the AU interview: Darren Hanlon (Australia)


Last Friday, Darren Hanlon’s anticipated new album I Will Love You At All was released nationwide. Ahead of the release, I got a phone call from the man himself, and we chatted about the new album, songwriting, SXSW (who wasn’t there in 2010, seriously!?), signing to a US label, and why playing in Tippaburra was such a memorable experience.

Larry: Hi Darren, thanks for speaking to us at the AU review! Where abouts are we speaking to you?

Darren: I’m up in Lismore, staying with friends, writing songs.

How’s the weather treating you?

It’s dreary. Good songwriting weather!

So you’re already working on new material?

Yeah. Well I’ve got some time off (ahead of my album release and tour), and so I just thought I’d write some songs for B-sides and all that sort of stuff.

Is that a process you enjoy?

I enjoy it when it’s finished. Some of the songs on the new album bordered on painful. If they come easy it’s an amazing feeling, but when each song is finished it is great.

So you released Pointing Ray Guns at Pagans in 2009, and now have the new album out less than a year later – has it been pretty constant songwriting over the past couple of years?

No, I had a bit of a break from it. Almost compulsory! Because when Candle Records folded, I had to move into the business side of things and work out how I was going to exist. I thought about – well, not giving it up, just changing my life a bit. Because I didn’t know how I was going to do it.

I got approached by a few major labels, but I just didn’t want to go down that track either. So it’s taken me a couple of years just to find my feet. So that time was quite distracting. And the Pagans album was like a collection of songs – some new, most old: songs that had gone out of print. But I basically collected a bunch of songs, there were heaps to choose from, and I put out an album. And now I’ve found my feet again, I’ve got a good team, I’ve got a good friend who’s managing me, and a US label. So I can kind of now turn my back a bit on the business, and just concentrate on creating again.

Well in 2008, you formed Flippin’ Yeah after Candle Records folded – was that a highly involved process, almost to the point of the distraction you speak of?

At times it did feel like that, but all we basically had to do was get the website together. And it had to be so simple that your grandparents could run it and use it. To build up that trust in people – it’s a business! You want them to come back, you want the experience to be good for them.

So I went through a stage of trying to find someone to run the actual shop, and you’d get these work experience people who wouldn’t send the CDs for a month or something. And I’d be on tour going, hang on... when I’d see all these e-mails going “where’s my album!” Simple jobs to do, but it was hard finding the right people to work with. So much trust involved – bank accounts and all that boring stuff. You don’t want anyone running off to the Bahamas... *long pause*... not that there’s enough money for anyone to do that! *laughs* Maybe Fraser Island.

You mentioned briefly the US label you’re signed to, Yep Roc Records, how did they come into the fold?

Well my new manager sent it out to some labels, and they were the ones that got back straight away and said, “oh yeah, we heard about that guy, way back in 2002, with Hello Stranger – is he still around?” And so he sent them all the back catalogue, and they were really amazed that I had all these songs, that they hadn’t heard. They’re really big fans of singer/songwriters. They’re the ones on their label – Billy Bragg, Paul Weller and Robyn Hitchcock, guys like that.

You’re in good company!

Yeah! And so when we met them, we just got along really well. They’re just nice people. I only ever work with people I get along with! They’re just passionate about getting their music out there.

And so is this the second or first record out through them?

No, this is the first one! It hasn’t really happened. The deal is done, but they will release it a month or so after Australia.

Was you SXSW trip more a bit of business trip along those lines?

Yeah! And it was an experience. I’d never been before.

I caught you briefly at the Sounds Australia booth (pictured above).

It was so funny that one! As soon as the pies disappeared, so did the crowds! It’s a place where dreams are made and shattered.

So what did you take from that experience as an artist?

You’ve got to leave your ego at the city limits, and just go in and grit your teeth and have fun! I’d heard it’s a party 24 hours a day, and I thought it sounded like a nightmare! You know that feeling you get when people say to you “you HAVE to have fun! Next week you will have FUN!!” It’s kind of like New Years Eve for a whole week, the pressure to have fun. I hate that. But once you get there, you actually do get swept up in it, and you have so much fun.

I very much agree. Once you walk down 6th Street – the music you’re bombarded with, it's pretty overwhelming.

And all the things that are great about it are what is horrible about it too. Like you CAN see 200 bands play, but then you spend all your time wanting to see the next band, so your attention is never focused on anything.

But yeah, it was fun. I got to hang out with a lot of Australian musicians I wouldn’t normally hang out with. You’re thrown together on these stages, and you end up hanging out and drinking and getting to know each other, and next thing you know you’re playing at a taco stand in front of three people. As I said, egos have to be left at the door!

