Liz Stringer

It’s Not Just Football – A Love Letter To My City

 

My big brother Tom in his Hawks guernsey, circa 1981

 

All my life, and long before it, the Australian Rules football season has formed the spine of my city’s year. The opening rounds are heralded by the first leaves starting to turn and the afternoon light softening to its gentle Autumnal wash as the mornings become clearer and crisper. And as the season’s climax approaches, a stir in the city’s belly begins, an awakening to the new spring, bringing with it rising temperatures and the dense perfume of daffodils, lengthening days and fresh, bursting pollen carried on erratic winds. But the meat of the football calendar hunkers deep in the cold Victorian winter, as the trees stand stark and stripped and long tracts of puddles lie over bluestone lanes while heavy drifts of chimney smoke hang in the cold, still air. Every Melbournian’s experience of their city, regardless of their relationship to the game, is threaded together by strands of the ever-present AFL season that weave through every fibre. And then there are those who live for the game, from every background and corner of humanity, who are fed like blood through the city’s arterials, streaming off trains and trams in tracts of intense colour to pour into bursting stadiums of rich green turf and overpriced light beer. For six months of their year, the dull grind of work and everyday problems becomes punctuated by each gloriously fizzing round of football, every game an epic, dense saga to be dissected and analysed and lost in for the rest of week, an evolving drama that’s teased out over twenty-two rounds and a month of finals.

 

I was besotted with football since before I can remember. It is an extraordinary game, requiring an elite level of skill, dexterity, courage and fitness and when it’s played well it can be, to the trained eye, beautiful. I have a very clear memory of walking through Carlton laneways when I was maybe five or six years old, my little hand in my dad’s as we made our way to Princes Park on a rainy Saturday in July. We were there to see the Hawks, dad’s team since he and his older brother were small boys being raised by their mother in Hawthorn in the 40s and 50s. Dad and his brother Bill would watch the then Mayblooms get thrashed every week at Glenferrie until the team’s luck, and their mascot, had changed by 1953. And it was the team that was bequeathed to my older brother Tom and me at birth, in 1977 and 1980 respectively. We inherited the Hawks just as we inherited our tempers or the colour of our eyes. The Hawks belonged to us and we belonged to the Hawks. That’s how it felt when were small kids and that’s how it still feels to me now, decades later.

 

Being at a football match was a raw and powerful place for me as a child and still forms some of my most visceral memories. Fully-grown men with beer and tomato sauce on their breath bellowing what, to my six-year-old ears, were exotic and bewildering insults from the stands at the opposing team’s players and the umpires, the biting winds, the sweet, back-of-the-throat smell of freshly cut turf mingling with cigarette smoke, the jarring thud of boot on ball and the smack of body on body that you could feel deep in your stomach. The roar of tens of thousands of barrackers would fill up my little body until I thought I would burst and it remains, to this day, both my most coveted and most despised sound, depending on which way the game’s going.

 

The Hawks were a powerhouse in the 80s and often played games out at Waverley Park in Mulgrave, the heartland of their supporter base, until it became their official home ground in 91. Waverley or ‘VFL Park’ was about a half-hour drive south-east from the club’s original home ground and headquarters, Glenferrie Oval in Hawthorn, but only twenty minutes drive from the house in Surrey Hills that I grew up in. Surrey Hills is now one of Melbourne’s most expensive suburbs but, in 1980, when my parents moved my two older siblings (and me on the way) out there from Carlton, it was filling with young couples like my mum and dad who took advantage of the cheap blocks and the space for their growing families. My brother and I spent most of our young childhood outside together and, as the winters would settle in, we’d play endless games of kick-to-kick with our yellow Sherrin in the muddy backyard until we were forced inside due to poor light and be thrust, with stinging, freezing legs and faces, into steaming baths. I was always Dipper, Tom was Dunstall.

