Bernard Fanning speaks to me with a weathered cynicism and humour of a musician who has most certainly done this all before. By ‘this’, I mean the usual press junket that accompanies an album release or a tour announcement. Thankfully, the ice between us had already been broken back in 2016, when I interviewed him ahead of the release of Civil Dusk, so the need for small-talk introductions is well out of the way in lieu of properly getting stuck into this double-album, now in the fans’ hands.
Fanning keeps things fresh and honest and indeed, as he takes me through the process of making Civil Dusk‘s 2017 companion record, Brutal Dawn.
“It’s about as un-trendy as you can get.” he laughs. “I’m really glad that you’re on board with that idea [though], because so many people aren’t. I’ve even spoken to a few journalists who… not they don’t like it or anything, but they’ve been like, ‘So…what have you got planned for 2017?’ [There’s] nothing about that overarching idea of trying to take on something that’s big like that. I think that is exactly what we’re talking about, which is whatever the opposite of ‘on trend’ is, that’s what this is.”
The release of Civil Dusk last year brought Fanning back together with longtime collaborator and producer Nick DiDia in studio La Cueva in Byron Bay, exploring musical influences and eccentricities, not to mention winding up with a load of material that formed an extensive body of work on its own. In releasing Brutal Dawn in late May, Fanning believes that for all the challenges that came with recording and introducing new work in this way, the end result has been well worth it.
“It feels like a third record from a single, or something.” he says. “In some ways, it kind of is. They go together and they kind of don’t. There’s a whole lot of contradictions going on with this record; they do go together and yet they work separately, which is part of the challenge in doing it. Making them work alone, each of them, but also making sure that they work together. I finally got around to listening to those records consecutively, which is an unusual thing for me these days – to just sit down and listen to music for 80 minutes. Just to sit there listening to stuff. I mean, it’s only an hour and a half, it’s not really that much, but it’s unusual anyway. I think it worked in the end.”
The concept of a double-album release, a year apart, may give way to lofty ideas of a larger blueprint for a music career’s new chapter, but Fanning is quick to put things in simpler terms.
“It was a symptom of this big bulk of material, more than anything.” he says. It was like, ‘You know what? Fuck it. Why don’t we do it?’ We had the material there. It’s not the right idea to do, from a business perspective. All the more reason to do it! It even got down to the point where it was suggested by manager Paul [Piticco], to do two records.”
“It’s great to have been lucky enough to be in this position to do it in the first place but also, without having the music there, it was never going to happen. That’s also something that I’m really happy about and grateful for, that I was able to keep writing and keep the quality of stuff up. There have certainly been periods where I’ve written this many songs over the same period of time, but probably just not as many worth releasing.”
Ambitious for sure, Fanning remembers conversations with Piticco and his label, Dew Process, surrounding the back to back release of Civil Dusk and Brutal Dawn.
“It’s not a typical idea for weird industry Svengalis like him, you know?” Fanning laughs. “It’s also [a] given that Paul is also the head of Dew Process, which is my label. I mean, Universal certainly weren’t anywhere near as keen on the idea as we were! It’s not like major labels are ever really credited for being incredible forward thinkers, anyhow. Generally it’s not even in the job description.”
Away from the label and the behind the scenes rigmarole that can often plague a creative process, Fanning still prides himself on live performances that have continued to land him on major festival stages around the country, as well as locking down extensive headline tours of his own.
Having been out from the always-present Powderfinger shadow for some years now, Fanning’s embrace of the solo path was an obvious one to many even back when Tea & Sympathy was first released. The hunger for live shows is one that hasn’t waned for Fanning and, with a national tour in support of Brutal Dawn line up for October and November, he’s enthusiastic about getting back to playing smaller capacity rooms for the first time in some time.
“I’d never done this direct marketing or questioning type of communication with fans before,” he explains. “We were talking about it a few months ago, going, ‘Okay – what do you want to do for touring?’ and I said, ‘I just want to play as many shows as I can’. Last time, it felt like we were just getting going by the time the tour finished. We played 18 shows or something and were like, ‘Fuck! They were really good’. I just put a post on Facebook saying, ‘If you guys are coming to a gig, do you want it to be in a theatre or a pub?’ and 99% of people said ‘pub’. It’s something different, but it’ll be more of a sweaty rock gig. Some of the places we played last time, people couldn’t have a beer or anything while they were watching; I think people really want to have that vibe, where they can just go out and have a night out.”
Having played on the Falls Festival tour over New Year’s, appearing at Bluesfest over Easter and with Splendour in the Grass coming up too, Fanning has been straddling the festival and theatre fences quite successfully so far off the back of Civil Dusk (and now, Brutal Dawn).
“It’s interesting, the difference between playing in that festival environment and then playing in that theatre environment.” he says. “It always is for any band, that idea that if you’re playing in a theatre, then people are there to see you, whereas if you’re playing a festival, you’re just one aisle in the supermarket. The response in the festival world…I mean in some ways, when you’re doing theatres, you’re preaching to the converted. The fun thing about festivals is playing to people who have never seen you play before; they may even be at their first festival or their first concert. Trying to get those people in, not based on any history or any legacy, but based on what you’re playing then, in that hour.”
Brutal Dawn is out now.
BERNARD FANNING AUSTRALIAN TOUR DATES
For more information, visit www.bernardfanning.com
October 6th & 7th | The Gov, ADELAIDE | with Oh Pep!
October 11th & 13th | The Rosemount, PERTH | with Teischa
October 18th, 20th & 21st | The Triffid, BRISBANE | with Sahara Beck
October 26th & 27th | The Croxton, MELBOURNE | with Oh Pep!
October 28th & 29th | The Factory, SYDNEY | with Sahara Beck
November 24th | Granada Tavern, HOBART | with Maddy Jane
Photo by Cybele Malinowski.