Fanny Lumsden

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Hatching A Plan – Not Playing With Chooks

By Gareth Hipwell

Fanny Lumsden – Edwina Margaret to her family – hails from the tiny town of Tallimba in the New South Wales Riverina. Tallimba is situated – as Fanny has herself been known to observe onstage, by way of clarification – “not far from West Wyalong”. For those unfamiliar with West Wyalong, (as the writer is!) Lumsden’s explanation of her hometown’s place in the world by reference to a relatively larger regional centre is telling. There are countless Tallimbas dotting Australia’s sprawling interior, the residents of which each point to their own West Wyalongs in an effort to situate their own quiet, cherished corners of the continent.

With her exquisite debut album Small Town Big Shot, Fanny Lumsden gives compelling insight into the experience of growing up in the bush, painting a bustling technicolour portrait of Tallimba and the people who call it home. Small Town Big Shot is about those things that make the nation’s rural hamlets both uniquely wonderful and familiarly confounding.

A true community effort, the album couches Fanny’s own sweet and earthy vocal in timeless, indie-pop-informed tunes, showcasing the talents of longtime backing band The Thrillseekers, along with producer, multi-instrumentalist and preeminent ‘go-to guru’ Matt Fell. Fanny spoke with Country Update while enjoying a brief spell at home in Sydney – taking a break from the road at the midway point of her sweeping annual Country Halls Tour 2015 (for further details of the tour, check out Countryline). As Lumsden explains, Small Town Big Shot was made possible by the generous support of family – Lumsden’s brother Thomas lends backing vocals here – and friends both old and new.

“We’ve just been working away at the whole Fanny Lumsden thing in a very ‘DIY’ way, right from the start,” Fanny explains. “We did a single a couple of years ago with Matt Fell – we funded it ourselves. He ended up coming into our house in Surry Hills to record that first single, which added to the whole DIY thing. We didn’t have to go far for breakfast while we worked! The idea of going on to do an album was really exciting – a big project – but then we had to find the money! So we did the crowd funding thing (through Pozible), which was just so amazing. I was blown away by how generous people are, and it was also such a great thing because it creates that community around your music, and what you’re doing in and around the scene. That’s the whole point – it’s sort of our theme, really. Dan, who plays banjo and guitar in the band, recorded all the demos, and we did all the arrangements ourselves, and I’m the one sending out all the emails.

Then Dan did all the photography and the artwork for the album. So it’s been a very DIY thing! The whole theme continued in the studio with Matt. It was an amazing experience working with him – he really allowed us space to be more creative. We just worked with people we like, basically! With our friends, and with people who have the same kind of ethos and ideals – who believed in creating a more community-based kind of project, rather than something we just ‘paid for and then it was done’.”

Small Town Big Shot traverses a stunning array of styles with utmost confidence – an impressive feat for an artist on debut – from the rousing folk-pop strains of opener ‘Bravest of Hearts’ (a dedication to Fanny’s farming lineage), to infectious country-crossover and lead single ‘Soapbox’, to the classic rock’n’roll heart of ‘Totem Tennis’. There are echoes of sepia-toned bush dance in the freewheeling ‘Weatherman’, and a Paul Kelly-coloured confessional in ‘Sunstate’. All galvanised by lashings of banjo and pedal steel, sweet harmonies, and upright bass, and underpinned by Lumsden’s deft eye for detail. It’s an album aglow with nostalgia, alternately stepping and swaying along to the gentle rhythms of small town life.

“It’s definitely about the realness of living in the country,” Fanny says of the record’s overarching project. “It’s got such a romantic ideal: people are always saying, living in the country must be so amazing, you must eat organic food all the time, and play with your chooks! And I’m like, not really – most of the time you can’t even get fresh food! I’m so proud of where I got to grow up, and I think that just painting a real picture of that was what I tried to convey.”

Having grown up in the tiny town of Berridale in the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales (population 800), the writer can attest to the realness of the picture Fanny paints with Small Town Big Shot. Tallimba lives and breathes here in the finest of lyrical flourishes: a husband whose simple pleasure it is to eat KFC on a Friday night; road-trippers sipping Fanta in the car; drinking tea on the porch; girls casting a second glance at the ‘guy behind the counter at the Shell servo’, and ‘nicking Juicy Fruit from the tuckshop at the pool’. It’s impossible not to be transported back in time and across hundreds of kilometres of suburbia and scrub to a place of low-slung hills that shelter tortured snowgums and peppermints; a place where night falls heavy on pavement and paddock alike and the earth gives back the scent of grass and lucerne – sometimes lush and green and freshly mown, but more often scorched and withered by the unforgiving sun. Fanny’s incisive reflections on the people of the bush also ring strikingly true.

…read the full interview in Country Update – Issue 79