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Wes Carr – Chasing The Perfect Song

By Dan Hutton on August 2, 2013 in People

Photo: Andrew Goldie

Photo: Andrew Goldie

Where are you originally from?
I’m originally from Adelaide and I spent my first 15 years there and then moved from Adelaide to Sydney and I’ve been here ever since.

Where are you living these days?
I’m living in Bondi Junction, near Queens Park. It’s great.

What do you love about life in the Eastern Suburbs?
Just the freedom to have options like going for a walk in the park or going down to the beach. I’ve just had a little baby now so it’s been awesome to be able to get out with him, take him for a walk. It clears your head. If I didn’t live near the ocean I’d feel quite claustrophobic. So for me it’s just easy to do everything I want to do. I reckon it’s the best address in the world. I’ve been all over the world and to just go down to a little spot near North Bondi, Bronte Beach or Tamarama and find a little pocket, a little haven for yourself, it’s one of those places that when you come here you never leave. That’s why they call it the bubble.

Is there anything you don’t like about life in the Eastern Suburbs?
I think there are a few people working in retail stores that don’t want to be in retail obviously, and they like to not serve you or look you in the eye even when you’re making a transaction at their stores. That gets my goat.

When did you first discover your love for music?
I’m told that it was when I was really, really young. When I was about two years old my mum brought home Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ album and that’s all I really remember from my first ten years of life. I’d be in the front living room just playing any Michael Jackson record. Friends and next-door neighbours would come around to play and I’d go and hide because all I wanted to do was listen to music in the front room. I was a bit of a loner as a kid, just playing to music the whole time and studying, especially ‘Thriller’, I wore that record out. That was sort of my first love, I suppose.

Does that mean that secretly you’ve got some pretty sweet dance moves that we don’t usually get to see?
I can do the moonwalk.

Have you pulled that out on stage yet?
Yeah, I did it in front of Jermaine Jackson a few years ago on national television. You can’t get any higher than that, I don’t think.

When and where did you play your first gig?
I played my first gig at the Iguana Bar in Kings Cross I think, but at around the same time I played an open mic night every Tuesday at the Excelsior in Surry Hills, so it was one of those two. I can’t really remember; it was ages ago. They were both still renowned as rock and roll venues at the time or sort of late night hangouts.

Who are your biggest musical influences besides MJ?
It would have to be John Lennon. Mum gave me a box set of John Lennon’s anthology years ago and I remember listening to that and I had my first real song writing breakthrough. When I first listened to it everything made sense all of a sudden. I started writing a lot better and I think he sort of taught me how to craft a song. And there’s a guy called Jimmy Webb as well who wrote a book called ‘Inside the Art of Song Writing’. I read half of that book and it really inspired me to keep my song writing up. I was always obsessed with the art of crafting a song.

In that respect, do you feel like you’re constantly improving and evolving?
Yeah, I’m my worst enemy in a lot of senses because whenever I write a song I will leave it and then sit on it for ages and then some of them stick but most of them fall to the wayside. I’m always thinking about them though. I’ve usually got five or six songs going at one time and I’m always trying to write the perfect song even though it’s never going to happen. I’m always creating and sometimes I’m off in fairyland, much to my wife’s disgust.

What made you decide to audition for Australian Idol?
I think at the time I was at a bit of a crossroads with my career. I’d been around the traps with Tambalane (Wes’s band with Silverchair’s Ben Gillies) and before that I’d done a whole bunch of touring myself with my own music. At the time I’d felt like I’d been around the block for quite a lot of years and it was just a little bit of frustration and determination to get in front of a lot of people. I never ever thought I’d win the thing at all. I thought I’d get in there and get out.

Why didn’t you think you could win?
I just never really thought that I could. When I did it was a huge shock to me, to be honest. And then I had to work out how it was going to work for me. I ended up writing the songs or co writing the songs at the time. Then part of me woke up going “Oh man, why did I do that?” I did grow and I learned a lot from it, but what I’m doing now is a lot more rewarding for me creatively. I’m grateful for the opportunity with Idol but there was a certain part of me that struggled with it because it was like trying to fit into a certain pigeonhole that I didn’t really fit into – like a square peg in a round hole. I felt like I was not really being true to myself creatively but I didn’t know that I’d be like that until I was in the situation. It certainly got me in front of a lot of people though and that’s the main thing for my career and for me to keep going with my music.

