Roo Panes chats about songwriting and 12-string guitars while out on his debut Australian tour

Roo Panes is a singer songwriter from the UK and he’s currently on tour in Australia.  I was lucky enough to grab a chat with him in Melbourne ahead of his show at The Toff In Town.

Welcome to Melbourne! Is this your first trip to Australia?

Yes, well, I’ve travelled to Australia before, I did a gap year kind of thing, and I did the typical east coast route, but this is my first time as a musician. Also, I feel like I’m seeing so much more of Australia as a result because you’re meeting people, more people, and you get more of an in-depth idea of a place as well. It’s been great.

So it’s been a nice experience so far?

I’ve had a lovely experience. I’ve loved it. We got into Adelaide and it was 33 degrees and I was like “Oh, this is a dream,” but then the weather kind of left for a minute and went a bit stormy over at Port Fairy. Port Fairy was great, I loved Port Fairy Festival because it was down the line traditional folk, which I find really interesting because a lot of folk festivals you go to are actually quite pop-folk, and I really loved listening to some artists where I thought “Okay, this is proper traditional”.  It had a real family, homely feel. I loved it there. Now I’m just here in Melbourne and had a great road trip here. I’ve got my friend videoing it and documenting it, so we’ve been taking the scenic route to make sure that we kind of get some of that stuff.

Did you come along the Great Ocean Road?

Yep, we came down the Great Ocean Road. That was awesome. I loved the rainforest bit. You go up through the rainforest and it was like we were in a cloud. That was pretty dramatic.

So you’re in Melbourne today, then Sydney tomorrow…

Yes. Then Brisbane on the 18th. We’ve got a good day break.

Wow. One whole day off.

(Laughs) I guess we’re travelling. They’re not exactly short distances, are they? It’s great, though, we’ve got a guy helping, tour managing, who is driving us. He’s a legend. It’s actually really nice driving…we’ve got a sunroof, you see, we made sure we got one so that we can enjoy the journey, basically.

Have you always been a musician or is it something you’ve grown into?

I think I’m a natural musician in the sense that I wrote music always. I always wrote poetry, and I always wrote music, ever since I was 11 or 12 but I never had any concept of doing it as a career. I never listened to much music, I wasn’t trying to be like an idol of mine or something like that, I was just writing music – which is why I said I was a natural musician because I wasn’t doing it from a sense of, “I’d love to be a musician”. In fact, there are a lot of times where I’d love not to be a musician. I love music but that can be part of the pain of being a career musician because a lot of stuff gets put through filters that aren’t actually there when you start doing it from a fresh place.

I think I’ve always been a musician, and then I went to university to do Theology to go on to do Law. There was just a sense of, “Okay, this is an important moment in my life, who am I? What am I going to do?” I had my Plan A but the thing is, if I do that is that me being me?  Who am I?  What’s my thing that I’ve got that is different?  It kind of came down to I wouldn’t be being myself if I went and did something else so I had to do it. I did it and I told myself I would stop after a year if it looked bleak, or went backwards, but it just steadily moved on and I’m here today.

There’s one thing about loving music and then there’s another thing about doing it as a career, it’s very different. I think people look at a music career as a rose-tinted thing but for me it’s all about making the music. I love that bit. The actual lifestyle of being a musician is quite tough. It’s the lifestyle of not going into work in the morning and coming out in the evening. You’re always in a headspace of being creative and it’s an interesting place to be because when you start writing and you’re living life and doing all your different things and songs come to you as you go, but the problem is that once you start doing it as a career that you have to put that level of focus on it so you’re always creating.

You have to try and keep things fresh, and remind yourself where your music comes from – not just focusing on the outcome but thinking about the input so that you’re putting yourself in the right place to be inspired. That lack of routine, I think, is the thing that is difficult as a musician, and nearly every other musician I know would probably say that.

You play guitar, obviously, but do you play any other instruments?

The way that I approach instruments is that I can play a lot of instruments but only to a degree that I need to in order to create what I make. I didn’t study guitar but I wrote songs and so then I had to play that. I start from the creation and work out how I can actually get that down. So…I can play my songs, and I can kind of play piano, most kind of guitary things like mandolins and banjo, organs, a bit of percussion here and there, and I do most of the backing vocals on my albums as well. I don’t play strings but I write the arrangements. I’m not a master at any one of the instruments but I start from that creative place rather than being an instrumentalist.

When you say that you play guitar…you do play a 12-string…

I think it looks better than it is…people always say, “Oh is it so much harder?” but the reality is that it is a little bit harder but it’s two strings that are octaves apart so you’ve got low and high, basically just a thicker sound. Technically, it’s a little bit harder because you have to cover both strings when you’re picking and it feels different to pick; you have less gap in between strings, but it’s not like you have to play twelve different notes, you’re still playing six different strings.

I love the sound of a 12-string, though, it’s got such depth. I saw John Butler play a ten minute piece from four feet away and it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

Was that the Ocean piece? (Yes!) He’s Australian as well, isn’t he! I saw that when I was quite young and it would have been one of the first times I saw a 12-string actually and that is beautiful, that piece. Absolutely. It’s got so much body, as you say. Having that low and high allows you so much dynamics in your performance and your writing.

If you want to go to a different place mentally you can focus slightly on the high, and it’s spacious, and then if you want to take someone to a deeper part of the song you strum it really broadly and you can really get a lot of emotion out of that guitar. I have always loved that guitar. I love it so much that I’ve actually broken it about five times and got it fixed.  It’s literally given up the ghost at the worst times, like on live radio, but I just stick with it because I love that particular guitar.

I was watching one of your videos last night and there seemed to be a crazy amount of oscillation going on with some of the strings.

You mean like that? *makes wave motion*  Yeah, I think when people film it, it does that, which is quite weird.  I think maybe it’s because I do down-tuning as well so the strings are quite…they’re not as tight, so that might have something to do with it.

It’s crazy to watch.

(Laughs) It’s quite cool, actually.  I should do a focus on it at some point. I’d be quite interested to look at it more because I know what you mean, it is really interesting.  I’d love to say it’s my music…but it’s not. (Laughs)

Catch Roo before he leaves Australia – you won’t regret it.


March 16th |  The Basement, Sydney (18+) | Ph: 1300 438 849

March 18th | Black Bear Lodge, Brisbane (18+) | Ph: 1300 762 545


This content has recently been ported from its original home on The AU Review: Music and may have formatting errors – images may not be showing up, or duplicated, and galleries may not be working. We are slowly fixing these issue. If you spot any major malfunctions making it impossible to read the content, however, please let us know at editor AT