Interview by Bob Gordon

Many Blues at Bridgetown patrons would remember you playing the festival in the years leading up to 2019 with Swamp Thing. You’ve since released several solo albums and now you’ve formed The Soul Decree. Tell me about that evolution and what you’ll be bringing this year…

Well, I feel very fortunate because I’ve done Bridgetown a few times now in the past with Swamp Thing. I’ve made quite a few friends there. The first time we ever played there we were supposed to play at a particular time, but The Backsliders couldn’t get to the gig because they got delayed on a flight. So the organisers asked us to fill their slot. And it was a really good slot! We were relatively unknown then, so we got this great crowd because obviously The Backsliders is a great band and they’d pulled a great audience. It was like the perfect first gig for us in WA, going back to 2012-13. 

And, in the audience was Marcus Tromp, who’s now a good friend of mine, and who is now playing drums for me on this particular run that we’re coming through in November. I met Marcus at the gig because he came up and introduced himself, he’s from Esperance, and we made this really great connection. I’ve got another guy John Wilson on bass, and he lives in Fremantle. He’s another really cool player. I believe he’s a bit of a local legend.

And a good friend of mine Elise Lux is doing a back-up vocals and sings a couple of songs as well. It’s nice for me because I’ve got kind of got two vocalists in the band now. So I can take a bit of a break here and there and just concentrate on playing guitar. I was really lucky that because of those prior gigs in WA, and the Bridgetown gigs we did previously, I got to meet these guys and they’re now helping me out with these runs through WA. I’m really fortunate.

So style-wise you’re exploring your love of soul?

Yeah, I mean, I guess, if you were to describe it, it is basically blues sort of mingled in with soul music. And having Luxy, a female singer, elevates that because you’ve got the kind of sweet, Aretha Franklin sort of vibe going on. And I’ve got quite an earthy voice myself. I think it’s just a really cool combination of styles between the two of us. And John and Marcus are just really tight, man. Just really tight in the engine room, sort of locking everything down.

We did a tour back in February-March, so we kind of know what we’re doing now (laughs) because it takes a while to get it together, especially when you’re in another country. So we had a pretty good run in March, and I think we’re going to be tighter and a bit more locked in for this run. You don’t have to try so hard; we’re not going to be thinking as much because we kind of know each other now. We’ve got a feel for each other.

You’ve just done quite a lengthy tour of France and you’re on a French-based label, DixieFrog. Do you have a particular affinity for playing in over there?

Oh, yeah. They’re very, very strong on blues music, man. I mean, really strong. They’ve got a lot of festivals over there. Pretty much all year round, not just in the summer. I’d done two tours there before, and I can kind of get my head around the language, so I can get around a bit more. And it’s a really supportive label. Very small, almost like a family label. There’s not many people in the office running the show, but there’s probably 12-13 artists on their roster. I’m so lucky to be hooked up with those guys.

It was just kind of a fluke how I got there because when I did my blues album a couple of years back, I just sent it out into the internet. I went fishing to see if I could get some bites, and I got a bite off them, and they picked up the album and we’ve had a really good relationship ever since then.

Coming back into Australia, I’ve got about a week in Melbourne and then I’m flying over to you guys. So it’s a pretty heavy back end of the year.  It’s a pretty heavy three months, but I find with those longer stretches that you really start tightening up in and you start getting pretty good towards the end, you know? So it should be a pretty good show for you guys!

How does it feel to be able to go away like that? The pandemic kind of stopped everything in the music world. It must seem surreal to tour overseas again…

It was rough for everyone in the entertainment industry and pretty much everything. It was really tough and especially as I’d just got picked up by the label pre-pandemic a month before, so I was chomping at the bit to get over to Europe. Then we got all these lockdowns coming down on us brother, and it was like, ‘Oh man!’. That was it – all locked down and took maybe 18 months.  We were pretty hard hit, us guys in New Zealand. But I think it was March last year, things started opening up again and I was able to travel around a bit more, even though you had to have a lot more cards and vaccine passes and all this stuff. I think we’re getting over that headache and it’s all pretty free flowing now. So, to answer your question, it was rough. It was really rough, brother.

I’ve looked at your website and saw the Awa Blues documentary video you did in your home, around the local rugby club and at your main recording studio. Everything’s across the river or up the road for you; it’s where you grew up with a connection to the rugby club, and all the fishing and swimming in that river. As a touring musician you are a troubadour – that’s how you are, that’s who you are. When there’s such a deep connection to where you’re from and where you live, is it sometimes hard to pick up the guitar case and hit the road?

This particular one coming up is pretty… it’s a long time. It’s probably one of the longest stretches I’ve done. And it’s pretty tough. I’ve got a young family. I’ve got to make sure the wife’s okay before you do anything.

But you’ve got to bring home some bring home the bacon, brother. I mean, I’ve got a mortgage to pay and all that, but it is hard leaving home. There’s one thing though, there’s not much fishing going on in the winter. But when I get back, man, I’ll be straight on the boat fishing and diving again (laughs).

In the video you casually threw a net in the water for 20 minutes and caught about 15 fish!

(Laughs) I’m really lucky where I live bro, there’s plenty of fish.

Actually, the last time I was in WA I went and saw Lightnin Jack. I went to his place at Manjimup and we went out fishing. He gave me some marron which I was very, very happy with, so we chucked those on the barbecue. I mean, a lot of guys sort of think the same as me, like Marcus is a big fisherman. He loves the outdoors. He loves that kind of life. And so I’m just like a bug in a rug man when it comes to WA… I’m really surrounded by good people.

Similar to folk, blues influenced, or blues infused music is the people’s music. Headline shows and venue gigs are one thing, but with festivals, especially in regional areas, there’s a real sense of a blues community. What’s your feeling when you’re playing festivals such as Bridgetown?

Well, it’s the best of both worlds, festivals like Bridgetown, because you’ve got folks there that already know your stuff, so they turn up and then you’ve got guys that don’t know your stuff. So you’ve got the potential to gather more followers, more fans. And Bridgetown, in particular, holds a really cool place for me because that was pretty much the first festival that I did overseas, out of my own country.

So you’ve got all these people and they’re pretty hardcore fans, man. I mean, I believe even during the pandemic, you guys had one there and it was still quite well patroned. Even just with the local guys people come out, they get out there and they love the music. They love the shows. I think they just love the atmosphere of the place. They just love the vibe. It’s a happy vibe there. So when you’re in a crowd with a lot of like-minded people, I think that just sort of elevates you. The good times that you have, and you’re really more open to it through the experience of the music because blues is such a quite a wide genre.

You could chop that up into probably 50 different categories under the blues banner, and you’ve got all these folks there, and different bands with  different styles of blues, and it’s great that they all can come together and experience something that they’re maybe not used to, the normal sort of blues, their blues hang, you might say. Some kind of taste they’ve haven’t had before.

Last time I was there I saw some really heavy, hard rocking blues and some really beautiful, tender blues as well. I don’t think you’d get that mixture of music in one place, unless it’s a festival.

Friday 8.45pm – Scott’s Tavern

Saturday 11.15 – Bank Stage

Saturday 1.45pm – Geegelup