Earlier this year – on 13 March, to be precise – Fanny Lumsden released her acclaimed third album, Fallow. The release came after an intense period in the life of Lumsden, her husband and collaborator, Dan Stanley Freeman, and her brother and band member, Tom Lumsden, when their home in the Upper Murray region of New South Wales was almost lost to the largest of the intense bushfires that consumed not just land but a great deal of the Australian summer, with the most dangerous period in the waning days of 2019 and early days of 2020. It also came on ‘COVID Friday’ – the day when it became apparent that Australia was about to lock down. Lumsden managed to have a magnificent last hurrah – the album launch in her local town of Tooma – but then she, along with the rest of the country, went home and stayed home. The timing was acutely bad, and obviously out of her control.
‘I’ve been through many emotions this year,’ she says of the run of events. ‘I feel like I’ve felt them all. [But] I feel pretty good right now. To be honest, I think I really needed lockdown. It was terrible timing with the album coming out the day everything was cancelled, and cancelling everything for the album was a bit of a blow. So it was a bumpy start and [we were] readjusting to that and expectations about stuff that we’d work towards, just like so many other people, I suppose.
‘But once I got my head around it and I just started slowing down … We’ve been working every day, we haven’t really had much time off, but in a really slow, normal kind of fashion,’ she says with a laugh. ‘But I think I’m becoming much more human. It’s taken me a few months to really wind down … I pushed it too hard. So I’m actually quite grateful.’
Prior to the fires, Lumsden and co toured for six months and were getting the album ready. ‘The exact time we were meant to have off was when the fires came,’ she says. ‘So then I went to a totally new level of stress that I’ve never felt before in my life, and then went straight into Tamworth and then straight back on tour and then put an album out. And, yes, adrenal fatigue was a thing I was dealing with, for sure.
‘But we’re good. Silver linings. I live in a beautiful spot. This last few months, I feel so lucky to be living where I live, even though I didn’t feel so lucky in January. And I’ve had my family around me and I’ve done so much stuff that I never had time to do. That I’ve never made time to do.’
Adding to the poignancy of the timing was that the second single ahead of the album’s release was ‘These Days’, a song that celebrates the often lazy stretch of time between Christmas and New Year.
‘I was looking back through my phone photos just the other day,’ says Lumsden. ‘The day the first fire, the Walwa fire, was burning down and we were watching was the day I did the callout [on social media]: “Show me where you are in your ‘these days’!” and then I screenshot them all for this competition. And obviously I just forgot about it because then we were fighting a fire for three weeks. The other day I was looking back through my phone thinking, Oh my god, I never finished that competition. I don’t think people care, but honestly, it was such a juxtaposition of brain space.’
After Lumsden had to cancel most of the album launch activity – including her tour – she did not mope but, rather, channelled her energy into live-streamed ‘Fanny Float’ shows on Facebook. The pivot wasn’t hard to make because, as she says, ‘I was charging. I was full steam ahead. I couldn’t have stopped anything at that point. The weekend the record came out, I was in such a mode of doing things. I couldn’t come down from that level.
So it wasn’t that hard to summon that [energy] at all, it was more that everyone was telling me to do less. In the house everyone was saying, “No, we can’t do that many things!” “Okay, we can try.” … I was frantically going at a pace at the start. I think a lot of people were. In those first few months I wanted to create as much as I could and do as much as we could. I wanted to service this record that I did not want to let slip through the cracks because I put so much into it and I was so proud of it. And I said, “We cannot let this just be swallowed by this.”‘
She acknowledges that, several months later, ‘everyone has had a bit of a Zoom and online fatigue after a while. And we did too, so we decided just to pull it back and make sure that we were also separating the fact that we can put stuff online for free, but we also would like people to pay for it again.’
Several of her fans were, in fact, asking to pay her for the Fanny Float shows, hoping an online tip jar or something similar would materialise. But it did not, with Lumsden saying, ‘It was fun for us too. And people got a lot of joy out of it. As long as people were still buying our record at that point, that was my main goal – just get the music out as far as we could. And,to sell the weird merch ideas that we’d come up with. So that was my main focus. If people supported us that way, that helped us in a lot of ways. It helped us more than just financial way. It was a multifaceted way to help. And people were really generous. They bought the record multiple times!’
Something else that Lumsden couldn’t have controlled was the fact that some of the songs on the album seemed to perfectly fit not just the experience of the fires but of the pandemic, including second track ‘This Too Shall Pass’.
‘It’s been so weird, the timing,’ Lumsden acknowledges. ‘I suppose the things that have happened have been heightened versions of normal life in terms of the record content being about “this too shall pass” and these kinds of things. The pandemic is just more of a collective experience than the fires, so it applies more broadly., But it has been a bit weird that that came out and all of the themes aligned so strangely.’
