Husky Tell Us All About 'Stardust Blues'
Speaking to us as Melbourne prepared to re-enter lockdown Husky Gawenda shared the story behind Stardust Blues and the band’s first time recording to tape.
Following on from three critically acclaimed studio albums, Husky are back with their stellar fourth offering. Their first true concept album, Stardust Blues is a beautiful collection of work that has already seen singles ‘SYWD’, ‘Cut Myself Loose’, ‘Wristwatch’, ‘Light A Cigarette’ and now ‘Dirty River’ become instant classics. Described by the band themselves as “a record of a time and a place that are no longer” the story lives on in Stardust Blues out today.
The Creative Issue: Stardust Blues is a very cool album name and as I understand it this isn’t just a random collection of songs, there is a link between them all and there’s also a link with the Westbury Hotel. Can you tell us the story behind the album and it’s title?
Husky Gawenda: Sure. Well, where should I start? The title is that kind of feeling when you’re walking late at night and you look up and the stars are bright and beautiful and you think about the meaning of it all. How big and small we are. How sweet and sad life is. That’s the kind of ‘stardust blues’ that I was thinking of when I came up with the name. I guess that relates to the mood and context of the album. Which is, well, it’s a concept album. It’s our first proper concept album. The songs together tell a story about a character who’s on a journey throughout the city over 24 hours and has all sorts of experiences, and meets all sorts of people, both friends and strangers, and falls in and out of love, all that usual stuff [laughs]. I guess the way that it relates to the Westbury Hotel is that the character is semi-based on me, and other characters in the songs on the album are semi-based on my friends and people I lived with at this place, the Westbury Hotel. It was a sharehouse, a kind of 1920’s mansion in Westbury Street and we called it the Westbury Hotel because it was a place that many different people lived and moved through and wrote and painted in. It was a kind of artist’s commune. So the album is semi-based on that place and the people who lived there. The album was written and recorded in a time when we were told that the hotel was going to be knocked down. So we were living our last few months there knowing that we were going to lose it. It sort of heightened those months and a lot of art was made, and music was recorded, and parties were had. It was a kind of intoxicating time and I think that kind of translates in the album.
TCI: You recorded the album in a couple of different locations is that right? What was the process like?
HG: Yeah. We did a lot of the writing and rehearsing for the record at the hotel. Then we recorded it around the corner, just walking distance, in a studio called Woodstock Studios. So it was all done in the small, couple of hundred meter radius in Balaclava in Melbourne. Woodstock is a great little studio with just all the kind of gear that we really love, classic analogue gear, and specifically a great 24-track tape machine which we recorded the whole album on. It’s the first time we’ve recorded to tape so that had a big influence on the record.
TCI: Did you like recording to tape? Do you think that’s something you’ll do again or was it just something you wanted to try for this particular concept album?
HG: Yeah. I think we’re converted. I think we’re well and truly converted to recording to tape. We’d only recorded digitally to computers before and there’s a couple of things about tape. Firstly, it has a sound quality that we really love. All the records we’ve grown up with and loved up to the 90’s were obviously recorded on tape, before digital was a thing. But also with more recent artists like Andy Shauf, Father John Misty, Michael Rault and Elliot Smith you know, there’s something about the warmth, something the tape does, the smoothing out of harsh frequencies and boosting the pleasant ones. It’s hard to explain, and I’m no expert, but I know it when I hear it, and I like it. The other thing is that the approach is different. Computers tempt you to mess around with things a bit too much. You can do a lot more manipulating and editing, whereas tape forces you not to. We decided to record to tape because we liked the sound of it but also we didn’t want to use a computer to make ourselves sound good. We wanted to sound good and then capture that.
TCI: The songwriting and production on this album has so much depth to it. What music influenced the writing of Stardust Blues?