 

Hawthorn mostly played on Saturday afternoons out at Waverley – Friday night football wasn’t yet a thing – and dad took my brother and me countless times, both of us shivering with excitement and clutching our hand painted signs made of old sheets that mum would let us have, stuck to bits of dowel. Our older sister Catherine was never bitten by the football bug and no doubt relished the quiet Saturday afternoons at home with mum, revelling in her younger siblings’ glorious absence.

 

Waverley was a big, exposed ground with a massive surface so noticeably convex that any action on the far wing would all but disappear beneath its curve if you sat anywhere near the boundary. The only way to get to the ground was, essentially, to drive or to take a bus, an inaccessibility which would eventually lead to the stadium’s demise. Its rim, nowadays lined with housing estates, was flanked by endless stretches of car parks mapped out with string and posts in the sodden paddocks. We’d enter through the turnstiles on the south-east wing, trudge longingly past the hot jam donut caravan and settle down in the north-eastern pocket, opposite the members stand, on one of the flaking wooden benches to watch the end of the reserves match and wait for our ‘brave boys’ to take to the field.

 

We were allowed to eat corn chips brought from home, an infrequent and greatly cherished treat, and dad always had a thermos of tea or cuppa-soup for himself and blankets for my brother and me to spread over our little legs just before the damp cold of Waverley would sink into our bones, usually at a moment deep into the third quarter. An earphone from dad’s small transistor radio, which was perpetually tucked into his overalls so he could listen to the footy while he chopped wood or chainsawed stuff or mowed the lawn at home, would be in one of his ears for the whole game, and he’d pass on insights to us about free kicks and injuries from the Grandstand commentary team as we’d nod earnestly while marking off Hawthorn’s goals and behinds in our $1 Footy Record. It was an extraordinary era for the Hawks and we got to regularly watch our heroes, legends like Brereton, DiPierdomenico, Platten and Tuck play at times flawless, jaw-breakingly courageous football.

 

After the game we’d collect large plastic sacks full of empty beer cans – Cash-a-Can was quite a boon to the disenfranchised under-10 – accompanied by a soundtrack of hundreds of leather footballs being kick-to-kicked out on the hallowed surface by fans of both teams – a giant saucepan of low-mid frequency popcorn.

 

As we’d leave Waverley Park, a process that was notorious for taking an unreasonably long time, we’d sit in the mostly stationary car on our way to Jackson’s Road with the heater on listening to the ABC post-match interviews from the rooms. It was always a much more fun listen if the Hawks had won, but as Dad taught us by forcing us (very much against our young wills) to stay until the very end of every match that we went to, win or lose, including the brutal 82 point annihilation by arch rival West Coast in round 7 of the 91 season, sometimes you have to just suck it up. It’s not lost on me, though, that I’ve had minimal ‘sucking up’ to do as a Hawthorn fan. We went on, for example, to beat West Coast in the grand final that same year, taking the sting somewhat out of that particular drubbing.

 

We’d return home in the dark to a lit pot-belly stove and if we were lucky, a full quarter of the game that we’d just been to being shown on Footy Replay while we ate our Saturday night fish’n’chips.

 

There is so much I could recount when writing about footy. I haven’t begun to cover the trips to watch the seniors train, the era of the tabled merger with Melbourne, the horror of learning that Jeff Kennett would become the next Hawks president (Kennett was an ex Liberal state premier, despised in my house, who ripped the heart out of Victorian state education – both my parents were high school teachers – and obliterated the public sector during his first term beginning in 1992), the great solace that the game brought to me and my grieving family during my teenage years or the two grand finals that my brother and I were able to attend as adults, one that we won, one that we lost. I am an unashamed football tragic, a penchant for which I cop at times uncharitable abuse from friends and music fans. But, for anyone who will listen (and sometimes for those unfortunates who have zero interest in listening) I am always up for a philosophical chat about Football and Culture. You see, I consider live music and football to be two different kinds of dancers moving skilfully to the same tune. They are both profound connectors and levellers, they both incite passion and provide a greatly needed outlet for unprocessed emotion, and both (but particularly football) bring people from all geographical areas and all walks of life into the same space to share a common experience, something that is becoming rarer and rarer in our (pre and post-pandemic) world.

