I recently had the opportunity to chat to one of Australia's most respected musicians, Jeff Lang. We chat about his new album Chimeradour, and look ahead to his performance at the Snowy Mountains of Music Festival.
Thanks for chatting to us Jeff! I'd like to start at the very beginning - where did you first pick up the guitar, and what was that guitar?
My first guitar was a nylon string acoustic that my older sister had discarded. It was pretty ropey and had a couple of broken tuning pegs, so I tuned it by ear in an open chord and did my best with it in the state it was in. It took a while of working a part-time job to afford an electric guitar - with all six tuning pegs - but I still stuck with the same open chord tuning for another year before someone showed me "standard" guitar tuning.
You're well known as a slide guitarist - when did you move into that territory (unless that WAS the first guitar!)?
I started playing both regular and bottleneck style slide, and then about 2 or 3 years later I found an old Japanese lap steel in a local music store so I started lap slide then.
Who did you look to for musical inspiration (lyrically or otherwise) when you first started, and do they continue to inspire you today?
Some of the earliest influences were Bob Dylan, Ry Cooder, Leo Kottke, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Roy Buchanan and Neil Young. And yes, these and many other artists still inspire me to this day.
I understand that in addition to the guitar, you play a wide variety of instruments - what are they and are there any others that you'd love to one day master?
Well, all the various instruments I play are related to the guitar in that they're all stringed instruments and all plucked, not bowed. No violin yet for me! There's mandolin, tenor guitar, a turkish instrument called a Chumbush, Glissentar (sort of a hybrid instrument that's a cross between a guitar and an oud), and banjo in addition to the various acoustic and electric guitars that are either fretted or fretless, or for slide playing. As far as "mastering" any of them goes, I'll get back to you when I'm 80 and let you know that I'm STILL not there!
How does the Jeff Lang live experience compare to the Jeff Lang recording experience - for both you and the crowd?
Well for me I just come to play whether I'm recording or in front of an audience. It's always fun to play. There is a more direct, visceral edge to playing live though, but I wouldn't say that enjoying one negates my enjoyment of the other. As far as the audience goes I'm sure that the physical presence of a performer gives a gig an extra element that adds to the experience, but I try to make the recordings have as interesting a mood as possible so when you're not at the gig there is enough there to take you somewhere.
You're playing the Snowy Mountains Music Festival next month - it's sounding like quite the unique event, what are you looking forward to most about the shows? Have you heard much about the first year?
I've not heard much, but hell, how bad could it be? Come up to the mountains, play some music for people with a great band... Can't wait!
What can crowds expect from your performances at the festival? I imagine you'll be featuring your most recent album, Chimeradour?
I will be playing plenty off the Chimeradour album along with a selection of songs from the various recordings through the years. It's different every time.
Can you tell us a bit about Chimeradour? How does it compare to your previous releases and what was the recording process like?
I really wanted to exploit the dynamics of the band and I was lucky to write a bunch of songs that really suited this "live-as-possible" style recording, which meant that every song is a two or (mostly) three-piece performance with all the solos and lead vocals going down at once with minimal extras. Sometimes there's some backing vocals added, an extra background guitar part here and there, but for the most part it's a live-in-the-studio trio recording. Mark Opitz did a great job capturing the sounds of the instruments well, so there was hardly any EQ-ing needed in the mixing.
You've been a non-stop touring machine over the years! Where have been some of your favourite places to play?
Oh, anywhere there's an audience that is keen to go on a trip with us through the music is fine with me! Sounds like a cop-out but it's true.
I note you're heading to France shortly after the Snowy Mountains Festival. Is this a return?
Yeah It's the fourth tour there for me. First time with a band, it's been solo before this one.
What have your experiences been like there, if so. How do French crowds (or European crowds in general) compare to Australian crowds?
Can't do as much talking between songs, or if you do people can't understand you very easily!
The Australian Music Industry has changed drastically over the course of your career - is it for better or for worse?
I think in general for the better.
And finally - as you see more on the road than most, which artists, Australian or otherwise, should we be paying more attention to?
SO many great artists around right now. Downhills Home are a great band with fantastic songs. Liz Stringer, Jordie Lane, Jimmy Dowling, Suzannah Espie, Matt Walker and Sime Nugent are among my favourite songwriters, C.W. Stoneking is a fantastic singer with a great sound, same with Ian Collard and Hat Fitz. There's too many to name them all...
Jeff Lang is playing at the Perisher Snowy Mountains of Music Festival on the June long weekend – 11-14 June. 4 Day Festival Pass only $99 or festival/accommodation pass including pass + 3 nights accommodation, bed & breakfast – on the snow from $299 if you book before 21st May. http://www.snowymountainsofmusic.com.au/