The audience for Melbourne band Raised by Eagles increases all the time – so it makes sense that they are on the road, winning friends and influencing people with their magnificent latest album, I Must Be Somewhere. I spoke to Nick O’Mara, who shares singing and songwriting duties with Luke Sinclair.
Have you been happy with the album’s reception?
Yes, it’s been really good. We’ve all been pleased. People seem to like it and it’s gotten good reviews – four stars in Rolling Stone, which was nice. I felt good about a lot of it and then as a whole I was unsure how it was going to be received. We have that feeling every time we release an album. But we’ve been happy.
After an album comes out, do you listen to it and think, We should have done that differently, and that differently, or do you tend to be philosophical and think, well, that’s a complete body of work now and we step away?
Oh no, definitely – I’ve listened to it a couple of times in the first month, and all I could hear was the conversations about decisions. You can’t hear it at all in that first period but we did an in-store at Basement Discs in the city and they put it on as we were packing up our gear, so I was just listening to it in the background. That was about two or three weeks ago and that felt like the first time I’d properly heard it. I was really pleased with it, which is good. But in that period, you just can’t – you totally cannot see the wood for the trees. You’re overwhelmed by the process you’ve just been through making it, so you have to step away from it.
Do you treat your live shows as an opportunity to go back to some of those conversations you had during recording and tweak things a little, or do you just let the songs take on their own life when they’re live?
All the arrangements are set now. In the studio there were decisions made about arrangements and what goes where, and then once they’re on vinyl then we’ll follow that, we’ll follow those arrangements.
Some of the reviews were comparing you to Americans – especially Ryan Adams, I saw, was quite popular in some of them. But I so often hear Australian summers, in particular, in your songs and perhaps that’s just me and my musical references. But do you think of your music as being American or Australian or just let those influences come out in the wash, so to speak?
There’s no self-conscious decision about that. I hope it’s heard as Australian but you can’t really escape the form that we’re playing in, which I think is changing quite a bit now. Rock music and pop music for the last sixty years has been, in a sense, an interpretation of American forms, really. There’s no conscious decision about that at all, and you kind of are what you eat: we’re influenced by American bands and we’re also influenced by Australian bands. When I hear it, it sounds Australian to me. Some people I’ve talked to are consciously trying to rid themselves of American influences – but that’s not really possible. If you’re strumming a guitar and you’re singing, you know, that’s an American form in a sense. This goes deep – you’d have to talk about the history of popular music, I suppose. But I think certainly [our] lyrics are Australian.
For me, it’s very evocative of a lot of Australianness. But I also get a little annoyed or agitated whenever I see Ryan Adams used in a review reference to anyone who is vaguely country music because I tend to think it’s actually being lazy.
Maybe I’m being a bit harsh, but I think Ryan Adams is considered the gateway drug to country music for some people but I don’t think many listeners get past that. I actually can’t hear Ryan Adams in your music, and I know his back catalogue really well. There is that Melbourne alt-country and I can hear you in that but I still think you’re doing something completely different.
Thanks. I agree with that too – the Ryan Adams thing is just an easy blanket term. If he’s a guy that plays country music or whatever – country rock – it’s just an easy comparison. I can’t hear his influence at all. If anything we’re just influenced by some of the same people, like Neil Young. I know people who sound very much like him – which is fine, I wouldn’t begrudge anyone. I like Ry-Ry, he’s good, but he’s not someone I’d sit down and try to emulate. I would never do that anyway. These things are not self-conscious. But it is a lazy comparison.
And it’s especially lazy because you and Luke [Sinclair] split the singing and the songwriting, so there’s a Raised by Eagles sound but you have your own ways of writing songs, and of course you also write some together. Is it a comfortable partnership or is it one of those partnerships where you push each other, whether you’re writing separately or not?
[Laughs] We’d have to save this conversation for band therapy, I think. Creating music together, there’s always some jostling with stuff. When I bring my songs in they’re usually arranged and sometimes I demo them and I’ve got a complete idea of what they’re going to be, and then Luke’s a little bit different – he likes to bash them out with the band and kind of arrange them together. It’s hard to describe. The process is really different when you’re in a band – you throw things into this kind of whirlpool of other people’s playing and other people’s ideas, and that can be really fun and really cool and things can come up that perhaps wouldn’t if you’d made the decisions yourself. We write in different ways together. One of the songs, ‘Everyday Everyday’, was a demo that I did at home, and I played all the parts on it – I played lap steel, electric bass, acoustic guitar – and I didn’t put any lyrics on it because I just felt like I’d nailed this demo and it was just this beautiful self-contained thing, and for me it was like this finished project. At some points sometimes you just go, ‘That’s finished’. And I felt like I didn’t want to mess with it by having to tack lyrics on it. So I just sent the demo to Luke and that was really good, because then he wrote the lyrics to that and sings it on the album. So that’s a really cool way to do it, because sometimes you write something in that initial spark and you get it out, and then to finish it – occasionally you’ll hit a block when you think, This is finished. It’s not finished in form but it’s finished in terms of how far I can push it, in terms of what I wanted to create. And then Luke’s got it and said, ‘This thing is kind of finished and I can just be free to play it and listen to it and write lyrics over it.’ So that was really fun.