 

There has been much said about the toxic culture of the AFL and indeed something that’s often mentioned by some of the people who rib me for being a football fan – and, while I absolutely accept and agree that there is deep racism, sexism and homophobia that exists in and around the AFL, I would argue that football represents a stark microcosm of the greater Australian society, in which these endemic issues are rampant. These problems are not unique to sport, nor is every football fan an idiot, and there is something powerful in the mechanism of a mainstream juggernaut like the AFL dragging, voluntarily or not, this squirming bigotry and deep-seated xenophobia out of the shadows of day-to-day Australian society, where it’s able to thrive and propagate in isolation, into the bright light, however uncomfortable it is for us all to see. The Adam Goodes documentary The Final Quarter was extraordinary and incredibly important, not just because of Goodes’ breathtaking grace and generosity in despicable and shameful circumstances, but also because it ripped migrant Australia’s thumping, racist heart from its colonial chest and held it up for everyone to see just how far we still have left to go as a society. And if we want to talk about racism, sexism or homophobia, look no further than the history of the Australian music industry. Or Australian politics. Or in fact any current industry or social institution in this country in which indefensible inequity continues to exist unchallenged. Perhaps all of these arenas have more in common than is obvious at first glance. And perhaps every industry would benefit from the responsibility and accountability that comes with being as visible and as people-driven as the AFL. And despite all of the issues, the game of football remains a powerful and vital community connector and a place for inordinate learning and healing, something that we need now more than ever.

The emergence and development of the AFLW is a massive step forward and I would love my five-year-old nephew to tell me in twenty years time how ludicrous he finds the idea that women had no national league until 2017  (we’re still waiting for a Hawthorn AFLW team, too, by the way). In the same way that I want him to see his auntie and all of the strong female and GNC people in his life being ubiquitously represented and lauded in all sectors of the arts. And I have often wondered, since the AFLW started, whether that little six year old in ‘86 would have gone on to aspire to play professional football if that path had been available to her in the 1980s. I was an athletic kid and a good kick. And my little heart beat so very strong for the game.

I digress. This piece of writing was prompted due to a deep sadness that befell me last week, approaching the Easter round, because the footy is not on and I don’t get to watch my beloved Hawks weekly, win or lose, riding the bumps with a grin. I miss it deep in my bones because footy represents my city so profoundly – a city that none of us are free to move around or conduct our normal lives in at the moment. I don’t know that I ever took the hum of the football season for granted but I’m missing its comforting and deeply familiar regularity profoundly. Its absence leaves an inexorable hole in my life and it joins a list of things that I have realized, due to Covid-19, form the canvas of my existence, experience and identity as a person, an awareness that was almost unnecessary until everything profoundly changed from one day to the next a few short weeks ago.

I’m deeply grateful to the sport of Marngrook for being a connector for my family and for so many of my dear friends and for providing me with some of the most exhilarating emotional experiences of my life, as well as some of my most gutting. Mostly, I’m grateful to footy for providing me with the most effective and all-consuming escape from my ‘real life’, kicking anything on Netflix’s arse by cosmic proportions.

 

Finally, while there is some joy in knowing that my Hawks remain undefeated in 2020, I cannot fucking wait for next year.

 

 

 

 

April 13, 2020

Country On Fire

 

 

Me and my cousins Caroline and Jonathan. Mansfield, circa 1983. 

