There’s a fair bit of coverage of Tasmanian band the Wolfe Brothers on this site, and there’s a reason for that: they’re great. Complete professionals who put on amazing live shows and continue to evolve because they want to make the best music they can. It is always a pleasure to interview them, and this time I chatted Tom Wolfe about their headline show at The Albert on 23 January during the 2019 Tamworth Country Music Festival, and about yet another big year during 2018.
It’s been yet another year of underachievement for the Wolfe Brothers: five Golden Guitar nominations, an ARIA nomination and national tours. When are you guys going to start putting in some work?
That’s a great question! One of the things we’ve been really good at is a great work ethic and I don’t know whether that comes from our parents but we’ve always kept gigging, kept working, kept writing … and it’s really cool. It’s really nice to see all this hard work starting to pay off a bit, with these nominations – especially at the ARIAs, it was so nice to be there and be a part of that. It was really gratifying. It felt like we were doing the right things.
The ARIA nominations in that country music category were a good representation of Australian country music. I was really pleased to see Fanny Lumsden in there with you guys and the others.
Absolutely. One of my favourite country music albums of the year has been Fanny’s album [Real Class Act]. It’s a fantastic album. But you’re right: we’ve really grown in Australian country music and we’re now recognising that diversity is the key. And the key is also picking each other up instead of putting other people down. That’s how we really feel, and I feel like we’ve had a lot of support this year, so that’s been really, really nice.
As a band you’ve always been on the side of positivity. The industry in general is supportive and positive, but the amount of energy you put out as a band and as individuals into the industry and into the world, really, is now coming back – which is great to see.
I think so. We do try to do that and it’s really nice to hear that. It’s been one of our mission statements from day one, to put that out to the world. You put out what you get back.
With five GG nominations, would you prefer to win one over the other or would anything be good?
We don’t. We’ve lost every nomination we’ve ever had, so far. We’ve never won a GG. So we’re going to take anything we can get [laughs]. There’s some really proud noms in there. If there’s any we’d really love to win, it would be Best Song or Album. Song [for ‘Ain’t Seen it Yet’] would be really special – what we’re singing about, what we’re doing, that’s us, that’s who we are, and to see it’s connecting with so many people, it’s amazing. But I’m just hoping we can walk away with one.
You changed direction with the new album – it would have been a creative risk and a bit of a business risk, because it was different for your fans, but it clearly has worked beautifully.
I think we took everything we’ve learnt so far off the first three albums and we were ready for a change. We were really ready to evolve, to see where we could take this thing. Working with [producer] Matt Fell was a great decision. I think we pushed him, he really pushed us, and I think the end result is our best work to date. The one thing we keep hearing is that it’s the first time you can hear three country boys from Tasmania and where they’ve grown up. I think there’s a real sense of us in it, which is really exciting.
One of the hallmarks of the Wolfe Brothers is that you tour a lot. How many places did you play this year? Or you may not have been keeping count, because there are so many.
I would like to know that. I know we’ve been to every state and territory this year. There was one three-month period where we didn’t have a weekend off. December was meant to be a month off but we’re gigging every weekend now. We’ve been out probably 80 per cent of the weekends of the year, probably more. It’s been great. Obviously we’ve toured a lot with Kerny [Lee Kernaghan] over the year as part of his tours, but this year we really stepped out – we took our own tour, the Country Heart tour, we had some sellouts and some really full houses all around the country, and that was really encouraging for us that we’re doing the right things and this is really working. Some of the best shows we’ve ever done have been this year on this tour. I’m excited to see what next year brings.
In a year of many good things, is there one thing you could single out as being the best thing?
The ARIAs were a good night – being nominated was pretty cool. The GG noms were pretty cool. It’s really hard to say. There have been so many shows where it’s really connected, which, for us, is really what it’s all about. Pretty much every one of the Country Heart shows have seen the audience really connect with what we’re trying to. say, and that’s what it’s about. We’ve got these songs that are us and who we are, and just seeing it connect with so many people has been awesome. So that’s probably been the big highlight. Actually, Jimmy Barnes did come up and say hello to us [at the ARIAs]. We were happy with that one! [laughs]
You’ve had the Country Heart tour with Grd Bamford and Jody Direen – did they behave themselves?
They did. Jody’s a bit of an underdog. She’s very tame and she warms up singing, and really takes the time to do it right – but then at the end of the tour just went crazy. It was great.
She was on the earlier Crazy Heart tour, so obviously you knew her, but what made you pick her for this latest tour?
She has so much energy. She gives a lot of energy on stage. If you’re sitting in the audience and you’ve never seen this artist, and all of a sudden this beautiful New Zealand girl comes running out, singing and dancing for you, that’s got to be cool. And that’s what Jody does night after night. It was a pleasure to have her on the road – she’s just so easy to get along with.