HG: Yeah. Some of those ones I mentioned were definitely ones we were listening to at the time. We were listening to Andy Shauf and Foxwarren. Michael Rault was one where the sound, the sonic quality of his record, was something that we were paying attention to. Father John Misty and Jonathan Wilson again had that kind of aesthetic. The quality of the recordings had a big influence on us I think. Another big one that Jules, Gideon and I were listening to was Big Thief and they have a very specific kind of approach. There’s something very visceral about their recordings that we really love and wanted to have on our recording.
TCI: Do you have a favourite song on the album, or does it keep changing?
HG: I guess it’s something that’s always changing but I think one of my favourites at the moment is definitely ‘SYWD’. I think it’s one of the most unusual songs we’ve ever recorded. The structure of it is kind of unusual. It has a weird time signature. I really don’t like listening to a song and it has a weird time signature and it’s really obvious that it has a weird time signature. ‘SYWD’ has got a really strange time signature and rhythm but you don’t really notice it unless you think about it. It just works really well. It’s a fun one. I find it really fun to play.
TCI: Who created the beautiful cover artwork for Stardust Blues?
HG: So it’s a painting by Tunni Kraus who’s a Melbourne artist. He was, I guess, the founder of the Westbury Hotel. I lived there with him and he’s a really dear friend. He’s done most of the artwork for our albums over the years, and this is his latest instalment. The usual process is that we send him the album once it’s done and he listens and then paints, and this is what came out. I agree that it’s really stunning and, I think, really fitting for the album. I love that it’s so bright and colourful and yet it feels like night time. It’s got this strange paradoxical quality.
TCI: We’re all feeling a little bit starved of live music right now. Husky have played some incredible shows in their career so far. If you could go back tonight and relive any Husky show which would you choose?
HG: Hmm. If I think back now, the show that sticks out in my mind is one of the most recent shows we played. I guess coming up to the release of our album, with the knowledge that we’re not going to be able to launch it live, I think back to our last album launch at The Corner Hotel. You know, iconic Melbourne venue. Sold out show. Launching an album. It’s kind of what you do it all for. A room full of hundreds of people digging the music and the exchange that happens in the room. It’s something that I really miss and we’re really going to miss with the release of the album. So yeah, if I could transport myself back anywhere right now, it would be to the stage of The Corner Hotel launching a record.
TCI: That’s a brilliant choice. Even though everything that’s happening in Melbourne and Victoria right now is a setback hopefully we will see a tour announcement at some point.
HG: Definitely. It will happen. It will happen eventually. We’ll also do some live streaming around the release. Nothing is a perfect substitute for being in a room and the feedback and energy loop that you get at a show, but hundreds of people in a room right now is unimaginable, in Melbourne especially. You do get something different with streaming. You can let the audience into a very intimate place and that’s an interesting platform for the songs too. I think people find it kind of weird and fascinating. I do when I’m watching other artists.
TCI: Speaking about live performances. There were some live videos that were shot for this record is that correct?
HG: Yeah. We’ve released two of them so far, one for ‘Cut Myself Loose’ and one for ‘Light A Cigarette’. ‘Cut Myself Loose’ was filmed at the Westbury Hotel with all of us, the whole band, in separate rooms. We’re all hooked into our Tascam 388 tape machine and the camera kind of roams through the house into the various rooms and finds us playing our respective instruments. So, yeah, that’s a really cool video. That was shot and recorded by Matt Redlich who produced and recorded the album and is a multi-talented human being. Then ‘Light A Cigarette’ was also a live video that we shot in the garden at our friend’s place in Hepburn, around the fire, and also with our Tascam 388. So everything is on tape which is really nice, and we have some more live videos coming. There’ll be another one with the release of the album and we’ve got a couple more that we will put out there into the world at some point.
TCI: Does Husky have any release day rituals? What will you be doing when August 7th rolls around and Stardust Blues is finally out there for everyone to hear?
HG: Well we would normally get at least the band together and celebrate. We would either get together and have a drink or go down to the beach for a surf. So they’re things we won’t be able to do this time around. But we do have a plan for a streaming event that we’ll be announcing very soon. So there will be something the weekend of the release. Otherwise, we’ll be looking forward to a time where we can get together in a room with people and play these songs and celebrate the record.
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