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Fearful Wiggings is Dave Graney’s new solo album. Dave invited AM down to tour rehearsals for a chat n’ chew about the recording and upcoming tour.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADave Graney, observer of the obscure, appreciator of the kitsch, champion of the colloquialism has a new album out. Although Graney has recorded around 30 albums during a career spanning more than three decades, his new album Fearful Wiggings  is his second only ‘solo’ record. It sounds like a solo album. The vocals and instrumentation are quite sparse leaving Graney’s lyrics out there, front and centre with nowhere to hide. Graney played most of the guitar parts and some limited bass but the record is not without some accompaniment. His long-time partner Clare Moore added some vibes, percussion and keyboards. Nick Harper (son of Roy, the legendary folk singer immortalised by Led Zeppelin in their song Hats Off To Roy) provided a couple of great 12 string guitar tracks, delivered to Dave via the internet. Academy award winning vocalist and one half of Dead Can Dance, Lisa Gerrard has more or less produced the vocal parts and afforded Dave the use of her studio and high-end pre-amps and microphones to assist in capturing his soul.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’d been listening to Dave Graney’s new album Fearful Wiggings (a phrase which loosely  translates as ‘great anxiety’) for a few days before heading down to Soundpark Studios in Northcote where Dave and band were rehearsing for the upcoming Fearful Wiggings tour. It’s always interesting to hear how a new album translates to a live setting and what instrumentation has been chosen to complete the task. Dave was kind enough to ask the band to play a few of the new songs for me to get an idea of how the show will sound. Although there is minimal bass on the new album, Stu Thomas will be playing bass parts, adding an extra dimension to the sparseness of the recorded versions. However, it’s not via a bass but a baritone guitar that Stu lays down those licks. As the tour set list will feature half the new album and half back catalogue, Graney required the flexibility of the baritone guitar to reproduce some of the older material.
“Well Stu Thomas is a brilliant player and a great singer,” explained Dave. “He’s playing a baritone guitar so he can do bass parts and guitar parts with distortion on them. We’re doing a lot of songs from our back catalogue as well on this tour. We’re doing songs we haven’t done ever or haven’t for decades. We’re using bass, keys and guitar for that style of thing. People can come along and ask for songs and we’re probably going to be able to play them really well.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACompromise number two was having Clare Moore tour in a keyboard capacity rather than as a drummer. On an old Ensoniq keyboard, Clare will be playing the limited drum parts, piano parts and reproducing the vibraphone parts that she recorded with her prized, authentic Ajax Boosey and Hawkes Vibraphone. “It’s challenging,” said Clare. “I don’t normally play keyboards. It’s like jumping out of an aeroplane for me. I have been on tour playing the vibes but not keyboards, so it’s like eight more fingers to think about.” From the three songs I heard at rehearsal, Moore is more than capable of fulfilling the brief.

Due to the nature of the venues Graney and co will be playing (smaller, music aficionado-friendly rooms), the actual vibes couldn’t be considered. The instrument, which they “bought from a lady in Doncaster who had it in this Tiki bar”, doesn’t travel well and is more difficult to mic up live  than in the studio. “Recording the vibes in the studio, you can isolate it,” explains Clare. “it sounds really good in our lounge room because it’s got a high ceiling. You put a couple of mics on it, not too close, otherwise all you get is the attack of the mallet, a metallic sound. You’re after that nice reverb sound.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“It’s like recording an acoustic guitar,” Dave adds. “If you put the mic in one area, you can get too much of the booming sound. We bought the vibes when we were making the Soft and Sexy Sounds album with The Coral Snakes and the main thing is trying to find out ways to record it. Engineers would often just bury it and use it as a texture that’s below something else. At the time we were loving all these exotic recordings of Arthur Lyman and Martin Denny who had a huge, all-enveloping vibraphone sound and everything else was within it. We kept trying to find out how people record like that.” Rounding out the Fearful Wiggings sound will be Stuart Pereira with his delicate lead electric guitar licks and Graney on acoustic guitars.

However, it’s Graney’s vocals on the new album which really smacks you in the face. A combination of Dave’s fondness of the way 60s American country artists used to record and Lisa Gerrard’s focus on the vocal ambience dictated how the album would turn out. “I love lots of 60s country records and I have always wondered how they did it,” said Graney. “It’s mostly the skills of the performers and equal part the great rooms they were in and also the sophisticated music culture they were in. Recording yourself, it is pretty difficult to get that sort of thing. Lisa Gerrard offered for me to record at her studio and she had that high-end deluxe kind of valve pre-amps and microphones that can give you all that air and record everything that way. Lisa and her engineer James Orr were using this kind of stereo reverb in the panning and working out what the floor of it was like. You know, the simulated wooden floor of this reverb. She wanted to use an effect that Brendan from Dead Can Dance uses on his vocal, an Echo Baby or something, but she didn’t have it. They did a lot of work on a song called ‘I Know You Can’t See Me’, then we used that as a template for the other vocals. She’s not interested in words, just the sound. When you’re a musician you meet lots of people who are kind of downbeat or fatalistic and have this hangman’s humour about things. Lisa doesn’t trade in any of that, she’s totally artistically driven. She was quite challenging as a person. She challenged you to be your best. I haven’t come across someone like that in music for ages. Lisa is very inspiring. I guess that’s a part of production, someone being like an inspiring coach.”

One of the consequences of the vocals being highlighted is that you’re driven to listen to the lyrics. For Graney, who has rightly or wrongly been described as cryptic, cool or even aloof, the lyrics reveal quite a personal statement. “I guess the last few album have been in that direction,” he said on reflection. “Knock Yourself Out had a lot of quite personal songs on it. You’ve Been In My Mind was very much like that with songs like Mt Gambier Night on it. This is an album where the lyrics are really exposed and the way they are sung is more intimate.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s the title song Fearful Wiggings though, which reveals the most. Give it a quirky title if you like and try to put your Graneyesque cool spin on it, but for all intents and purposes this is a love song, an ode to his life-partner in crime Clare Moore.
‘Here’s to the only one I know, the only one who knows me, her name is Clare-with no i‘, he sings. ‘I drank wine from your shoe, we kissed in the Seaview’, yep a love song if ever I heard one. “People write those kind of songs when they are away from their lives,” explained Graney. “Musicians go out away from their life to tour. We’ve always been together. We take our lives with us … so anyway, Clare was away for a week and I wrote the song,” he quickly added as Clare, caught unaware, almost fell off her seat laughing in surprise. “Really? I didn’t know that,” she exclaimed.  “I had another name for the song,” Dave continued, “but it was too kind of overt, it was going to be the ballad of Graney and Moore or something like that but it’s too earthy. Fearful Wiggings seemed to be almost how I wrote the song, trying to express some kind of vulnerability and excitement. I had to play it to Clare and I had to leave the room while she was listening to it.”

The Fearful Wiggings tour begins on June 12 in Castlemaine and travels up and down the east coast, ending on July 26 at Melbourne’s Toff. A tour of Europe with Harry Howard and the NDE is then a distinct possibility as well as some possible soundtrack and book ventures.

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