June 2013. Cover pic by Kane Hibberd
In 2008 Missy Higgins lost her musical mojo, only to find it again a few years later after a soul-searching reconnection with the outside world. Lanie Lane is just enjoying the ride and hoping it lasts forever. AM’s Greg Phillips sat them down for a chat and found that both are intent on living life in the moment.
After releasing two multi-award-winning albums (with combined sales of over two million) and embarking on several successful tours both here and overseas, on the surface it seemed that Missy Higgins’ musical journey had it all. Deep down however, Missy was asking bold questions of herself and wondering what the hell it all meant. In late 2008 she got off the metaphorical tour bus, and sought a different life route, seeking knowledge at university and finding worth in volunteer work. The break and the reconnection with the real world filled Missy’s soul and lit the spark for a second musical coming. A meeting of the minds with musician Butterfly Boucher, whom she had met on the Lillth Fair tour, developed into a full blown collaboration which resulted in Missy’s first album in five years, The Ol Razzle Dazzle. Lanie Lane on the other hand, comes to the music industry with relatively fresh eyes. She just released her debut album in late 2011 and her mélange of blues, country, rockabilly and gospel has been creating an ever-increasing fanbase since. Lanie also gained the attention of the ultra-chic Jack White (White Stripes, Raconteurs, Dead Weather), who flew her to Nashville to record a couple of tracks for his Blue Series project, a release which preceded Lane’s album. Prior to sound check for the first of three sold out Lanie Lane shows at Melbourne’s Corner Hotel, we gathered Ms Lane and invited Missy to join us for a pint and a chat about writing, recording, performing and the whole damn thing.
When you bring a bunch of songs together for an album, you could go a thousand different ways with production. Lanie, you went for the quick method, recording in four days …
Lanie: It was four days but over a six month period. There was one day where we did about 8 songs, tracked everything and then the next day I did all of my vocals. Then we did one whole day on one song, the cowboy song. That was a really last minute song. It was a different band we had to put together … everything had been mastered already. I wrote it and everyone said, ‘you have to get it on the album’. So we got a whole new band together for the day in Melbourne. It was funny, so much of the album was like ‘bang’ and then one song, we spent the whole budget on it.
Missy, you did the opposite and spent a lot of time in the studio. Is it hard to know which way to go with production?
Missy: It’s a pretty important decision to make for me, who you are going to use as producer, because I’ve never really had a very strong vision of how my songs should sound. It’s weird to say but when I first write a song, it’s just me and piano or me and guitar and I really don’t think far past that. So it depends on who I work with to kind of bring that to life. I think with my first two albums, I didn’t want the production to get in the way of the songs and the vocals and the lyrics. This time I really wanted something different and I wanted each instrument to play a really important role and to have fun and try out new sounds.
Lanie: Because it’s just my first album, I haven’t really had the opportunity to get to know how I like to work production-wise but with my album, we said that the songs almost seemed like they played themselves. When my band came and learned the songs, which they did in an instant, the musicianship is amazing … but we just played it. They just makes sense. You don’t really need a producer. I don’t know why, it’s just the style of the songs.
Missy, with the different approach in recording this time, did you enjoy the studio time?
Missy: Yeah I loved it. As I said, with the last two albums I wanted naturally sounding beautiful instruments and quite acoustic, stripped back. This time I wanted to experiment more with it … Moog synthesisers, keyboards and other things. I played the Tibetan bowls on one song and a toy piano. One night Butterfly Boucher, who co-produced the record, and I stayed up late, pressed record and just recorded all these animal sounds. We did like 12 tracks of it and put it on a big bridge section of a song called Watering Hole. I really wanted to try things I’d never done before.
How important is it to collaborate with people and get outside your own ideas? Lanie you worked with Jack White prior to the album release. What do you learn from a guy like Jack White?
Lanie: He kind of just reinforced what I already thought and knew and wanted to do. He’s been doing it for so many years and over so many projects that he just nails it and he works so spontaneously. He gets the right people and he trusts people.
Missy: What was this on?
Lanie: He has a record label called Third Man and I did the Blues Series. He has like the Green Series, Blues Series etc. He puts out whole albums of other stuff but only on vinyl and different kinds of vinyl. Karen Elson, his ex, put hers out on peach scented vinyl. Mine was on tri-coloured vinyl. So fucking cool and that was like my first ever record because it came out before my album. He’s coming in July, only doing two shows and we’re supporting.
Missy: I know the two girls in his band from Nashville. They got called into this session and said they had no idea what they just did. They did some songs and left and didn’t know what it was for. Then months later they got called up and were told they were in his band. There’s like this shroud of mystery surrounding him.
Lanie: Yeah, that is so him, he is so cool and it’s so mysterious. You don’t know anything until you get there. He didn’t ask for song demos before I went. He just said come to Nashville, record two songs. You can do covers, originals whatever you want. He’s like, do you want to do it? That was it. Three months later I flew over there, not a word was spoken before hand. I walked in, actually just finished writing the song that morning. He had a band organised. He didn’t ask what instrumentation. It’s just this lack of worry about what’s going to happen. It’s just trusting the moment. We’re going to make this work in the moment. He just picks up a fuzz bass and starts playing it. When would I ever have fuzz bass … and now I love fuzz bass.
At what point did Butterfly Boucher come to your project Missy?
Missy: I did Sarah McLachlan’s Lilith Fair tour. Butterfly is Sarah’s bass player. I met her on that tour and both Butterfly and I have had people tell us over the years that we should meet and that we should collaborate. We both just went up to each other and started talking and got on really well. By the end of the tour I asked her if she wanted to do some writing with me. I was starting to get back into writing by then. I wanted to ask people that I respected and liked. She was really into the idea and said come down to Nashville if you ever get a chance. I started writing with her and fell in love with Nashville. I was writing with other people there and decided I needed to make the album there.
