In her latest #artistinterview, Juliette Furio chats with Liam Gale of Liam Gale and the Ponytails, discovering what’s next for the man and the band, and learns about things bluesy, expressive, and human.
I first heard Liam Gale and the Ponytails at the Batch Brewery, a tin-shed type construction in Marrickville that serves its own brews in jars (a trend I have not quite been able to embrace) with blue and purple lights casting eerie shadows on what I imagine to be the brewing gear. Liam’s six-piece band set up on a tiny stage to the far right of the bar. A self described “blues/soul/country” band, their sound immediately brought to mind the straights of New Orleans, the thick air and hot nights of bayou world.
JLF: Liam, what is your response on being described as “swamp” blues?
Liam Gale: I think slide guitar makes people think all sorts of thing, especially in America.
JLF: Do you have strongly related influences?
Liam Gale: Well, I love the Blues. I go through phases. I had a bit of a Muddy Waters phase like everybody does. John Lee Hooker is cool, Howlin’ Wolf is a really good singer; his reputation was for being like a dog on stage. He would howl like a wolf and apparently get on all fours and do all sorts of things! Or so I read.
JLF: What made you decide to turn to the Blues?
Liam Gale: It wasn’t a decision so much as it just happened. When I started learning guitar my first teacher taught me improvisation, which is the foundation of blues and jazz, and that is what made me stick to blues the most. I personally find blues to be a malleable form. It’s a particular sound – we all know what the blues sounds like – and to me it just sounds like “human music.” It’s what people sound like. I had a big Pink Floyd phase – David Gilmore is the man! – And he is essentially a blues guitarist I would say. You can put it anywhere! Classical, progressive rock and it sounds cool. At the same time it sounds like space. You can do anything with it.
JLF: So it’s the human element and malleability that has you hooked?
Liam Gale: I think so. This one time, I bought a didgeridoo and the guy said “instruments are natural things and humans are natural things, so inevitably they are drawn to each other, and that is what music is.” I thought that was an interesting take on it, on the blues.
JLF: There is, of course, the inherent human need to express oneself through whatever medium is available or corresponds to you.
Liam Gale: I feel like everyone has the ability to express themselves. These days, singing has been put on a pedestal what with the TV shows. Everyone can sing, it’s just that some are better than others. It depends on your standard really. I think everyone can do it and it’s important to do it.
JLF: As time progresses, some can do little but express themselves and it becomes less essential for others, which determines the focus you put on it.
Liam Gale: And the performer from the audience. They are just as important as each other; it’s a collaboration on every level.
JLF: Yes, a world full of musicians would be total chaos. There would be no space to even hear one another! What is the general reception to your work?
Liam Gale: Onstage I try not to be awkward, but it usually goes the opposite way. My band has been telling me that I need to talk to the audience. We will be onstage and there will be this “dead air” as I’m tuning or swapping my guitar and nothing is being said…I don’t know how that is received so I need to work on my banter. That is the biggest lesson learned so far.
JLF: People do tend to get awkward without the small talk.
Liam Gale: I saw a duo who where great at it! They were called Rescue Ships and it was hilarious. It was essentially stand-up comedy with great music in between. Some people just nail it, that ability to communicate verbally is a good one.
JLF: What is the general reception by your audience?
Liam Gale: I do get these old blues guys who come up to me after a show and start to name drop. They tell me what to listen to and it’s great, I love that. I’m sure some people might have liked it, but it’s never been said. In any case, I’m the one singing – not you – so just go to a different show.
JLF: Sounds like you are confident in what you do.
Liam Gale: You have to like the songs you write, otherwise you’ll feel like you’re not supposed to be on stage.
JLF: Do you see yourself reflected in your music?
Liam Gale: As I write more, I find my songs are getting simplified, and as you get older, you simplify the way you see things. In subject matter as well, I tend to write collections of songs. In the visual arts there can be series, or bodies of work and I do the same. In the first album there was eight and in the second there are twelve. They are all centered vaguely around one idea, with musical motifs to tie it together.
JLF: In the most recent album, what was your motif?
Liam Gale: The Lonely Throne, which we are about to put out, has a fairly traditional format, Side A and Side B, to echo vinyl’s, and it’s about duality and balance. The first half is fairly dark; the second half is fairly light. The first half is recorded inside, the second half outside. The start of the album is like walking into the farmhouse, where we recorded most of it, and the end is like walking outside and hearing the birds sing. The persona is coming to terms with who they are and at the end, it happens! I like that consistency. I think that if you are going to write an album, it should be “complete” rather than just ten songs.
JLF: Right, like a pink Floyd album; it’s almost the one track. You have to listen to Wish You Were Here or Dark Side of the Moon from front to back; no way can you just listen to the one song.
Liam Gale: Or skip songs. I wanted to put footsteps in the back, quietly, but my band said I was taking it too far .
JLF: Does your band have a look?
Liam Gale: We aren’t a very fashion conscious bunch. Some musicians are and I think that cool. Occasionally, someone might ask “should we wear something nice?” everyone agrees and then someone else will suggest we just all wear black. Everyone owns black clothes, so that’s what ends up happening. I would like to have a stage arrangement though, that is something to work on.
JLF: Your work seems to have a fairly whole, earthy consistence. From recording in a farmhouse to the subjects you explore. Is that important to you?
Liam Gale: I think geography is important and affects you. Where you write, where you live, where you record. On the first album I made sure you could hear the house we recorded in. And Australia is a beautiful country! It’s the only place I’ve ever lived – I’ve seen other countries, and I would like to see more – but I would like to see more of Australia. My writing is becoming more linked to it. The more I see Australia, the more I am affected by it and the more I fall in love with it. A sense of place is important. I had 15 people on the first album, who are all bringing themselves. Seeing that come to fruition is quite ridiculous. After a year and a half it’s finally done. Listening back to it now you’re like “Oh! That’s Tom singing, that’s Chloe playing the sitar, that’s Rosie wailing and that’s Max playing the drums,” it’s quite bizarre.
JLF: So The Lonely Throne is coming out soon?
Liam Gale: The 22nd of April! We go on tour of the East coast at the end of April too.