The Long Wait for the Truly Original Gyan
It’s 30 years since ARIA recipient Gyan sang her hit Wait from the cliffs of Kiama on Countdown. Since then her career has followed an international trajectory working with the likes of Bon Jovi, Ricky Martin and LeAnn Rimes before returning to Byron as part of The Museagency, scooping a Sydney Theatre Award for her collaboration with Leunig at Sydney Opera House, with runner-up/shortlist awards for her album, Superfragilistically (released by record label SMH), and children’s book,how Weird is that (Children’s Book Council of Australia).
Her anniversary retrospective tour was delayed by COVID-19 public health restrictions, but the interruption has afforded her time to workshop the stories and reimaginings of her early work in a casual and intimate way. Gyan has enlisted longtime collaborator, Tim Gaze, masterful violinist Veronique Serret, her multi-instrumentalist partner Si Greaves, and local cellist Tara-lee Byrne in a COVID Safe celebration of heady days.
How important has maintaining your creative integrity been to you – has it ever been an impediment to your success?
Ever since I was a kid, mum said I took the long way ‘round. Cutting my teeth in live bands and then being a contestant on Starsearch (‘80s TV version of The Voice), I vowed to compete against myself – knowing competition in the artistic arena went against all my ethics. Still, I was in an industry that was scouting for the unique and different, only to be then told you needed to fit a mould of what was commercially viable in the eyes of a major label. So yes, even though I’d signed to some great and creative producers, there have been arguments, tables turned [and] tears of frustration in trying to get my way.
Where does a song start in you? How do you tip it out?
These days it’s trickier to be impromptu. Even through the months of lockdown I found it less relevant writing songs in amongst such uncertainty and world trauma. It’s always been a reflection of my relationships, or my relating to my [present] environment. But lately I’ve had the good fortune to write for some commissions and films, and reimagine existing compositions. A restrictive framework now enlarges my freedom!
I love the way you sing so effortlessly – you seem to have a knack for navigating soft spaces when you are a singer who can belt it out if she chooses. How do you hold back? Why are spaces and quiet, soft moments of singing so important to the composition?
I’ve been trawling through some old footage of shows in the UK [from the] mid- to late-nineties and I can honestly say my DNA’s changed from that girl belting out her songs like a screaming banshee. Over time I saw London through Nick Drake’s eyes, and so, after my Oz Rock apprenticeship the London UK audience’s more introverted sensibility really changed my appreciation of space and aesthetic. My string ensemble in London also introduced me to the workings of the wondrous composer, Arvo Part, who showed me the art of mining my internal landscape.
Okay, tell me the song of yours, that you sing, which moves you the most? My choice of yours is ‘Billy the Rabbit’. I cry every time!
‘We’re All One’ is a song I penned in the empty days after Michael Hutchence died. I was living in London at the time, and it was never officially released as such, as my then American Producer thought it way too ‘Art-house’, and no amount of arm wrestling could convince him otherwise. I love it for the emotional ride, both in story and using my instrument.
You and Si just seem to have this organic thing – it’s like one breathes in the other breathes out… how important is having a creative collaborator to you?
How blessed am I to have a soulmate who is also a truly gifted multi instrumentalist. We are quite opposite, that’s why I think it works. Si, the learned one, that is thrilled to be back at University inching towards his PhD, and I’m the intuitive that’s searching for the unknown edges I’ve yet to explore without a diploma. He can dot my ‘i’s’.
What should we expect from your new show?
We were initially commissioned to recreate the Gyan and Leunig: Billy The Rabbit show for a festival in Glen Innes, but we decided to also incorporate the retrospective idea we’d been planning before COVID hit. So now I have a cross-section of chapters, from beginning to now, with the help of Leunig’s virtual hand on the rear screen for the first half, and of course, we’ll utilise the beautiful in-house Steinway.
Gyan and friends at the Byron Theatre Thurs 10 June, 7pm. byroncentre.com.au