Lumsden has since rescheduled her tour dates for much later in the year, and when asked whether this was a decision made on instinct or because she didn’t want to have to reschedule them again, she says, ‘A bit of column A and column B. I was working with someone on my bookings for this tour, which was novel for me. And I just talked to a lot of people in the industry. A lot of big things were getting rescheduled for October, big festivals and stuff, and I didn’t want to clash with that, so I thought, Let’s go after that.
‘It was still an instinct thing. I just felt it would be better to go later and definitely be okay than risk it and go earlier. Especially for that tour, because in terms of venues it’s the biggest tour that we’ve ever booked. So I thought we have to get it right, and the more time we have to promote it, that will be good. And if we can, in fact, tour before then I have infinite amounts of ideas of the way we could tour to fill the space that wouldn’t clash with that.
‘And we have all these projects that we’re now doing, Dan and I, that are filling up our every day from home. I could just see how both of us had really needed this home time and how it was changing for us mentally. And I thought, I can’t devalue that at all. So I just need to make sure that we have space here for this, whatever this is, and hopefully we won’t have to reschedule.’
For the first time Lumsden is offering VIP tickets, and she says the VIP experience will be ‘kind of a little pre-party to the event and a bit of a hang.
‘We’re going to come out and play some songs acoustically and we’re going to share some footage of different stuff that we have. We’re going to do a Q and A bit. And then we’ll have other little fun surprises that will change up in each show, for each venue, so that people can’t really expect what’s going to happen.’
If instinct played a part in changing the tour dates, it is strongly to the fore when Lumsden chooses singles from the album, the latest of which is ‘Fierce’.
‘I kind of know from when we’re recording the album [what the singles will be],’ she says. ‘It’s more about how I want the narrative of the album to roll out to those who haven’t listened to it from start to end. So “These Days” I wanted to come out before summer and I wanted it to be out during the summer time. It felt like summer for me. It felt like a nice change of pace to introduce the new record. And “This Too Shall Pass” I chose specifically to be before the album came out because it really encapsulates the theme cinematically and I felt like it represented the record. And obviously “Mountain Song” is the album theme.
‘Those two songs are quite down in tempo and pace and vibe. So I wanted the next one to be quite up. We have had a strong response to “Fierce”, but that’s not really why I chose it. I’d always known that it was going to be the next single, because that was the next area I wanted to explore in the themes and stuff like that. It also depends on the time of year and, yes, on instinct.’
Lumsden and Freeman make all the videos for the singles, and also for other artists – a recent example of their work is the video for Rory Phillips’s ‘The Truth’. This work is on the continuum with everything else the pair does, with Lumsden saying, ‘It’s really holistic for me. Putting a record out isn’t just putting songs together … It’s creating a world around them and I really think about it in that way. And I love that part of it. I absolutely love creating a whole world around the record and really thinking about the songs and really thinking about what they mean and where they are and how they all fit together, and then how we can represent that in a visual way. And it’s really a much more holistic process to me. It’s not just, “Oh, we have a song – how do we make a clip for that?” It’s a much more whole-album kind of thing. I love albums because I just love creating this whole world and I’m resisting this move to single, single, single.’
Streaming services prioritise singles, and when artists want to be included on playlists the pressure is there for them to release singles rather than albums. Yet, Lumsden says, ‘I resist that “they won’t” vibe. I think there’s ways to change that thinking. Especially this year.
‘I’ve always been resistant to people saying “no” and then giving no reason, “just because it’s the way it’s done”. “Fierce” is getting added to playlists and the record’s come out, and I think if you just pitch it in new and interesting ways, there’s ways to kind of get around that. And obviously my main goal isn’t to get millions of streams on Spotify. I’m not playing that game at all. For me the whole world of an album is so important and creating my art and ideas in this way that people can share them, but so much more from them than just listening to one song in a playlist, [that’s] really important to me, and then incorporating the touring and everything like that.
‘So I think it’s looking at it in a different way and not looking at it as “streaming is the only way”. That’ll evolve. It always evolves, everything evolves. So I still think keeping what you want in focus is important.
‘If you ask people why they love country or folk music, they always say it’s the stories. And I think by honouring the stories and keeping that in your focus and keeping the narrative based in communicating that with people, rather than the metrics of Spotify and corporate. Obviously I’m very involved with the whole business side of it and industry side of it. And I love it. I love running the whole business. I find it fascinating. I listen to podcasts about the industry. However, the minute I start focusing on industry standards and the way things are done my mental health plummets and I don’t get joy in what I’m doing and I get less creative. But the minute we bring it back to “Okay, what are we doing? What are we like? How do I communicate these stories to people who want to hear them, or maybe people who don’t know about them, in different and interesting ways”, that’s when I just get so much more out of it.
