Mandy Nolan goes behind the scenes with one of the country’s favourite alt-country bands, the Stillsons, to find out just what all the fuss is about. Check them out for yourself at the Beach Hotel tonight.
What do you love most about country music? Ben: It’s the white man’s blues. It’s the stories… and the great musicianship that inevitably goes with country music. A lot of country music also has great humour in the lyrics, even when singing about depressing things.
Do you think all we cool and groovy people try to excuse our deep and dirty love of country by shoving an ‘alt’ in it to make it seem like it’s okay? Ben: We have no shame in liking country music. Bring on George Jones and Buck Owens, Faron Young… But country is like all forms of music: there’s great country music and bad country music. The term ‘alt-country’ makes me think of skinny indie kids in too-tight jeans playing indie music with a steel guitar or a banjo added in… We come at country more from the folk side of things, way less hip, but way more fun!
Did you go to see Dolly when she was in town, or is that too hard-core for you? Cat: Oh, no, Dolly is easy-listening country! Only joking. I would have loved to see Dolly, but musicians generally can’t afford to go to those sort of concerts any more. Should I pay my rent, or go see Dolly…
What is the music that has most influenced you? Ben: Well a band’s members all have their own influences. My own are literally too broad to name, though playing steel guitar in the band means I have influences such as western swing, 1940s–1970s country music, jazz etc. Justin: I’m pretty eclectic with what I love, loving bluegrass at present; AC/DC are my fave. Cat: Recently digging Heath Cullen, Mia Dyson and Ani Di Franco is my mainstay.
What movie have you watched recently that moved you? Ben: The Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes. Justin: The King’s Speech. Cat: Max and Mary.
Where do you collect the narratives for your songs? Are they personal, biographical, or do you hear them in pubs… ? Justin: We always have an ear out for good one-liners in social situations, but I think what hits the most is when you can relate a story to a personal/family situation; that’s when you know you can write truly from the heart. Both of us (Cat and I) were very lucky to not grow up in alcohol/drug problems in our families, but there was a huge amount of anger and anxiety that could be completely debilitating, so it’s great to able to write about that in a song, then have other people relate to it
How did you guys meet? Was it the meeting of musical soulmates? Cat: Justin and I met in Melbourne at a bar in Fitzroy in 2006. Justin was playing a show and I’d gone down to scope out his music. I loved what I heard so I propositioned him about playing drums at his next gig… We met Ben in 2009 after our first record Circus was released. Ben came down to watch a show and really dug the band so we ask him over to a jam. It was instant musical love… well, it was on my part, anyhow… I’d say it was a meeting of star-crossed country music lovers.
How do you keep the magic going? Justin: The ideal is to keep everything out in the open and take great care of everything; not saying we actually achieve that, but we try!
What’s on the cards for The Stillsons in the next year? Ben: More touring, expanding our touring to the west coast, and hopefully beyond. Maybe a new album next year. We’ll let the year unfold and take us where it takes us!
What should we expect for your show here?
Cat: Wear your dancing shoes and dress sexily; you’ll be getting down to some of the finest original blues, roots and rock.
The Beach Hotel, Byron Bay, tonight, starts at 8.30pm, free entry.