For the good part of his career Harry James Angus has been the trumpet player who fronts The Cat Empire. Enigmatic, dynamic, electric, Angus knows how to connect with a crowd. In fact, he’s knows how to work them into a frenzy. Angus is a supremely talented musician. This is only one facet. His new musical endeavour is a solo creation called Little Stories.
This is Harry on his own. Quiet, thoughtful, whimsical. It’s a very different relationship that Angus commands from his audience.
‘As a solo artist, these songs are very intimate and in a way small scale, I want them to be these little quiet subtle things. For me, my musical career is not about a journey of forging ahead. It’s about bringing out the quiet things.’
Angus believes it’s all about confidence: the younger you are, the louder you play.
‘It’s a confidence thing, young musicians are hungry to get out there and prove themselves with a big band. Having had successes has led me to a position [where I want] to do something that’s quiet and small…’
Harry James Angus’ new album is being hailed as a quiet work of genius. Unpretentious, simple and poetic, it’s his musicianship and craft as a songwriter that shines through.
‘This time when I prepared for the album I approached it as a writer of words, rather than a writer of music. I wanted the music to be a canvas to put the words on. Thinking of myself as being a writer I got more into the details of the song; it’s not about what is true to me, it’s about being true to the story that the song is telling.’
Angus sees himself not so much as the subject, but as the narrator.
‘It’s just about telling a story, its an ancient thing and something great to reinvent. We have a pretty limited mythology of songwriting topics. Like heading out in my dusty boots, – those words don’t mean anything, they are clichés, and reinforced by being sung over and over. I was interested in writing songs in a standard format, but had to ask myself, how are they going to be different? I want to find things to write about which are true to everyone – true to my audience, they should be able to find it.’
So how do you make the personal universal?
‘I think if something’s really good it’s personal and at the same time it’s universal. I was just listening to the Beach Boys, with Brian Wilson singing I guess I just been born in the wrong time or living in the wrong time – it’s not the most poetic, and not very sophisticated, and as usual very self absorbed, but no one can listen to the song and not be touched.’
‘There is a knife-edge balance between poetry and eliitism in your music, some people use sophisticated language to say this is intelligent, but the right word in the right place is always what you are after. One thing I set myself was to use swear words appropriately in songs, I get so sick of hearing songs where a swear word has been inserted just for effect, so in these songs when I swear or the character who swears, I try to make it relevant.’
Harry James Angus plays very few solo shows, and for good reason. Audiences and those who love the Cat Empire expect something big and bold. Harry saves his solo shows for audiences who know how to appreciate something small.
‘I have been really careful about when and where I do these shows, I have done 10 ever and I always make sure it’s the right environment, I want to be careful. Mullum Music Festival is an amazing, the audiences really get it.’
Harry James Angus, performs Little Stories at the Mullum Music Festival on Saturday 26 November at 4pm.
For program details about the event, which runs from Thursday 24 November until Sunday 27, go to www.mullummusicfestival.com