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September 10, 2008 | Author: Eva Roberts

whitlams_wideweb__470x328,0The Whitlams look back on a 15 year career, like what they see and release a best-of collection called ‘Truth, Beauty and A Picture of You’. Eva Roberts spoke to Whitlams main man Tim Freedman about the new compilation.

When a band gets to the point where a ‘greatest hits’ album is the next step in a natural progression, it’s pretty fair to say you’ve made a real connection with an audience. For The Whitlams’ frontman Tim Freedman, collating the musical journey of his career was a great chance for him to not only make an album of his favourite songs, but also to share the history of the band with fans and new appreciators.

‘Truth, Beauty and A Picture of You’ encompasses  six studio albums, and two distinctly different spans of creativity for the multi ARIA-award winning band. “I wanted to get a best of CD out there, I think a lot of people would have only heard two or three of our songs in the mainstream,” Tim says. “So I enjoyed the opportunity of making my ultimate Whitlams mix tape and remaster it so it flows like one album – and be able to sit down with my life in my hands.”

Although only a handful of The Whitlams’ songs have attracted commercial radio airplay, the band is one of the most respected in the industry, due mainly to Tim Freedman’s prolific and quality song writing. Since the release of their debut album ‘Introducing The Whitlams’ in 1993, they’ve tackled numerous themes in songs once considered taboo, and consequently brought pertinent issues into the public consciousness. It seems The Whitlams are always one step ahead of the ball, using Tim’s musical nuance to try new things, and succeed, before other musicians even grasp the concept.

“If I was forced to state a strength of our catalogue, it is that I have addressed many varied themes in songs,” he says. “There have been poignant tracks, but there have been joyful tracks. I have talked about East Timor before anyone else in song, and I talked about the Olympics before anyone else in song, and I talked about the pokies before anyone else in song. To me, it is very important to pick a theme – I think it takes a lot longer than the writing of the song.”

Throughout their career, The Whitlams have certainly experienced their share of tumultuous times to add depth to inspiration, lead predominantly by the untimely death of co-founding member Stevie Plunder on Australia Day in 1996. This acted as a turning point for the band, and lead to their first real success album wise ‘Eternal Nightcap’. While this was one of the most difficult times for the band, and for Tim Freedman who was left holding the reins, unsure of his direction, this make or break point saw The Whitlams gain an inner strength.

“The band became a revolving door because I had no money to pay anyone,” Tim recalls of the time following Stevie’s death. “I actually made the album ‘Eternal Nightcap’ during that most difficult period, that was a really tough year in which to keep my focus and keep my head up, but it ended in September 1997 when I put the record out and it just started selling itself.”

For Tim, it was a challenge to sift through such an incredible amount of material and make the selections for the new album – something he has complemented by use of detailed liner-notes to explain his decision making process to fans. And the songs that have ended up making the cut are a true representation of the talent and diversity of the band, the likes of ‘Blow Up The Pokies’, ‘Buy Now Pay Later’, ‘I Make Hamburgers’, ‘Gough’, ‘Thank You’, ‘No Aphrodisiac’ and ‘Fondness Makes the Heart Grow Absent’, among others, provide a musical story-line of the ups and downs of The Whitlams.

“I found I had to balance two aims,” Tim explains on the song selection. “I had to put songs from the first two albums that I love on, so that someone who was new to The Whitlams would understand the early line-up that didn’t have enormous success. Also I had to put on the songs that reflected the tragedies that happened to the band in the first half of its career – and putting those songs gave me a change to discuss the events.”

It isn’t surprising to find that the musicians who Tim respects the most in the industry are those that share a similar work ethic. They are people who stay true to their music and have found their own niche and style.
“I know what I like to listen to, it is usually someone who has found their own voice,” he says. “Someone like Bonnie Prince Billy, or Randy Newman – people who have found their own flavour, their own distinctive flavour… They have found their own voice, but what they have also done is had a career, long careers, where they have expected the audience to follow them rather than they follow the audience.”

With a history of carving their own path, regardless of trends and popularity, The Whitlams have also never relied on anyone or anything for their success. In keeping true to this form, Tim is forthright with his opinion that support by commercial radio stations isn’t essential to getting the music out there. Instead, it is all about the fans and people discovering, and re-discovering, The Whitlams’ music. “I think commercial radio, because it has played safe for so long, has forced people to go looking for their own music and these days that is easier to do than it used to be,” he says.

With such a solid body of work behind him, Tim Freedman is constantly looking to the future, with both his song writing, and the band itself. With this in mind, he is adamant the ‘best of’ album is a new beginning for The Whitlams, and not an end. “This ‘best of’ isn’t about the death of the band,” he explains. “It is more about the death of the CD.  I wanted to get something out there before CDs were obsolete – we will continue to play, this is by no means is a farewell tour. It is a good little gap year in which to reflect and tour while I think about new stuff. I am writing songs, but I don’t know what it is for. If I write something in my lounge room I generally want to go and play it for people, so I will find some way of doing it.”

The Whitlams ‘best of’ album, ‘Truth, Beauty and a Picture of You’, is out now.

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