Tag Archives: byron bay bluesfest

Steve Earle: “Byron: it might be the best beach town in the world”

steve earle

THERE’S a little corner of northern New South Wales that really floats Steve Earle’s boat, and given his country-rock pedigree, it’s perhaps surprising it’s not Tamworth.

Luckily for music lovers it’s also the location of one of the world’s premier blues and roots festivals: Bluesfest.

“Byron: it might be the best beach town in the world,” Earle says. “It’s my favourite, anyway. I’ve had some really good shows there over the years; the last few years particularly. I had a really good show there with the band on the last tour, and I had a really, really good solo show there on the trip before that. I got to ride back to town with John Paul Jones and Donovan in the same car, you know? I got to interrogate them about all those great records, because Jones played on all those great Donovan records, so that was pretty cool. [Bluesfest is] one of my favourite festivals, period. The other big blues festival I play is in Ottawa, but it doesn’t have that beach.”

The 61 year-old Texan released his sixteenth studio album, the bluesy Terraplane, last year, and is set to appear at the Easter weekend festival with his band The Dukes alongside similarly-billed legends Brian Wilson, Tom Jones and Taj Mahal.

“I don’t know [if I’m a legend]; I’m more of a rumour,” he laughs. “It’s weird. It’s the thirtieth anniversary of Guitar Town this year. We’re going to try to do a few things to commemorate it. The Australian tour is actually the last leg of the cycle we have been on all of 2015; the very last leg of the Terraplane tour. I’ve already recorded the record with Shawn Colvin, and that’s what I’ll be doing next summer. Then I’m going to make another record with The Dukes, which will come out in 2017. I decided I was going to make a blues record [with Terraplane], but it’s a big deal when you’re from Texas; it’s a high bar. So I decided my next record was going to be a country record, whatever that means. Sometimes I think it means what I might have done after Guitar Town if [producer] Jimmy Bowen hadn’t pissed me off, but mainly it’s going to be based on honky-tonk. I’ve been putting aside the country-er things for that.”

Terraplane came into existence just as Earle was going through his seventh divorce, resulting in an album that was not only steeped deeply in the blues, but intensely personal at the same time.

“I don’t know how cathartic [writing] it was,” he says. “At the time, they were the only songs I could write. You know, I’m not writing jingles. I mean, I can write projects; I can write for somebody else, for a television show, or for a movie, and put myself in a certain place. This was a very personal record, because there wasn’t much else I could do. It might be I made a blues record because it was the only type of record I could have made last year.”

Having survived major drug and alcohol problems in the 80s and early 90s, Earle is now able to help others in a similar position, but does admit to being suspicious of why his past addictions are still interesting to people.

“I’m doing this residency at clubs in the States right now,” he says. “I’m doing a song from every record I ever made. There’s only four of those records that I was taking drugs when I made them. So it seems silly to be talking about it now. It’s still a big part of who I am; right now I’m writing a memoir, so I’m right back into that shit again. I have no problem with talking about it if it’s going to help somebody, but I get tired of talking about it with people who I suspect don’t have any other reason for talking about it except the lowest common denominator reasons. That part of it gets on my nerves from time to time.”

When not writing top-notch blues and country songs or warding off questions about his past, Earle is heavily involved in political activism. He is vigorously opposed to the death penalty, has argued in favour of access to abortions for all women, and his most recent work has been both close to home and on a national level.

“I’ve been raising awareness for schools with autism, because I have a son with autism,” he says. “Politics gets personal sometimes. My son gets the best care we can get him, but I have to lawyer up to get it. Luckily, the law says the city has to help me and my neighbours’ tax dollars have to help me. I’m the poorest guy in New York City, I think. Manhattan, anyway. I live here by the skin of my teeth, so I can’t imagine what happens to people who have regular jobs and four or five kids. I’m also very actively supporting Bernie Sanders’ campaign; ‘The Revolution Starts Now’ plays at almost all of Bernie Sanders’ rallies, and I’m very proud of that. I’m a socialist and he is a socialist. Normally if there’s one thing I can do for a political candidate I want to see elected, it is to stay as far the fuck away from them as possible. In the case of Obama I was able to say in the second term that I was a socialist and Obama definitely wasn’t. Hillary [Clinton] is, left to her own devices, almost a Republican. She’s very much a creature of Wall Street. I’m having the luxury of having a viable candidate running right now, and that’s Bernie Sanders.”

