After another massive year The Wolfe Brothers are taking their Let’s Hit The Road Tour to the Tamworth Country Music Festival, playing one big show at Blazes Auditorium at West Tamworth Leagues Club on Wednesday 24 January at 8.30 p.m. They’ll be supported by NZ sensation Jody Direen.
Towards the end of 2017 I caught guitarist Brodie Rainbird on a rare day off and found out what he and the Wolfes, Nick and Tom, have been up to lately, and what’s ahead this year.
Hello and how are you?
I’m good. The boys and I are enjoying a few days at home – we haven’t had many of those this year.
Does anyone even recognise you any more?
[Laughs] They still hear from us. We don’t let them forget.
How was 2017 – what were the highlights? Were there any lowlights?
It’s been flat out. We’ve been over to Nashville for a month. We’ve written a new album. Then we came home and we started touring with Lee Kernaghan
. So we’ve done his tour, which is now over. In between all of those dates we’ve done our own dates. We started our own tour. And then in between all of that we’ve been spending time in Sydney recording the new album.
Is it unusual for you to record in Sydney?
Yes. We’ve recorded one song – it was with Matt Fell at Love Hz Studios. We recorded one of the first songs we ever put out with him, seven years ago. So we’ve done a full circle: we’ve been to Nashville, we’ve come all the way home.
And Matt is a very popular producer, especially for country music, so that’s a very good fit.
I’ll just say this, though: you haven’t heard Matt do stuff like this before. This is all brand new. It’s really pushing some boundaries.
Is it pushing some boundaries for you guys too?
Absolutely, yes. We said, ‘We want our boundaries pushed, Matt. We want it to be modern and new, and sound cool and really sleek.’ And he said, ‘Right, we can do this.’
Was that a decision you made after the songwriting process or as you went into songwriting did you think you’d push yourselves in a different direction – or into an evolution, shall we say?
It’s been on our minds for a while but it sort of came after the writing process. We came home and we weren’t sure who was going to do the album. We weren’t sure if we could afford to go back to Nashville or not, then decided not to. Then we thought, Well, who at home can do this? We actually did a duet with the Baylou girls and we heard that and thought, Oh wow – this is not like what Matt Fell normally sounds like. And that got us thinking, and it all worked out so well. The boys and I are incredibly happy with it.
It is a big decision, choosing a producer. In this case it’s had a big impact on your sound but that producer can also be a collaborator. And I would think that given you guys as a band are so tight, you’re so used to working with each other, it almost gives an extra significance to choosing a producer who can work with you and not upset your band dynamic.
Yes, that’s totally true. And we wanted someone who could grab the album by the balls and just do something with it. A lot of stuff we’ve done in the past we’ve tracked the band live all at the same time, to capture that live energy. And we were, like, ‘Nah, we’re going to do something completely different [this time].’ With Matt we’d lay a couple of bass tracks down, or guide tracks, then Matt would just go to town for three hours playing synths or creating crazy noises, and messing with vocals and doing all this crazy stuff that we’d never experienced before, and the three of us would just sit back and let him do it – ‘That sounds great, mate, just keep going.’ We didn’t even have a drummer in the studio until the first week was done.
Given how the band operates, you’re clearly highly organised, and I wouldn’t say you’re control freaks but there’s an element of that.
[Laughs] We’re under control.
It says a lot about the three of you as individuals and about the band that you’re prepared to sit back and say to someone else, creatively, ‘go to town’.
It was a completely new experience for us. It was like opening the door to another room and it was completely pitch-black dark, and we’re saying, ‘I don’t know what’s in here but I’m going in.’ As it unfolded there were a lot of times when Matt was sitting with a keyboard in front of the computer and we were sitting on the couch behind, and we would all look at each other and go, ‘Oh wow – that’s cool! He’s created a whole other hook in this song that we weren’t going to do.’ It quickly became evident that that was the right decision – that it was working.
