WITH a sixth album, Caught Up in the Dreaming, set for a January release and a heavy touring schedule locked in, Luke O’Shea is a very busy man indeed.
While many artists in a similar position would be tinkering with songs day and night, O’Shea, however, decided this would be exactly the right time to escape the daily grind and immerse himself in the landscapes and cultures that weave their way through the rich tapestry of his music.
“I just had a really special four months with my wife and three daughters,” he says. “Mainly spending a lot of time up around the Kimberley, Ningaloo and the Coral Coast. It was a chance to steal time; a chance to remember what it’s all about and to spend time with ones I love in this magnificent backyard we have. We’re normally all so flatstick and running around like chooks.”
Like many of the best Australian singer-songwriters, O’Shea focusses on telling stories about the land and people on which the history of the country stands. His songs are at once evocative and revealing, and are influenced by the beauty and defiance of the work of artists and musicians past and present.
“I met up with so many exceptional Australians out there,” he says. “I travel so much around Australia and you do start to acknowledge the really distinct regions we have. I also start to identify the magnificent Australian artists out there, be they poets, painters, authors or songwriters. We are greatly shaped and inspired by our landscapes, and so it was great to meet mates, total strangers and people who struck me as being unique to their geography and their art; people like Warren H. Williams in Alice Springs, Tom Curtain in Katherine, Al Pigram in Broome, and Tim Winton in Exmouth. Everyone’s stories are remarkable, and they’re united in [thinking] just how magnificent this country is. Family and music are first and foremost to me, but as I get to travel around, it makes sense to share the beauty of what you see and the marvellous people you meet; that’s worthy of singing up.”
It’s safe to say it’s been an eventful twelve months for the Sydneysider. After winning three Golden Guitars at the CMMAs in January, he took part in a well-documented protest against the Whitehaven coal mine in north-western New South Wales with his father, Rick. There isn’t a single hint of regret in his voice when he relates the story of his arrest after chaining himself to a water pump.
“It was a pretty crazy time after the success with the Golden Guitars,” he says. “After the action my father and I took, 99% of the feedback was really positive. Most people understood the reasons why I was doing it. The song I won the male vocal for, ‘Sing You Up’, clearly stipulates what side of the fence we stood on when it comes to coal mining and CSG, particularly in our food-producing regions, where they’re putting the water tables at risk. I’ve never not pretended to be totally against that, so people understood my political stance when it comes to protecting our food and water in Australia. With that level of media spotlight after I was thankfully successful at Tamworth this year, it would have been the height of hypocrisy if I had not shone that spotlight on a cause that needs a lot of attention and awareness from the general population. We had to show it was warranted. Also, I have to walk my talk. I can’t have a song about the country without acting upon it. It was the right action, and the fact it was taken on land my father was born made it deeply personal.”
Long-time fans of O’Shea will recognise the theme of appreciating, and drawing inspiration from, the natural environment in his music; a subject he examines further on the new album, most notably with ‘My Country My King’.
“‘Protect food and water for our sons and daughters’ is a line from that,” he says. “I think there’s a growing concern in Australia that our leaders are selling us out. I don’t subscribe to the idea of a monarchy because we like to see in Woman’s Day and Women’s Weekly what outfit [the Queen] is wearing. It has to be far deeper; a real love, respect and vision for Australia. I’m a republican; I want Australia to stand on its own legs and I can’t understand this holding-on to old ways, so my country is my king. I know we’re going to be faced with a change of monarch soon and I can’t think of a better time to bring up the discussion of a republic again in Australia.”
When asked about finding the right level of politicisation in his music, O’Shea lets out a larrikin chuckle.
“Obviously you’re at risk of dividing your audience by having that stance, but what are they going to do, not buy another one of my CDs? They’re going to continue not buying my CDs [laughs].”
It is this clear purpose and sense of striving for a better future that drives much of what O’Shea does, but he is equally connected to the Australia of the past. It is a mixture which adds another level of depth to Caught Up in the Dreaming.
“From travelling across the country, you really feel those song lines and the connection to the place and how powerful it is,” he says. “We are so young, the European settlement on this land, and we’re only starting to understand its power and beauty. There’s good mojo in that, and if we can build that respect up for the land, then perhaps we won’t be so quick to rape and pillage it and send it off overseas. I really want to build that respect for this country, and hopefully it catches on.”
First single ‘I Will Catch You’, written and performed with Amber Lawrence, has been building excitement for the January release. The video for the track features Lawrence and Damien Thomlinson, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan; a fitting choice given the subject matter.
“Amber had just picked up the female artist of the year, and we had both been announced ambassadors for Defence Care, which is an amazing organisation set up to help returned veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. We thought we really should be doing something with it, so we whacked it down and it came out a treat. Thankfully it’s really resonated with a lot of people with its message, which is raising awareness that you’re not alone, whether you’re a farmer who’s having a hard time, a policeman or fireman or someone at any level of service who is experiencing trauma; there are people who can help.”
Despite a raft of awards, accolades and well-received albums fifteen years since his debut, O’Shea isn’t prepared to rest on his laurels or seek safety in familiar territory. Indeed, Caught Up in the Dreaming is set to throw up a few surprises.
“It’s very progressive,” he says. “There are songs that are identifiably where I’ve came from. There might be some songs there that burn a few bridges, but hopefully build a few more. That’s my journey as an artist; I want to keep pushing myself in unique ways that best sing up this land and this people.”
With a new album to promote and plenty of shows on the cards, O’Shea is looking forward to a busy few months, as he explains with another larrikin chuckle.
“It’s been fantastic; being up in Queensland touring and finishing off the mix of the album, the Sydney Country Music Festival, in Melbourne for shows with Damien Howard, then shows in New Zealand. Sometime soon I’ll probably collapse [laughs].”
CAUGHT UP IN THE DREAMING IS OUT JANUARY 2016
For Country Update