Missy, because there is so much in the production of your album, does that make it more difficult to transfer the songs to a live situation?
Missy: Definitely. I’ve got a really great band together, one that can sing really strong backing vocals, which is a huge part of the new record. I think Lanie in her live shows is able to make her songs live sound really close to the record, where as I am going to have to change them a little bit and maybe simplify them. I have a keyboard player who can definitely emulate some of the sounds and I am going to have a cello player, but you can never have quite as much going on as on the record.
Do you use your keyboard as just a digital piano or do you get into the patches and different sounds?
Missy: Me personally, I only really use the Wurly sound. I really like the Nord Stage for that, it has a really great grand piano and Wurly sound. The new one has a Mellotron sample, which I am really excited about and want to get. My keyboard player uses lots of different patches. I basically take the main piano role.
Lanie, when you go out on the road, how many guitars do you take with you and where did you actually find those beautiful guitars?
Lanie: I use three. Betty Baby the one in the song, is a 1957 Framus. The Epiphone Casino I bought in New York. The Gibson which is my main guitar, I bought at Chelsea Guitars in New York. I play through a Fender Deville and Aidan plays through a Twin. We just like that pure sound with valve amps.
Do you think about your own style at all?
Missy: No, I kind of play it by ear and as soon as something sounds fresh and original and exciting, I guess we’ll go down that route. If it sounds like something else, I try to avoid it.
What about you Lanie? You’ve got an old world vibe to your material. Do you work at that or is it just you?
Lanie: Again, I have only done one album. I don’t want to think about it too much. I don’t want to be putting myself into that just because everyone else does. I have been changing musically and writing songs for 15 years, and only now having to do it in public. I’m just always evolving. I have found this great sound that I love and with this band, touring together, we area real unit. When you see us play, it is not me and a band, it’s us. All of them and me, make me! That’s how I think of it. When we get to do these new songs, it’s going to sound like us and all our personalities will be in there. The songs are going to be different and the content will be different and not going to sound anything like a rockabilly thing. I think only a few songs on my current album have any resemblance to rockabilly but people are like, she’s a rockabilly queen. I’m like, do you even know what that is?
Missy, you’ve very open in interviews in about why you left music. What sort of things have you put in place to ensure you don’t go down that path again? Are you a different person?
Missy: I think I am a slightly different person in that I am not so gung-ho about achieving so much. Now I am a bit more relaxed and thinking I need longevity in my career. I don’t necessarily need to reach a certain level in America or sell a certain amount of records. I just really want to have fun doing it. If I work myself too hard like I did on the last album, I am going to just taking these massive breaks in between albums. Which is fine I guess but it’s not really sustainable. I don’t want to keep burning myself out and having to go away and then come back. I’d much rather do it in a more manageable way. Maybe take a few more breaks every now and then.
Is it difficult to actually enjoy the music making experience with so many other factors to consider as a professional musician such as interviews and photo shoots, etc?
Missy: I think what got me after a while was the small amount per day I got to actually play music. Even when things got really exhausting, I still really loved the couple of hours at the end of the day when I got to play live. It’s the rest, the traveling, everything else involved that seemed a useless way to be spending my time.
Lanie: That whole thing about being able to enjoy the moment, that’s something I have been writing about a lot. I feel like there are three ways you can ideally deal with something. You can accept it. Just surrender to it and let it be or you can have a really amazing enthusiasm for something, and think we are so lucky that we get to do what we do. A lot of people don’t have that in their life. There’s always a problem. I am constantly trying to not have problems in my life. I know the bad parts of me which could be that problem-making person but I also know that I am not going in that direction. I am consciously trying to go in the other direction and enjoy every moment, even if it’s kind of boring. But maybe I’ll be like you Missy and in five years, I’ll go fuck …
Missy: I think the most important thing for me was that I forgot to set time aside to write and be creative. I spent a couple of years touring America on a tour bus and you don’t really get any time to yourself unless you really make an effort and maybe lock yourself at the back of the tour bus or get in a hotel room every day. So it can be quite hard and I think I forgot to nurture the creativity in me. I still love the playing and think I am so lucky to be able to do this, but I didn’t feel like I could write any songs after a couple of years. I forgot to keep it alive. I am kind of in the same place as you are now Lanie, in trying to stay really grateful. Ultimately one of the conclusions I came to after taking such a big break, was God, I am so lucky to be able to do this for a career. You can make it any kind of career you want and it can be creative and it can be challenging and you can use your brain if you really want to. It doesn’t have to be all mind numbing.
Let’s finish up with the future. Lanie you already said you have a bunch of songs which will take you in a different direction to the last album. What are your thoughts for album number two?
Lanie: I think we’ll just wait until we get together. We’ve got a week aside in June to jam out for a week and write and maybe record on one of the days and then record in October. All I know is I have heaps of songs but I don’t know what its going to be like.
Are you nervous about the release of this album Missy, because it’s the first one in five years?
Missy: Not really. I am really proud of it. It’s quite different. I know that people will probably be polarised over it. I feel like there are still songs there for my old fans, but there are songs which are quite new territory for me. I think that’s a good thing for me to do personally because I just really enjoy experimenting with new ways of songwriting and production. I don’t ever want to repeat myself. I want to keep moving forward. So I am not too worried and the reaction so far has been pretty good. I am just looking forward to getting out on the road again. It’s kind of what it is all about for me. When I first started getting inspired again around a year and a half ago, I just wanted to start playing straight away but then I knew I had to write songs, and better record it then do the album. So there were all these things to do and I have had such itchy feet for the past year.
This issue was published by www.themusic.com.au under licence from the Australian Music Association.