As I woke on the 2nd of January 2020 in my room at my brother’s place, where I stay when I’m in Melbourne, the reality of the last few weeks shuffled doggedly back into my conscious mind. Every morning, these days, my body floods with fear. This is what my nephew’s future feels like. I need to start mourning more pointedly the country, and the climate, that I grew up in. I fluttered around my room from my piano to my guitar to my books to my phone like a trapped, sick bird – the heat outside already humming on the glass doors out to the backyard, smoky from the East Gippsland front. And I watched the miners, standing motionless in patches of shade with their beaks open. They are trapped too. When will it end?

 

Jordie texted me. My old friend Jordie, a source of comfort and stability throughout my preceding decade of intense change and incessant movement. He asked me whether I wanted to put on a bushfire fundraiser with him. “There is something we can do, Liz”. And with that, he provided me with a temporary salve to the dark sickness of anxiety that had begun to spread slowly across my vision. Instantly we both directed our anger and despair into the thing that musicians do, out of necessity, as much as playing – organising.

 

It was a sanity-rescuing gift to be able to channel this fear that all of us feel so acutely into actuating positivity. And it’s a low rumbling irony that despite belonging to one of the more economically marginalised professions, being an artist has allowed Jordie and me, and countless others around Australia and indeed the world, to help facilitate significant fundraising and community mobilisation. Our communities are our institutions and our connection is our currency. And at this juncture in human existence the question is deafening. What can I do?

 

I was in familiar country in Victoria not long ago. My heart, my whole body was aching with a deep sadness that whatever is left will not be for long. With the stark and brutal reality of our future having faced Australians every day for months, let alone the years of drought and failing crops, the contingencies are now being rolled out and put into place. How do I love this country and at least try to give back some of what we’ve taken while I still can? I took my tea down to the dam, closed my eyes and listened as a symphony rose from the trees and the grasses. I tried to picture the Taungurung mobs here on their country. Before the rabbits and the willows and the rampant clearing of towering gums and scrub and the compounding of the fertile soil by slow, trampling hooves. I imagined how deafening and alive this place would once have been, how teeming and dense and fecund. How could I ever truly grasp the profundity of the damage done in only 240 years and the depth of the mourning for this country that had begun long, long ago?

 

There is so much sadness at the moment. And yet we are perversely privileged to be witnessing that which is occurring for the first time and which will never happen again. We watch the tipping unfold in front of us as we clutch the ancestral baton in sweating hands, rounding the bend into the last straight.

 

I yelled about Scott Morrison and his government at one of our Melbourne benefit shows. My body was rigid with anger, the blood rushing around my face. I’ll continue to do what I can to fight the LNP’s despicable apathy and self-interested obstructionism. But what’s happening is beyond Morrison. It’s beyond politics and science and god. It’s bigger than everything and it is everything at the same time.

 

Jordie went on to organise fundraisers in LA and Nashville, with fellow Australians Bex Chilcott and Cameron Potts. I joined them for the latter show. The overwhelming comfort of being among my international musical kin was a further salve. The fear generated by the Australian bushfire crisis has transcended borders as people around the world have watched, horrified, as the events were unfolding in our romanticised paradise. The offerings of love, solidarity and support and their benefits are real, and although not as practical as those yielded from the actual dollars and cents raised to support the people and the animals who have lost everything, it becomes clearer to me, daily, the power and potential in togetherness and community.

 

For those of us who haven’t lost loved ones or homes or swathes of beloved bush in this ongoing horror, life necessarily goes on, a cork bobbing along the surface of a stream that surges and seethes menacingly underneath. I have found myself grasping at every moment of fresh air and sunshine and running water. I am more present with my nephew, I’m tasting food properly, I notice how different materials feel on my skin and take the few minutes every now and then to watch the old magpie couple who live in the tall gums in the park opposite my brothers place. I see that these birds have their story and bring up their young and eventually become empty nesters again and that they fuss over the neighbourhood kids playing on the equipment, allowing themselves to be chased by the smaller ones. This is their house too.

 

There was so much I didn’t see before. So much I didn’t understand or value or cherish. And I take seriously my role as a member of the planet to put energy back into the grid. To take only what I can give back. Something I should have done a long time ago.

