Busby Marou: “We’re Connected, Not By Blood, But We’re Family”

Tom Busby and Jeremy Marou may come from completely different cultural backgrounds but combine beautifully as Australian duo, Busby Marou. Meeting at a pub in Rockhampton 15 years ago, the two have grown, both as people and as musicians, forging an amazing story and incredibly diverse musicianship that only comes from fusing their distinct styles together.

Touring the country for their latest album, The Great Divide, Busby Marou have built a strong live reputation over the last decade as one of the hardest working acts in Australia.

Tom Busby spoke with Music Feeds about their latest album, the meaning behind its title and his close connection with bandmate, Jeremy Marou.

Music Feeds: Your latest single, ‘Over Drinking Over You’, is, according to your press release, about when fun habits stop being fun. Despite this, the chorus is fairly upbeat and almost cheery. Is that your way of smiling when the chips are down, grin and bear it sort of message?

Tom Busby: Mate, in a way. To be totally honest, it’s always good to write a song that more people like than not. To make it more viable for everyone, from young people to old people. It’s a bit of a different sidestep for Busby Marou overall but the verses are really Busby Marou. There’s a real storyteller, real folky vibe and then you go into this massively uplifting chorus but the strange thing is it’s about tough times.

It’s about addiction, it’s about that struggle in life wherever you are. It’s come about from the perspective of some of our mates who have struggled but admittedly ourselves as well, drinking every weekend, doing all sorts of naughty things. It (drinking) used to be a fun habit, a social habit but the older you get and you have to deal with real things so it starts to become a bit of a medicine to get through hard times.

MF: How would you describe the rest of the album by comparison in terms of both the sound and lyrical content/songwriting?

TB: Very different, this is probably the stand-out single if that makes sense. We never go out to write singles, we just sort of have this song here. Initially we were like, “I don’t think this will make the album”, because it doesn’t match the other songs. Everyone working with us was saying the total opposite, “this is the song that kicks the goal, very radio-friendly and commercially viable” in a way.

In terms of the rest of the songs, we went back to basics. We went back to the studio where we first cut out teeth, where we learned to record. We worked with Oscar Dawson from Holy Holy who was really important with the sound. What we always try to do is capture the lyrics, the harmonies and the acoustic guitars but we wanted to give it that organic and real production. Some of the songs are a bit rock ‘n roll. We’ve got that flavour of country that we love, we’ve got some really good, collapsed pedal steel and dobro which we stopped using in the last album but we brought back because we love it.

In terms of production, we don’t care if it gets on radio, we don’t care what people think, we’ve added instrumentation and production because we like it. That’s what we did at the start of our careers. In terms of lyrical content, as humans, we’ve gone through all the emotions, from heartbreak to love. The older you get, the more you realise there’s mental health issues that’s hovering over everyone. We address more grown-up issues in a way. It’s still an optimistic album but it’s definitely the most real record we’ve ever written.

MF: Oscar Dawson produced the album whose credits include Holy Holy and Alex Lahey, how did the connection come about and what was it like working with Oscar?

TB: We crossed paths with Oscar from time to time on the road and at certain award nights so we didn’t really ‘know’ each other, we just knew each other to say ‘G’Day’. A friend suggested we work with him because he was doing some cool stuff. The last record was commercially viable for us (Postcards From the Shell House) but we wanted to record a grown-up album without going overboard with production.

We met Oscar, I wrote a song with him initially and hung out with him for a while. Jeremy, I and Oscar got to spend a good few weeks hanging out writing and recording some cool tracks. It was a good year and a half of hanging out and becoming mates first, which is pretty important. We realised that we liked each other and spending all that time in the studio; you’ve gotta be on the same page and you’ve gotta be able to laugh. It’s supposed to be a fun experience. After you’ve done all the hard work you wanna get in the studio and be excited.

When it was time to record after all this pre-production and hard work we’d put in, we got down to Rockinghorse Studios in Byron Bay, booked it out for a month and just went for it. The connection was sensational. Oscar is an amazing guitarist, Jeremy’s a freak as well at all instruments so together, those two were bouncing off each other. To be honest, I just watched them play until it was my turn to sing. There was a little bit of ab-lib, a little bit of trial and error but he (Oscar) knew what he was doing the whole time. It was really cool to watch Oscar in action and the connection with Jeremy was awesome.

MF: Speaking of your connection with Jeremy, just with regard to the title itself, you have stated that The Great Divide is not about division or adversaries but about celebrating our differences. Does part of this stem from your own differences with each other as a duo, both in your backgrounds and as people/musicians?

