Blog

TROY CASSAR-DALEY: NEW ALBUM, BOOK … INTERVIEW

Troy Cassar-Daley generic - resize

Ten solo albums over a 26 year career is a milestone worth celebrating and for Australian country music legend Troy Cassar-Daley, he’s marked the occasion of his 10th record with the release of an accompanying autobiography. Things I Carry Around is the name of both the album and a book released by Troy, in which he candidly looks back on his wonderful life. For the album, Troy enlisted the help of songwriting greats Paul Kelly and Don Walker, two artists who could bring great empathy to the project. In regard to the book, in conjunction with respected journalist Tom Gilling, Troy recalls significant moments in his life from growing up in Grafton, NSW to recording and touring with some of music history’s giants.

Australian Musician’s Greg Phillips had  a chat to Troy about the his celebrated career and his two new releases.

Album Artwork -Things I Carry AroundThe new album Things I Carry Around is a very personal one, it’s the companion piece to the autobiography. Why did you decide to co-write a lot of the songs?
One of the reasons Don Walker is involved is because he is from Grafton. We’d started a lot of songs together when I was in my mid 20s. I went back and you know, you try and recreate a lot of old songs to get them back to square one to start again. He has this really amazing filing system where he is able to find any song you’ve started. He was a great starting point for me. He knew exactly what town I was talking about, the one where I kicked my heels up as a kid. If anyone was going to understand it, he was. There was also time where I sat with Paul Kelly talking about my uncle in the book, who had passed away. He was the oldest of my mum’s brothers and sisters. When I told Paul that story, he was very drawn into the character even though I had never met him as a kid and neither had Paul but he totally got it. That’s why when (the song) Brighter Day came along, it was really appropriate for this record.

How do Don and Paul differ in their approach to writing songs?
Don really helps you with word economy and you have to realise that you take your time with Don. He is not a fast writer. You can see his brain ticking over when you’e sitting there having about ten short black coffees with him. He will then spit out brilliance and you just have to be ready with your baseball mitt ready to catch anything he chucks at ya. Paul has a way of giving you dynamics in the way he sings a song. He will come back with some little melody twists when he sings a line back to you. You have to tape it to make sure you get the first take because we always forget, Paul and I. The initial melody of a song can be forgotten if you don’t run the tape over it all of the time. he taught me that it is OK to change things around as you are going but make sure you tape all of the stuff you’ve done in the first instance.

Are you the kind of writer who has bits and pieces of songs laying around … spare parts that you come back to at a later date?
Yeah, I could put a whole car together out of them! I’m a bit of a hoarder. I like to be able to revisit things. With Don, I sent him this song .. If My Heart Was A Town. I remember the amount of heartbreak you have as a kid if you have had your first broken heart and things like that. He really loved the idea. He was in the middle of making a Chisel record and he said, look you have got me at a great time, I am in the middle of writing some Chisel songs, so I am on a bit of a burn where I am writing and writing. Next thing I know, I get an email and he has written me this other verse and it’s a cracker. It then turns into a bit of a tennis match from there and it saves me flying to Sydney now with technology. We do it all over the internet via email.

There are a few little instrumental preludes scattered throughout the album. What motivated those?
I love those sorts of things on albums but I have never done it before. So I sat there and created a couple in the same key to get you in the mood for the tune that is coming up, it was really important to me. I also wanted to make sure that while you are reading the book, you might play a bit of the album as well. To me those preludes are the things that glue the album together. It introduces the banjo, as well as the harmonica and keeps that in there too and creates some threads between tunes. Out of the entire production, that was one of my favourite things to do, just sit down by myself with the bass and banjo and acoustic guitar and make them up as I went.

There’s a great warm band sound to the songs which have a lot of instrumentation. The opening bars of the first track Funny How Things Change, has an E Street band feel about it. Who else was playing with you?
It does have a bit of an E Street thing going and I think that was what we were trying to get going on Funny How Things Change. That was an old one I started with Don but never finished and Colin Buchanan was writing with us on the same day too. The players … Greg Morrow we had on drums has been an amazing drummer for many years. He has played on stacks of hits out of Nashville. He even had to sign a waiver apparently to say he wasn’t to mention that he played on ZZ Top’s hits. Someone said, just don’t mention the ZZ Top songs he played on cos he’s not allowed to talk about it. It’s a bit like the mafia! Then there was Michael Rhodes who just finished making a record with Joe Bonamassa. It was interesting because he comes from that whole blues thing and balls to the wall music and here he is playing the most subtle things, the stories of my life and loving every minute of it as well. The steel player, Dan Dugmore, I wanted to use for the simple reason that I love the stuff he has done .. he played on the Linda Ronstadt song Blue Bayou, that’s him playing steel on that. He comes with that pedigree but he’s also a guy who can play all over your songs and do it in the first take and not have to go over and over it. Mark Punch from Australia is in there. He is one of the most beautiful textural players we have and he is in LA now. We flew him down and he spent the night with me making the record. He loved the band so much, he said to me after the first song … is it too early to go out and hug the drummer yet? I said mate it might be a little creepy on the first day, let’s save it for the second day when we have wrapped up.

