He may be 40 years into his career, but Daryl Braithwaite is enjoying as much success in 2017 as he did in the 1970s and 1980s, when he first forayed into music as the frontman of Aussie rock band Sherbet. That’s thanks a lot to the somewhat bizarre yet utterly compelling resurgence of a certain 1991 cover. Braithwaite takes the memes and jokes in stride, and sees the irony in the fact the track that has been cemented in Australia’s pop culture – ‘The Horses’ – is one he didn’t, in fact, have anything to do with writing.
His touring schedule is relentless, but he loves it and admits he will keep doing it for as long as he can. Braithwaite will kick next year off with the Red Hot Summer Tour, with John Farnham and the like, but before that, he will be inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in Sydney on Tuesday night, and release yet another ‘greatest hits’ compilation, Days Go By.
Music Feeds caught up with Braithwaite towards the end of a gruelling press schedule, but he was as jovial as ever.
Music Feeds: How crazy is horse racing season for you now that ‘The Horses’ has kind of blown up?
Daryl Braithwaite: Yeah, it’s not that crazy, but it’s… I think it’s the crazier than what I give it credit for. I was just somewhere a moment ago and a girl came up and showed me some footage from Derby Day in Melbourne and they were playing ‘The Horses’ and everyone was singing at Flemington. I wasn’t aware of that, but they were just singing along with the song and there was some guy who was a little bit tipsy and he obviously had won, he was going crazy as well, like dancing and stuff. So it’s yeah… now that the Spring Carnival is over I think things will subside a little bit.
MF: What is it about that song in particular, do you think that has kind of resonated with people lately?
DB: I don’t know. You know, it came out, it was successful after a long time you know, in the charts and all that and then, uh, well we haven’t stopped playing it, the band and I, for whatever it is, 20-odd years. I have no answer as to why it has become more popular. But it’s good. I mean, I still love it with a passion and I love the fact that people react to it the way they do. But yeah, I have no answer as to why. I mean, you could try and analyse it and think, well, maybe is it the melody, is it the beat, is it the chords? Is it the imagery? Yeah, I don’t know. Do you like it?
MF: I do, but I think it’s one of those songs that, if you tried to replicate it if you tried to come up with the formula and replicate that, I don’t think you ever could.
DB: I agree. And I think well, hopefully, that will never be, you know, never happen, that they’ll be able to sort of put all the numbers and stuff into a computer and then come up with, “Ohh this is how you write a perfect song.” I don’t think that will happen, you know, it won’t. But I’m eternally grateful for the song. Let me tell you and I never get sick of playing it at all.
MF: Do people seem to understand that the song isn’t really about horses?
DB: Well, I have to tell them occasionally when they go, “Oh yeah, it’s about…” and I go “No, it’s not about horse racing. It’s not about horses.” It’s the image of a horse, but, it really is that imagery of way up in the sky, you know, that sort of just floating away, et cetera. So the horse has something to do with the song, but it’s not, it’s nothing to do with actual horses… I take great delight when people say,”Oh, that horse racing song” and I go, “No, it’s not. It’s not about horse racing!”
MF: Well, what actually inspired that song?
DB: Well, I didn’t write it, but I had to find out what it was about before I recorded it because it was Rickie Lee Jones and Walter Becker. And it was written about Rickie’s daughter and, well, she never fully explained the ins and outs of it. I mean I have spoken to her only this year for the first time about the song and then I think she played at Bluesfest in Byron and she did the song and everyone sang it. She couldn’t believe it, you know. I think she was aware of how accepted it had been over the 20-odd years that it’s been out, you know, it’s strange, that it was successful back in ’91 and it still continued to grow over the last whatever, five years or more.
MF: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. You’ve become a bit of a viral sensation as a result of it. I mean, there are memes all over the place. What’s your take on that?