Again, what interests me, having spoken to you – and Tom – over the past few years, as this band has grown its audience and its sound, I do find this aspect really fascinating. It seems as time goes on that you push yourselves. You push yourselves in terms of your work ethic – you work super hard, you’re prepared to do some travel and other things that some bands might find beyond them – and you keep evolving. You respect your core audience but you keep finding ways to challenge yourselves, to challenge your audience, and it’s all quite seamless. I suppose it could seem like an organic development but I also think there’s that real consideration of your audience there. You want to pay them the compliment of giving them something new without annoying them.
I couldn’t have said it better than that! I think as an artist you have to grow. There’s always exceptions to the rule, like AC/DC, and you don’t want them to change – you want them to have that sound – but there are other artists who need to evolve and grow, otherwise it becomes stagnant. It’s something you have to do. And we’ve want to do this for a long time. We’ve talked about it at length so many nights: ‘How are we going to do this? What are we going to do? Who’s going to do it?’ Eventually it all just unfolded in this beautiful way and we’ve got this fantastic album.
And for you as a musician, when you first started playing guitar – as a child, probably – were you always quite curious about doing new things, what was next, wanting to push yourself as a musician?
It’s funny you say that, because since I can remember – I started playing in primary school. I think we all did. We met each other in high school and started hanging out. We were the ones who went back a generation and wanted to hear old music, from the 80s and the hair metal. Van Halen and Def Leppard and Metallica – we wanted that stuff. We were so old-school for so long, then we’ve skipped and we’re now looking ahead. And I’ve only just realised that.
But I think it’s the case that you can look ahead because you’ve gone backwards. Having that lineage and that foundation as artists – even from a technical point of view, as a guitarist – to know what’s come before gives you the opportunity to play around. On a really basic level, if you now your scales and you can do your drills, then you’re free to improvise.
Absolutely. One thing, just as a personal thing on this album, previously – I’m not sure if Nick’s the same but I’ve always wanted to be a bit flashy on the guitar. As the albums have gone on I’ve matured a bit more and that has dropped off to the point where with this album, all the solos are not really solos, they’re just new melodies and new ideas to introduce to the song. There’s no shred, there’s no fast stuff, I just really enjoy adding to what the song is already.
Well, I’m very excited to hear the album – do you have a release date planned?
I imagine you have to carefully slot it in around a whole lot of other things that are already carefully planned for next year.
It’s so funny – you pick a date and then look into it and go, ‘Oh no, that’s coming out then and this is on then. What about the week after? No, well, that’s happening …’ And eventually you push it so far back that it’s so far away it’s so pointless. Why is it so hard to find a good week to release an album? It’s weird.
I’m genuinely curious about whether you all sit down and open up your calendars and plan twelve months ahead, or a little more. You seem to be highly planned well in advance.
The key with that is Stephen White Management
. We’ve got such a great management team – we’d be absolutely screwed without them. They do the bulk of that work while we’re out creating and playing and just being artists. They’re in the office organising all this stuff and researching, booking stuff and things like that. We wouldn’t exist without that.
Also, of course, your schedule has to integrate with Lee Kernaghan’s a lot of the time. So another year of playing with Lee and also playing your own stuff – I keep expecting you guys to keel over but I can only imagine that you’re extremely fit.
[Laughs] I feel like we’re about to keel over now, actually, we’ve been so busy. In the last three weeks we’ve only had a handful of days at home. The last month, actually. And before that it was just fly-in, fly-out constantly every week. I changed my insurance and rang my insurance company to say, ‘I don’t drive to work any more so I don’t need to pay extra money for that.’ They said, ‘Well, how do you get to work?’ I said, ‘I catch planes.’
Some day in the near future there needs to be a Wolfe Brothers jet.
Oh, now you’re talking.
And you need to find a little airfield in Tassie somewhere, where you can park it and you can just leave your cars there in the meantime, come and go.
That would be so handy.
Now, I’d better move on to your Tamworth show. You’ve got the one at Blazes, which is, of course, a key venue. So what can your fans expect?
We really want to turn it on for Tamworth. The boys and I get more and more excited for Tamworth as it goes on. It’s almost become a bit of a thing for us. It used to be a lot of work and now it’s, ‘Oh Tamworth – party time.’ [Laughs] Because we’re only doing the one show we really want to focus all our energy and attention on that and make it something really worth remembering.