You creating those demos at home – as you said, you’re creating things that are formed. That suggests that you might like to control things – and I’m not using that pejoratively – but what then interests me is that you are completely prepared to turn over that control to Luke to put lyrics on. If you were legitimately a control freak, that wouldn’t happen. You would have to do everything.
That’s right. You have to sacrifice … if you’ve got that instinct, if you’re playing in a band, it’s a four-part thing that has different moving parts. It’s hopefully more than the sum of its parts, you know. Having said that, when we did go to record every day I was frantic that we were going to fuck it up and it wasn’t going to be like the demos [laughs]. That was a hard day. But thankfully it turned out good – we had a good day, and we did it live for the most part for that song. I don’t listen to it and hear the demo any more. It’s become a new thing and it captured that sound world that I wanted, which is good.
And when you do go to record you have another element in the mix – and a family member: your producer [Shane O’Mara], who might also have his opinions.
Yes, big cousin Shane. He was great. He’s just a really good producer and he just keeps things moving. That was cool. He understands what you’re trying to get. Definitely facilitated the sound that I wanted on a couple of songs that were getting really tricky and he knew exactly how … Sometimes there’s not the language to talk about music but because we all experience it in our own way, having someone there who understood what I was going for without too much talk, it was good.
Now, you’re on a major label – ABC Music, distributed by Universal. How has that been, because it’s a different beast to being independent?
It’s good for us to have people outside the band taking on some of the stuff that needs to be done and going into bat for us. It gives us a sense that we’re moving forward.
You’re playing show and you’re going out on a tour. Did you pull out a map and go ‘eeny-meeny-miney-mo’ or did you have a wish list of places to visit? How were the venues chosen?
You just feel it out in terms of how you think you’ll go there and how many people are going to turn up. It’s not an exact science. We just did a run of shows with Mick Thomas – we went to Sydney and Adelaide – and we feel like we might have made a few converts there. We were doing the support for him. We just try to play places that will have the most amount of people to turn up.
It is always tricky being a support act, because not everyone does turn up for the support – so if you feel you had converts, that’s a good win.
They were there pretty early. Mick Thomas’s fans are pretty ardent supporters. So we did play to them and they dug it. We felt like we had to win them over and I think we did.
You have some special guests on this tour – Charles Jenkins, Neil Murray and Freya Josephine Hollick, and some special guests TBA. How did you come to choose who to play with and where?
We played at a festival with Neil and he just came and said g’day. He’s a cool guy and he said he really liked the band, and asked us to get up and play with him. So we got up and played a song with him. We’re writing a song with him as well. So we made that connection with him and he sent us a demo. We’ve just finished that in the last couple of weeks, pretty much. So he’s coming along to do the shows, which will be fun. And then Chuck – or Charles – Jenkins, Luke loves Ice Cream Hands. Everyone references Ice Cream Hands but I’ve never really heard them and I love Chuck’s solo stuff. And Freya – I think Luke Richardson suggested Freya. We heard her stuff and thought she sounded cool.
When you go on the road, is it an opportunity to create new work?
[Laughs] No. Not at all. You’re just trying not to poison yourself with beer and meat pies from servos. That takes up all your time. You’re just trying not to be hungover. I can’t imagine writing a song on the road. It would just all be about coming home.
It also suggests that different energy that’s required to do those things. Live performance looks like it’s an hour and a bit on stage, but you have to ramp up and calm down afterwards, and there is a lot involved in performance which is antithetical to the creative process.
All the clichés about it are quite true. We do these little runs – we haven’t done any big major tours yet. We’ve gone to the [United] States and stuff, but we haven’t done months of tours. We’ve got a bunch of stuff in August so that will be a reasonable run for us, but we’ll be coming home in between: three-day, four-day runs. Even when you do that it’s that thing of an entire day is just dedicated to forty minutes or an hour. It’s quite funny. When you get up it’s a joy and everything’s fantastic, and then it is hard to wind down afterwards. That cliché of when you get offstage you can’t sleep. Particularly in Australia just the distances you have to go, it’s not for the faint hearted.
So you’re driving to these places?