DB: I honestly don’t know. I don’t push for anything about it at all, you know, on social media, except maybe occasionally on the only thing that I’ve got really is Facebook, which I put on occasional photos of the backyard or something out on the road, you know, nothing to do with ‘The Horses’. But people obviously make things out of it and try to utilize it. But yeah, I sometimes have to ask my son Oscar, he’s got a very funny… well, it’s kind of a funny story. He’s 32, and he was telling me triple j did something on it last week or the week before or whatever it was in regards to the ARIAs and they inserted a little clip of me where I’m running along the beach jumping and, and he said to me, “Dad, that’s what they love. They love the jump.” And I said, “You’re kidding!” He said, “Nah, they love the jump, that’s it.” I said, “Okay, great.” So he showed it to me and I laughed because it’s just got the jump on the sand as I’m running along with my jumper tucked into my pants.
MF: Yeah, I think it’s the dad jeans that did it for me.
DB: Oh I mean the look, when you look back, I go, “Oh my God, how nerdy does that look? God!”
MF: If you had been able to choose the song that you were famous for in 2017, which one would you choose?
DB: Oh… I would have chosen ‘One Summer’. Only because I wrote it, and it was about a good friend of mine. But I think you take anything, you know, the music game is so – I mean, I love it with a passion – but it’s up and down and all over the place. So I think you count your lucky stars [with] how long you’d been in it and all that. I mean I’m just eternally grateful that I’m still doing it, like 40… 48 years later or something like that. It’s great because I should have retired, you know?
MF: Did you think, when you first started out with Sherbet and Tommy and the like, that you’d still be slogging it out on stages around Australia?
DB: No, not at all. It’s just one of those things. I’ve got a twin brother, he retired maybe two years ago, I think it was, or three years. And I remember him leaning across the table and saying, “I’m retiring tomorrow” and I went, “But what are you going to do?” Because, that’s the thing, I mean with what I do and the group of people that I work with and I’ve been with them now for 20-odd years. We know each other back to front. It’s like a group that go away or whatever, a group of men that go away and work – and, I mean, it’s not really work, we just play music – and we’ve done that for all these years and hopefully will continue to do it until, I don’t know, until something happens.
MF: Was music always your original career plan?
DB: Um, no, not really. I was probably like many, many young people, uh, back in the sixties that went to school and then I dropped out of school fourth year because I didn’t like it. And then I went into fitting and turning at Cockatoo Island dockyards in Sydney and finished that after four and a half years, just, and then went straight into Sherbet as a professional, as they said. And that was it. I never really looked back.
MF: You did step away from music briefly in, what was it? The late eighties I think. What made you do that?
DB: Well, after Sherbet finished I went out and did a few solo gigs in clubs and all that sort of stuff, which I really didn’t like that much. It was demoralising, to a certain extent. And then I gave it up and I ran out of money and I was married at the time and had a son on the way, Oscar.
And so then I went on the dole for about four or five weeks and they found me a job which was digging roads in Sunbury, in Victoria. And I guess the lesson I learned from that was that I didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life and I should, um, you know, pull my finger out and try and get something happening.
So with a lot of help from my wife Sarah and a few, a handful of other people, we managed to get it together to record Edge, and also have investors involved in that and then sell it to Sony music at that time. So that all worked out. And then the next thing after that was whether radio would play it or not, which fortunately they did. And that was the start of, I guess, that was the start of the solo career again, you know – part two.
MF: What did you find so demoralising about it, to begin with?
DB: Well, after the Sherbet thing, what was demoralising was going to clubs and with sheet music and giving it to musicians. And I had a musical director, Johnny Dick, who’s no longer with us, but he did his very best to try and make the band play this or that. That was just… if I had the chance, I would have had my own band but I just didn’t have it together then. Looking back, it’s something that I had to go through, to experience, to make me do, you know, all the things that happened after that. I guess it was a realization.
MF: And well obviously your career, overall, has been phenomenal. Do you have any personal highlights so far?
