GUS MCKAY
Talisman
(RPM Records)

 

Australian singer-songwriter / guitarist Gus McKay continues making a lot of blues-rock fans very happy with his 2017 CD called Talisman. With a guitar-centric sound that is kind of similar in scope to J.J. Cale, mixed in with some Peter Green meets ZZ Top inspired vocals, Talisman is a fascinating spin start to finish. In some ways, the lead off track “Art Of Living” perfectly captures Gus’ sound. In his February 2018 mwe3.com interview, Gus says the track is about “Getting closer to the ideal, of getting through this life with purpose and dignity and still be inspired”. Songs about purpose and dignity are at the core of Talisman, which also has a deep connection to rural life in Australia. A sense of sparseness permeates Talisman and the album is a very graphic sonic postcard from Australia, which Gus describes in songs like “Murchison Sequel” and GinGin Morning”. Gus has perfectly tailored the sound and vision of Talisman very much around his own ideas of life and his lyrics are totally underscored by the excellent sound that Gus receives from his band, which includes Ronan Charles (drums, keyboards, and tenor sax) and Phil Waldron (bass, double bass, bozouki, fiddle, trumpet, cello, banjo, pedal steel and tin whistle). The album also features some intriguing album art to which Gus adds, “I found a particular design that caught my eye and created it from wood and old tin, for the inside sleeve of the CD.” Such attention to detail is rare and doesn’t go unnoticed, although the first thing that grabs you about Talisman is the sonic depth of these songs, which take some time to get into fully, but it’s very much worth it. Guitar fans will be amazed at the sound that Gus coaxes from his many fine instruments, which includes Teles and Strats—as well as a 1940’s Dobro and an Australian “Galvo” tricone resonator made from 100 year old galvanized roof tin/iron. Fans of Peter Green, J.J. Cale, Billy Gibbons, as well as other influences from blues legends like Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters, will totally dig where Gus McKay is coming from on Talisman. The art of modern, electric blues is alive and in fine form on Gus McKay’s Talisman. www.gusmckay.com

 





mwe3.com presents an interview with
GUS MCKAY


mwe3: Can you tell the readers where you’re from originally and where you live now and what you like best about it? Most people forget Australia is a continent and not a country, so it’s huge right? How would you compare life in Australia to other places and have you been to the US yet?

Gus McKay: Originally, Western Australia (WA), and still the same… based in the Western Australian wheat belt… northeast of the capital city Perth, approximately two and a half hours. What’s best about it? I do like locations away from cities. I prefer a quiet rural life. I am into nature and “bush/scrub”… very Australian. I get inspiration from my surroundings. I have visited the US, but not for a long time, in 1977 and ’85. I like to remember those times, as I know it’s no longer the same, so it’s a nice faded memory of the condors flying around Paso Robles and riding my Honda around a few states.

mwe3: Compared to your earlier albums, what kind of musical statement did you set out to make on your latest album Talisman and how did you come up with the album title?

Gus McKay: The finished product is the second studio attempt. I ditched an earlier recording done a few months earlier. Just started playing tenor sax and my repairer put me on to a guy doing his website that had a studio.

So I sent my previous effort, number 4, and we hooked up and started about this time two years ago. Sweltering heat… just like today! I was sorta over the whole recording process, thinking oh well, here we go again. But the guys were great… very professional and damn hard workers, a nice change.

The title is something I use a lot and when I looked it up. I realized what it was all about and I found a particular design that caught my eye and created it from wood and old tin, for the inside sleeve of the CD.

I didn’t really have any concept for the album. In the past, that’s what I have loved about recording… it’s a total surprise… usually. As to the finished product, the only thing I was after was ‘better’… a much better production. I can, I think mention Abbey Road here. Out of my five releases, this is probably the only one to be mastered professionally. I cannot say enough about these guys, just read their CV’s and that is enough to blow you away. I had all the tracks mastered there, and there are four more that aren’t on this release, that I am toying with releasing later this year… just an EP of five songs possibly.

mwe3: Who plays on Talisman and how did you put the band together? Are all the musicians who play on Talisman from Australia? Is the sound jazzier than your earlier albums?

