Luke O’Shea

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Caught Up In The Dreaming

By Paul McBride

With a sixth album, Caught Up in the Dreaming, set for a January release and a heavy touring schedule locked in, Luke O’Shea is a very busy man indeed.

While many artists in a similar position would be tinkering with songs day and night, O’Shea decided this would be exactly the right time to escape the daily grind and immerse himself in the landscapes and cultures that weave their way through the rich tapestry of his music.

“I just had a really special four months with my wife and three daughters,” he says. “Mainly spending a lot of time up around the Kimberley, Ningaloo and the Coral Coast. It was a chance to steal time; a chance to remember what it’s all about and to spend time with ones I love in this magnificent backyard we have. We’re normally all so flat stick and running around like chooks.”

Like many of the best Australian singer-songwriters, O’Shea focuses on telling stories about the land and people on which the history of the country stands. His songs are at once evocative and revealing, and are influenced by the beauty and defiance of the work of artists and musicians past and present.

“I met up with so many exceptional Australians out there,” he says. “I travel incessantly around Australia and you do start to acknowledge the really distinct regions we have. I also began to identify the magnificent Australian artists out there, be they poets, painters, authors or songwriters. We are greatly shaped and inspired by our landscapes, and so it was great to meet mates, total strangers and people who struck me as being unique to their geography and their art; people like Warren H. Williams in Alice Springs, Tom Curtain in Katherine, Al Pigram in Broome, and Tim Winton in Exmouth. Everyone’s stories are remarkable, and they’re united in [thinking] just how magnificent this country is. Family and music are first and foremost to me, but as I get to travel around, it makes sense to share the beauty of what you see and the marvellous people you meet; that’s worthy of being sung up.”

OShea says of the title track, “Connection to land and the elements is paramount for all humans. – for me it is when I feel most alive and invigorated.  To inundate yourself in wonder – makes life wonder-full. With loss of connection comes loss of respect and sadly we don’t have to look too far to see what damage occurs when greed and consumerism dictates what’s important. This song was written to remind us of the ancient pulse of this continent – although European settlement is infantile compared to our indigenous brothers and sisters – we are all people of the sun and if we allow ourselves the time – you can truly feel the power of this land.”

It’s safe to say it’s been an eventful twelve months for the Sydneysider. After winning three Golden Guitars at the CMMAs in January, he took part in a well-documented protest against the Whitehaven coal mine in north-western New South Wales with his father, Rick. There isn’t a single hint of regret in his voice when he relates the story of his arrest after chaining himself to a water pump.

“It was a pretty crazy time after the success with the Golden Guitars,” he says. “After the action my father and I took, 99% of the feedback was really positive. Most people understood the reasons why I was doing it. The song I won the male vocal for, ‘Sing You Up’, clearly stipulates what side of the fence we stood on when it comes to coal mining and CSG, particularly in our food-producing regions, where they’re putting the water tables at risk. I’ve never not pretended to be totally against that, so people understood my political stance when it comes to protecting our food and water in Australia. With that level of media spotlight after I was thankfully successful at Tamworth this year, it would have been the height of hypocrisy if I had not shone that spotlight on a cause that needs a lot of attention and awareness from the general population. We had to show it was warranted. Also, I have to walk my talk. I can’t have a song about the country without acting upon it. It was the right action, and the fact it was taken on land where my father was born made it deeply personal.”

Long-time fans of O’Shea will recognise the theme of appreciating, and drawing inspiration from, the natural environment in his music; a subject he examines further on the new album, most notably with ‘My Country My King’.

“‘Protect food and water for our sons and daughters’ is a line from that,” he says. “I think there’s a growing concern in Australia that our leaders are selling us out. And I don’t subscribe to the idea of a monarchy because we like to see in Woman’s Day and Women’s Weekly what outfit [the Queen] is wearing. It has to be far deeper; a real love, respect and vision for Australia. I’m a fierce and proud republican; I want Australia to stand on its own legs and I can’t understand this holding-on to old ways, so my country is my king. I know we’re going to be faced with a change of monarch soon and I can’t think of a better time to bring up the discussion of a republic again in Australia. I want our political leaders to be brave and strong enough to fight for the people who vote them in – Australians. I feel we currently lack any clear vision for the future other than kowtowing to enormous, and seemingly lawless, multinational mining corporations. With 87% of all mining profits going to overseas shareholders – we are an international joke! ”

Australia – time to wake up – Our world needs a shake up!

When asked about finding the right level of politicisation in his music, O’Shea lets out a larrikin chuckle.

“Obviously you’re at risk of dividing your audience by having that stance, but what are they going to do, not buy another one of my CDs? They’re going to continue not buying my CDs [laughs].”

It is this clear purpose and sense of striving for a better future that drives much of what O’Shea does, but he is equally connected to the Australia of the past. It is a mixture which adds another level of depth to Caught Up in the Dreaming.

“From travelling across the country, you really feel the connection to the place and how powerful it is,” he says. “We are so young, the European settlement on this land, and we’re only starting to understand its power and beauty. There’s good mojo in that, and if we can build that respect for the land, then perhaps we won’t be so quick to rape and pillage it and send it off overseas. I really want to build that respect for this country, and hopefully it catches on.”

…read the full interview in Country Update – Issue 79