2017 marks 25 years of The Waifs! In celebration the band has hit the road for a mammoth national tour, releasing their fourteen-track studio album Ironbark, along with 11 bonus tracks making a rousing collection of 25 songs, to celebrate 25 years. Recorded in true Waifs style in a makeshift studio in the unfinished kitchen of Josh Cunningham’s rural retreat on the NSW South Coast across two weeks.
According to Vikki Thorn, the band has gone full circle.
‘We have de-evolved I think with this last album.’ she laughs. ‘We went bucket sitting around a kitchen table with acoustic guitars.’
Although the song content has definitely evolved.
‘Our song lyrics have a lot more maturity then they did in our 20s… it’s a part of our need as artists to connect with people; we have a real desire and need to connect with our audience. When we play we want to reach out and talk to people and get to know who they are a bit. We talk more between the songs these days.’
In their latest album, it was the simplicity of the Waifs’ sound, the uncomplicated nature of Cunningham, Thorn and Simpson in a room together. Confident now that less sometimes really is more.
‘In the past, we did as all bands do: we did some exploring, got into the studio and you would have some crazy instruments lying around and you want to pick them up and sometimes that came at the cost to our sound or essence, but this time with Ironbark we particularly asked the question – what do our fans want to hear? Let’s put artistic stuff aside and give our fans what they want.’
For the band, the whole process felt very natural.
‘We have been playing together for so long that some of the songs on the album were the third or fourth time we had ever played them, so it creates that little bit of tension,’ says Vikki.
‘The three of us don’t write together; the songs come in an almost-finished form and the collaboration happens when we come together.
Donna wrote one of the songs in the studio. ‘Recording was loose and more like a creative jam. We didn’t go in with a song list; we went in and said, okay, what have you got?
‘Rather than this approach of trying to craft an album, we just did; it’s a very organic process. I hesitate to use that word, but it’s a true representation of our band at this time. Everything was played live. On a good day we’d get a song after two or three times; some might take 10 times… We have been together so long that we have a sound and the idea was to capture it in…’
Vikki can hear the freshness of the songs in the recording. It was something they wanted to keep.
‘There is a song by Donna, called Syria – you can hear the whole band sitting a little bit behind her because no-one knew where she was going to go and it created the best tension for the take, a couple of songs are like that, and a couple are as scrappy as hell, but they work really well. I think the music lost something when we did heavy production.’ Getting away from the studio meant ‘eliminating that idea that time is money – it made a huge difference, we were just hanging out.’
So who comes to a Waifs show?
‘Most of our audience is women and their husbands on a date; the men don’t really want to be there!
Josh is this quiet sensitive persona onstage; he writes ballads and love songs about his mum. For male fans it’s a chance to indulge their sensitive sides.
In places such as Darwin, you’ll see big tatted-up guys singing along with Gilian, the song about Josh’s mum.’
The essence of the Waifs has always been their storytelling. They are keen miners of narrative, something they seek out wherever they go.
‘My gig isn’t just onstage,’ says Vikki, ‘it’s going out front. I want to go out there and talk to people. People have a story to tell. I love that. I like knowing who’s there, and hearing people’s stories.’
The Waifs play at the Bangalow A&I Hall on Tuesday 4 April (sold out) and Wednesday 5 April. For tickets go to thewaifs.com and follow the links.