Introducing Busby Marou (Interview)

Thomas Busby and Jeremy Marou, collectively known as Busby Marou, are an Australian duo about to make their New Zealand concert debut this month when they open for James Blunt in Auckland and Wellington…they’ll also play their own show at Auckland’s Back Beat bar on May 29th. Their second album, Farewell Fitzroy, has just been released in New Zealand. The 13th Floor’s Marty Duda spoke to Thomas Busby about their New Zealand debut and about recording in Nashville.

Click here to listen to the interview with Thomas Busby:

Or read a transcription of the interview here:

MD: So your next few shows are over here in New Zealand. Is that right opening for James Blunt?

TB: Yeah, it’s a big couple of shows for us. Our first ever shows in New Zealand and thankfully we get to play in front of a couple of huge audiences and some awesome venues too.

MD: I was wondering if you’d played over here before, I hadn’t thought so but I wasn’t quite sure. So how do you go about, you know, approaching a new place like New Zealand, it’s not that far from where you’re from but do you have to kind of rejig what you do for it?

TB: No, I suppose the benefit of coming to a place for the first time is that you can kind of fall back on your A grade and your “go to” set, you know what I mean, and you just kind of whack out the old tunes you haven’t played for a while but you probably you know, you want to. So, I mean we’re such a relaxed band, we’re Queenslanders all you know, from a little country town in Queensland. You know, we struggle to get Jeremy to wear shoes so you know, he doesn’t ever try to do anything different and you really don’t want him to because he’s so special on his you know, on his instruments, his guitar, but yeah just want him to be who he is and I think that’s how we’ll attack it over there.

MD: Right, right. Now from what I understand, and correct me if I’m wrong, but there is a New Zealand musician who is somewhat influential as far as you go which is Neil Finn who coincidently his studio is right across the street from where I am right now. So I was wondering, if in fact Neil’s and the Finn brother’s music is an influence on you, how that manifested itself?

TB: Yeah look I think um, you know it was just a perfect age for me when I started just absolutely falling in love with music…and I’m from from a very musical family and I’ve always loved music… but when I started just falling in love with pop music and you know, and rock ‘n’ roll,  Neil Finn and Crowded House were kicking goals.I mean I used to video tape all their, um, you know, back in the VCR days.

MD: Oh yes I remember them well.

TB: ….. the Sydney Opera House or the farewell concerts and I just used to really watch them like until tirelessly and annoy my family and I’d write the lyrics to the songs down, the melodies were just so catchy for me. I was writing songs at that stage, I never wanted to be you know, never expected to or intended to be a song writer or musician but you know, pretty working class kind of fellow like the rest of the band is, you know, we don’t go around in real tight jeans and the rest of it. We are who we are and maybe it’s just the stories and creative way that Neil Finn you know, wrote. I think it was you know, he’s got this um, ability to be creative, such a creative song writing process, yet it’s really simple.

MD: Right.

TB: …. and that is something that is really hard to do. Paul Kelly from Australia is someone who I also respect, big time, he’s an even more just a simple song writer, yet he can paint a thousand words in a sentence. I just um, you know I’d just love to be able to do that one day.

MD: Well Paul and Neil toured Australia together a couple of years ago, didn’t they?

TB: They did, I saw that show in Armidale and it was unreal, it was basically a big family affair, they were sharing you know their nephews and cousins and everyone was in the band. It was just, it was awesome you know…talk about living the dream, they’d been doing it for a while.

Busby MarouMD: Yeah, definitely. Now um, I know your album Farewell Fitzroy came out in Australia last year but I believe that it’s just being released in New Zealand this week or so. So I was hoping to talk to you a little bit in anticipation of its release and the fact you’re gonna be here for the first time. So the first thing I noticed, that it was recorded in Nashville. So was that a big deal for you to go over to Nashville and record the album?

TB: It was a huge deal. I mean we never thought we’d get an, I mean, the first album, a few years ago, Jeremy and I recorded back in Rockhampton with a mate, we did all the instruments and again we just did it because well we wanted to, we didn’t even know the process of trying to get things on radio, reviews or promos, we didn’t even know that even existed and we didn’t really care. We did it because we just wanted to put an album out for ourselves and things and you know, took off, you know, to a certain extent enough to make us do another album and I suppose get a record deal but thinking of Nashville never came. I never would have thought we’d be in Nashville recording an album and the night that we rocked up thinking whoa what are we doing here, how did this happen and how come we’re eating so many burgers, you know, it was a cool experience. We didn’t just go, let’s go to Nashville to record, we wanted to use a producer and you know, I mean there was a lot of mucking around trying to find the right producer and eventually we’ll settle on Brad Jones you know, which was you know, great that he wanted to do our album and he’s done Missy Higgins and Justin Townes Earle and Josh Rouse.

