback and beyond. Just one of many captivating moments on the album, it’s the one we asked Cummings to tell us all about.
Amongst the high rolling hills of East Gippsland is a place called Ensay; the setting and inspiration for many of my songs and poetry. A little farmhouse on top of a hill belongs to a friend of mine and I have been going there for years, sometimes losing my mind only to quietly gain it back again… A quiet place where nothing is really around but the trees, the birds, starry night skies and dramatic sunrises.
Whilst this all sounds quite clichéd, I do think that sometimes you arrive at these sorts of places as a selfish main character in your own drama or self-inflicted tragedy. Being able to be still and quiet amongst the hills you walk away as a small character in nature’s great epic of which these features are very real.
Last summer, we brought kites up to the farm to fly them in the paddocks. My friend brought her little son and daughter. It was 45 degrees, but a cool change was coming over the hills and the wind really started to howl… It kind of made me giddy like a little kid or an animated Jack Russell being amongst the drama of the strong weather. I watched my friends fly their kites with triumph. An eagle came and flew with them just before the rain did.
The lyrics for this song were not only inspired by my time at the farm, but by the man who owned it many years ago. My friend’s late grandfather Dick Shaw, a Lieutenant in The Royal Navy in WWII, started to write in his house in Ensay at an old age. I had heard poems about the war, stories of the land he was living on and accounts of his children growing up there. Amongst the collection was a poem called Go Fly A Kite, of which I thieve the first two lines.
Go Fly a Kite
Go fly a kite
Tie your troubles to the tail,
Watch them as they fly unwanted to the sky
And feel contentment slowly come your way.
Feel the string pull,
Watch the swoop of bird-like flight go soaring,
Run to keep your kite aloft and sailing
And feel the triumph of achievement grow.
Is this the joy?
That has no fear of things to come
The carefree hopes of times long gone
The confidence that all is well
But will my kite fly?
I never thought to ask that question,
Failures then were soon forgotten;
Time aplenty stretched ahead.
He wrote that he had been making kites for more than 75 years and flew them in the very same place as me. I suppose that he is right about failures and time. Sometimes it all just feels a little too real. I wrote that I wish I was born long ago, not to re-live or re-do, but to perhaps “fit in” to a time I declared might understand me better. I expect I’d still feel all of the things I feel now… It’d all be so easy if you were still just a child, or a bird, and as that fails, flying a kite might be the closest you can get.
There are a lot of different feelings in this song for me, nostalgia being chief amongst them. I wanted this song to seem almost childlike in its quality, or rather, make you feel that way yourself. I thought about what makes me feel that way, remembering free and innocent moments or at least knowing that they are somewhere out there and are, or once were, attainable. I thought about the songs of Dean Martin, a sleepy cowboy singing in Rio Bravo or something like that. I suppose the cowboy’s kite is his rifle or his pony. As an Australian, cowboys have a certain poetic majesty to me just like the unicorn or the fairy might have. What makes it all so romantic though is the knowledge that the cowboy once was, or could still be, real. No matter your age, it’s a real-life fairy tale to dream about, the focus of which is being alone, free and at peace; just you and the land.
One of my favourite sounds in the whole album is that of the theremin, expertly played by Miles Brown. It has an other-worldly quality to it, a crisp and magic kind of sound not unlike the whistle of a cowboy sighing into a hay bale.
IN THE STUDIO
This song was the first song of the day and was recorded in one take. I felt as though the performance, or at least how I felt performing it, couldn’t get any closer to my intentions. This meant that I included my stumbling around the guitar and over the chords in parts. To get it perfect did not matter to me, in fact, I preferred not to. Sometimes you should be reminded that there is somebody there, behind the record, singing to you. It’s real and raw (or it tries to be).
When Miles recorded his theremin part I sat in the studio with him, far away as to not disturb the instrument, with the idea of conducting him. Instead, I ended up grinning from ear to ear in absolute exultation at him and his playing. I’ve never seen or heard anything quite like it.
At the very end of the song, and the record, if you listen closely you can hear cheers from the rest of the band sitting and listening in the control room. It makes me smile.
All of this has made me nostalgic for a time when I was nostalgic for something else. How do ya like that?