 

 

 

 

 

February 13, 2020

Family Friendly Bushfire Benefit Show added Sunday Jan 12th

ALL UNDER 18s MUST BE ACCOMPANIED BY A PARENT OR GUARDIAN

This is a family friendly event so that some of our younger crew can come down and be together and raise some funds.

Jordie, Clare and I and some special guests will be performing.

Tix available now HERE

Xx


January 8, 2020

Bushfire Benefit – Northcote Social Club Tuesday January 14th

This is one of many benefit shows and donation funds which are currently selling tickets/accepting donations in Melbourne at the moment – if you can’t come to this one go to/donate to one of them. Or just go to them all!! Let’s do what Melbourne does best and show our support for our mates all around the country who are suffering.

Jordie LaneClare Reynolds and I are being joined by some of our friends; Jeff Lang, Kylie Auldist, The Maes and Kate Lucas from Coda Chroma, for a bushfire benefit show at the Northcote Social Club on Tuesday January 14th. Tix are available from 9am on Monday Jan 6th.

https://northcotesocialclub.com/gig/88203479983/

All proceeds (including the venue hire and production costs and a portion of the bar takings, contributed by the NSC) will be split evenly and donated to the some of the organisations on the front line who are fighting the fires and helping communities and wildlife; NSW RFSCFA (Country Fire Authority) and Wildlife Victoria.

We’re all in this together.

Xx Liz

Poster design donated by Jim Grimwade ❤️

January 6, 2020

DSC HITTING THE ROAD

 

Jen, Mia and I are so excited to be taking this Dyson Stringer Cloher  show on the road this week with our ‘band’ Dave Williams on drums!! Some shows have sold out but tickets are still available for a few gigs – go to my MY SHOWS PAGE for links to tickets.

We’ll be joined by the incredible Jodi Phillis (The Clouds) at every show except for Adelaide, where Naomi Keyte will be our very special guest for both shows.

Thu Nov 7th – Lansdowne Hotel, Sydney

Fri Nov 8th – Lizottes, Newcastle

Sat Nov 9th – The Zoo, Brisbane

Wed Nov 13th – Howler, Melbourne **under 30 tix remaining

Thu Nov 14th – Howler, Melbourne **SOLD OUT

Fri Nov 15th – Theatre Royal, Castlemaine **SOLD OUT

Sat Nov 16th – Grace Emily Hotel, Adelaide **SOLD OUT

Sun Nov 17th – Grace Emily Hotel, Adelaide

We’ll see you out there!! xx

November 4, 2019

New Dyson Stringer Cloher single ‘Believer’ + National Tour + Album Presale Announcement

Our debut self-titled album is out on October 4th but go HERE to preorder the album and save on some exclusive pre-order merch items!

And today the second single, Believer, is out in the world. Scroll down below the song lyrics to watch the clip directed by the amazing Annelise Hickey and starring Lulu Beatty as our footy legend.

 

Believer – Dyson Stringer Cloher 

 

Feeder, what do you want from me

I’ve worked hard all my life, not about to sacrifice

The riches of my kingdom for any price

I’m a winner, I knew I’d always be

One rung above never wanting for love

Never needing anything from anyone

 

Listen, this is within my control

I don’t know if I was fed by any of these spoils

But I was always told it was more rock’n’roll

Are you with me

Cos I’m not with anyone

This is my part of the limb

Where the branch has gotten thin

And don’t ever want to climb down again

 

In the madness of the moment I was humming like a bird

You won’t keep me under the heavy, heavy earth

 

A believer

I’m trying to see but it’s so hard to be

A believer

And if you wait it’s going to get you anyway

 

This fever, this humming of the crowd

Transferring all of their energy into me one giant animal

Pumping blood through its seams

The teeth clench, the feet scuttle on the cold

We rise as one as elation overcomes

The menace of the feeling that we’re all alone

 

