James Reyne’s voice has taken on a mythic aspect. The veteran singer who cemented himself deep in the landscape of Australian musical sound is surging ahead with his art and although his band, music and tempo has changed his legendary timbre remains much the same.
On his latest tour, ‘A Crawl to Now’, Reyne and Josh Owen perform as an acoustic duo.Speaking from somewhere in Redfern, one gig into his regional tour, Reyne speaks about his tour, the Australian music industry and offers some advice to upcoming musicians.
So far, so good on the tour and he’s loving the country towns he passes through. “Most of these towns have really good little theatres, of about 350 to 500 seats so it’s good for ambience; you put people in a theatre, sit them down and they tend to shut up and listen, which is incredible.”
Touring now for nearly 20 years, Reyne says he enjoys touring more now, and not just because he’s got it down to a fine art. “The difference now is a really basic simple thing, like no one had mobile phones or Sat-Nav. For years we toured and you’d just say ‘see you at the other end.’ You had no way of contacting anybody else; you’d just assume they were going to get there.”
Despite this he swears he’s never missed a show, knock on wood. The energy Reyne possesses on tour is amazing and you can tell he respects the audience, always agreeing to play classic hits as well as his new material.
His illustrious career comes down to a lot of talent and hard work but also a special time and place in the Australian music industry: when young bands could get a leg in the door their own way. Today, a lot of music is defined by what commercial radio stations will play or TV talent competitions. Both have a distinctly American tinge to them.
Reyne says we still suffer from cultural cringe, especially in the arts. “Culturally, we’re regarded as sort of a little outpost to what’s going on. In the UK and America, if it’s a big hit over there, it will be considered here. There’s nothing like the support for local stuff like there used to be. When I was first doing stuff, there was great support in radio and television. It’s just not there now.”
Reyne also reflects on the impact technology has had on how we create and enjoy music, which is vastly different from the time when you’d have to go to the local venue to catch an act.
“It’s much easier because technology has changed everything and it’s allowed you to sit at home and press a button and say ‘I’ve got all the music I want’; I don’t have to get up and get out of my chair.
“As humans, it’s just a basic human foible. You just sit at home in your chair and you eat some fast food and you press a button and you go “oh, I’ve got everything I want.”
Talking about Reyne’s experiences as a young musician, it seems some things never change. Exploitation, expensive equipment and bad pay seem to be ingrained in the profession. Reyne calls them a rite of passage and explains how he experienced it and what it’s taught him.
“When you are a young band starting out, everybody at some level is going to try to take advantage of you, at some point you end up paying to play. You work your arse off trying to get exposure so it costs you more, because you have to buy or rent gear, but you’re not getting paid as much as it costs you to hire or buy this stuff. You’ve got all the associated costs with just getting people around and carry crap around. You’ve got agents that don’t understand you, often young agents who don’t understand.
“They put you with supporting bands; you go through that but that’s part of the rite of passage. The ‘us against the world’ thing that hopefully, if you believe in it, it’s going to make you stronger and better and come through to the other side if you persevere. We went through that, every single person I know who does this work, when they were young when they started out, went through it.
“We were on the dole until we went on telly. We went to get our dole checks and they were like ‘hey you boys are on television” and we had to pay it all back. It was costing us! In those days $150 a week was a lot of money, it was costing us to keep the band together. That happened for a couple of years. Eventually, you start to make a bit more money than you are outlaying and you start to, you know, make $50 a week and then we’d make $100 a week and we’d put it away.”
Reyne has inspiring words for the young bloods out there.
“If you believe in your band, and you believe in your friends, the mates you’re in the band with then well, you know, then you’ll stand together and it will make you stronger and you’ll go ‘bugger you people, we’re going to get better and we’re going to get stronger and we’re going to pull people in to see us.
“The only way you can beat the dickheads is to build an audience and if you build an audience then they can’t argue with that because if you start to pull people you start to get the power.”