‘Now it’s raining on the Hawkesbury, it’s slippery on the road, and she’s dialling up another song he doesn’t know. Some girls quite like country music, but that’s not so common now…’
So sings Lachlan Bryan on ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Middle Aged Man’, the second track of Bryan and band the Wildes,’ fourth studio outing Some Girls (Quite) Like Country Music. A terse vivisection of a mid-life crisis, it’s a cautionary tale of striking fatalism veined with a wicked streak of black humour.
“I thought the title was funny,” Bryan says of the line that became the album’s banner. “The fact that it comes in probably the most serious song, that’s like my little in-joke within the band. We fully expected that people would probably go, ‘Oh, yeah, this is going to be a lighthearted, silly country record’. And it’s definitely not. I feel like, coming from Melbourne, too, we’ve always been those people who say, ‘Yeah, we play country music’, and people go, ‘Oh, yeah, I…kinda…sometimes…like country music.’
We’ve always been that band that people have looked at funny.
Although there are heaps of bands down in Melbourne now that are exactly like us. Now everybody plays country music …and we all look the same, as well!”
Bryan himself has had more than enough to occupy him since previous album The Mountain landed in 2015. In January, the storied singer-songwriter reprised his tutoring role at this year’s Academy of Country Music.
“I got to hang around with Kevin Bennett, Ash Dallas and Lyn Bowtell for a couple of weeks, which was fun” Bryan says. He has also spent ample time behind a desk: both as a producer, and as a freelance film editor. Alongside which, Bryan has found time for repeat trips to the Wildes’ adoptive second home of New Orleans, and to collaborate with that city’s the Roamin’ Jasmine. Through it all, Bryan somehow found time to pen some of the Wildes’ most expansive songs to date, marshalling the many and varied characters that populate Some Girls.
“When I first got into music, lyrics were really important to me,” Bryan explains. “I would pore over liner notes. I would even read lyrics to songs that I didn’t know the tune to. Over the last couple of years, I’ve found myself wanting to write bigger stories, wanting to write harder-hitting things; wanting to write less love songs!
I’m always looking for something more interesting to say, and a broader canvas. Perhaps working in the film world a bit has made me think about bigger stories, higher stakes. That’s why I had the idea to write ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Middle Aged Man’: I wanted to write something that had consequences. Something that wasn’t just a song about how I’m feeling. I wanted to write a song about stuff that happens.”
As the title of ‘…A Middle Aged Man’ suggests, adjustment to maturity was something of a muse in the writing of Some Girls.
“For a while now, I’ve definitely wanted to write adult songs,” Bryan explains. “And I feel like most of the music I listen to is written by adults.
Often, old men actually. I really like people like James McMurtry and Chip Taylor. I don’t feel like they could have written the songs they’re writing when they were any younger. So I’m trying to write the oldest songs that I can possible write! In the singer-songwriter world, the people I want to hear from are the really experienced people who’ve seen it all. I’m starting to feel like I’ve seen a bit – although I have not seen it all!
But the more I see, the more qualified I feel to write better songs. It’s just taking me a while to get there. I’m a sheltered kid from Melbourne. I didn’t have a very tough childhood or anything to draw on!”
Despite which, Bryan mined plenty of material to draw on across the length and breadth of Some Girls, interrogating human fears, phobias and foibles with typical keenness and poise. Looming apocalypse – environmental, social, epochal – moves Bryan’s narrator to blind hope in dusky opener ‘I Hope that I’m Wrong’, while ageless hillbilly ballad ‘Peace in the Valley’ chronicles the disappearance and return of a prodigal daughter ensnared by the fatal pull of city life, as her own wayward father grapples with his own inconstancy. Yet for all of its thumbed notes and forlorn chords, Some Girls also boasts lashings of Bryan and band’s glorious, trademark alt. country affirmation, as in the lilting ‘Careless Hearts’ with its easy amble, low-down guitars and mouth organ; delicate duet ‘The Basics of Love’ with Shanley Del, and banjo- and- fiddle emboldened dancehall shuffle ‘It Tears Me Up (Every Time You Turn Me Down)’.
…read the rest of the story in Issue 88.