I’m turning over in my sleep

I can’t really rest while my mind plays tricks

 

A believer

I’m trying to see but it’s so hard to be

A believer

And if you wait it’s going to get you anyway

 

I pick a fight with myself every night

Treat ‘em mean keep ‘em keen

Don’t feed the dog, make him lean

 

A believer

I’m trying to see but it’s so hard to be

A believer

And if you wait it’s going to get you anyway

 

 

 

August 29, 2019

Dyson Stringer Cloher – Falling Clouds and Lots of Love

 

I’m writing this in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, a part of the world I now consider a home away from home. I’m sure I’ll write again about my relationship with this place, how it began, and the potential future it might hold for me (‘cos anyone who’s read these blogs knows I like having a chat about places in Canada that I love…), but I mention it now only to highlight the current physical distance between me and my band mates and collaborators, Jen Cloher in Melbourne and Mia Dyson in her home of nearly a decade, Los Angeles.

Dyson Stringer Cloher was formed in 2013. Jen, Mia and I can’t remember the exact details around how it started, or who suggested that we form a band together, although our bets are all with Jen. We made a three track EP and toured across Australia with Danny McKenna on drums (and Dave Williams playing the NT leg), Tim Keegan on bass guitar and Jason McGann on FOH. We played about forty dates, from Tennant Creek to Sydney, Fremantle to Hobart. We had a show cancelled in Cairns due to a cyclone, played Darwin Festival under palm trees on a balmy August night, were part of the bill at the mighty Gumball in the Hunter Valley playing just after Ed Kuepper (one of my songwriting heroes) and performed at Queenscliff Music Festival in our respective home state of Victoria, one of our favourite shows together. The tour was epic. And we learned a lot.

Being able to work in partnership with two of my best friends Mia Dyson and Jen Cloher has always been, and continues now to be a great gift and completely overarching in its influence. My music career is not just a job. My choice to dedicate my life to music and writing has purposefully directed how and where I live, the personal relationships I’ve formed with my closest people, and the way I see my future. And so a project like this doesn’t just affect the way I ‘work’. It’s much bigger than that. Being a solo artist can mean operating in isolation a lot, which brings with it the autonomy and flexibility that I dearly cherish, but it can also be at times lonely and personally taxing. Dyson Stringer Cloher offers a sense of community and solidarity, a sisterhood (for want of a less bandied expression) in an industry within which self interest can present a frustrating and muscle-bound rigidity. Mia and Jen are people who have gone through extreme challenges both within and outside their respective music careers and have both faced these trials with enormous grace, bravery and self-reflection. I’ve turned countless times to one or both of them for advice and support during difficult periods of my personal life and at times of professional challenges. I feel like the baby of the group, even though I’m not the youngest, and am relishing being able to be on a team that is so holistically supportive and inspiring.

It’s now six years since that first tour and we’ve gotten back on the train. We made a record at Wilco’s studio The Loft in Chicago in April of this year (spending time in that studio being one of the greatest musical experiences of my life to date) and the first single, Falling Clouds, has just been released. The process of writing the ten tracks for the record was a mostly collaborative one but there were one or two songs each that we brought in that we had already written and felt were perfect for this project together. Jen wrote Falling Clouds about her own experiences growing up in Adelaide and has since followed up with some important and beautifully articulated sentiments about the lyrics, touching on some of the challenges that women and non-binary people face in the music industry and throughout the day-to-day struggle to be accepted and celebrated for who they are and what they can do. And she also speaks to the homage in the song to three of the women musicians who blazed bright trails to light the way for Jen’s own creative paths, in this case Suzie Higgie, Jodi Phillis and Trish Young of iconic Aussie rock band The Clouds. (click HERE to read Jen’s blog piece.) I know that powerful female role models in music have been huge beacons for all three of us in DSC. The fact that we ourselves are now visible and consistent contributors to the Australian and wider musical landscape as three women over 35 is a flag that we fly with extreme pride and a role that we take incredibly seriously. Our hope is that, through the collective efforts of the three of us and our peers, who are in similar trail-blazing positions in music and across all facets of modern Australian society, we continue to light the way for young people who identify with us for all kinds of reasons and that they can look to us as examples of the ever-increasing possibilities that exist for their own careers, as we looked to our own elders when we were starting out. And that, in a few years time, the current diverse wave of artists will form just one of the ripples in the ever-opening and expanding artistic landscape for people of all genders and all backgrounds.

