Interview: Carl Cleves

Carl Cleves has his album launch at the Byron Theatre

Byron Theatre  | Thursday 9 August | 7.30pm | $20/25

A man, a box of mouth organs and crowdfunding

Carl Cleves is a man of many talents. He’s an author, a traveller, an ethnomusicologist and of course he’s a singer/songwriter. Recently he recorded Before Twilight Turns to Night – his first solo album in five years. Recorded with Kamal Engels in the Art of Audio Studio in Mullumbimby with the proceeds of crowdfunding, the project afforded Carl the kind of freedom he was after.

‘It took us 100 hours to record the album. The crowdfunding gave me the freedom to go ahead with my project. I’m not a good trend follower; I don’t go with the fashions!’

The crowdfunding process enabled Carl to connect with his community of followers.

‘Apart from CDs they ordered house concerts, postcards of album artwork and other stuff. I was suddenly communicating with friends from all over whom I hadn’t seen in a long time. I can really recommend using crowdfunding; you have to put work into it, and before I set out I dreaded it because I hate self-promotion but it was a personalised experience with a community of friends.’

Community is integral to Carl’s new album where he called on his community of music friends to play on the album.

Thierry Fossemalle on double bass; Dave Sanders on drums; Tunji Beier on drums and tavil; Rick Fenn on guitar and vocals; Thomas Veitch on cello; Andrew Clermont on violin, mandolin and banjo; Kamal Engels on fretless bass; and Leigh Carriage and partner Parissa Bouas on vocals.

‘I wanted to record an all-acoustic album,’ says Carl. ‘This album is very string based. They are fairly simple songs, a bit country sounding. You don’t have much control of what comes out; the songs just kind of turn up!’

And that’s what happened. According to Carl the songs started flowing after the rediscovery of a forgotten instrument – a shoebox of mouth organs!

‘I found a shoebox of mouth organs about 30 years ago. I had lessons with Mick Conway and I didn’t take to it so I left them in a box. When I found them again I started taking them for walks on the beach! Sunrise Beach is a quiet beach! I was also out in the backyard battling it out with the lorikeets. They inspired a lot of the motifs! (The mouth organs not the lorikeets!)

‘And so I recorded an acoustic album in the folk/country style. There are nine original songs and three covers. I recorded a Laura Marling song; I rearranged a trilogy of her songs, and Julien Baker – I discovered her at Mullum Music Festival. Her angst was so amazing it completely affected me! I also recorded a hundred-year-old cowboy song written in 1907 – it’s a very romantic song that I sing onstage that people have hassled me to record.

‘One of the songs on the album is called All the Tired Men. It is a song about Vietnam veterans. About two years ago they celebrated the anniversary of the battle of Phnom Penh and the Vietnam veterans wanted to return to the site to honour their fallen comrades, then the media got onto it and it gathered Gallipoli overtones, and so the Vietnamese government pulled the plug. I got on social media and listened to stories about the neglect they suffered, the mental issues, about the friends they lost. It’s like that sometimes, songs get triggered. One time I wrote a song about Eddie Mabo while watching a documentary on him; I wanted to honour him.’

The musicians gathered and after just two rehearsals they were ready to go!

‘Andrew Clermont just arrived in an afternoon and we recorded. It was a great vibe. Kamal is a great engineer. All the musicians were fantastic. It was absolutely no stress, no ego; people came in and played, all smiles and we quickly put it down.’

Carl Cleves will be launching Before Twilight Turns into Night at the Byron Theatre on Thursday 9 August with Thierry Fossemalle, double bass; Dave Sanders, drums; Thomas Veitch, cello; Andrew Clermont, violin and mandolin; Parissa Bouas, vocals and percussion. 

Tickets are available at

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