‘I’m not anti platforms and anti that kind of stuff, I’m going to try and incorporate it the best I can, and if we get on some big playlist, it’s amazing. It’s so helpful. The power of that is great. However, I’m not going to sell the rest of it off just so I can get on some playlist.’
Part of creating that world of the album and the experience around are the Country Halls Tours that began in 2012 with a handful of halls in country towns. Periodically Lumsden opens applications for the tour – they’re open now – then commits to travelling as far around Australia as it takes.
When asked if she’s hoping for applications from any particular parts of Australia, she says, ‘We’ve had a bunch of WA halls apply, which is exciting. A run of that was meant to happen this year but obviously that can’t happen now. So we’ve opened it up again. So, NT and WA and a bit more SA. Tasmania we haven’t done much on the Country Halls Tour yet. And New Zealand – we’re hoping to take it over the next year as well. So I’m hoping that we get a bit broader reach. We’ll probably have to go a little bit more proactive, so they even know about it over there. But we’ve had a really strong response already, and it’ll be the case of, “Oh god, we can’t do all of them.” Which is the best problem to have, really. And this was all meant to happen this year, but we want to go to the UK and start exploring stuff over there with the idea to take the Halls Tour over there eventually.’
An integral part of all of Lumsden’s work is her brother, Tom, who is a member of the band and appeared – with Lumsden and Freeman – in the Fanny Float shows. When asked about the best and worst parts of working with a sibling, Lumsden laughs and says, ‘I don’t think you want to hear the worst’.
‘Being on the road a lot is gruelling. It’s hard work. I try to make it as real as possible online, but it’s hard work and it’s tiring, especially because we’re gunning it. And he is with us all the time. So for me ,having the support of somebody I don’t have to think about, and who I don’t have to be as considerate about …’ She laughs again.
‘He’s my brother, so we can fight and it doesn’t matter. So I have my husband, my brother and my son, we are in the car together all the time. Having someone who has my back, who knows me so well – and he believes in this as much as I do – I can’t tell you how grateful I am and how much that means to me to feel so supported. I have family around, which is lovely and it’s funny, and you have all the jokes that you have with siblings.
‘But I think that is the best and the worst of it, you know what I mean? For him, I think it’s the worst of it! He came on the road when our son was three weeks old and he was dealing with me pumping milk and freaking out because he’s pouring my milk into a bottle. Trying to feed the baby. One day we’d been driving, driving, driving, we had gigs and we were exhausted, and I had a newborn and I was driving and I was pumping milk into a bottle and I passed it back to him to feed this baby who was screaming – and he spilled it all over the seat!
‘[But] he’s invaluable in our whole business. He runs all of the merch and he’s funny. He’s the one who’s there at the end when I’ve gone back to the caravan and I’m chilling out, he’s still there talking to people, selling and packing down. Him and Dan. It’s very good.’
The Lumsden enterprise is a team one, but it would not exist without the songs at the centre of it and the magic Lumsden creates whenever she plays a show. If her family members are committed to the mission, it’s because the mission is worth committing to – it’s one that involves bringing songs and, now, videos that are unique and meaningful, and often funny and touching and heartbreaking, to listeners. That mission is the reason why Lumsden has so many fans, and that their numbers continue to swell.
Fallow is out now. Buy CDs here: www.fannylumsden.net/fannymerch
Tickets available from https://www.fannylumsden.net/fallow-tour
THURSDAY 5 NOVEMBER – MANILDRA SOLDIERS MEMORIAL HALL, Manildra NSW
FRIDAY 6 NOVEMBER – RED RATTLER, Sydney NSW
SATURDAY 7 NOVEMBER – STREET THEATRE, Canberra ACT
SUNDAY 8 NOVEMBER – MURRAH HALL, Murrah NSW
FRIDAY 13 NOVEMBER – OLD MUSEUM, Brisbane QLD
SATURDAY 14 NOVEMBER – MAJESTIC THEATRE, Pomona QLD
SUNDAY 15 NOVEMBER – ARMITAGE THEATRE, Toowoomba QLD
FRIDAY 27 NOVEMBER – CURBAN HALL, Curban NSW
SATURDAY 28 NOVEMBER – JUNEE ATHENIUM THEATRE, Junee NSW
SUNDAY 29 NOVEMBER – GRIFFITH REGIONAL THEATRE, Griffith NSW
FRIDAY 15 JANUARY – MEMO MUSIC HALL, Melbourne VIC
SATURDAY 16 JANUARY – MECHANICS INSTITUTE, Ballarat VIC
SATURDAY 23 JANUARY – CAPITOL THEATRE, Tamworth NSW