There’s a great gospel vibe on Down The Road. Who did you bring in to sing on that one?
That’s just me and my daughter. We decided that we would build our own choir. My daughter is 15 and she loves to sing and of course there was the encouragement of a little bit of money for her. I said to her if you come down and help with the choir, I will give you some dosh. I set up two microphones. I started with a bit of a choir vibe from a bloke’s perspective, then she came and did some girly bits, so it is just the two voices on it. All done in a tiny little overdub room at home.

Let’s talk about the guitars. Did you mostly use your Takamine and Tele?
Well I didn’t play acoustic on the first couple of projects with Bif Watson because he is such an amazing player but for this particular one, there were some interesting fingerpicking things on Brighter Day and When My Daddy Played that I needed to play myself. Bif said just let me rough it out for you on the band track so you can  sing live … because every vocal  we did was live with the actual band tracks. I went back and used my Tele and one of Bif’s Teles as well. His was a 1978 I think. Mine is a 1966, that I overdubbed and sent back. I used a simple little pedalboard that I put together over there with just 3 pedals. It was pretty amazing, I bought a little Princeton amp over there that was very cheap, a Blackface made in 1964 and that thing is an amazing amp. I flew it home in the overhead locker, that’s how small it was. It has a really big bottom end and a big noise. I had 3 pedals, a Strymon Brigadeer … a delay. I had a tap tempo Super Trem. Normally the old Super Trem had a soft and hard plus on and off basically and two speed but this thing has a tap tempo in it as well, so that was phenomenal to use. I also used one of Bif’s old compressors that he had, an old CS2 and that was the rig that I had. Oh, I also had an overdrive. I think they’re called a Winford Drive, made in Nashville and based on an old Whiteface Rat. Keith Urban was the first person who went there and asked them to make something like his old Rat so they made this pedal out of the circuit in the old Rat. So that’s the overdrivey sound you hear on Timber Cutting Man and things like that. Then the overdrive with the trem in the gospel song, that’s me playing through that as well.

What have you learned about recording acoustic guitar parts over the years?
Everyone has their own way of trying to get the best acoustic sound. I’ve always had the adage that you’ve got to point the mic to where the neck meets the body. They also set one up over your shoulder at times, so it is what you are actually hearing as the player. They set that pointing down, something like an Audio Technica. Then they’ll have a Neumman KM84 and then another Audio Technica coming off the lower bout of the guitar. I really enjoyed watching how all of that went down. His chain was really simple for the vocal too. I have always learned a lot about chains when I go over there but the U67, which I have got the brother of at home, straight into this really beautiful GML preamp, then into a really great compressor called a Distressor.

Book Artwork - Things I Carry AroundYou have also released a book, which you wrote during recovery from throat surgery. I’m wondering what frame of mind you were in because you must have been quite anxious about the results of the operation.
Brother, I gotta tell you I was very quiet. It was actually the best time to collect memories while you weren’t able to talk that much. I was concerned. if you keep pushing and pushing, it’s not going to be any good for it again so you do what the doctor says and nurse it as you go. It was a time where you are very vulnerable and as I was writing a lot of these notes down with the ghost writer, I said to him, I will keep the phone calls to a minimum but let’s send each other emails and I’ll work on them in the back of the car, that’s where the bulk of the book was put together. I started to think the book wasn’t getting the attention it needed, so to make it a priority I needed to just stop touring, stop going out and making records and concentrate on writing the book.

One of things I noticed from the book was how much you absorb from other musicians. You have a real thirst for knowledge, whether it be learning from Nashville songwriters or when you were siting down with Merle Haggard, you wanted to know about Roy Nichols his guitar player. You have a real interest in music history don’t you?
I do and I try to make it a big part of my life because I still find real interest in reading who played on what. A lot of people forget about that these days with streaming and all that. I do like to know who wrote something or who played guitar, whether it was Roy Nichols on acoustic or James Burton on electric. I love the historical value of it as well. I think it is a nice part of all our careers when you look at it because a lot of country artists do have a real thing for history. I think it is a wonderful way to be because you are always looking back for inspiration to be able to walk forward.