TB: Definitely, 100%. There’s a track on the album called, ‘The Great Divide’, it’s the last track on the album. It means quite the opposite of the title of the album. Jeremy’s a Torres Strait Islander. He grew up with totally different cultural offerings than I can even imagine. His taste in music is so different to my taste. He was taught to sing in a church but also he’s got that massive love for country and the cultural song and dance. You’ve always been able to hear that in our music but I suppose early on, we used to kind of clash.

He used to pull me one way, I’d pull him the other. I was more of a triple j, indie kind of cool dude. As Jeremy would say, an ‘arty songwriter.’ I love Bruce Springsteen, Crowded House, Ben Harper, the Beatles and all these bands growing up. Once I let go of that, and realised that our sound combined created the Busby Marou sound, it was just easier to write for us. It made sense, we both love to create.

We don’t necessarily love each other’s playlists on our Spotify accounts but that doesn’t matter. And also, the older we’ve gotten, the more we’ve let our hair down when it comes to appreciating all music. From that, that goes one step further to celebrating the way Jeremy was brought up, his background, his history and also my story. Not only has it brought us together, as a black fella and a white fella in Rocky, but it’s actually connected our families.

I’m the youngest of 8 kids from a typical regional family, growing up in Rockhampton playing sport. Jeremy’s got a big family too, which are the similarities but there is such a cultural difference between mine and his. My parents treat him as a son and all his brothers and sisters treat us as family. When I went up to Murray Island for the first time, Jeremy’s aunts and uncles were embracing me, calling me son and uncle and father. It was the weirdest experience but we were connected, not by blood, but in a way, we’re family.

That was the main point when choosing the album title, it wasn’t not a political message but a story for us. 15 years ago, I knew lots of black fellas in Rocky growing up but nothing about the culture and now I know everything.

MF: Your tour kicks at the end of this month to coincide with the album release. Have you played at most/any of the venues and what should audiences expect from your performances?

TB: Some of our favourite venues are on this list and we’re really excited to play at the Tivoli (in Brisbane), the Corner Hotel (in Melbourne). There’s a bunch of venues we haven’t played but they’re definitely some of the biggest venues and the tickets are selling ridiculously crazy. We’ve been on the road for a while so there’s a lot of hype which makes us feel great, we’ve got a lot of confidence from that.

Particularly the central Queensland shows, they’re the biggest shows we’ve announced. We’re a bit worried about that actually, I thought they’d be too big. The Mackay Entertainment Centre up there. Mackay’s not a big town but that’s almost sold out to 1500 people. Rocky we always get up to 2000-3000. Mostly we’re excited about these crowds coming out.

It’s always awesome when we come back for a new album. Obviously you get to play the new songs and you get to explore those for the first time, which is great. But what we’ve noticed is that people have more time to play your old albums. So every time you come back with a new album, they sing those old songs so much louder and prouder. It’s gonna be great, it’s all about the crowd participation and getting them to sing those songs. Really try to get them involved as much as we can, which will take the pressure off me as well.

MF: Are you bringing a big roster of support or session musicians to your shows?

TB: Yeah, mate. This is gonna be a bit of a full band tour. Obviously more recently, over the last few years we’ve been playing as a duo and we get people up to sing. But we’re going back to our awesome foursome, we’ll call it. We’ve got a really good drummer who’ll do, not full-on drums but more colourful, cool percussion and our bass player who does everything from singing to guitar and bass. That way we just get to highlight Jeremy’s virtuosity a little bit more.

Our support act is Bobby Alu for the big national tour and he’s one of our favourite artists. He’s an amazing drummer, he plays with Xavier (Rudd) and John Butler and all those guys. Him as an artist is just freakish, man. He’s always on island time as a Samoan dude. He’s the coolest bloke you’ll ever meet. He’s got a new album coming and his songs are so good. That’s for the national tour. For our Central Queensland, we’re really excited to bring out Zeek Power. He’s a local boy from up that way. He was in a band called Slip on Stereo but more recently he had a bit of a shot at The Voice this year and some of those clips are just nuts. We’ve known him since he was a kid and he’s just so talented. We’ll definitely bring in those guys at some stage. They’ll definitely make us sound better.

‘The Great Divide’ is out this Friday, September 27th. Preorder here. Their national tour kicks off in Brisbane on October 25th. Head here for dates.

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