Award-winning Kimberley singer/songwriter. John Bennett, has just released his second album, Country Is Calling. He took a moment in time to talk about it with Around The Sound…
Your debut album came out back in 2010, how have you changed as both a person and an artist in the years since?
Yes, I think I change as the country around me changes. And music is a big part of that. I've had great opportunities to work with a lot of different people since the first album and feel I’ve really developed as a musician and songwriter. This has helped me to have more confidence and take control a bit more with the style of the new album.
Given that time and change, what did you want to convey on Country Is Calling? Both of yourself and in terms of themes…
Since the first album I’ve been travelling a lot and recently living in Broome, so the importance of going back to my country is a constant theme.
And also the importance of family. The album is a dedication to my brother who passed away three years ago. The themes of country and family were strong on the first album also, but there are also some which are new for me, I guess mostly to do with relationships. One song that's pretty different is Grandfather where a young man tells his grandfather to turn him in, as the police are coming for him.
Were the songs written across the years since 2010, or in more recent times leading up to the recording of the album?
A few songs were old ones which I had wanted to record since the time of the first album. And we actually recorded the Gambler again - even though it was on the first album. When we were rehearsing the new album with the rhythm section - Ric Eastman and Roy Martinez - we played around with it a bit and that gave it a whole new lease of life for me - so we recorded it again! Some other songs developed over the years and a couple were even written in Fremantle with the help of Dave Hyams and Lucky Oceans just before we went in to the recording!
Describe your creative connection with guitarist, David Hyams…
I met Dave when he came to play on the first album as a session musician. We didn’t know each other at all but kept in touch and then did a live gig or two. Then he got me into the Murru project in Roebourne which led to us working a fair bit and touring together. I thought he might be the person to produce my album and so we started talking about it a few years ago now. He came up to Broome for pre-production which ended up with us fishing in Bidyadanga! We now work together regularly and wrote some songs together for the album. He’s been in the Pilbara and Kimberley a lot so he gets what life is like up here. And he helped me to make the record I wanted to make.
What was the recording experience like at Crank with Lee Buddle?
I had originally planned to record in Broome and Dave had come up there to check out some locations, but when I was down in Perth I went into Crank where Dave was mixing a project. It felt pretty good in there and I asked whether it might be possible to record the album there. This changed the whole plan of doing a Kimberly recording but working was Lee was great and the sessions went really smoothly.
You sing of country, when you travel to play in other places describe how people respond and connect to what your songs are about?
The response has blown me away. When I’m in other parts of the country it seems there are lots of people who have a connection to the Kimberley. It might be a trip that they made a while back, but the country has stayed with them and hearing the songs has been their way to reconnect. So they’re really keen to come and chat afterwards. We were recently in northern NSW and felt that connection a lot.
You’re from Bidyadanga - two hours drive from Broome – what does home mean to you?
One of the album songs has the line, ‘My heart's back home in Bidyadanga’. It might sound a bit corny but that’s exactly what I feel. I am passionate about getting my music out there but I’m always thinking of home.
Do you sing very often in Karrajarri language? Is it something you’d like to do more of?
Karrajarri was the language I grew up with and though I might use some words from that language in my songs, I’m mostly writing in English. I often include songs in my live set from others in my community and from my uncle Mervyn Malardy (Yatangal) who’s been helping me with the language songs.
With the album now out, what are your hopes and plans for the future?
I hope that I can do some more live shows and tour the album around Australia. I’ve got my band from Bidyadanga and I’d like to get them on the road a bit more. And start thinking about the next recording.
John Bennett launches Country Is Calling tonight, Friday, December 1, at the Charles Hotel with specials guests David Hyams, Lucky Oceans and more. Tickets are $20 at the door.