Husky Gawenda has always been reliable from a sonic standpoint. The Melbourne-based singer-songwriter arrived in the wake of the nu-folk movement towards the end of the 2000s at the helm of his eponymous band Husky. The 2010s, then were spent riding that wave of momentum, releasing three studio albums and touring with heroes like Neil Young along the way.
As he and his bandmates enter the new decade, they do so with a fourth LP that deviates from their well-trodden path and takes them into a wider musical spectrum than one may have initially anticipated. By broadening the band’s horizons, Gawenda and co. have re-calibrated the Husky sound on Stardust Blues – flirting with conceptual framework, storytelling and existentialism. The end result is perhaps not the album you’d have expected from Husky, but it’s the one you’re grateful is now out in the world.
Calling in from the locked-down Melbourne suburb of St. Kilda, Gawenda spoke to Music Feeds about taking risks, new blood within the fold and the challenges facing the modern troubadour.
Music Feeds: Tell us about where the ideas for what would end up being Stardust Blues began. Are you the kind of person who is always working on ideas when it comes to music?
Husky Gawenda: We took a fair bit of time after our last record. We did a bunch – we released the album [2017’s Punchbuzz] and did a bunch of touring, including some overseas. After all of that wrapped up, we took we took our time kind of getting back to thinking about making a new record. Really, though, when we started writing these songs we didn’t really do it with a clear intention of making an album. When the four of us – my bandmates and I – started writing the songs, we had no intentions or goals, other than just having fun and taking some kind of creative journey together. The thing about a journey is you don’t know what’s gonna happen. You never know what you’re gonna find. I think that kind of freedom and spontaneity and curiosity resulted in a certain kind of record.
MF: This is Holly Thomas’ first record playing drums for you, correct?
HG: Yeah. She started playing with us at the very end of our local touring for Punchbuzz. It was very fresh. She’s brilliant. We hadn’t actually known her for a very long time before she joined. She’s from Adelaide, but she’d moved over to Melbourne and was playing in a few bands around town. We hadn’t come across her until a friend of ours who knew we were looking for a drummer put us in touch. It was as simple a recommendation as you could get. “She’s a great drummer. You should check her out.” So we did, and we never looked back.
MF: Having a new lineup and having been a couple of years between drinks, was there a different kind of energy when you went in to record Stardust Blues when compared to Punchbuzz?
HG: Yeah. I was saying before about the process of the writing for this record. It was really refreshing and exciting, because we went into that without any expectations. We had no goals set, and we didn’t limit ourselves in any way. There was no talk of strategy or anything like that. The freedom of that process was really exciting. There’s a kind of a chemistry in the band now, too. We have something that’s both personal and musical that is very rare – in my experience, at least – and we couldn’t have recorded this album without it.
MF: Can you elaborate on that a little?
HG: We tracked every track every song live, which means you’re all in it together. What you get on tape in that situation, really, is what the four of you produce in that room – and, to be honest, I’m not sure we’ve ever been ready for that as a band up until now. Recording just felt like we were collectively riding out this moment together. I think we were making the magic, and there’s really no way to fake that or manufacture that.
MF: In the past, there’s definitely been a certain kind of sound and a musical aesthetic associated with with your name. Was there a sense of not wanting to fall into a holding pattern creatively when it came to making this album?
HG: I think it’s our instinct to progress and explore new horizons every time we go back into creating. We’ve found music, I think, that comes very naturally to us by doing. If anything, there have been times when we’ve held ourselves back from that, or been a little bit tentative to go into certain directions because we perhaps felt like there was there was an expectation of what our music sounded like and should sound like. Of course, we really value our fans. It’s a great privilege to have people even take notice of you enough that they have expectations.
At the same time, that can be restrictive – especially if you’re overthinking how your music will bounce back if those expectations aren’t met. I think, on this record, more than ever before we were able to just be free and be ourselves. All the changes you hear on this record are all ones that came naturally.
MF: What track on Stardust Blues stands out to you in terms of how it was created? Did any song in particular set the ball rolling on what the rest would sound like?
