John Williamson is one of Australia’s ‘True Blue’ Aussie icons whose lyrics speak about the beautiful nature and characters this country has on show accompanied by his captivating country melodies securing him as a legend of Australian music. Williamson has recently released his first studio album in four years titled ‘The Big Red’ which sees him getting more personal than he ever has before. A perfect example of this new storytelling is new single ‘Hang My Hat In Queensland’ which is almost an autobiography detailing his life and lining up his future. Following the new release John Williamson will be touring the country on his national ‘Big Red Tour’ He will be playing an all ages show at the Caloundra RSL on March 4 with tickets available now from the venue. Thomas Bleach recently caught up with John to speak about the new album ‘The Big Red’, touring, covering a Russell Crowe song and how he wants to see Australia move forward as a country.
1. Congratulations on the new album ‘The Big Red’, what would you say you are most proud about this record?
= Well I don’t think I’ve packed it with any crap and I think all the tracks have earned their place on the album. Its good as I can do and if it is a good as I can do I got to be happy with it.
2. It has been four years since you have released an all original studio album. What made you decide it was time to start writing again?
= I didn’t just start writing again but there are two reasons why there was a four year gap between albums. In the four years we have brought out a tribute album with different people covering the songs and a symphony tour which was a DVD and an album. In the meantime I was writing songs and not even that as we were walking towards moving to Warner Music. We wanted a new album to release with Warner and you know I have been working these songs into the show for a few years now.
3. Would you say ‘Hang My Hat In Queensland’ is one of your most personal songs as it an autobiographical recount of your life? Have you ever gone to write something and thought you might need to holdback and re think?
= yes very, self indulgent actually. Someone actually mentioned to me the other day that I haven’t wrote many personal songs and that’s probably right. I remember ‘You And My Guitar’ was really hard for people to cover or play on guitar cause people thought it was about me and not them. People like to have songs they can easily relate to. Love songs are really hard to judge when writing because they are very personal but I think a writer has to wear their heart on their sleeve. This whole new album is very personal and shows a new side to me that many people haven’t fully witnessed before but I think people are going to feel a greater connection.
4. ‘The Big Red’ features a cover of Russell Crowes song ‘The Weight Of A Man’ what made you decide to do this cover?
= It started when he recorded my song ‘Winter Green’ on the tribute album and he had a song called ‘The Weight Of A Man’ on his own album which I really liked the idea of. I decided I wanted to cover it and it wasn’t cause I was favouring him as he’s a huge movie star it was because I loved the song. I did change the pace of it quite a bit and am really pleased how it came together. He called me and told me how much he loved my version which was really nice of him.
5. Your lyrical use of storytelling is quite unique, what is your process of penning a song for an album?
= I just know that my success has been from writing songs about iconic places in the country, the characters and the power of these places. I like to do places that haven’t been written about much in songs as well and making Aussies proud of whom we are.
6. Your lyrics and poems are structured fantastically and produce amazing imagery. Have you ever considered writing a story for children about the Australian nature?
= Yes I have. I have released two family albums, there has been a few songs for kids to educate and inspire them. I get drawings from kids all the time of someone cutting a tree down, so it has got them thinking that it’s not only a tree and there are things living inside it.
7. You have spent more than 40 years in the music industry. Do you believe that artists beginning their career in current times have it tougher or easier that when you began?
= It’s never easy. It is a bit harder to make it on the street these days because the poker machines have ruined the pubs. It’s also really hard to get a recording contract these days but I still believe that if you have the talent you can make it. Because a real artist needs to be able to write their own music and perform well, while having the drive to get there. You have to believe in your future and people will soon believe with you.
8. Forty Years on what would be your highlight of your career and what have you learnt about the music industry?
= The highlight of my career would really have to be when ‘Mallee Boy’ took off because I had been in the industry sixteen years prior. When that album took off, it took off in a big way with ‘Mallee Boy, ‘Galleries Of Pink Galahs, ‘Raining On The Rock’, ‘Cootamundra Wattle’ and ‘True Blue’ doing really well and is still five songs I will never take out of the show. The album did well, everything was selling out and I’m really getting the same feeling with this record.
What I have learnt about the music industry is to be comfortable in your own skin and the more comfortable you are the better communication you will have. Because if you seem embarrassed the audience will be embarrassed watching you.
9. ‘True Blue’ is one of those unofficial Australian Anthems that all Australians know and love. As an artist it must feel fantastic that after 30 years it’s still a defining song of our culture? Do you ever get bored of performing that particular song as you have been performing it for 30 years and everyone would be requesting to hear it?
= No, I think because I wrote it, I will never get bored. I’m proud. It’s been my calling card since it’s been released; at least I wasn’t the old man emu anymore. Families use the song almost every week to bury love ones, so it means a lot to many people. I see people crying during the song every time I perform it. So why wouldn’t I want to perform it as it means so much to many of my fans? Every year around Australia Day there is a poll put out asking Australians what are the top Australian songs and ‘True Blue’ is always somewhere in the top 3, it feels amazing.
10. Something your really passionate about is the Australian Flag and making it more Australian and for it to have less British influence. You have posted a design on your website of what you think would be the ideal flag for our country.
= Can you tell me what is on the Queensland flag?
No, I actually don’t know.
I wonder why? Cause there is nothing Australian on it. It’s got a Union Jack with a cross and a crown in the middle, and that’s Queensland. I’m not denying our heritage but I just want something that truthfully resembles our country. Check out the little passage I wrote on the inside of ‘The Big Red’ booklet cause that’s how I really feel.
Do you ever think Australia will allow a change and open up to this idea?
I think Australia will finally get new flags cause look at Canada. I bet no Canadians want to go back to their heritage and they’re still a monarchy. To me it’s more important to have our own flag cause that’s what resembles us. When the march the flags at the Olympics the poms fly the St George cross, Scotland fly’s their St Andrews cross and we fly all their crosses. People go around walking the ‘Boxing Kangaroo’, why don’t we be serious and fly a decent kangaroo flag? That’s what mine is, I call it the ‘True Blue Flag’.
11. You wrote a song about this as well called ’Flag Of Our Own’ and you were actually banned from some of the RSL clubs, are you still banned from performing there?
= I only got banned from one but they have re-opened their doors to me (laughs).
12. You’re a big ambassador for Wildlife Protection, so how are you planning to help make a change in 2012?
= I think my music really does it for me. If people want to ask me about it I am happy to give them my opinion. ‘Rip Rip Woodchip’ is still one of the most popular songs and is still apart of the show. It’s also in the school books. I will still support things like worry about our water with the coal gas.
13. Something the record label has got you onto to promote this record is Facebook. How are you finding it?
= I write things for Facebook but I don’t actually get involved with it. I’m actually quite computer illiterate, I rather write a letter.
14. To finish off our interview today I would like to play a quick game with you if that’s ok. I’m just going to state a few sentences and you just have to say the first thing that comes to your mind.
You sound like a psychologist, should I lay down on the couch? (Laughs)
My favourite thing about Australia is… the nature of the country that was here before anyone.
I don’t usually… drink milk
One song I wish I wrote is… ‘Drovers Boy’
John Williamson’s new album ‘The Big Red’ is now available in stores and on ITunes