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March 5, 2021

Whatever serves the song

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Eve Jeffery

Delivering songs with fine musicianship, passion and soul, Steve Tyson’s journeys touring through exotic locations such as India, Russia, and Japan, and time spent on the European folk/roots festival circuit, have provided grist for the music mill.

Steve weaves the lives of people along the spectrum into rhythm and melody, and his debut solo album Temple Dog tells a tale of a Japanese man fanning his penis in a train, a petrified Russian tour guide, a drunken Irish wife-basher, and an Australian trying to avoid the aftermath of 9/11, to name a few.

But there is more to Tyson’s live performances than just incredible stories. Playing guitar, dobro and mandolin, his music is contemporary folk gold with nods to roots and jazz.

Echonetdaily caught up with Steve as he prepares for his Sphinx Rock gig next weekend

With so many great human stories on Temple Dog, is it hard to pick a favourite?

Hmmm. That’s a hard one. They are all stories that are very important to me. The two songs that probably touch people the most are Yesterday Was Free, Today It’s a Dollar Fifty, which is the story of a friend of mine who was living in New York at the time of 9/11; and The Ballad of Thomas Keating, which is the story of my great-grandfather from Ireland, who migrated to Australia but turned out to be not a very nice human being!

With a solo career and playing with Rough Red, do you find yourself drawing comparisons?

I love playing in a band. Rough Red is made up of five good mates, and all of us write songs. For me, there just came a time when I had collected a whole bunch of personal stories, things that I’ve seen or done on my travels throughout the world and some family historical things, and they just weren’t right for the band. I’m not the singer in Rough Red, and I just needed to tell these stories myself. Hence the decision to make a solo record. But I love doing both things. I love telling my stories to audiences, and I love being part of a band that is having a whale of a time onstage, as Rough Red does

In Rough Red, I play guitar and mandolin, and I co-write a lot of the band’s songs with the lead singer John Fegan. Rough Red is a sort of folk-rock band, very energetic, but largely based around John’s lyrics. I’m very happy to write melodies and tunes to his words. I have another band also, called the twentysevens (yes, it is with a small t, just to be arty). That band is made up of myself, and the drummer and bass player from Rough Red. Twentysevens plays more rootsy, jam-type stuff. We did a tour through the UK back in 2006 supporting Status Quo for 31 arena shows – a fantastic experience for any musician. The twentysevens is also planning to make a new record later next year.

How hard is it to maintain to two separate entities?

A lot of musicians have multiple projects these days, so I think it’s just the way it is. There is never a dull moment, that’s for sure. But I am so passionate about making music that it really isn’t difficult to wear more than one hat.

Back in the studio, Steve is planning a new solo album as well in 2013; coming up with a dozen tracks is no biggy for this modern bard. Steve lets himself explore music when looking for a way to manifest his work and he never lets type and genre get in the way of expression.

With a view to launching later in the year, Tyson’s new album contains stories that are important to him, but there are a few tracks with quite a different approach musically.

I’m a firm believer in the adage ‘whatever serves the song’, so if I think a certain type of musical approach will help deliver the story better, then I will go with that. For example, on Temple Dog the song Yesterday Was Free, Today It’s Dollar Fifty is about a friend in New York at the time of 9/11. My memories of New York are wandering through Greenwich Village, going from jazz club to jazz club. For that song, I brought in three of Brisbane’s finest jazz players to interpret what I had written. On the new album, I’ve done a couple of things that venture into what I guess you would call ‘world’ music. If it helps tell the story better, I don’t really care what style of music it gets called.


Who are you listening to now ?

I have very eclectic tastes when it comes to music. I listen to so much different stuff. In my car at the moment I’m shuffling between Seth Lakeman’s Tales From The Barrel House – a great modern folk record; Gary Clark Jnr’s Blak and Blu; Jack Carty’s Break Your Own Heart – I saw him at the Mullum Music Festival and loved his stuff; and a couple of locals – Starboard Cannons Somebody’s Opus (great songs) and Sarah Tindley’s Time.


Oh, and With The Beatles is never far away…

See Steve this Sunday at the Sphinx Rock Cafe.

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