Interview: Zac Hurran from Elixir (Brisbane)

I’ve arrived and settled in at Woodfordia for this years Woodford Folk Festival. Needless to say, I haven’t so much hemp clothing product in one location! Apart form all that fashion craziness, all has been quiet of the perfomance front, except from the odd poet and person on stilts. However, I’m sure that will all change soon enough today.

For now however, the below is an interview with Zac Hurren from the beautiful trio Elixir. The outfit consists the amazing voice of Katie Noonan as well as the jazzy talents of Stephen Magnussun. Zac himself is a renowned saxaphone improviser in his own right, having also worked with bands like Exordian and his own Zac Hurren Trio. He’s performed with these bands at the festival in the past as well and is basically a veteran patron at Woodfordia.

Elixir’s latest album First Seed Ripening is driven by the words of great Australian poet Thomas Shapcott, creating and interesting meld of music that feels pure and uniquely carefree.

How did Elixir meet and work with poet Thomas Shapcott?

Well it was quite a while ago. About eight years ago Katie got commissioned by the Queensland poetry festival to take the work of any Queensland poet living or dead and to set a concert’s set of music to that poetry. She checked out heaps of awesome poets and she fell in love with Thomas’ writing. That was when we first worked with him and headed off to Stradbroke. As a band we just hung out and wrote about an album’s worth of music.

We then performed it and at the initial concert Thomas was there. He sat on a stool and he had a microphone and he would recite the poem and then we would play the song that we’d made from the poem. Then he’d recite the next poem and we’d play the next song. It was incredible.

Was it an improvisational process with him?

No it wasn’t. It was more sort of a songwriting kind of vibe. Really carefully constructing beautiful vehicles to express ourselves musically. There is an element of improvisation, we do improvise. Every time we perform the song, it basically different from one performance than another. The essence of it really carefully crafted songs.

Were you familiar with Shapcott’s writing prior to collaborating with him as well?

That was the first time that I checked him out. He’s got this amazing way of capturing a moment and a feeling that’s very human. A lot of the time it appealed to Katie and I because we were at the time with our first child. A lot of the poetry we connected was with what he was writing about when he had his child with his first wife.

There’s this just this incredible feeling that he captures where you can almost smell the baby in the room. You can only imagine that feeling and that moment. It was a feeling intimate family connection.

So it sounded that there was a happy coincidence in that you were going through the same thing he was going through when he was writing his poetry?

I guess we were just drawn to that because of our life experience at that point. We were just drawn to that. If we had been going through a somewhat moment of loss or something like that it might have seen us drawn to different works.

Where do you see the parallels between the two artforms of music and poetry?

I think with art, whether it’s dance or architecture, poetry, painting, music and so on, I think it’s all a same process. I think as a person, you feel an urge to pursue what you are going to become as an artist each time you create something. You’re trying to find yourself. You’re trying to realise what you are becoming. I think that’s a little bit common amongst most artists and most artforms. It’s the pursuit of what you are trying to evolve to and to reach a point where you art is pure and there’s nothing false or plastic about it. It’s a true expression of your life pursuit.

You still decided to tackle some covers on this latest album as well. You do a Joni Mitchell song (My Old Man) and Split Enz (I Hope I Never) cover. Why pick these artists and these songs?

It’s just the mastery. Just the sheer mastery that they have achieved. I see those songs as masterpieces. That’s what we’re dedicating our lives to. Mastering our craft and mastering ourselves.

When you get the opportunity to create art that’s pure and when you hear a masterpiece created by a master, you get this kind of kindred feeling. This ideal and this level that you want to attain. With those works of art, it gives us an incredible pleasure to play those songs because they’re, well, incredible! They are just amazing works.

Do you find it an interesting challenge to try and figure out which way you want to creatively play them your own way and hoping to not ruin the song?

We definitely don’t want to play them any way that’s not the way that we play. The whole point is that we are trying to find a purer form of ourselves. You spend your whole life pursuing this process and you’re trying to remove everything that sullies it until you can get down to this essence that you’re trying to distill.

When I’m performing, I’m trying to find the truth of it all. We have to play it in our own way basically or it will just be false and there would be no point in doing it.

Have you been to Woodford before and either as a punter or performer?

Oh heaps of times! I think the first time I was playing there and we were doing jazz concerts. We did like 2 or 3 concerts every day for the whole time! It was the most amazing feeling to playing that much music in such an environment. People just open up when they are there at Woodford and they listen with really open hearts. The vibe in a tent when you’re doing a concert is a really great vibe.

The thing that most made an impression on me was how open people are. It was beautiful.

What are you looking forward to for this Woodford in particular?

The thing I am simply looking forward to is playing. I just love playing, you know? Music is something that I just love and anytime I just get an opportunity to play in that environment with my dear friends and colleagues is extra special.

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