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Byron Shire
April 11, 2021

Making records on the Heartworn Highway

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Heartworn Highway
Heartworn Highway

Heartworn Highway love listening to old vinyl – and it wasn’t just the old songs, it was how they were recorded.

The band set out on a retro adventure, recording everything live to tape and pressing onto vinyl to achieve that rich listening sound. Diego Zaragoza spoke with The Echo about the experience.

Who are the members of Heartworn Highway and how did they come to be playing together?

I met Trent McNamara three years ago, a couple days after I moved to Brunswick Heads with my family. We just clicked musically, and started collaborating right away. A year later we started recording our album and we managed to rope in Al Brooker on double bass. Maria Stratton played the inaugural Bangalow BBQ Blugrass Festival with us on fiddle and vocals, and we begged her to stay.

How hard is it to find that ‘perfect’ combination of people for a band… how do you know if you need another player, or one less… finding a relationship can be hard work, so a group must be very interesting!

Definitely, the true concept of a ‘band’ is such a rare thing to come across, and when it happens it just happens, you can’t force it; you just thank your lucky stars and go with it.   

Why did you choose to record on a 1960s valve tape recorder? I don’t really know what it is – can you explain and let me know how this changed the sound?

We knew the sound we were after, that sound of those old classic records we love. We did the research and figured out how they recorded those records. We were lucky enough to have analog guru Michael Stavrou on board to show us the way. We sourced the equipment we needed to do the job right; a few 40s and 50s ribbon microphones and a reel-to-reel tape recorder from the 60s that records through built-in valve preamps straight to tape. Then we mastered it straight to vinyl; nothing digital touched this record. 

Do you think the digital world loses something in its constant striving for perfection?

For sure, but it’s a tough one because our generation was raised on it, and it’s hard to know the difference between digital and analog unless you’ve really been exposed to it. For me analog just feels better, more natural, and it was so refreshing to do a record that way. No overdubs, no edits, just a true documentation of a moment in time. 

If you had to genre-define yourself, where would you sit?

Somewhere in the midst of folk, Americana, bluegrass and country. 

How about your songwriting – I would love to know a little about the process.

Trent and I bring an equal number of songs to the table and work out the arrangements together, then we take them to the band. Al’s bass really anchors everyone and keeps us all together while Maria just floats over the top gracefully. It’s so nice to work with musicians like Al and Maria who have such strong musical foundations. It’s just second nature for them.     

You set out to record two years ago – any particular reason why it’s taken this long?

Good question. Well mainly it had to do with our stubbornness in recording the way we did and not wanting to take any shortcuts that would dismiss our intentions. There’s a reason people don’t do things the old way any more: it’s a lot quicker, more efficient and cost effective to go digital. There’s also a guidebook on how to do it everywhere you look, not to mention every second muso has a pretty decent home studio setup these days. Every step we took was a huge learning curve, and that meant time. Now that we’ve done it though, we have the tools and the know-how. That’s what’s special about this one, it’s our first crack, and because of the span of time you can hear the band develop on the album from two-piece to four -piece.  

What should we expect for your live show at the launch?

It’s gunna be a fun party. We have some very special guests: the Starboard Cannons, Andrew Morris, Jimmy Dowling and The Nomadic Kitchen’s gunna cook up some beautiful food. Ewingsdale Hall’s a nice intimate setting; we’re just gunna crowd around a few mics and go for it. 

Heartworn Highway launch their debut album at Ewingsdale Hall on Sunday at 3pm.

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