Published on February 2nd, 2015 | by The Beige Baron0
Heartache In Every Line: Justin Frew’s Playlister
I’m going to level with you. I know fuck-all about country music. So when this CD landed on my desk, with a picture of a rusty ute on the front, I was thinking, oh man. The only time country crosses my radar is when I press the wrong button on the cable remote and Music SacWac comes on and it’s some bloke with a face like a horse in a black cowboy hat doing I don’t know what to a 12-string. Zip! Git farked! Where’s Cartoon Network ya clown.
But I had a stack of papers on my table to work through. Okay fine, Justin Frew and your Loose Intentions, let’s see what you got. You were rocking the bass in Kim Salmon’s and Dave Faulkner’s band in the ’90s. You’re mates with most of the Beasts of Bourbon. Mick. Ian. It has to count for something. Maybe some of the dirt rubbed off on you.
I slip the disc. Holy shit. It’s good. Instantly good. The first track, there’s a chuckling banjo, and what the hell? Groove! And this guy singing. He’s singing about a place I used to live. And there’s no dead dogs so far! This music really swings. I hit the back button and listen again.
Every street has a secret… these alleys, a story to tell. I used to think that tramping around Surry Hills late at night with a head full of drugs. Wondering that maybe there was a guy like me who passed out in the exact same spot in the gutter 150 years ago–I bet he’d recognise the place too, it looks like it wouldn’t have changed that much. Ye olde McDonald’s spew, crustified, and fossilized.
All those secrets, you can keep it, ‘cos as far as I’m concerned, this town can go to hell…
And there you have the album in the first few bars. Justin Frew sings from his guts. His voice is persuasive. You feel the story he’s telling. And the music, far out, I swear I heard tabla, mandolin, banjo, lapsteel, sitar, a few different kinds of guitar, there was even keyboards and electronics on one track… every song is different and surprising.
It occurred to me that maybe country was as big of a world as say, metal. You’d get kicked in the nuts for saying metal is Kiss. Maybe I’m wrong calling modern country Garth Brooks. I like this A LOT. It’s really fucking cool and great.
So I got in touch with Justin and asked him to tell me about country music. I asked him what he liked, and to show me what bands were the biggest influence on his own music. And this is what he said. But quickly, before we get into these incredible tracks, head over to Justin Frew’s Loose Intentions bandcamp and have a listen. Seriously, do it. What harm. But over to Justin:
“If you want to learn to write songs, you listen to the masters. Hank is all about economy of words. There’s heartache in every line. I used that song as a template for Before My Time is Due. There’s 8 lines in the whole song, 16 if you break them down to phrases. Yet he paints a devastating picture. Hank’s got me through a few break ups!
“Lee Hazlewood. Such a major influence on so many people from the Jesus and Mary Chain to Nick Cave to Roland S. Howard. You can hear his influence in so much of the music I love.
Apart from being an amazing producer (Duane Eddy, Nancy Sinatra, Waylon Jennings, etc.) he did all these amazing solo albums. Dark, funny, brilliant. And his delivery is so dry and laconic. Always behind the beat. A huge influence on my singing and songwriting.
“Johnny cash. A man who knew his demons well. The sound of the Tennessee Three was raw and primal. And the way he holds his guitar like a rifle. He’s high on pills and looking mean. And the delivery is just dangerous.
“Next! Tom Waits. A guy that exists in his own time and place. Outside the realm of us mere mortals. My introduction to Mr Waits was the brutal Bone Machine. It took me ages to get past the noise and hear the songcraft underneath. Crazy stuff. Life-changing. You can hear his influence over a lot of my stuff. Particularly The Night That Liza Glamphist Comes to Town. I don’t try and sing like him anymore. You need to be possessed to get that texture in your voice!
“Who’s next? Nick Cave. Like Tom Waits, he exists in his own stratosphere. Constantly evolving. Lyrically no one can touch him. Dark, twisted, and often hilarious. The Bad Seeds are one of the most brutal live bands on the planet. With the current line-up of the Loose Intentions when we’re on, it’s not five people playing together, it turns into a ten-legged beast.
“Next is Red Foley. Just an amazing voice. Came up as a radio star in the ’30s and ’40s. He could do country, gospel, blues. A great interpreter of songs. The timbre in his voice was astounding.
“Elvis. What can I say? The fucker could sing. And move. Another great interpreter of songs. This is one of my favourites. The ’68 comeback special. His voice was at its strongest that it had been for years. The passion in his voice when he gets to the bridge gives me shivers.
“Willie Dixon. I’m a huge fan of the Chess catalogue. Some of the best and most inspiring electric blues ever recorded. And Willie Dixon was at the centre of it all. He wrote, produced, arranged, and played on so many seminal recordings. Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, Little Walter all sang his tunes. And he played a mean double bass on a lot of those recordings. So many great tunes came from this one guy.
“Townes Van Zandt. What an amazingly talented soul. A tragic life. So messed up. He produced some really heavy songs. Emotionally that is. Leave a hole in the bottom of your heart the size of the Grand Canyon. And then he’d do something like this. A love song. Acknowledging he was a fuck-up, but still needing someone. To lay me down…
“Mark Lanegan. Musically, a restless soul. When he’s not doing his own stuff he’s collaborating with any number of talented people. Bubblegum is in my top 5 all-time favourite albums. I remember being on a bus from London to Norwich listening to it. And 100 Days came on. I was hungover and pretty messy and this song was like the purest hit of smack. Mesmerising. Pure narcotic bliss. Without the unseemly track-marks! And that voice. Every hard, dirty mile travelled can be heard.
Justin Frew’s Loose Intentions can be heard in Wollongong regularly, Sydney a little less so, and Melbourne on a lucky chance. He is not to be missed. Not. To. Be. Missed. Hit the like on his Facebook so you won’t miss him when he next passes through town.