Away from the concerns of national politics, time spent in the southern hemisphere will not only allow Earle to rekindle his love for Australian beaches, but also his fondness for our musicians.

“It’s where I met Kasey Chambers,” he says. “I was there with Buddy Miller and my band, and Buddy was also opening our shows. Julie Miller didn’t make the trip, and Kasey, when she was 18 years old, sang with Buddy on that tour. On a bill before that, I saw a great show by The Saints there, although the first time I saw The Saints was at the Cat Club in New York years before, but I saw a great Saints show ten or twelve years ago in Byron. I’ve known Paul Kelly since before I even went to Australia for the first time; I met him in ’86 when he was [in the States]. That’s one of my favourite things about Bluesfest; you get to see a lot of good music, as you get to play twice.”

STEVE EARLE PLAYS BYRON BAY BLUESFEST MARCH 25TH AND 26TH

For Scenestr

Michael Franti: “It’s about tenacity, courage and creating harmony in your life”

michael franti

MUSICIAN, poet, humanitarian, Bono fan; these are just some of the strings to Michael Franti’s bow.

The multi-talented Californian and his band will make a return to Bluesfest next month, as well as playing a sideshow at The Tivoli. “It’s our first time to Australia in three years, and we’re super excited to come back,” he says. “This is actually our twentieth year playing music together; we started in ’94. It kind of crept up on us; one day around Christmas I was sitting around with Carl [Young, bass] and I said ‘Carl, when did we start?’ We realised it was August ’94. We feel more excited about playing music than we ever have, and it’s just really great to be in a band with these guys. We never decide what we’re going to play until about 15 minutes before we go on-stage; we always mix it up every night. There are some songs people want to hear, so we try to play those, and we’ll go through the catalogue and revisit songs we haven’t played in a while. Sometimes we’ll play cover songs and sometimes loud party music that will get people up and jumping around at a festival. We love the festival setting and we’re looking forward to coming back.”

The upcoming gigs will give Australian fans the first chance to hear songs from Spearhead’s 2013 album All People live, as well as getting an advance on tunes that will appear on the as yet untitled follow-up.

“The songs were all written while we were touring and we’ve tried them out in front of audiences, so they’ve all be road-tested, so to speak,” Franti says. “It’s great when you can write a song in the morning, play it to fans in the afternoon and get their response to it. This record is a mix of acoustic music, political songs, roots and maybe more love songs than I’ve ever put on a record. We always have new songs ready for a record, and as soon as I finish writing them I like to play them; so there are a few new songs we might pull out. It’ll probably be another year before we release another record, but we’ve already been in the studio writing this stuff. The last two records had about a two year gap in between, but I don’t think it will be that long this time.”

Known for his political and humanitarian stances, Franti has changed his approach somewhat in recent times.

“My original band put out our first record in 1987,” he says. “I think a lot of us who have been involved in doing political work and political song-writing for a long time don’t know if any of the songs we ever wrote really made a difference to the world, and it’s easy to get frustrated. Right now I’m working on a documentary film about people I’ve met who have really inspired me and made me see the world and the work I do in a different way. Instead of trying to put out the whole world that’s on fire with this little water pistol that I have, I’ve learned how to use the water pistol to sprinkle the flowers in my own back yard and have a bigger impact. Lately, I’ve been writing about that more than specific political things; it’s about tenacity, courage and creating harmony in your life.”

Franti got his first major break when a certain rock quartet with a similar approach to political and social issues took his band on tour in 1992.

“It was really amazing,” he says. “We had a minor hit at the time and U2 saw the video for it, and they invited us to come out on the road. We went from being a little band playing in punk rock and hip-hop clubs and driving around in a tiny white van, to playing Yankee Stadium and all these massive venues. I was a fan of U2’s music at the time but I wasn’t that familiar with the guys in the band, and I remember the first week Bono came up to me and says [adopts Irish accent] ‘can I have a quiet word wit’ ya? There’s this one thing I need to talk to ya about’. I was worried and thought we were getting kicked off the tour, but he said ‘you know my guitar player? His name is The Edge, not Ed’. I had been saying things like ‘yo Ed, nice guitar solo! Yo Ed, nice hat! Yo Ed, you coming to the party later?’ I guess The Edge had gone to Bono and asked him to have a word. We’ve toured with tons of bands, and they’re right up there among our top experiences in terms of being treated well by the headliner. They always made sure we had enough time and space to set up our gear and sound check, and they always hung out with us. Whether we wanted to talk about music, religion or business things, Bono was always really amenable to having a conversation about anything; it was a really good experience for us.”