Also in the book you talk about your aboriginal heritage and your connection to the Goanna album Spirit of Place and the Warumpi Band’s music. To many indigenous kids today, you are one of those connections. How important was that music connection to you back then?
The Goanna record for starters gave me an identity as a young indigenous musician. You know when you start out out, you think where do I belong as a player and musician. When I heard Razors Edge and Solid Rock, I just thought this sounds like something that I really love. I really believe in it and I love the sentiment of it and I really did feel a connection to it. It gave me a voice and I have told Shane Howard this on many occasions and he has always got  a bit embarrassed because I am putting him on such a pedestal but he belongs there believe me. The Warumpi Band were the same. When I first heard what Neil Murray was doing with those blokes, I adored those records. Big Name, No Blankets was one of my favourites. You know when you just get connected with records, even when it was singing in lingo. It just resonated with me. It was just a 40 or 50 thousand year old language that was being spoken. That to me was something that was very hard not to be connected with.

In the book you talk about meeting your music heroes and there’s even a song, Smoked With Willie and Merle
Well I have already talked to the legal team and I know I could get into trouble by saying I inhaled with Merle Haggard but when you haven’t done it for a long, long time and you’re suddenly in this position where he’s sitting on a stool holding court singing all the old songs with you and your band, and he hands you a Bob Marley number and you think, do I say no and be a dag or just go, you know what, this will only happen once .. and it did! I gotta tell you it was one of the most memorable moments of my life to be able to sit there and recite songs with him. I have never ever forgotten it and it is something that I guess my kids will read it but that’s what it’s all about, being truthful in a book and not sugar coating stuff, it’s important.

And you and Merle Haggard both had an interest in trains. Was that a topic which came up when you met him?
It was a big topic because one of the gifts that I gave him was an old train lantern, which was engraved in the front and it was  something which he did not let out of his sight. He was so surprised with the sentiment of it I think. We knew he loved trains and he knew that I’d mentioned it a few times. He was very impressed with that lantern and he never let it out of his sight for the whole tour and that made me feel special. Same with my mum, it was her idea to give him one of pop’s old lamps. I really did feel like I had a connection to Merle before I even met him and that’s why we got on so well I think.

Who is on your bucket list of people you’d like to meet that you haven’t yet?
Most of them are dead unfortunately. I’ve always wanted to do a duet with Merle or George Jones and both have passed away now. I got to play with Glenn Frey when he came out to do his solo tour and that was amazing. I got to show him my Eagles tattoo and when you get to meet people like that it really does make the circle complete.

It’s not just the international legends you have met. You also got to record with the great Slim Dusty. That must have been a buzz?
I gotta tell you when that happened, it was so surreal to me. My band, old past members, even to this day when I talk to them about it, they just can’t believe that we did it. I was driving along one day and that song of Slim and mine came on the radio. I said to my kids this is the one I sang with Slim Dusty and they said sure dad, I’m sure you sang with Slim Dusty. Then my voice came on and my daughter said, wow you did.

All of these songs tell the story of your life but is there one song which is closer to your heart than others?
They are all really close but the one about when I was a kid fishing up at Cangai was very personal talking about how my nanna and pop raised the kids. I really do find that such a personal one of the last songs I wrote about a week before I went to Nashville. I didn’t think I had covered enough of nanna and pop on the record and they were such a huge part of my life, even though I only had them for ten years. I just thought it was a perfect opportunity to try and write something for them. I am very connected to that song.

What  happens once the album and book is out?
Then touring. I am going to be doing a very intimate tour coming up next year which will be just me and  bass player friend of mine in many bands over the years. We’ll be doing these intimate shows in a lounge room setting so it is going to be totally different thing than I have done before. I love acoustic gigs. They are the only ones that you could do with this book and album. It’s an intimate project and I’ll be recreating what we did with the book and CD.

TROY CASSAR-DALEY
THINGS I CARRY AROUND
EVENT DATES
Thu 1 Sep    True South – 298 Beach Road, Black Rock, VIC
Tickets*: (03) 9589 4638 or read@beaumarisbooks.com.au
*ticket includes a copy of the book and mediated Q&A

Fri 2 Sep    Rooty Hill RSL, 55 Sherbrooke St Rooty Hill, NSW
Tickets*: totalcountry.com.au/
*tickets include a 2 course dinner, show and a copy of the book or CD

Wed 7 Sep    Brisbane Writers Festival, Brisbane, QLD
The Talking Circle State Library of Queensland Cultural Precinct,
Stanley Place, South Bank, Brisbane
Tickets: bwf.org.au/
*tickets include mediated Q&A

Thu 8 Sep     Slim Dusty Centre Kempsey – 490 Macleay Valley Way, South Kempsey
NSW
Tickets*: www.oztix.com or (02) 6562 6533
*tickets include canapés on arrival, the show and a copy of the book or CD.

Fri 9 Sep     Coutts Crossing Coronation Hall – 7 Armidale Rd, Coutts Crossing, NSW
Tickets*: www.oztix.com
*tickets include the show and a copy of the book or CD – refreshments will be
available.

More tour dates at: www.troycassardaley.com.au

Tagged