Both as the front man of classic Australian rock band, Goanna, and a solo artist in his own right, Shane Howard has made his mark on both the music industry and the nation as a whole.
In this insightful interview, he discusses his upcoming show in Western Australia, music, and his thoughts on some of this country’s more pressing social issues.
You’re performing in Perth in November as part of your Deeper South album tour. How’s that been going so far?
We’ve pretty much covered the country, from the Gurindji 50th anniversary celebrations, to Cooktown and everywhere in between – central Australia, all the south coast and Tasmania. We’ve pretty much been everywhere except Western Australia.
So, it’s great to have the opportunity to come to the west, which is always a good vibe.
What do you love most about WA and Western Australian fans?
Oh, what do I love most? I love Fremantle! (Laughs) I love the Kimberleys. I love down south ‘round Margaret river, that country. Perth and Western Australia, for me, are what I would call the most iconic Australian cities. There’s a sense of being out on the edge of the world a bit.
There’s kind of wildness to Western Australia that you don’t get on the east coast. The whole east coast is very civilised in a way. Western Australia’s still got that sense that you’re living very close to the wild, yeah?
What can people expect from a Shane Howard Trio performance?
Well, we’ve been at it for a while now. As a trio I like to think we’re pretty tight, we’re pretty solid. John Hudson and Ewen Baker (who make up the other two guys in the trio), they’re both really beautiful musicians – Ewen plays fiddle and mandolin and fiddle, and about twenty other instruments, and John’s a guitar player, bongo player – so they push me to a really high standard of musicianship.
And as a trio, without a rhythm section, you really have to make it groove and make it work in a fairly stripped-back way. It really takes you back to the essence of the songs, and a very pure kind of acoustic noise. We get to rattle things around a bit.
What tracks from your new album have received the best response so far?
Different things for different reasons. There’s a track called Everything Is Rusted, which is kind of a farce take on the state of the world at the moment, not just climate change (we touch on all those things), but anyone who lives close to the coast knows everything rusts, everything decays, everything falls apart and it’s a bit like the world, in that reality at the moment. There’s lots of big issues, but we have a lot of fun with that track, musically and lyrically. So it’s good to mess with that stuff.
There’s another track on there that people are loving called Little Joey was a Pirate, because Australia doesn’t have pirate songs (laughs). It’s a bit of a modern day take on that old folk tradition of a murder ballad, set in a modern day context: love gone wrong and things are going to get out of hand. In the old murder ballads, it’s always the woman who gets killed, but in this case, it’s slightly different. She survives.
Will you perform any Goanna tracks as part of the gig?
Yeah, we do always try to honour that Goanna legacy with a couple of songs. People kind of expect that. Songs like Solid Rock, it’s a perennial favourite. I still love playing it, even after 34 years. I still love playing that track. It has its own energy. You never know where it’s going to go when you start playing it; it really has a force all of its own. You never half sing it, you have to give your spirit fully to it, and it’s still always exciting for me to come at that song.
What are some of your personal favourites from your back catalogue [both as part of Goanna and as a solo artist]? Are there others that you particularly enjoy performing, or even some that you don’t?
There’s hundreds of songs there this far down the track, and they’re a bit like your children: you can’t have favourites for fear of jealousy [laughs]. But it shifts and changes. Sometimes, you get sick of doing a particular song. You’ll do it and really love it, and then you’ll get sick of it and move onto other things. It is a funny relationship: falling in love with old songs and different songs at different stages of your life. It is really interesting how that shifts and changes as you move through life. There’s a lot of chapters in life this far down the track. Sometimes [with] some of the early songs, you re-visit them, and it feels like you knew things when you were younger that you’ve forgotten when you’re older. It is a fluid thing.