SOLO SETS AND RECORDING SWEATS
It’s all Nick’s fault (I’ll get to that).
But firstly, Nick graciously invited me to be a guest at his Let’s Get Lyrical sessions – it was a fantastic experience. I felt I was on This Is Your Life – it was amazing to get asked songwriting questions I’d been waiting to be asked, and to hear my songs re-interpreted and contextualised. In particular, Evan Buckley’s rendition of Don’t Grow Up Too Fast was stunning – I often write country songs posing as punk songs (or vice-versa), and Evan was able to find that hidden core, drawing out the pathos and truth in the lyric in a way Faux Faux Amis‘ raucous shows will never capture.
In attendance was Chris Huet, aka award-winning performance poet and national treasure CJ Bowerbird. Alongside Chris’ many talents, he is also a generous patron of the Canberra art scene, and regularly comes to Faux Faux Amis gigs. Given his familiarity with the band, and his deft way with words, I had asked him to write old-school liner notes for Faux Faux Amis’s upcoming album, hoping it would be a fun challenge for him. Discussing it over coffee, I mentioned the Let’s Get Lyrical event, which he promptly said he would attend for ‘research’.
Fast forward a couple of weeks, and I get a message from him asking if I would like to support him at an encore performance of his poet-and-choir piece Downfall Of The Main Character. I immediately said yes, and asked him if he wanted Babyfreeze or Faux Faux Amis to perform. ‘I was thinking you solo, if you’re up for that’, he replied. After attending Let’s Get Lyrical, he wanted a chance to see more of my songs. See above: all Nick’s fault.
To put it in context, in seventeen years of playing in bands, I can count on one hand the amount of times I’ve played on my own. I nervously agreed – in preparing for Let’s Get Lyrical I revisited a lot of songs I hadn’t thought about in years, and this seemed a perfect opportunity to exhume some of them.
I don’t typically play solo for a few reasons – primarily I find it exponentially more stressful than playing alongside others. I have no problem singing on stage with a band around me, but playing solo feels closer to public speaking, and I become incredibly self-conscious and unduly worry about forgetting lyrics or hitting bum notes. Couple that with the fact ‘male singer with an acoustic guitar’ is the least interesting/appealing format I can think of, and I don’t go out of my way to book solo shows (my favourite solo show was supporting Prom – billed as ‘King Handsome Luke‘, I backed myself on drum machine and electric guitar for a bunch of electro-punk rap numbers).
To offset some of these qualms, I invited Faux Faux Amis bandmate Catherine James to do back-up vocals and kazoo. Catherine also sang one song on her own, and duetted on two others, so it became more McGrath & James than just me, which I was vastly more comfortable with. It just helps tremendously to have someone to banter with between songs as well.
An acoustic gig lends itself to a certain type and style of song, and my set ended up ranging from cod-reggae to country (lots of country) to pop and even a couple of torch songs. They came from all over my back catalogue, some appearing on CDR albums I produced over a decade ago, others written for The Bluffhearts, still others seeing the light of day for the first time.
A couple bear special mention – Another Bad Habit To Break is a country song I wrote after I no longer had a country band. I’ve tried it with other bands in the past but it has never worked. Still, for years now it’s the song I’m most likely to spontaneously start playing whenever I find a guitar in my hand – it was great to finally share it with an audience.
Sucker For You is a song that had its sole appearance when I played the now defunct slot of ‘interluder’ at the Bootlegs many moons ago. While I loved the first verse and hook, I never really finished it to my satisfaction,. Using the gig as a prompt (thanks Chris!), I subsequently re-wrote the second verse, as well as adding a third verse and bridge. It’s really strong now, and I need to find somewhere to place it!
I happened upon Lyle Lovett’s She’s No Lady a couple of years ago – the video was playing on a country music channel while I was up late in a hotel room on a work trip. It instantly became one of my favourite songs, and this was a perfect excuse to share it. To calm my nerves, I kicked off the set with it, hoping it would serve as a good luck charm.
I’d been to a Sunday afternoon gig at Smiths a couple of weeks beforehand and there was about a dozen people in attendance. Thus expecting a low-key return to solo performance, I was shocked to find myself playing to a full house – a testament to CJ Bowerbird’s talent and popularity. The sound at Smiths is the best in the capital (down to sound maestro Bevan Noble), and the audiences the most attentive I have played for – their focus and attention is a gift. There was no sound in the room besides the performance – it was a rare treat and something I am grateful to have experienced.
It’s been an interesting year creatively – I had intended to focus on writing and film projects, but ever slave to the muse, I instead find all of my passion and drive being drawn to music. In particular, after giving away home recording for several years, I am in the thick of a production renaissance.
I have at least six recording projects on the go – including a Faux Faux Amis album and EP, two Babyfreeze EPs I am co-writing and producing, a kid-friendly ukulele reworking of some of my songs under the name Luc Faux, a clutch of beats for the Northside Swag Unit, and a nascent top secret pop project. This last month, I’ve also challenged myself to do a couple of covers-in-a-day of favourite local acts. Coolio & Housemouse’s recently released Where Ma Dawgz At? 7” has barely left the record player, and was the initial inspiration and first cab off the rank. It was intended as a one-off until Faux Faux Amis performed with Finger Your Friends the other Saturday, and I couldn’t resist trying my hand at their kick-ass song Astrotel on the Sunday.
Done being the engine of more, I now need to buckle down and complete some of these other projects and get them out into the world!