I like the way you say you really want to turn it on for Tamworth like you haven’t in the past.
Just another 10 per cent. Every year another 10 per cent.
I’ve even seen you play the Peel Street Fanzone, three songs in the middle of the day, and you guys were on. I don’t imagine it’s easy to switch on that energy but it seems like you have a good mechanism for switching it on.
We come from the school where you play for three hours in a pub. That’s hard work. Then you get up on Peel Street and play three songs and it’s, like, ‘This is so easy.’
I would even suggest that one set at Blazes seems easy compared with three hours.
It’s so cool – we’ve worked so hard and done those long-hours gigs. Consecutive, too. I remember one weekend we went up north – we did a Friday gig, we came halfway down and did Saturday at the Lakes. We all got very drunk and were very hungover. Then on the way home we did a three-hour gig at a fair on a Sunday. That’s where we’re from, that’s what we do. So just to have a bit of success and just to do that one set, that’s so cool. That’s where you want to be.
The challenge with that is that you’re several albums into your career and you have a new album coming. Is there any argy-bargy over the set list?
Not really. It’s one thing we all tend to agree on, because we all know what works and we’ve done it a lot now. It’s an experience thing, I think. Nick and Tom especially are really good at reading crowds, so when we change the set list and it does or doesn’t work, they’re usually pretty switched on and they figure it out pretty quick.
Again, that’s a level of dedication to and awareness of your audience, and I think that’s been key to the Wolfe Brothers the whole way along, that idea that you are there to entertain, and certainly when I’ve seen you play that seems to be the mantra. It’s almost like you stand backstage and chant, ‘We will entertain.’ It’s that humility of the long-term artist as well – realising that you are in service to your audience. You might think, I really want to play that song, but if it’s not resonating with the audience it has to go.
Exactly. That’s so important, to be able to connect, because once you have that connection with an audience there’s a beautiful energy exchange that happens between artist and crowd. And everyone wins when you really nail a gig -it’s awesome.
Sometimes egos get in the way – not so much in country music, but a lot of artists can hang on to an idea of This is what I want to do. So I do think it is an achievement to get past that.
I’ve never really thought of it like that. There’s three of us, so we have each other to keep us on the ground.
And with this show you have Jody Direen on the bill with you. She was on your This Crazy Life tour a little while ago, so obviously you all got on.
We love Jody. We absolutely love her. We were her band as well when we played that tour, and to me one of the highlights of that tour was playing her songs, sharing the stage with her. She’s just electric. She’s amazing. Such a voice.
I interviewed her a little while ago and she has a really interesting story too. I think she’s a terrific artist.
Have you heard her song ‘Spitfire’?
Probably. But I listen to a lot of songs and I don’t always remember their names!
Honestly, the best part of the entire night was playing ‘Spitfire’.
So you’re Jody’s band, you’re Lee’s band – who else are you playing for?
Who haven’t we played for? We’ve been Gord Bamford
’s band when he comes out. We’ve played with Troy [Cassar-Daley], Lee obviously, TaniaKernaghan
I think the moral of the story is that you guys just love to play.
Yeah. We’ve been James Blundell
’s band, which was really cool. Heaps of stuff. It’s kind of one of our tricks, that we can do that.
It’s more than a trick, it’s an artform. It’s extra rehearsal time too.
It’s at the point now where we can all learn the songs at home, go to the gig and at soundcheck, if it’s only a small appearance, we can run the songs at soundcheck and it’s all good, we’re ready to go.
That is such a hard thing to do. But you’re professionals, so you can do that. But my time’s about to run out so I’m going to take a hard turn and ask you two things about Tasmania. The first is, what is the best thing about Tasmania?
The first thing that comes to my mind is when I get off the plane in Hobart, when I first step out of the plane, and that cool, thick, fresh air hits your face. That is the best thing.
And the thing you miss the most about Tasmania when you’re travelling?
The fact that there’s no traffic. We spend a lot of time in Sydney and it is ridiculous.
The Wolfe Brother’s latest album is This Crazy Life.