I’ve learned so much from Jen about expressing things that are personally important and for standing up, in not always receptive environments, for what you believe in. Falling Clouds is testament to Jen’s ability to convey these ideas and the video, directed by the incredible Annelise Hickey and brought to life by a hugely talented team, listed below, was Jen’s concept. I’m proud and chuffed to have been able to present this song together as Dyson Stringer Cloher and to have been privy to the discussions that Jen sought out with various people prior to us releasing the song about the content and the countless ways the lyrics could be received by different parts of the music loving community. A lot of thought, sensitivity and love has gone into this first outing back into the world for Dyson Stringer Cloher and I’m so proud to be the meat in this particular sandwich, so to speak.

Love youse. X

 

Director: Annelise Hickey

Producer: Emelyne Palmer

Writer: Jen Cloher

1st AD: John Sandow

DOP: Simon Walsh

1st AC: Lucas Brown

2nd AC: Oscar O’Shea

Gaffer/ Grip: James Thompson

Best boy: Jaydan Deoliveria

Stylist: Phoebe Taylor at Vovo

Art Director: Bronwen Kemp

Art Assist: Tori Styles

Art Assist: Brendan Norvill

Hair & Makeup: Nadine Muller

Hair & Makeup: Jeremy Agnew

Runner: Will Morrissey

Lighting Tech #1: Eddie Schleifer

Lighting Tech #2: Danny T

Vehicles: Rusty Clarke

Editor: Grace Eyre

Post Producer: Charlotte Griffiths

Colourist: Ciara Gallogly

Titles: Amelia Leuzzi

Sound Design: Paul Shanahan

Sound Producer: Laura Hesse

Featuring:

Guy in City: Jono Colliver

Kid in City: Benji Mazzone

Woman in City: Tess McKaige

Guy at Gig: Jack Doherty

Woman at Gig: Simonne Johansen

Security Guard: Adam Ramzi

Special Thanks: Cam Miller, Gen O’Shea, Rob Summons, Jess Langley, Steph Boyle, Lori Camaratta and our incredible friends and fans for their exceptional crowd work.

July 28, 2019

BLOG – Vancouver’s in The Race

I hiked every morning in the mountains north of Vancouver last week with my friend and fellow songwriter Larissa Tandy. A Canadian permanent resident for some time now, Larissa has taken to driving the half hour up into North Vancouver every morning from her place downtown to explore the infinite system of trails. She told me how good it’s been for her body and for her head. And I was more than enthusiastic to join her. The air is cold at the moment. There’s something other-worldly about walking along a mountain trail under towering cedars, the thundering river a sharp drop away, while the snowflakes drift down and settle on the Hemlocks and ferns. If fairies existed, this is where they would hang out.

Although a cold winter by southern BC standards, the Pacific north west is a much more forgiving climate than those of her eastern cousins and it felt like shorts and tee-shirt weather in Vancouver after coming from Toronto where it was twenty below and howling a damp, icy wind that tore at any exposed flesh like the fangs of a crazed dog, leaving my eyes and nose streaming before I collapsed stinging-faced and grateful into the life-saving heat of the subway station. Dramatic? Fuck yes. This Australian is struggling HARD. Needless to say that I revelled in the serenely green wonderland of Vancouver, buds already visible and waiting open armed for the spring, while Toronto continued to savage its freezing bite through the second half of January.

