We caught up with the brilliant and always prolific Van Walker to hear about his band The Livingstone Daisies’s crowdfunding campaign, his debut novel and a new rock’n’roll collective including Jeff Lang, Ezra Lee, Ashley Davies and Cal Walker.
You’re part way through a crowdfunding campaign for the second Livingstone Daisies album. I understand this was recorded first, though. How will this record be different to the debut?
The album Don’t Know What Happiness Is was a bunch of songs written after we realised The LD’s were going to become a live band. So I wrote half the album to suit the overall style we’d all come to realise we liked during the first session, that Fannies vibe (Scotland’s Teenage Fanclub). But this next record, the first session, was a bunch of random pop songs I wanted to record, maybe for a solo album or something or other, but really just to have fun for a weekend at the beach with a bunch of friends who liked the more melodic side of rock. There was some pretty funny influences going on, big stadium stuff in the beach house! Tom Petty, and Stones, and Saints influences, and it’s a whole lot more eclectic than Don’t Know What Happiness Is. We only decided after we’d recorded both albums that the second was more uniform and perhaps a better introduction. But it could have gone either way.
I know you took the Daisies on an East Coast tour over the new year. How was that and do you see much more band touring this year?
We’ll definitely keep touring while we keep recording. We enjoy playing live, in Maitland & Newcastle especially over New Year, as we have many friends in the music scene there. We’re a low maintainance live band, but we were born in the studio (albeit a mobile studio). It’s too much fun to work with such amazing musicians and instrumentalists who can also all sing like goddamn angels. It opens up new possibilities of making music in which the voices and not the guitars give the punch, while the guitars can tell more of a story than the lyrics, which is a little different from the rootsy, folk narrative approach.
How has the campaign going and where do people go to support it?
It’s going great guns and we’re so enthused and grateful regards the response. But we still have a way to go. People can go to www.pozible.com/livingstonedaisies and join the Burlap Underground for all the sweet rewards and incentives. This is were we can now present so much unreleased material to those people who really want to hear it. A lot of stuff doesn’t make albums. Not because we don’t like it, but it may not fit an overall concept of a particular group of songs, so these orphans sometimes get lost. But now with The Burlap Underground, these songs can find there way out into the world. It’s so heartening to know that as a community no matter what side of the stage we’re on, we can support the art we’re into, and make this stuff happen.
Can you describe the new tracks on this forthcoming release?
Well, the opening track Risking it All is a Petty-esque rocker with some killer hammond by Nick Hurle. It’s about deciding to dive into the deep end and take some chances.
Since You Came Along is all jangly Stringer guitar, kind of about how new relationships can change old relationships.
Down to Earth is a stadium/beach-shack rocker about the thrill of raw honest music, and how it can make you giddy while still grounding you.
Don’t Tell Me How the Story Ends is a sad one about suicide and suicidal thinking. It comes from a Thomas Keneally line.
We’re big fans of the Saints Paralytic Tonight/Dublin Tomorrow EP and Dancing with a Man Out of Step comes from that murky world. It’s the inner monologue of a Marlowe type gumshoe character, on the fringes forever estranged. There’s even a Chandler line in it: ‘If your looking for me I’ll be in the corner where I belong.’
Round Here is just about family and growing up in a small town and how the same things that offers you protection can be stifling.
Kill for Conversation sounds like something the Travelling Wilburys might have come up with. Alas Jeff Lynn was a little out of our budget. But we did get our engineer Steve Fraser to play that sweet lead guitar solo, duelling with the power drill. It’s a light hearted song about bar culture and the loneliness of socialising. Jeffery Dahmer was the alcoholic cannibal who never wanted his dates to leave so he ate them.
The final track is the 8 minute harmony orgy Pistol Pete, about the mad skills of misunderstood basketball maverick Pete Maravich. Another oddly estranged character who received as much derision as acclaim. Got some tasty slide guitar from Cal and a sitar by Gordon Blake.
In the last few years, it looks like you really taken to collaboration more and more, apart from bands with the likes of Charles Jenkins and Susannah Espie and Mick Thomas on the Vandemonian Lags project. How’s that as a break from being the solitary artist?
I’m always looking for collaboration, because I’m fairly prolific and full time, I easily get bored of myself and look elsewhere, trying to squeeze the most out of every thing I can. Having said that, last year I spent a lot of time writing a novel. Not to try and pull back from so much from the music, but it’s just another creative endeavour and it’s something one can do in isolation and independantly. But it’s just another outlet. Somedays you wake up and want to collaborate, somedays you don’t want any distractions! Everyone’s both a bit Introvert and Extrovert, it’s just fluid circumstance. The Vandemonian Lags project was a very fulfilling group experience and we’re all chuffed it’s ongoing, with some mainland shows this year. The shows in Tassie were deadly and, being musicians, we all got a kick out of the ‘thespian experience’. The theatre is like a family. Bands are more like gangs.
Last year’s European tour diary made for great reading. And now a novel?
The first draft is finished. It took me a year to write and now I’ve given it out to some people for some critical feedback, and I’ve tentatively started on another, just to give it some space so I can come back to the start the second draft afresh. Cos there’s heaps more of work to be done on the first. I’m just following my nose artistically while I’ve got the time to do it. The tour diary was far easier to put together than this huge work of fiction, but it still took a lot of time, cos I tend to get very involved in these projects, after initially wondering whether I have the time or energy, or anyone else has the interest, once I start I don’t like to leave things unfinished.
Do you see yourself putting out another solo album in the next year or so?
I wasn’t planning to. Not with the Daisies release. People get overwhelmed but I honestly need to follow the law of the jungle, not the law or the market place! I’ve been playing some new songs with Shane Reilly, very formal country songs, and we’re thinking of recording these at some stage. We played a show with Kinky Friedman and we really want to go to Kinky’s neck of the woods and maybe record there. But also I’ve done a few rock’n’roll sessions lately with Jeff Lang and Ezra Lee – real red hot electric boogie stuff with upright piano – and that was smoking. So maybe that’s an album, or a band, ready to assert itself. The muse makes the moves, I just follow.
So the news is you’ve teamed up with Jeff Lang, Ezra Lee, Ashley Davies and your brother Cal to form Van Walker’s HeartBrokers. That’s a jaw-dropping assemble by anyone’s standards. How did it come about?
Ezra Lee is a mate of mine who’s a killer pianist. A real rocker. And he was in town, and Jeff and I have been talking about doing a record together for awhile, and I know Jeff loves his Little Richard and ACDC – as does Ash Davies – and I thought, what’s the last thing people would expect from a Jeff Lang collaboration, so we got Ez on the keys, stepped into the studio on a 40+ degree day and that band was cooking. Personally I was burnt to a crisp. But we had a ball, which is what it’s all about, so we’ll do some shows and hopefully the feeling is mutual. The name came about because Jeff’s partner Ali was discussing potential band names for her own group at a party one night and I walked into the room and Jeff put me on the spot and The HeartBrokers was the first thing that came to mind. So now we’re stuck with it!
Don’t miss the first ever performance of Van Walker’s Heartbrokers on Monday 10 February at The Old Bar.