MD: Yeah.

TB: You know, he’s a really incredible musician himself and to go there hang out in the studio for over a month. It was the coolest experience so far.

MD: What did he kinda bring to the party when it got down to actually laying down tracks. What did he contribute to the end result?

TB: He’s really good at crafting and pushing our songs to a certain, I think stepping them up from the middle of the road to A grade, you know, just little slight changes here and there…just pushing our limits and teaching us how, you know, you learn something from everyone you work with, whether it’s the recording process or whether it’s a song writing kind of technique. He had both, he had technique which was being able to strengthen a song with you know, with a tagline or the edge of a bridge. And not only that, when we went to record, we tracked everything live. He knew, he worked our personalities out. He didn’t let me go, ‘I thought I was gonna wait till the end and then go redo my vocals in a real polished way’, but without letting me know he tracked them the whole time and it just really got my personality and character out there because I’m singing to the boys you know, having a bit of cheek on the boys as I’m singing and you could kind of sense that laughter and happiness in my voice and songs. He knew what he was doing in that regard and his way of working was just, it was quick, sharp, and it pushed us to our limit.

MD: And I see theres kind of a, somewhat of a legendary name on the album in the credits. You’ve got Al Perkins playing some steel guitar on there, who goes way back to the Flying Burrito Brothers. So what was it like working with him?

TB: It was ridiculous. He played on you know, couple of Rolling Stones albums and you know, who knows what else he’s played on. He’s the greatest pedal steel player in the world. Hhe came in, it was funny enough, his pedal steels that he buys are from a bloke in Brisbane where all the band are from and that was the strangest thing. Nashville buys a pedal steel from Brisbane, well no one plays pedal steel in Brisbane.

MD: Right.

TB: Also, he’s so particular and meticulous in what he does, he knows the song before you know, he listens to it once and he’s already got the journey going on in is head. Oh wow watching him work is just, you know, he’s a pleasure to work with, he was a gentlemen, you know, we were all had to sort of watch our language around him because, you know, it felt like a saint had walked in to the room, you know, we were just sitting around and all watching him. It was a great feeling, great experience and so, it’s cool just now remembering him.

MD: Yeah. Now would you characterise your music as being country or country rock? I mean you’re going to Nashville so I gotta assume that you, assume that country enters into It and if so um, what is the Australian relationship with country music. It seems to be different than say it is here in New Zealand.

TB: Look it’s definitely like country flavour in our music. Probably more along the lines of, a way it’s been described in the past is kinda fits true to me as a folk inspired pop music you know, and Jeremy brings these country overtones to it. I’ve grown up loving pop, folk and rock and singer songwriter kind of music. So I write the singer song writer style and then Jeremy comes with his harmonies, he gives it this islander effect, you know this beautiful little Torres Strait Islander with his lovely harmonies and but his guitar playing, you know, his heroes on guitar you know, right from Keith Urban to John Mayer to Brad Paisley, you know B.B King. He’s pretty much got those licks and flavours down which give it that feel. But then going to Nashville, you know, we recorded in probably the least most country recording studio over there, it’s more considered an indie pop studio.

MD: Right.

TB: It’s the way we play you know. It’s been confusing in Australia for a lot of people. One minute we’re on Triple J…I think one day we played a tune with country music festival and then the next day on Australia Day we made the Triple J hottest hundred for one of our songs and then you know, we were playing at Blues ‘n’ Roots to urban country music festivals. All these cool little folk festivals and it’s been fortunate for us cause we can kinda play everywhere. I mean in terms of the relationship in Australia for any other bands that are similar or threading that line, it can be very dangerous because as soon as they hear the word country they wanna run from it and a lot of genres over here. I just think, for me personally, I think that, that’s immature. I just think that Australia can sometimes miss out on a lot of incredible bands because we got Triple J over here which is a very important radio station for a lot of artists but um if you’re not getting a lot of spins on that well that can be a little bit dangerous.

MD: Yeah.

TB: You know, particularly if you got a folk vibe or even Americana kind of spirit you know, if you’re in America, country, everyone says you’re a country band, no matter…. Fleet Foxes, they’re a country band in a way you know.

MD: Right.

TB: Delta Spirit, Doors, so you know, it’s a further much bigger market over there and you know, in a perfect world you’d be able to play whatever you want. You know I think people are starting to do that over in Australia, they’ve just started to believe in what they love and bringing a really cool tune.

MD: And I was, I’m curious, what was the musical glue that brought you and Jeremy together. When you first met and started working together what musically did you guys have in common?

