Artist Q & A: Nick O’Mara’s Overland Odyssey

Nick O'Mara

Known and admired for his guitar work across multiple bands, Nick O’Mara has emerged from our period of Covid lockdown-induced dormancy with a sensational new solo album entitled ‘Overland’. He also discovered a natural aptitude for stop-animation video making as the clip at the end of this interview shows. I spoke to him about how the album took shape, some of the stories behind the songs and some of the well-learned lessons of touring.

I get the sense that this album has been a very long time coming. How does it feel now that it’s finally out?

Yeah, I’ve been so busy with other projects over the years but a solo album has always been something I’ve planned to do. It’s gratifying to have this collection of songs finished. It feels good to let this colourful bird out of its cage and hear it singing the way I hoped it would.

You’ve played in bands like Raised By Eagles, Amarillo and with Mick Thomas over the years. How did those experiences inform your solo work?

Yeah, in the year and a bit before the world shut down myself and Jac Tonks [my partner and band mate from Amarillo] clocked the country twice, touring with Mick Thomas’ band.

Mick has taken me out on more than a few adventures over the years, and it’s always a lot of fun, and I did learn a lot on that last run too I reckon. Mostly that a gig is important. Having the opportunity to play music for people; it’s no small thing, you know? So make it count. Every show.

Have you had much experience recording yourself before? You obviously made extremely productive use of the quiet Covid period. 

I’d been getting my ducks in a row for this album just before the plague descended, had the songs picked, notebook filled, a picture in my head of what I wanted it to be sonically – so when lock down hit I just got to work straight away.

It became a beautiful obsession really − kept me sane and drove me insane at the same time, ha.

I’ve always recorded at home but I had to lift my game a bit for this because I had such a specific idea of what I wanted the album to be. I was pretty single minded about it. There was a lot of problem solving involved, but I had the luxury of time.

Half the songs on the album we bed tracked live, just me on guitar and Harry O’Mara on drums, with Shane O’Mara engineering at Yikesville. And the rest I recorded mostly in a big barn we’ve got in the backyard at home that I filled with my gear.

I like that the album has both the immediacy of the songs that Harry and I played together on the spot, and also has the layered and intricate instrumentation that I shaped at home.

I remember hearing you play Broken Toys at an early Unpaved Session at The Old Bar. The opening line “You’re a dangerous idiot” demands instant attention. Can you give us some insight into the origins of that song? How has it developed over time?

Yeah, that’s a song I’ve been carrying around in my pocket for a very long time.

The arrangement has remained the same, but I changed the title. It was called Dangerous Idiot, but I felt it was a bit combative, so I renamed it Broken Toys.

It was the one I fretted over the most when I started recording. There’s a fragility to it and I had a precise vision of what I wanted it to be, and I didn’t want to break it. But I reckon I got there and it survived the operation. Very happy with how it turned out.

Lyrically, it’s about a certain personality type. People who push themselves into the lives of others and tip things over, leave chaos and harm in their wake, and they can’t be reasoned with.

I’ve played it to a number people who’ve had truly serious experiences of that kind, and they’ve told me it resonates with them.

You’ve roped in a superb ensemble of players and singers. Please introduce us to them and what they brought to the record.

Jason Bunn played viola on Walking Slowly Into Night the album opener. I’d arranged a string part for it and he came in and extrapolated on it, adding some beautiful improvisation.

Harry O’Mara played drums on half the album, and we had a great time doing it. Harry nailed it. One of the songs we’d never played before – this very slow, open C tuned acoustic song, and it was great to capture that immediacy of playing a song together for the first time. Harry played mallets on it, and it has this rumbling sonic depth that I love.

Thom Mann played drums on two tracks, and gave them exactly what they needed.

Ben Franz played some beautiful pedal steel on Kathleen and Distant Choir. On both tracks it’s Ben’s pedal steel and my lap steel interweaving, I love the sound it created.

Brooke Russell and Jac Tonks brought the backing vocals.

I love the natural language you use in Shaking, a song about an outlaw couple and their various stick-ups. It sounds like a conversation between friends at the pub. Can you offer any clues to the subjects of that story and your approach to writing that number?

Thanks, yeah, ‘conversation between friends at the pub’, that’s perfect, because that’s kind of how that song came about. Over the years I’d hear tales and whispers and rumours from mutual old friends about a couple we’d known years and years ago, about their misadventures and misdemeanors, so I put it to a song. When I sing it, it plays like a little movie in my head.

It actually wasn’t going to make it on the album, because it’s quite long, but more than one friend said to me “Is that song about the criminals gonna be on there? You’ve got to record that one”

I’m glad I did.

What’s in store for the launch?

We’re launching ‘Overland’ at the Merri Creek Tavern on the 8th of April, full band. Harry O’Mara on drums, Michael McDermott on bass, Jason Bunn on viola, and Brooke Russell and Jac Tonks on BVs. With Cat Canteri supporting, doors open at 8:30pm.

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Narrm/Melbourne singer-songwriter and Unpaved editor