And Gord, of course, you’ve now had quite a long relationship with. He’s talked about you guys going to Canada to play with him – is that still on the cards?
That is still on the cards and it looks like it’s going to happen, so we’re pretty excited for that. We’ve never been to Canada. We’d love to see it. We’ve been to the States and toured through the Midwest, but we’ve never been to Canada even on a holiday.
Has this association with Gord led to any creative collaborations?
Nick [Wolfe] and Gord have written a few songs together, and we’re hoping Gord might cut one for his next album. Gord’s a great songwriter and Nick’s a fantastic songwriter, so the two of them together have bashed a couple of really cool things out. We’d actually really like to do some form of duet over the next couple of years – it’s about finding the right song that really suits us both. We don’t want to do something for the sake of doing it. So that’s what we’re doing now – trying to find that right song.
You mentioned Nick and, of course, you work when your brother – does that mean when you get to Christmas you think, Nuh – not having lunch with him – I’ve seen him enough?
It’s really funny – we all spend so much time together but even on Christmas Day we all see each other. It’s nice to see each other out of the work environment. We come home out of the gigs and we can sit down and have a beer together, so that’s really fun.
Your parents must have done a really good job, because it’s quite something to work with your sibling – and the McClymonts do this as well – to have that elasticity in your relationship, in and out of work and family. It’s unusual, I think.
It really is unusual. I think it’s really lucky that we all get on. Brodie [Rainbird, guitarist] is definitely sometimes the voice of reason between the two of us. But, honestly, we get on very well. We always have, which is really cool because I know there’s some siblings who can’t. We have our moments but that’s normally the boys getting frustrated with me. Maybe being in a van with them for six hours they think, I’m over you, Tom. Please be quiet[laughs].
Your Tamworth show will be at the Albert Hotel – what do you like about that venue?
Tamworth’s changed a lot over the last few years, and obviously we’ve changed, and we’re wanting to do something different for this festival. The Albert seems to be a newer venue that people are getting a bit excited about and maybe bringing some newer, younger fans to the genre. So we’ve decided to do our show there. It’s going to be great. We’ve got Gord, we’ve got Jody. It’s a car park show in a marquee, and that’s what we do, in a live sense, to a T. It’s going to be the right environment, without a doubt. It’s going to be rocking. We’re really excited.
Obviously Tamworth is a really busy time for acts like you because you have media to do and other things, but are there any other artists you’re hoping to see play?
I really love Fanny’s album and I’ve never seen a Fanny Lumsden gig, so I’d like to see her. If I can find a little bit of time to go out and try to find some new acts, I’d really like to. I was looking on Instagram the other day and I saw this group called The Buckleys – I think they must be siblings. They put up this cover of them doing ‘Benny and the Jets’ in the car, and I thought, These guys are really cool!So if they’re there, I’d like to see them.
The festival will kick off the year but I imagine you’re already well programmed into 2019, so what’s coming up?
A lot of shows. No rest for the wicked. We’re playing New Year’s Eve, and as soon as that’s done we’re going to Queensland for three shows – Brisbane, Ipswich and Rockhampton – just because we’ve had so much support up that way. Then Tamworth, and a lot more touring. We’ll go to places we haven’t been on the Country Heart tour. It’s exciting. We’re loving that we get to go out on our own and do these shows, playing to crowds, and have people connect with it the way they are. It’s just been so good. It’s so gratifying.
Does this mean Lee has to find himself a new band?
[Laughs] Maybe not quite yet. We’ll go back out and do more shows with Lee. We have the best time making music together. We’re good mates. It’s been a great working relationship that we all really enjoy. We get to the end of the show and we can have a laugh. It makes touring and gigs very easy when you can do that.
And he gets a very professional band to play with him.
When he first took us on, from then to now, good on him for doing that. Where we were six years ago, we were well and truly thrown in the deep end [laughs]. But we got through it.
As my final question: what are you most proud of about the Wolfe Brothers and the journey you’ve been on thus far?
It’s not one thing but it’s probably that we’ve got to where we are by being us. I think that’s really important. It might have taken us a few years to figure out who we were, and if I listen back to the first few albums I can kind of hear that – I can hear moments when we’re right on it and some when we’re figuring out who we are. But I think with this album we know who we are, we know where we’re from, and we’re pretty proud of that. When I went to the ARIAs and I watched Kasey [Chambers] speak, saying, ‘I’ve only ever been me’, I thought, That’s so right, isn’t it?You have to do you the best and that’s what we’re trying to do.
The Wolfe Brothers’ latest album is Country Heart, out now.