Some we’ll be driving, some we’ll be flying. That can be fun too – we have a good time in the band.
You can use it as an opportunity for band therapy.
[Laughs] Band therapy on the Hume … Half of us would be hitching home.
My last question is about you and Amarillo [Nick’s other band]. Do you have a set rhythm where you go ‘this project/that project’ or do you let it sort itself out?
I let it sort itself out. Jacqui Tonks, my partner, she books gigs around the schedule of Raised by Eagles, pretty much. We’ve got some stuff coming up. We’ve changed things a little bit. We’ve been doing some different stuff where we’ve interpreting some classical music – I play it on a Jazzmaster and Jac sings some stuff. We’ve been doing some Eric Satie and writing stuff more with me playing rhythm guitar. So that’s been fun – and with Amarillo we feel like we can just do whatever we want. And we’ve been playing with Ben Franz on pedal steel, and a little less with the rhythm section and more with me, Jac and Ben, which has been really open. You can follow whatever you want to do with that band, which is nice, whereas Raised by Eagles if more contained and it has a thing, which is good too.
The bigger your Raised by Eagles audience becomes, it could be a bit of a bind in that people are expecting a certain sound and you are therefore locked into that sound.
We never think about it or talk about it in Raised by Eagles. It is contained but that’s kind of an unspoken thing – it’s just what the band is, if you know what I mean. We would never make a decision based on ‘this would be too weird’ – it’s just what the four people in it, their aesthetic is when we’re together. It’s funny – it just becomes what it is and there are boundaries where we would never say XYZ, it just kind of happens.
It sounds like you have a very interesting creative life. You’re open to a whole lot of different things and it can be easier to stick to what you know and if it’s been successful, to repeat it. It’s far more challenging and takes a lot more energy and brain space to go with what’s new – but the rewards are potentially so much bigger.
I think with this Raised by Eagles album, the themes on it are kind of larger and bigger. One of the songs I wrote, ‘Every Night’, it’s a bigger, anthemic sound and the themes are less personal and more archetypal and broad. The title track, ‘I Must Be Somewhere’, is about mortality. Luke wrote it. Lyrically it’s an incredible song.
And it does position it as an existential album.
Yes – and that’s when we got the cover for it. I wasn’t sure about it when we were throwing up ideas, but then it made sense. As it was forming I wrote this song ‘Every Night’ – it started off as this folky Steve Earle thing. I’d been reading about this movement called The Big Music – it was this kind of vague ‘movement’ from the ’80s. It was kind of Celtic, anthemic pop – bands like The Waterboys and Simple Minds and Big Country. That really big sound that has folk elements that come out through rock. I’d been reading about it because I liked all those bands from a distance, but once I’d finished that song I realised it was kind of like that [sound]. That song and ‘I Must Be Somewhere’ feel central to this album, to me. So it seems like a bigger album in more ways than one: the sound is bigger, Luke’s playing electric guitar, the themes are a bit weightier too.
It’s a natural progression as you get deeper into your songwriting and your cohesiveness as a unit. You become more comfortable going deeper – and it sounds like that’s your nature. You’re not complacent people. You are asking questions of yourselves and, therefore, of your audience.
Definitely. I feel that’s true. Hopefully it’s true.
Raised by Eagles tour dates:
Friday August 18
The Workers Club
90 Little Malop St, Geelong
Ph: 03 5222 8331
With special guests TBA
Tickets $10 + bf presale / $15 @ door. Tickets available here
Saturday August 19
The Croxton Bandroom
607 High St, Melbourne
Ph: 03 9480 2233
With special guests Neil Murray and Freya Josephine Hollick
Tickets $20 + bf. Tickets available here From 8pm
Friday August 25
Lefty’s Old Time Music Hall
15 Caxton St, Brisbane
With special guest TBA
Tickets available here . Doors 7pm
Saturday August 26
Mullumbimby Ex-Services Club
58 Dalley St, Mullumbimby NSW
Ph: 02 6684 2533
With special guest Ben Wilson (The Button Collective)
Tickets $20 presale / $25 at door. Tickets available here. From 7pm
Saturday September 16
Caravan Music Club
95-97 Drummond St, Oakleigh
Ph: 03 9568 1432
With special guest Charles Jenkins
Reserved Seat Presale $30 +bf / General Admission Presale $23 + bf / $25 @ door
Sunday September 17
Torquay Bowls Club
47 The Esplanade, Torquay
Ph: 03 5261 2378
With special guest TBA
Tickets $25. Tickets available here . From 3pm
Monday October 2
Semaphore Music Festival
Main Stage, Foreshore Reserve
Tix avail from July 30.
Gates open 12noon, RBE on-stage 5pm.