Gus McKay: Talisman does definitely have a jazz bent, due to Ronan Charles, who plays drums, keyboard, and tenor sax… and Phil Waldron on bass, double bass, bozouki, fiddle, trumpet, cello, banjo and pedal steel, and not forgetting tin whistle! Phil is a symphony orchestra bassist, arranger and composer and Ronan is the engineer and producer, both very accomplished Australian musicians.

mwe3: You’re a self-proclaimed ‘bluesman’. When and how did the blues become a big influence on you and who were some of the blues musicians that influenced you? Is there an old blues and a new blues and so is there a big difference between Eric Clapton and Robert Johnson in your mind? Rock must have been a big influence too right?

Gus McKay: Bluesman is just a handle really, but I guess it’s a fair description of my musical driving force. But rock is what I initially grew up with and the sounds of the 1970s. Quite eclectic really… to start with… Cat Stevens, Moody Blues, Doobie Brothers, Jethro Tull, early Elton John, Joe Cocker, Deep Purple… Then I heard London Revisited with Howling Wolf and Muddy Waters… Wow! Then I knew I was home. But from then on I discovered bands like Steely Dan and Supertramp etc… I am still in love with good hooks and solid song writing and creative arrangements. Funk, blues, jazz and soul. You name it!

mwe3: The opening track on Talisman is very effective. Does “Art Of Living” kind of sum up your whole approach? ‘Living on the edge, of a life, it’s not all sequins and clowns’. The lyric really mixes some intriguing wordplay.

Gus McKay: Art of living for me is, just that getting closer to the ideal, of getting through this life with purpose and dignity and still be inspired. Waking up to a new day and being happy. I shot a video for this track but I let it go as it didn’t reflect my feelings. The producer had his own ideas.

mwe3: Does “Fallen Down” contrast the wide space between the fortunate and less off? Now that we’re all getting older how can we not fall down anymore? There’s some interesting wordplay in “Fallen Down”. What’s the key line in the song?

Gus McKay: I love it when a person gives me insight into their own interpretation of one of my songs. I would mean, I guess , that I have touched a chord somehow in them, and it's made the song meaningful to them. The key line in the song is ‘Don’t should on your soul’ coming from “Don’t should on yourself” when you find yourself saying ‘I should do this or that’

mwe3: Phil Waldron’s trumpet sounds great on “A Hundred Acres”. Does that track hark back to when
farmers ruled the world? ‘Dad is locked in the tractor, Mom is tied to the stove’. What’s “A Hundred Acres” message? What are you saying with the line ‘Before it blows’?

Gus McKay: “A Hundred Acres”… I thought about somewhat, since writing and pre-recording, and came to the decision that it’s not about plowing a field/paddock so much… its about “Life”. When I was a wheat farmer for 20 odd years, my first crop was literally blown away… cut down, in the days when we did plow and cultivate, and leave the ground vulnerable to a “blow”. So I am saying you should get that hundred acres finished before it does blow… and I’m also saying you have to do, or get done what you need to get done, it’s no dress rehearsal. And yes I love Phil’s trumpet, it’s just so out there!

mwe3: What can you tell us about your guitars and what guitars did you play on Talisman? You play a wide range of guitars...

Gus McKay: I did use a few guitars… The solo on “Art Of Living" was on a pawn shop Mexican Tele, with a humbucker up front… a great cheap but effective axe. A 1940’s Dobro, an Australian “Galvo” tricone resonator made from 100 year old galvanized roof tin/iron. And an 814 Taylor, a 1968 Fender Strat, which has since been stolen. The main electric is a handmade in Arroyo Grande in the US, a Koll guitar. Played them through a Fender Supersonic (22watt) and in conjunction with an old ‘60’s Kay amp.

mwe3: “Piawaning Suit” talks about a certain part of Australia that’s considered an agricultural area. Is that about some ‘suit’ taking advantage of rural folks and specifically farmers? ‘Negotiating wool, or talking to sheep’. What’s your connection to Piawaning?