HG: The songs all started as instrumentals that I wrote with Gideon [Preiss, Gawenda’s cousin and Husky guitarist]. We would get together and basically just kind of hang out, jam, reach for whatever instrument was nearby and see what happened. We ended up with this kind of bunch of instrumentals that were like canvases but they were not though certainly not blank canvases. They had distinct moods and personalities, and they all told this kind of story in their own ways.
We didn’t really sit down and take stock of what we had, or start to pull them together as songs – even as an album – until we’d written 15. I took them away, and started to write lyrics and melodies to them. I think that’s the point at which I started to get a sense of a record emerging. As I was writing, a narrative emerged. It was unintentional, but I just started to follow that narrative. So there was no one particular song, to answer your question.
MF: Have you ever written like that previously, with kind of a linear kind of narrative concept in mind, or was this something new for you to explore?
HG: It was new. I mean, on our albums in the past there have been threads and common themes. There’s even been a few vague narratives that have run through the album, or characters that have appeared in several songs. Never to this extent, though. There is there is a character who runs through all the songs, and there is an overall narrative across the whole album. Like I said, it wasn’t something that I set out to achieve, but it just kind of happened naturally as I was writing the lyrics. Once I noticed that this character was appearing in a few of the songs. He seemed to be moving through a city that I recognised, and I started to become curious.
What would happen next to this character? Where he would go? What was going on? What had happened before? In one of the early songs I wrote, he got into a fight. In fact, he even got a bruised eye. I’m not sure where that came from. I’m not sure where I got that from, but when I looked back at the lyrics it made me think. “Okay, so these this guy’s got a bruise. What happened?” That gave me a kind of direction to the lyric. I just continued to follow that thread, and ended up with a kind of concept album without having meant to.
MF: How did the others respond to when you showed them what you’d been doing?
HG: We’d spent all those months really taking our time. We’d get together something like once a week, hang out, have a beer and do some writing late into the night. We were recording it on to a little two-track tape machine that Jules [Pascoe, Husky bassist] has. We’d leave late at night and go our separate ways. The next morning, Jules would bounce the instrumental for this demo we’d recorded onto his computer and send it to us. I’d have a listen and think, “yeah, that’s cool,” and then put it away in a folder. When it had like 15 or so these instrumentals, I finally decided to sit down and do some writing.
I probably wrote the lyrics over a couple of weeks – it didn’t take very long. When I got to the end of that period, I was pretty uncertain about what I had. I just had no idea if it was any good, or if it made any sense. I was very in it – just zoomed in on this one thing. I thought, “I’ll just send it through to the guys, just in case there’s anything that they like.” Pretty quickly, I got messages back saying that they loved it. I think that I was surprised, but I was happy that we were all pretty excited about it.
MF: What do you feel is the song on this record that stretches the furthest from what you’ve done in the past? Was there any track in particular that stands out to you as being especially different?
HG: Let me think about that for a second. [pauses] Yeah look, I could I could probably name a few. I think probably ‘SYWD’ is definitely one of those songs. That, to me, was surprising – so much, so that it’s a mystery to me where it came from. It’s just an unusual song – it’s got these asymmetrical guitars in the verse section, with a weird time signature. The rhythm of the lyric is almost at odds with the rhythm of the guitar, and yet it locks in quite nicely and unexpectedly. Then it drops into this awesome chorus section that’s in a completely different time signature and slows down.
Then there’s a bridge that is completely different to both of them, too. It’s got these very disparate sections, the same disjointed and yet they fit together quite nicely. It doesn’t sound like anything we’ve ever done before, I don’t think. I think it really comes from whatever was happening between us in those sessions where we were writing together. I’m sure that kind of song would never have emerged from the kind of writing process that I was used to, which was basically just me sitting with my guitar and kind of strumming away, writing down lyrics.
MF: What’s generally going through your mind when your album is in purgatory – where you’ve finished everything and it’s ready to go, but no-one outside of those who worked on it have heard it yet?
HG: Yeah, there are always mixed feelings when releasing music. Ultimately, though, the song’s purpose is to be heard. There’s a bit of a satisfaction that comes with people hearing it. This purgatory period seemed much longer than it should have been, or needs to be – for obvious reasons. I’m mostly just excited for people to hear the record. I know that I know that there will be some people who’ll like it and there’ll be some people who don’t. And I feel okay with that.
Stardust Blues is out now via Fake Moustache.