Tinpan Orange are launching their new album, The Bottom of the Lake this Saturday at the Vanguard in what is shaping up to be an exciting show. Dan Clarke sat down recently with Emily Lubitz, singer and guitarist from the gypsy-folk band to discuss the new album, their new found independence in the studio and the uncanny ability of Harry Angus to write his way into their live show.
Music Feeds: So what’s been happening in Tinpan Orange land? Getting ready for the album launch?
Emily: Yeah, it’s all coming about. I’ve just been listening to Paul Kelly songs on Youtube today.
MF: A bit of inspiration?
E: We might cover one of his songs, get one in our repertoire. You can’t be an Aussie folk band and not do a Paul Kelly song. We did a Barnsey song the other week and it went down really well, so we’re just gonna work our way through Aussie legends.
MF: Just as long as you stay away from Rolf Harris. So do you guys perform covers live often?
E: In a set we usually have one or two. We do a couple of Gillian Welch songs, we do a Leonard Cohen song. We try not to be too covery, and we try and make them the more obscure ones.
MF: So tell us a bit about the new album, Bottom of the Lake. I read that it was just the four of you working on the album, with Harry from the Cat Empire?
E: Yep, it was just the four of us in a home studio. It was very interesting. It was really exciting to not have anybody who really knew what they were doing, or thought they knew what they were doing, because we just got the sounds that we wanted. It didn’t have to be perfect; there could be a tiny little hum or some birds in the background but if we felt that it was a good take and the quality of the sound was how we wanted it, we’d just keep it. There was no trained engineer saying ‘you can’t do that’.
MF: That’s an interesting way to approach it. Was it hard to keep up the momentum without someone breathing down your neck?
E: We went along at our own pace, but we actually moved pretty quickly. Harry Angus is a really fast worker. He really steered the ship and had a lot of ideas for arranging and layering sounds.
MF: So did he have a big influence on the sound of the album then?
E: Definitely. We didn’t have a bass and drum kit so we had to create momentum and dynamic using other things like harmoniums and string sections. Sometimes we’d just gather around a microphone and slap our knees, clap or hit the back of a ukulele. Harry’s work with Jan Skubiszewski on Jackson Jackson has a similar thing but a totally different vibe, this effect of a sonic journey, dissipating and swirling back in. He definitely translated that kind of energy into our album, but our album has a totally gypsy, acoustic, unplugged sound.
MF: You were saying that it was different for the four of you to be on your own recording this album, and not have any engineers or producers in the studio. Did those outside influences have an effect on your earlier albums?
E: Yeah, we worked with a cool engineer, and we co-produced them with him. It was more time consuming because we did heaps of takes and double checked everything: it was a much more controlled environment. With this album, a lot of it was ‘first take, love it. We’ll keep it.’ We didn’t need to try it ten thousand ways just in case. We had a vision and we didn’t want to over-rehearse and over-play. We just wanted it to be real.
MF: Do you think the band is more comfortable taking the lead like that when recording then?
E: I think so. It’s definitely empowered us, that whole process. It’s shown us that we have those faculties to make decisions and find good sounds.
MF: So have you guys been playing any shows since the album was recorded, trying any of the new songs out live?
E: Well, we finished the album early this year, took a bit of a break over winter to replenish and keep it fresh. We have tried them out live a bit and they’re doing well. We’ve actually recruited Harry Angus into our live show. He somehow wrote himself into it through his use of these harmonium parts and all the beautiful riffs that he wrote. He plays them on keyboard live, and a bit of trumpet.
MF: He’s opening for Tinpan at the album launch too, isn’t he?
E: He is. He’s got so many projects going, but this is his solo stuff. I don’t think he’s ever shown Sydney this material before but it’s really quite amazing songwriting, beautiful story telling with an interesting musicality.
MF: Sounds like he’s become an unofficial member of the band. So what’s on the horizon for Tinpan Orange. Are you guys going to be touring after the album launch?
E: Yes, we are. We’re just about to announce it, it’s in the pipeline. It’s going to be quite an extensive tour from October pretty much until the end of the year, then I’m sure it will continue through the summer. We have lots of touring up our sleeve.
Catch Tinpan Orange at the Vanguard this Saturday night, 22nd August for their Bottom of the Lake album launch and stay tuned to Music Feeds for further tour announcements.