Wednesday, November 02, 2005

SMH "Sadness, Love and the Gospel Truth"

October 31, 2005
Bernard Fanning wants to sing to your soul, Christine Sams writes.

The powder of one: Bernard Fanning has put rock'n'roll on hold during his solo project.

There are moments when songs wash over you, lifting and swelling your heart, somehow tapping into a deeper emotion - whether it's love, sorrow or pain.
Bernard Fanning's new songs on Tea & Sympathy penetrate those profound emotions, somehow making the world slow down as the music takes hold. It's an undeniably powerful, moving work - which seems to have poured directly from Fanning's soul.
"If it makes you feel moved, that's why I want to write music," says Fanning, sitting inside a Sydney hotel suite, earnestly talking about his new collection of songs.
"That to me is the most powerful thing, if you can put someone else inside your music."
The Powderfinger frontman's debut solo album may have been written in Brisbane and recorded near the English city of Bath, but its sound rises straight from American delta blues with its heavy roots and gospel influences.
Some critics have already suggested Tea & Sympathy has a country feel, but Fanning's influences actually rest with great blues artists including Lightning Hopkins and roots singers including Tom Petty and Gillian Welch (whose striking, plaintive voice contributed to the O Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack).
"I listened to a fair bit of Lightning Hopkins before and when I was writing," Fanning says.
"I mean, I'd love to play guitar like that, but I simply don't have the skill to do it. If anything, the vocal element of that definitely [was an influence]. I've always loved soul and gospel music.
"There are three or four songs which have a country flavour, but it's definitely country blues. It was something that I've always wanted to do. If you really wanted to go into the metaphoric side of things, it is like a rebirth. It's a very emotional record - it's mostly really sad. But typically it's got those elements of hope in it - it's not that I intentionally put that into songs, they just creep their way in."
Reading between the lines, it sounds as though Fanning has had difficulties in his personal life over the past year, but the songs have allowed him to pour out a range of untapped emotions. "I've been through a pretty weird time in the past 12 months," he says, simply. "[But] I don't really want to go into it, because it's too intense."
With traces of sorrow, spirituality, love, rebirth and transformation etched into his songs, it's obvious the music has provided its own cathartic release. "The one thing I've started to think about music is what healing qualities it has - not just for the writer, but especially for the listener," Fanning says. "I don't want to change people, I hope I can bring them some joy."
Some of the transfixing, tender moments on Tea & Sympathy are far removed from the rock'n'roll powerhouse that was Powerfinger's previous album, Vulture Street. But Fanning said many of the new tracks were born out of a simple desire to tap into music's beauty. It was also a resistance to the overriding ugliness of hard rock culture, which Fanning believes affected the atmosphere of this year's Big Day Out.
"Part of the really gentle stuff, like Watch Over Me and Believe, were all written after the Big Day Out. It was just this metal-fest, the music was very hard . . . Slipknot and all that.
"The atmosphere backstage was very, well it's difficult to say, but it wasn't fun. There was very little joy there, people didn't socialise with each other. Basically, us, Grinspoon and Spiderbait did, but hardly anyone else spoke to each other. It really went against what the Big Day Out used to be about.
"I wanted to make music that was the opposite of that, about things that were really beautiful. Things that weren't about teenage boys rubbing up against each other, getting their latent homosexuality out," Fanning says, with a laugh.
"It was music not for any age group, but just music that is ageless, something that anyone can like."
As if to emphasise his determination to step away from raucous rock audiences, Fanning will perform shows off the back of Tea & Sympathy in a range of unlikely venues, including the rather austere Sydney Theatre, with an entirely seated audience.
The singer-songwriter believes the feel will be exactly right, after the success of a couple of intimate showcase gigs at venues including the Basement in Circular Quay.
"It was odd when we had those first few shows, the weird thing was the silence. People were just sitting and waiting. They hadn't heard the songs and there's none of that element of singing along or anything like that," he says. "But I think that gives it incredible power as well . . . it puts you inside that song.
"This time we're doing it in theatres, to try and keep some of that element, so it's not like a pub - on the piss, 'give us a vodka and orange' - kind of atmosphere. There's some songs that really lend themselves to that quietness."
Bernard Fanning's album Tea & Sympathy is released through Dew Process/Universal Music.Source: The Sun-Herald

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