A couple of years back Tom Busby and Jeremy Marou found themselves in Nashville recording Farewell Fitzroy, the album described by many as perhaps the duo’s finest hour yet.
Although it was clearly an impressive experience, Busby reflected back that next time he’d be just as happy recording here, being unpretentious musicians who prefer a pretty straight forward approach.
‘Nashville was great,’ reflects Busby. ‘I would never have dreamt of it 10 years ago playing demos with friends in Rockhampton. It was an awesome experience. I got to live all the memories, but we were a long way from home, and although it was great we got a little homesick. You know, Australia has some of the best producers and emerging people in this industry, and you often have people leaving thinking you have to do it over there, but I think you need to do it in Australia first; you want stuff that is homegrown.’
Recording is a particular skill set, and it’s something that as a musician Busby believes is sometimes challenging.
‘I never used to be able to get the artistic distance in the studio, you get comfortable with how you sound. Jeremy is an acoustic guitarist – I also try to stay away from that in the recording studio – when you have a producer you have to trust them. I do a lot of home recording; I am not the best at it, but it helps me write songs.’
For Busby, the essence of a good recording is about getting ‘the feel’ right, and that feel is more about imperfection than it is about getting everything 100 per cent right.
‘When we are working with a producer we will have different approaches, but for Busby Marou it’s about the feel. The way we play guitar is that I hack along, and Jeremy brings the beautiful guitar over the top; if we layered it down and just had him it would be amazing. Maybe too amazing…’
‘We recorded one song with Jeremy laying it down. If you have seen him play guitar, it is phenomenal, and the producer thought it was unreal, and we just listened to a live version of that track, and he kept playing it, and the producer stopped and said, “I don’t know how you feel about this,” and went with the three-minute version, not the three-day one.
‘We came to an agreement, and then he said that he wanted to record it with me playing guitar and singing together and we played it together and nailed it. That was a very big stepping stone for us as I always thought I brought the songs and Jeremy was the musician; in the end we realised that the merging of the sounds creates the artist. The fact that we’re not perfect is part of our sound. I love singing and with my guitar I will struggle along, but Jeremy comes in and covers the mistakes, so he plays slightly different… he’s definitely got my back covered!’
Songwriting is a pretty organic experience for the duo.
‘I come up with the skeleton – it’s almost all structured; we shape a bit; the harmonies are the favourite part of who we are. Jeremy’s voice is almost girlish – his voice is so different from mine. He’s a Torres Strait Islander and he sings so sweetly; if you meet him he’s the opposite of how his voice sounds – the songs are based around this. The last few tracks he banged out a riff in the studio and I worked around that.’
Busby is a visceral writer; he likes to be able to feel and see what he’s writing about.
‘I definitely need visuals – I struggle to write without them; I have to be able to relate it to my life. My favourite songwriters are simple and you listen to everything with a beautiful tag at the end of it. Particularly the first album was all about the beautiful people and places from home, from heartbreak or little things that you learn over time with life… actually it was mostly about girls!’
Busby Marou are playing Murwillumbah Country Roots Festival 2–5 October. For ticketing and program information go to www.mcrfest.com.