2015 CD REVIEW
HELL BREAKS LOOSE (LOST HIGHWAY-UNIVERSAL).
HELL BREAKS LOOSE IN HERMANNSBURG
“I've been lost in Boston, lonely in Santa Fe/ I've been high in New York City, low in L.A./ it's been done, but it ain't no fun/ I ain't got you/ though the first race never went to plan/ I drive all right for a second-hand man.” - Second Hand Man - Shane Nicholson.
Shane Nicholson normally hangs his metaphorical hat at Copacabana beach on the NSW Central Coast where he lives upstairs from his studio, Sound Hole .
His daughter Poet and son Arlo Ray are just down the road at mum Kasey Chambers' home.
"It's a nice place to come home to and hide out," Nicholson revealed as he launched his sixth solo album Hell Breaks Loose in July.
But it was way out west at fellow singer-songwriter Warren Williams' property in historic settlement Hermannsburg - 130 km from Alice Springs - he started writing for the album produced by Matt Fell.
It's best known as birthplace of Aboriginal landscape watercolour artist Albert Namatjira and home to Williams.
Eight time Golden Guitar winner Nicholson credits Hermannsburg as a place of salvation and rejuvenation and birthplace of Hell Breaks Loose .
“I now see my life as divided into two parts - pre and post Hermannsburg,” Nicholson revealed.
“It wasn't just an artistic re-awakening I found there, it was quite a strong personal one too.”
In 2013 after the breakdown of his marriage to Kasey Chambers, with whom he launched second duet disc Wreck & Ruin at the historic 1842 Rutherglen House in Highlander Lane in the Melbourne CBD in September, 2012, he was in a creative crevice.
But Nicholson was not tempted to return and knock on the dungeon door of the quasi-museum, adorned with stuffed wildlife and home of Octogenarian icon, bon vivant and New Zealand born world traveller Captain Percy Pierre Gustaf-Janson.
The bearded host to generations of expat English aristocrats visiting the colonies - and other plane and boat people living here - did not call Queensland born Nicholson to join him for writing inspiration.
Instead it was a chap with a deeper link to the roots of our sunburned country.
“Before that trip to Hermannsburg I hadn't written a song for six months. I was producing albums for other people at the time, but inside I felt all music-ed out,” Nicholson added.
“I didn't really feel like writing, although I had a lot to write about. I couldn't get my head in the right space.
“Then a friend of mine, Warren H Williams the indigenous country singer who I've known for many years, started calling me. He kept insisting I come to stay with him out there. I think he saw that I needed a change of scenery and some perspective, with everything that was going on in my world at the time. So he just dragged me out there and it was quite incredible. I think he knew all along that I'd get something from it and I totally did - that trip kick-started the whole album.”
On the first day, Williams took him out to sacred lands including Grosse Crater, shared his dreaming stories and opened his eyes to the bigger world around him.
“Something magical happened and I wrote the song Hermannsburg sitting next to the church. Then I wrote two more songs that week. It was like the floodgates opened and I couldn't stop writing. It was a truly pivotal time for me.
“He saw that I needed some time to be able to assess everything that was going on, and it was one of the most amazing weeks of my life. You can't help but get perspective out there, when you leave all the noise behind. I was taken in so warmly; it was a really humbling experience.''
WHEN THE MONEY'S ALL GONE
“You know your friends when the money's all gone/ trail of wreckage wider than it's long.” - When The Money's All Gone - Shane Nicholson.
“It's essentially a song about knowing who your friends are, who's on your side, and taking stock of things in your life. In Hermannsburg everything around you is so vast, it's impossible not to get some sense of perspective about your life back home. I enjoyed the simple things like sitting around a campfire drinking black tea and just talking about nothing in particular. It was really special.”
His son Arlo, daughter Poet and step-son Talon inspired evocative ballad Single Fathers .
Nicholson had just farewelled the children to travel to a show in Cairns and wrote the song on the plane, finishing it before landing.
“I played it that night and took an audience vote on whether I should put it on the album and the answer was overwhelmingly yes, so I did,” Nicholson revealed.
“That song was directed towards my children. I have never worried before about how something is going to be perceived. So I am not going to start now.
