Massive news, the biggest news. HUGE NEWS…
After several years of working towards this, it can finally be revealed that a compilation of my “songs” from Modern Giant, The Aerial Maps and the Ark-Ark Birds is being released by Brisbane’s Coolin’ By Sound Records.
More details to come, but here is an interview I did with erstwhile English journo Frank Roberts from onenodemusic about the whole shebang.
There’s a name for this feeling … they just haven’t named it yet
By Frank Roberts
It’s a hot and smoky Sydney afternoon, the sun a grazed orange scrape through the thick gauze of smoke, illuminating a dust-coated Bondi Beach in an eerie gloom that seems to presage the end of the world, if not today then at least sometime soon, in Australia’s recent Black Summer. The smoke wafts in strong-smelling waves of burnt land and eucalypt, the westerly winds carrying to the urban zones a reminder of the wide, burning land “out there” in Australia. For a Brit visiting these sunny shores “Down Under”, it’s certainly not the usual January day one is accustomed to.
But it seems like an absolutely perfectly appropriate day thus to interview Adam Gibson, the Sydney lyricist and songwriter who for almost two decades has sought to evoke a true sense of this space and distance of Australia in his work. Carving out a unique and lauded underground niche with his spoken-sung tales of the lives and landscape of Australia with bands The Aerial Maps, the Ark-Ark Birds and Modern Giant, Adam has created a comprehensive body of work that warrants extensive exploration.
It may be stretching an analogy a little too far, but just like that wind that brings the smoke to the masses, giving a reminder of the vast land stretching from sea to shining sea, Adam’s work seeks to capture a version of an essential Australia and articulate that in a distinctive fashion to urban-and-beyond audiences. Parcelling his ideas, stories and images in a form of song, over the course of several albums with those several bands, he has presented a vision of the nation in the fashion on par with some of Australia’s best writers, think White, Carey, Liddiard, Cave or Grenville.
“It is a perfect day, yes, I guess,” muses Adam over a beer at his seaside local, the North Bondi RSL. “The plumes of smoke and the ash coming across the entire urban distance of Sydney do provide a real reminder that there is all that land ‘out there’.”
Indeed, says Adam, the idea of that distance has always been a driving force behind his writing.
“I remember hearing an interview with Rob Hirst from Midnight Oil way back I think when I was in my early 20s,” Gibson says, “And he was saying that we grow up in Australia, most of us by the coast in the cities and towns, and whilst we might not outright acknowledge it, we have this real sense of all that land being out there over our shoulders. For me that articulated an idea I had already felt at that point and became a central idea behind all of my writing.”
And, as is made clear on the new “best-of” release compiling 16 songs from across his three main bands, ideas are at the core of everything he writes. That album, titled There’s a Name for this Feeling, released by Brisbane’s Coolin’ By Sound records, is a sweeping cross-section of Adam’s work over the period of time since around the year 2000, containing some resolute underground favourites as the far-reaching ‘On the Punt’ along with hidden gems such as ‘New York ’54’ and ‘London Still Exists’.
Covering vast terrain in terms of physical landscape – Adam is an ardent traveller and the tenets of distance, space and place are vital parts of his work – and also in terms of psychological terrain, this comprehensive compilation is a terrific entrée to his work. Full of a restless yearning and a searching for something, sort of like an Australian Sal Paradise in Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’, there is always the sense of allure in the distance, a sense of salvation that comes from the road. And the end location is in itself not that important, it’s that journey in which the gold lies.
“I’m not sure why but I’ve always felt the lure of the road,” Gibson says. “I’ve always been fascinated by new places and the possibilities that they present, both in terms of wanting to personally discover them and also just in terms of knowing they ‘exist’, and their names and associated resonance making an impact on me.”
That leads to one of the noticeable key aspects of his work – the willingness to “namecheck” a wide array of place and location names, firmly rooting the work in a “real world” that people can connect to but also perhaps elevating what would otherwise be uncelebrated places to places worthy of being celebrated in art and/or song.
“For me that comes from Kerouac or Springsteen ‘naming names’, celebrating the places that are dear to them or even places which are mythic to them,” he says.
“People like that celebrate these great North American places and we can easily forget that they’re actually just celebrating the places they know and are familiar with. Early on, that struck me as something I wanted to do with my own work, but by naming the places that were important or integral to my life. And being Australian, those places were initially very much Australian places. Port Macquarie, the streets of Sydney, towns in far North Queensland and stuff.”
The other notable aspect of the songs is that, well, they’re not exactly “songs” anyway. Adam delivers his words in a sort of plain-spoken spoken word. Whilst syncopated with the music on occasion and often set within conventional verse-chorus structures, it is Adam’s spoken word style that sets things apart. Ably supported by an array of musical talent over the years, from key mainstay his brother Simon, plus such luminaries as the sadly departed Simon Holmes of the Hummingbirds, Sean Kennedy, Gynia Favot, guitarist Andy Meehan, pianist Tim Byron and latterly Alannah Russack, also from the Hummingbirds, and Peter Fenton, from lauded Aussie band Crow, what is presented is a rich palette of sounds which serves to underline, enhance and capture Adam’s ideas and words in a perfect manner.
There’s a Name for this Feeling is an incredible listen. Despite the songs coming from disparate albums over the course of almost two decades, there is a remarkable coherence about the work and certainly no sense of any of the tracks “dating” badly, either content-wise or sonically in terms of recording. Interestingly tracklisted not by chronological order but rather by theme and context – by what Adam describes as “what songs sounded right next to each other” – the release is a very coherent work. Indeed as an introduction to Adam Gibson, it presents as a singular and very strong “first album”.
Adam’s musical influences are also plain to hear … he doesn’t shy away from naming the names of the bands he loves and in turn the influence of these bands is evident in the music. From touches of The Triffids to hints of Midnight Oil and The Hummingbirds, this is an intriguing collection. Distilling a version and a vision of life “Down Under”, it is a unique and oftentimes deeply affecting suite of songs, deserving now of a wider audience around the world.