DB: Oh highlights! I guess there’s been many, you know, quite a few. I mean maybe when ‘As The Days Go By’ was played on radio the first time I heard it in Melbourne back in 1987 and I thought,”Oh my God, how good does that sound!” And there’s been many, because, I love live gigs over recording. I mean recording to me is, I find it very hard and tedious. But the live gigs, there’s been many that have been sensational, just in my opinion anyway. But I think of late, the one that stands out… we did The Footy Show in Melbourne about a month ago or something that to me was like the gig from heaven. It was in Rod Laver Arena and there were about 15 thousand people there or whatever there were, and they just sang like there was no tomorrow. I mean we only did ‘The Horses’, but there was something about it that was extra special. It was just amazing. And I thought, “God, if I get shot now, if I fall over and die of a heart attack, it’ll be fine.”
MF: Congratulations on your ARIA Hall of Fame induction too. That’s massive. How does it feel?
DB: Well, really good. I’m most definitely honoured to be accepted into the Hall of Fame along with people who’ve gone before. And it’s totally unexpected. I mean, I guess mainly because you know, you do the music thing because it’s rewarding as far as you’re playing to people, you’re playing music, they reciprocate. I guess the award thing is just something that you’d never expect or, you know, you don’t anticipate it all. But out of the blue that came and it’s really fantastic, and I’m really honoured to be accepted into it.
MF: It’s great because a lot of times people aren’t recognized until after they’ve passed away, posthumous recognition.
DB: Yes! I mean I think it’s lovely as well because we are right in the middle of, well, one of the busiest times that we’ve had, my band and I, for maybe five years. A long time. You know, we’ve got festivals that were playing at and all this sort of stuff. And you just think, “My God, what else can happen?”
MF: Well you are one of the hardest touring acts out there at the moment. How do you manage to keep up with everything?
DB: I don’t know. I get confused sometimes, I do get confused. But I’m very lucky that I’ve got very supportive fans who understand and I’ve got an agent who’s very, very good and all the rest sort of takes care of itself. It’s just that you’ve got to do more than sing I guess, or I have to, you know, because I’m sort of like the part-time manager as well. But I find that interesting as well. I find the workings of being in music very interesting.
MF: What advice would you give to younger bands, up and coming bands, with your experience in the industry?
DB: Hmm. Well, I reckon if you find the right combination of players and I can only say that in looking back that it takes a little while for everyone to settle in, but if you have a good chemistry amongst all the band and if you’re happy and if you love it then, you know, the passion will come out and you just keep playing and hopefully the songs will come. You know, if it makes you happy and if you’re really passionate about it then you just stay with it. But it does need, I think you do need the support of other people, you know, so that it feels like, that it’s easy, and I don’t mean that in a lackadaisical way. I just mean that it comes easy. Everything seems to click.
MF: Well, the new album, Days Go By – this is like your, what – sixth compilation album now?
DB: Well yeah, I guess including Sherbet it would be that many. I only received a copy of Days Go By yesterday, and it looks good, you know, the photos in it are good and all the dialogue that’s written in there is good, and it’s got two CDs for people to play.
MF: Looking back on it now, how do you feel you’ve changed as an artist through the years?
DB: I think that I’ve gotten, you know, wiser, but I don’t think I’ve lost the desire or the passion for it. I’m talking about [playing] live here, not the recording thing or any of that stuff, but playing live is just… it’s still, that’s the passion that I have, you know, I love it and I can do it all the time.
Last week or the week before, we did six gigs in a row, and I thought, “My God, what am I doing?” But they were all different and they were all good. I probably try to take care of my voice. I’m aware that you can’t drink, you can’t smoke and all this sort of stuff. So… you know, I try to look after it.
A lot is different [today] but it’s still… I was only thinking about this the other night, I thought it’s still the same in a lot of ways. You know, as a band you want people to like what you do, no matter what. And it’s a prerequisite. If that doesn’t happen then, you know – you may as well go home. Or retire, if you will.
‘Days Go By’ is out today. Listen here.