TB: Well this is the funny thing. Jeremy and I, musically and even to this day, the only thing we have in common is our own music. We used to fight non-stop about who was good and who wasn’t. You know, he used to try and convince me that Keith Urban is amazing and I used to say he had a cheesy hairstylist. And I would rave about Crowded House and he would be saying they’re too indie or you know, ‘you like your indie fucking party music’, he’d say. But you know, this is going on young you know, we were just very ignorant, didn’t wanna, really as ignorant as how I was explaining. You know, some people over here with the country thing. I suppose I was a little bit like that and it wasn’t until I realised that, it’s what we both bring that has formed our music you know, something clicked, people liked it, it broke through. Whether it was my simple song writing and him making it sound good with his guitar or even his country overtones you know, or his harmonies. But something worked. Our voices mend together pretty perfectly, like he’s, I’ve always thought his voice blends so well with anyone’s voice. Just kinda high pitch but for the last six months I’ve been listening just a little bit more and there’s something that works with our two voices. I can’t quite put my finger on it, it feels good to sing and I’ve been told it sounds good to listen to. So maybe it’s that but you know, I don’t know how its worked with us. Seeing much more of each other than each other’s wives and girlfriends and we’re just like brothers. We don’t have to hang out with each other, we don’t want to but we’re really close in a strange way and music’s the thing that brings us both together.

MD: Now from what I understand, you’ve just released a new single of the album, My Second Mistake. Is that right?

TB: Yeah, this is my favourite song on the album. It wasn’t the first single over here and I’m really happy that we’ve gone with it as the first single in New Zealand. For me lyrically it’s got a bit of a meaning to it you know, it’s about the bit of the bad human being, bit of a grub, and trying to pick up my ways of the past you know, all the different ways that I’m singing about. And this is really special because it’s got a bit of a summery coastal kinda feel to it but then Al Perkins, he plays this kind guitar on this album, it’s the Hawaiian slide guitar.

Watch the video for MY Second Mistake here:[youtube]

MD: Right.

TB: And I just, I mean that was my moment of the record. Just sitting there watching him play this thing, I absolutely love the bends and loops in it. It’s got a bit of a country flavour those bends in the slide guitar, but the song is not country one bit you know, it’s real folk summery so, I love listening to it, I love hearing those bends, it brings back good memories. It’s definitely my favourite song to play live as well so you know.

MD: Oh good.

TB: It works.

MD: And your song writing, is it generally autobiographical or where does the stuff come from?

TB: Yeah look it is. You know, for the first album, we used to just write about people and places and everything we knew you know from growing up around central Queensland and from the humble backgrounds and all our, you know, people and places we love, their heartbreaks. But the second album we sort of moved on, we didn’t really have anything to speak about anymore. We already spoken about them so. It’s really about you know, all those little things we’ve gotten up to, all those mischievous little events you know over the last 3 or so years in between albums. Going from this little rocky town of Rocky being able to suddenly travel around the world, and probably rediscovering ourselves as people and you know, a little bit more exposed. It’s really kinda cool. You know, I don’t often tell everyone exactly what the songs you’re about because maybe they may not like me after that.

MD: Do you have a preference as to, do you prefer to write about yourself and your own experiences or do you prefer to kinda make things up and tell stories.

TB: It’s easier for me make things up and tell stories or at least to exaggerate a story about a person or a mythical person. I do love doing that but um, I also find it challenging. It’s a lot more personal for me, if it’s something you know, I’m really, really getting into singing but in saying that you know, we have a song on the album called Luck and it was written with Don Walker from Cold Chisel.

MD: Oh yes. He was just here, I saw him a couple of weeks ago. Fantastic.

TB: He’s Australia’s greatest songwriter, probably him and Paul Kelly, I rocked up to his unit in Sydney with my guitar and we wrote a song together. I had melody and didn’t really have lyrics, we decided to listen to some old Glen Campbell.

MD: There you go.

TB: One song on repeat. It was a really cool experience. Here he is sitting at his white grand piano overlooking the Sydney Harbour. Me in my shorts and thongs thinking wow I should have dressed up a bit more. Going downstairs and sharing cigars and I don’t even smoke and eating dark chocolate, just listening to him just wow just this bloke’s a rocket scientist and he is definitely and he is a rock star as well and here he is writing songs with me. So it was another really cool life experience and he helped me shape this song and again it wasn’t about me but it was about this journey of this old bloke with no regrets. Nothing to his name with absolutely no regrets. The way he taught me to think out the box is really something that I think I’ll be taking forward to the next album, really special song that one, I really feel it when I’m singing it.

MD: Excellent. Well I’m looking forward to catching you guys when you get here so it’s just what, about a week or so away from the time you’re gonna be around so.

TB: Yeah, three shows in New Zealand in a row, two with James Blunt and one on our own. I absolutely cannot wait, cannot wait, we’re gonna get stuck into those Bluff oysters and green mussels and play some tunes on the side.

Click here for more details about the James Blunt/Busby Marou New Zealand concert dates.