MICHAEL FRANTI & SPEARHEAD PLAY BYRON BAY BLUESFEST APRIL 21 AND THE TIVOLI APRIL 23.

Joss Stone: “I’d like to investigate music that was born in Australia”

Joss Stone

SHE MAY HAVE worked with Mick Jagger, Ringo Starr and Jeff Beck, but Joss Stone will be on the hunt for new Australian talent when she tours here next month.

“I’m trying to find people to collaborate with when I’m there,” she says. “I’d like to investigate music that was born in Australia. It’s nice to be exposed to other things; things that aren’t influenced by America or the UK. Maybe I’ll have a little sneak around Byron Bay and see what’s about. I really enjoyed Byron last time; it was more earthy, which I liked. We were only in Australia for a week, but that was my favourite spot. I’m definitely excited to be going back there; hopefully we’ll get more time.”

The 26 year-old English soul singer and her ten-piece band will be part of a mammoth Bluesfest line-up, as well as doing a run of shows with multiple Grammy Award-winner India.Arie.

“Expect a very good band playing what is hopefully very good music,” she says. “I love my musicians; I hold them in very high esteem. I’ve been working with them for a very long time and I just love playing with them. We have a really nice time on-stage; we just ‘soul out’ a bit and try to play a bit of music from each album. So far I have six [albums], and we like to play the songs people know as well as a few new ones. The double bill [with Arie] was just one of those things. Obviously, the second they asked me I was like ‘yes please’; I love her. When I was about 14 or 15 the song ‘Video’ came out and I got her album, and I would play the songs with the tape or CD in reverse, so I could try to learn the way she sang and her little ad-libs. I could never do it; I’m terrible with ad-libs as I’m not really that type of singer, but I would listen to her over and over. I think some days she’ll start the set and I’ll finish it and vice versa, and hopefully if we feel the vibe we’ll sing together, if I’m lucky. I know her songs, but I don’t know if she knows mine!”

Stone’s last release, 2012’s The Soul Sessions Vol. 2, was a collection of 11 soul covers, but her upcoming – as yet untitled – record promises to be more eclectic.

“It’s a little bit different this time,” she says. “A little bit more hip-hop and reggae. There are a couple of tracks on there which are just classic soul, but it’s so hard to talk about right now as we haven’t even finished the percussion yet, so I don’t know what it’s going to turn out like. In all honesty, I could turn round and go ‘oh I fucking hate this, let’s just cut it again’. I’m trying to keep that safety, you know what I mean? New influences come in naturally when I’m beginning writing, then I latch on to whatever that newness is and make that choice to continue in this path; it’s a conscious decision from that point. I’ve got thirty songs, but I’m going to see. I’ve just done two weeks in the studio, and I’ll have to listen back and see which ones I like. Normally an album doesn’t go longer than fourteen to seventeen tracks. I never really like to play a full show where I just play new songs to a group of people who haven’t got the album. Putting in new songs can be cool, but until everybody gets the album, it can be a bit of a bummer to go to a show when you don’t know any of the songs. When the record is out I’ll play them all, but when the Australian tour comes around I’ll just play a couple. I’ll rehearse my band; by now they know all the songs, but we’ll rehearse and learn a couple of the new ones, so when we get to the stage I can kind of call it, you know? I know what’s going to happen in general, but I don’t know what the audience is going to be like until I meet them. In fact, they are the eleventh member of my band. That’s the fun of it.”

Stone was a part of short-lived supergroup SuperHeavy in 2011 with Jagger, Dave Stewart, A.R. Rahman and Damian Marley, and has performed with big-hitters like James Brown, Rod Stewart and Melissa Etheridge, but one musician inspired her more than the rest.

“Jeff Beck; I’m in awe of him and the way he plays,” she says. “When he’s talking to you he’s just a normal guy, but when he plays it’s entirely different; it’s like ‘wow’. If we’re playing on the same day [at Bluesfest] we might even do a little song together. He’s amazing.”