Gus McKay: It could be, but it’s just a riddle really, even to me, always will be. I was driving home… as it says in the song, and I spotted this guy in a suit! No-one wears a suit without a good reason. A funeral yes… or a business man, buying wool selling sheep, etc.

So that is the premise of the song and the question, what’s he doing in town? Piawaning is just a little fly speck town, like many many other small towns, has almost vanished due to farms getting bigger and the families leaving the district.

mwe3: What about “The Man”? What’s “The Maj”. Is “The Man” another rural kind of statement? Who would you say is “The Man” and why did they poison his horses?

Gus McKay: This song is a homage to a European Man who arrived in WA at the turn of the last century. A builder and farmer, known for his grande buildings and his equally grand visions… They poisoned his horses because they were jealous of his success. At one stage he was, reputably to be the biggest wheat grower in the world. And the ‘Maj’ is His Majesty’s Theatre in Perth. Built 1904.

mwe3: Is “Muse” as close as Talisman gets to a love song? Do you prefer to write love songs even though most of Talisman is filled with pretty sobering, insightful topics? There’s an interesting cello and sax break in “Muse”, which kind of divides it up a bit.

Gus McKay: “Muse” is a love song. I sort of just write about what’s going on for me. Not often do I write love longs, and yes, the song's arrangement is like going on a stroll.

mwe3: “Bohemian Life” takes you to Melbourne. What’s that city like? Is that another escapist love song kind of related to “Muse” or is it just a fantasy? Is the Yarra near Melbourne?

Gus McKay: Melbourne is very imperial… the old buildings, but also very modern, a cool city. “Bohemian Life” is a love song also. And it had a job to do to “get her back” but failed… but I did get a good song out of it! The Yarra is Melbourne’s river, it goes right through the center. Yes, I like the string section the lads put in… very tasteful.

mwe3: Tell us about the “Murchison Sequel”. There’s so many incredible places in Australia, so there’s so much to write about. Is that one of the more jazzy tracks on the album? Some very jazzy horn work on that track. I saw there’s also the Murchison meteorite too. ‘Got no town in this place’…

Gus McKay: “Got no town in this place” refers to the fact that the ‘Shire of Murchison’ is the only Shire (county) in Australia without a 'gazetted' town. My previous release Salflat Blues had the original “Murchison” and a young friend I gigged with suggested I write a sequel. The strange thing is, that I was once writing about the place, now I’m visiting and working in the area.

mwe3: Is “Gin Gin Morning” about a real place? You talk about drinking in that song… what’s the fog like on Gin Gin Road?

Gus McKay: This song is as it happened, it was 3 AM and I’m drinking a beer going past Gingin Road and the fog is rolling in. I didn’t have a lot more lyrics, so Ronan had an idea , so we share the credits.

mwe3: “Last Dance” is pretty harrowing sounding. What is the message in that song?

Gus McKay: This came about from my childhood memories of being at a country dance, or a 'Stomp', with the family in the 1960’s, and in those old 'weather board' places, there was a distinct echo or resonance, that I remember… not good for recording, (lol), anyway, I was only kid , but I still remember the adult antics, or imagined them.

mwe3: What else do you have planned for 2018? It would be great to get the word out about Talisman as it has such a worldwide universality about it. How can you get the word out about Talisman and your music overall?

Gus McKay: Was asked to submit, for a festival in France last year, but it was felt I needed more gigs to get the ball rolling, so possibly this year. Am also working on new songs for an acoustic album too. And the overflow from the Talisman sessions to release as an EP maybe...




 

 
   
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