Were you performing material off the new album at the taco stand?

I did play a supermarket actually! It was pretty cool. Um, yeah, a little bit! Yep Roc were there and they wanted to hear the new songs. They hadn’t heard the new album at that stage. I’d flown straight there from the studio. So there were bracing themselves – “we’ve signed this guy but we haven’t heard the new stuff!”

The first gig I played, I was quite nervous about it too, because this is the first real label I’d ever been involved in. So I wanted it to work for them as well. So they told me which gigs they were going to come to, so they wouldn’t be at my official gig, but they actually did turn up to that one. So I quickly had to, in my mind, change my setlist and make sure I played ones that I wanted them to hear. And I could hear all these drunk people heckling me up the back – and it was them!

*laughs* Just seeing you work under pressure?

Well I’ll tell you what, they’d seen me work under pressure, because the last gig they came to as well, it was this Aussie – that is one thing that bugs me about it, there’s this whole “Aussie – big drinking!” thing, there’s no subtlety. These Australian events, they’re in these beer swilling venues, so if you are a softer singer/songwriter, it could just be a disaster. So my last show, we walked in and it was this Irish bar and there were people just wasted, watching sport on the television. It was this Guinness afternoon event. I assume Paul Dempsey played it as well, and a few others, and I was the last act I think.

I walked in there and just went – Oh God, this is going to be tough. But luckily I’ve had a bit of experience out in outback towns, I’ve grown up playing in pubs in country towns, so we just pulled out all the stops and it went well. So I think Yep Roc were very impressed, they were just happy I just made it through without being eaten alive. And then it was free booze all afternoon! So that was our reward.

I made the mistake of booking an early flight after the last night there. I went to the Perez Hilton party and let’s just say the amount of booze they were serving for free was possibly criminal! But Snoop Dogg and Hole played, so it was well worth it.

Isn’t it funny, how we were all there, at the same festival, but we all had such different experiences,

I left Austin smelling of booze, cigarettes and vomit, and all I could think was: I can’t wait to come back and do it all again next year.

Will you be back?

That’s the plan!

Yeah, I’ll be back next year too.

So with the new album, because it’s your first fully original album since you started up your own label, how did the process of recording the album compare to some of your earlier works, when you were on Candle Records?

Well it was pretty much the same, because it has taken me a while to get back into it. It just felt so good that I knew someone was at home, here, running the label for me now. I guess the writing process was fairly similar, I just locked myself away and did it. So there wasn’t that much difference.

Do you feel that there’s a change in tone with the album?

Yeah definitely. The songwriting has changed quite a bit. I’m not trying to be too clever with the songs. I really wanted to keep things simple. Even with the chord progressions. There’s one song that goes for 8 minutes, and it’s only got two chords the whole way through. They’re little experiments the whole way through! Trying to keep things simple, a bit more direct, a bit less clever or smart alec. And get more emotion across at the same time.

And you’ll be touring it around in August, a pretty substantial tour across the country. You were talking before about growing up playing the country pubs - How do the country shows compare to the city shows for you? Do you have to mix things up a bit?

Definitely. Well in the city, I think people are more forgiving. In the country, people go out for a night out – it’s an event. They want to be entertained. And some shows we did last year were in the deep outback, I mean we had to do covers to survive. So that took me way back to when I was playing in cover bands as a teenager! I hadn’t done that since then.

We just really wanted to see some of these towns. I was surprised though - some places like Broken Hill, we didn’t have to play a cover all night, people came that knew the songs. Dubbo, too. But the smaller towns, like Whitecliff and Tippaburra, where we actually played on the street. They set us up outside the pub. People drove from pubs in properties miles away, so we had to play some stuff that they knew. So that’s when my extensive knowledge of cover material came in handy!

I have to ask, what were your cover bands?

A lot of Creedence, Buddy Holly, Elvis, early rock and roll.

Nothing to feel too guilty about then!

Oh, there’s got to be something I feel guilty about in there. Well I know a lot Cold Chisel. But that’s not a guilt. Hmmm... nothing too daggy I don’t think! Oh, I was in a Bon Jovi one! We played all Bon Jovi songs.

This town in Tippaburra, they hadn’t seen a band in many many years up that way. It took them a while to warm up. In fact it took three sets for them to warm up. My fingers were nearly bleeding! And then they just went mental. Suddenly everyone was drunk! And they wouldn’t let us stop, we’d already played for hours. These big shearers would be coming up, putting me a headlock and putting money in my pocket – going, “play more!”

I only wish you were filming this.

I know! I know!

Darren Hanlon's new album I Will Love You At All is in stores now!
Click here to view the dates for his extensive August 2010 tour!