JOSS STONE PLAYS BLUESFEST APRIL 18 AND THE TIVOLI WITH INDIA.ARIE APRIL 20.

Beth Hart: “Who wants to deal with being a recovering drug addict?”

beth hart

BETH HART is a singer-songwriter, storyteller and survivor all rolled into one.

Hand-picked to play Byron Bay Bluesfest after director Peter Noble saw her earn multiple standing ovations supporting Stephen Stills, the Californian will help the festival mark its 25th year.

“We put on an eclectic show,” she says. “It has blues, jazz, soul, rock ‘n’ roll and some singer-songwriter stuff. I’ll usually play a couple of songs from all my past records and then focus on the last two or three. There’ll be lots of energy and hopefully it’ll be a good time. I do a different show every night anyway, so it’s fun to play with it at a festival. I’ll watch the audience a little bit and kind of get a feel for what the vibe is or what kind of festival it is. Then we’ll work up a set before we go out and hope it works. It really drives some of my band members crazy when I change things around halfway through, but it’s important to be in tune with what’s going on, put on a good show and give people what they want. If I get the feeling they’re wanting something a bit harder or more aggressive I’ll change the set and throw something else out.”

As she speaks candidly about her past battles with the addictions that sent her spiralling out of control and saw her spend a stint in jail, Hart remains pleasingly upbeat.

“It’s a one day at a time thing,” she says. “Thanks to being involved with people that have come before me and have gotten sober I’ve had a lot of help. It’s been a little over thirteen years since I took drugs, thank God. I still have my little slip-ups here and there with alcohol but I’m healthy and married to a wonderful man, and I thank God I still get to make music and I’m still really excited about it. In the last couple of years I’ve gone in some different directions as a writer and that’s been really challenging in a good way. When I was on drugs it had got so bad that I wasn’t able to leave the house. When I was going through early recovery I had agoraphobia, so it was definitely a rough recovery, but I think that’s what’s kept me from ever going back. I would never survive it again. Is there a part of me that wishes it never happened? Sure. Who wants to deal with being a recovering drug addict; it never really goes away, but I think of it as a real gift and I mean that. It’s an opportunity to share something and they are the points in my life when I lean on people I love and my ego gets smashed. It’s like ‘holy crap, what am I going to do?’ It changed me and it still does, but the changes I’ve found are things like the ability to care for other people who are struggling instead of judging. It’s been a blessing.”

Since becoming sober, Hart’s resumé boasts a series of A-list collaborations with Slash, Jeff Beck and Buddy Guy, and two albums with guitarist Joe Bonamassa.

“It just kind of clicks with Joe,” she says. “He and I really get off on similar genres of music. We both feel very passionately about the music, and when it comes to the songs that we chose for the Don’t Explain and Seesaw records we were both so invested in trying to bring something that was honest. I love him for that; he has such integrity and total commitment. I think he’s such a great artist; just fucking fantastic.”

Another positive aspect of having a sober and rehabilitated Beth Hart back in business is the prolific nature of her musical output.

“I’m making a new record in August with Rob Mathes,” she says. “I should be making another record with Joe Bonamassa a little bit after that, while simultaneously writing the following record after that as well, as it’s going to be with Kevin Shirley instead of Rob Mathes. So I’ll be doing lots and lots of writing in the upcoming months, which I love, so I’m having a good time and it’s flowing. There’s nothing worse than trying to write and being in one of those stalemates where I can’t move or come up with a thought; that’s always terrifying. I’m having a good time with that right now. I’m going to be touring, making a record, and then back to touring in the fall. That’s how I make my living; lots of time on the road. Last year I got a bit run down, so I took off with my instruments into the mountains where there was no TV or anything like that. Getting away from everything and everybody was really helpful for me. I’d never really rejuvenated like that before.”

Despite mixing it with big names in North America, it’s in New Zealand where Hart has had her biggest chart success to date, hitting the top spot in 1999 with single ‘LA Song (Out Of This Town)’. Her explanation for her success there?

“Oh God, I would be the last person to ask that,” she says. “I have no idea; I’m just happy when we can connect in some way.”

BETH HART PLAYS BYRON BAY BLUESFEST APRIL 17-21, THE BASEMENT SYDNEY APRIL 12 AND THE CORNER MELBOURNE APRIL 15.