“I was a little concerned it might be taken the wrong way but it's pro-single dads not anti-single mums and it's not callous in any way.
“Although, I was in two minds about including it on the record, because I was concerned that it could be taken the wrong way because of the line, ‘There's no mothers/ like single fathers'.
“My kids have heard the song. They know it's about them and they sing along. My daughter actually thinks the line is ‘There's no mothers/ like singer fathers', because I'm a singer. It's very cute.
“What it is saying is that now I live in this arrangement, you realise children get different things from dad than they do from mum. We're not living in the ideal nuclear family anymore so I am trying to identify the cool things the kids can get out of this relationship.”
Nicholson is also happy with his own reaction to the finished product.
“I really am quite proud of this record, more than I've found myself to be in the past,” Nicholson added.
“I'm not even sure why, I'm just really satisfied. I'm personally stoked with it. It's my favourite.
“I feel like Hell Breaks Loose is a turning point. Like the other albums I've done have been practice runs. This one seems like a line in the sand from an artistic level and I feel like I'm finding a new voice after twenty years.”
BURY MY GUNS
“Somebody told me once the music's all dead/ I've got to bury my guns/ and I've been sleeping with a snake in my bed/ got to bury my guns.” - Bury My Guns - Shane Nicholson.
The disc opens with Weight Of The World that addresses his battles with anxiety - an issue that helps writers appreciate the significance of sharing experiences to other sufferers of mental illness.
Nicholson says growing older made him more aware he had been dealing with anxiety most of his life.
He plans to release the song later as single to help further awareness of mental health issues and encourage family and friends of sufferers to educate themselves on how to help.
“I am becoming aware that just about half the people I know, musician or not, suffer different degrees of the same thing,” Shane says.
“Sometimes it takes someone holding up a mirror and saying ‘This is your problem' for you to start talking about it. You think you are going to die and it's so fucking bad.
“Maybe there's an age factor to it because you become more self-aware. None of us felt the need to write about it when we were 20.”
The disc also features contemplative Hermannsburg and the raging Bury My Guns.
“The third day I sat outside the mission church in the historical village and started writing for the first time for six months.” Nicholson said of the former song.
“I was really nervous to come home because I felt I had this newfound objectivity and I was worried about coming home and finding out it wasn't going to be that easy.
“That fear is what the song Hermannsburg is about, that perspective is great but then you have to make change happen.
“I was trying to figure out everything, being a single dad and navigating co-parenting with someone, moving out of the house that we almost owned and work, starting again at 38.
“I felt like I was 24 again, when I moved to Sydney from Brisbane. I didn't think I would have to go through that feeling again. That was difficult for a while.
"The music industry moves so fast it's impossible to guess where it's going next. For me, it's about satisfying myself, feeling I've done something of value.
"Most people start making music for themselves. I try to hold on to that feeling. I never try and lose that connection into why I started."
Nicholson shifts and changes band members all the time, never plays the same set list two nights in a row.
The tour features him in every guise - solo, duo, trio, full band - depending on venue.
"I change my live band all the time and we never rehearse," he says.
"I love walking on the edge of chaos. Music for me has to be fun. It's not about planning it. It's hard to orchestrate magic. You hope for the best.
“I don't feel compelled to prove anything. I know with Hell Breaks Loose we came up with something that I loved. That's all that has ever mattered to me, really. The weight on your shoulders certainly feels greater when you are younger, and these days I'm just happy to be doing what I do, the way I like to do it.”
Nicholson hands the reins to producer Matt Fell at his Sydney studio, Love Hz .
“I love that part of the process but because I do it every day now I can let go of producing on my own record,” Nicholson said. “I didn't touch a fader or a computer, I just played music and sang, and maybe for that reason I like Hell Breaks Loose more than any other record I've made.
“It meant I could get out of my studio where I had been locked up for the previous 12 months. It felt like a holiday, riding up and down the freeway each day to the studio on the motorbike, having none of the nuts and bolts stuff to worry about.
“Some records have a more specific objective but one thing we never talked about was the direction of a song. There was no thought about the way people might perceive the record or how they might react to it. This was just a bunch of songs that went where they wanted to go.''