Vancouver was my introduction to Canada. My manager at the time Cat and I drove up from Portland, Oregon where I’d been making All The Bridges in July 2015. We stopped in Seattle to play a house concert and then drove the last two hours through the silt country over the border to British Columbia. My first experience with Canadian customs officers was a stereotypically friendly one.
“What are you doing here in Canada?”
“Playing gigs.”
“Ok, have a great time then!”

I remember not wanting to like Vancouver. Not wanting to like Canada. I was being wrenched, begrudgingly, from the recording bubble and I had fallen deeply in love with Portland. For me it was serious – I was already picturing our future together. I was lovesick and distracted and Vancouver kind of got in the way. Little did I know how formative my love affair with this inconvenient stranger would become.

My friends Jane and Jody, still my number one connection to western Canada and two of my closest people, were living near Commercial Drive, pretty much the Sydney Road of Vancouver, in the summer of 2015. The Drive is the centre of East Vancouver, the city’s creative community, which means what it always means – it’s vibrant, thriving and alive. In summer everyone is out, gorging on every last crumb of the sunshine. The trails of sweet weed smoke hang in the air on all the corners as the afternoons drift on and on, warm and dusty and fragrant. From Venables to 12th the Drive is crammed with cheap sushi joints (Vancouver has some of the best and most generously priced sashimi I’ve ever eaten – not surprising considering the access to the abundant fruits of the Pacific), dollar stores, organic food markets and vendors selling everything from vintage clothes to handmade furniture. Like in most cities I’ve been in recently, housing affordability is an often passionately discussed topic here and from everything I’ve been told it’s brutally clear that East Vancouver has not been immune to gentrification. However, while prices for the tiny, porch-fronted weatherboard houses that pack the Drive’s arterial streets are now way out of anyone’s reach who has called the area home forever, the heart of the community around there seems to have mostly weathered the farcical, cruel and onward-raging storm of the property market. Commercial Drive runs north south and when facing north, the mountains loom up in front like ancient, smoke-blue behemoths, snowy, in varying patches, all year round. Not only are they breathtakingly beautiful but the mountains also make Vancouver one of the easiest cities to navigate geographically that I’ve spent any time in. Where’s north? Where the mountains are.

My first hangs in Vancouver were during that hot summer of 2015. There were several trips north into parts of interior BC, country so sacred and ancient that it’s difficult to write about. When I think of those places and experiences I drift off in a reverie to a place in my psyche that I’m convinced was woken for the first time there, a birth of consciousness I could only liken to the shift I felt during the first stretch I ever spent in the Kimberley. The festivals that we played, tucked away in the folds of British Columbia, framed with freezing melt rivers, have claimed a place in my memory disproportionate to the actual time that was spent there. Maybe one day I’ll write about them in a more focussed way but for now I am content to be able to viscerally feel them and remain deeply grateful to their influence. Healing, welcoming, abundant country.

It’s interesting for me to observe, objectively, the relationship that I’m forming with Canada in all of its diversity. Places are powerful. They have spirit and character. And, just like between people, relationships with these places can be complicated and not always harmonious. Sometimes a place can come into your life for a short time and is not meant to be part of the greater arc of your story. I don’t know where I’ll ‘end up’. I seem to live one month at a time at the moment, in Toronto, Melbourne, NYC, PEI, Vancouver, I’ll be spending more time in Chicago soon… And I like all of those places for very different reasons, although I feel a deeper soul connection to some than to others. I think that’s how things are going to look for me for a while. I’ll be moving around until another deep shift occurs which will guide my instinct towards stopping and planting roots. The wheel of fortune is spinning. But I tell ya what, Vancouver is making a pretty compelling case right now to be my solid squeeze. Who knows, eh. Who the fuck knows.

Larissa Tandy, Jody Peck and me. North of Vancouver, BC. Feb 2019

February 10, 2019