Did anyone try to talk you out of going on it?
I had so many people trying to get me on it and so many people trying not to get me on it. When I did go on it I didn’t tell anyone. No one knew until they saw me on television and I got good responses all around. I suppose if you back yourself people are going to go, “Okay, cool man”.

How did you find being a mainstream musician perceived to have made it through a television show after obviously slugging away in the industry for years prior to going on Australian Idol?
I learnt that guilt is your worst enemy. I beat myself up about it at the time. When I went on Idol it felt like I’d cashed in my chips a bit, but it was all in my own head. I’d really beaten myself up about it though. Like what am I doing? Is this really me? Who am I? All that shit. At the time I was 26, so I was at that age where you go through the whole who am I, Zoolander looking into the puddle thing. So in that respect I was freaking out a bit. It all turned out well for me though because I did what I wanted to do and came out of it with a wealth of knowledge about what I want to do and what I truly believe in.

Now that the dust has settled, are there any regrets?
No, no regrets. I think if you have regrets it just beats you down and makes you an ugly, bitter human being.

Do you miss playing covers on Friday nights at the Robin Hood Hotel?
Oh man, I love the Hood. I used to play a lot of my own stuff there too but because I was booked as a covers gig to pay my rent I always used to tell the bar that my songs were by other artists.

You’ve previously stated that you were sick of the ‘Wes Carr’ character and you had lost your passion. With the formation of Buffalo Tales and the release of Roadtrip Confessions, do you feel as though you’ve found that lost passion?
I absolutely have. I feel rejuvenated and I suppose it’s a re birthing of everything I’m doing and everything I want to do and who I truly am, as a musician and not a talking head celebrity dude. I love playing music; that’s all I have always loved to do.

You’ve spent a fair bit of time in the US; did that influence the sound of your new album?
I wrote ‘Blood and Bone’, which is the first single off the new album, in Nashville while working out how I was going to get out of there. I’d been over there for three months and was quite home sick. Travelling in general, I had a lot of ideas and scribbled down a lot of things at that time to take back but I didn’t know what I was going to do with it all because I was still under a major label and writing these songs that I didn’t really feel were what I wanted to say to the world. It catered for a certain crowd but I didn’t feel like I could wedge myself back into that mould again. I felt like I’d sort of moved on from there.

Leading on from that, would you say leaving Sony gave you the freedom to explore yourself as a folk and country artist more?
Anyone who has ever been independent, whatever you do – working for a big corporation and then going out on your own for example – you know that you’ll be able to do whatever you want, and you can come up with an idea and actually execute it the next day or the next week or however you want to do it. Whereas when you’re in a bigger fishpond it makes it a lot harder to be able to express what you want to get across and therefore there’s quite a lot of filter systems that go on and you feel like you want to grab your art back from it. For me it’s the same thing. It’s that square peg in a round hole feeling.

Where did the name ‘Buffalo Tales’ come from?
I was reading a book about Native American Indian culture and there was a little paragraph saying that in some cultures if they went out on a hunt or to war and dreamt of a buffalo that meant they had to return back to where they came from, where their roots where. And that’s basically what I’m doing musically.

Now that you’re an independent muso again do you reckon you will ever have another number one gold selling single?
Seriously, that would be incredible, but for me all that stuff means a lot but there’s a part of me that doesn’t really care because I’m always going to be playing music, no matter what. It is an incredible feeling when you do get that number one but it doesn’t last very long.

Do you get a buzz out of seeing people sing your lyrics back to you at gigs?
Yeah, that’s pretty amazing. I actually get people that randomly come up to me in the street and start singing at me, singing my songs. I’ve had that a few times. It’s pretty nuts.

You got married last year; how is married life treating you?
I’m very, very happily married. We basically did it all in a few months – marriage, baby, record, tour – so it’s been an intense 18 months but the best kind of fun.

You mentioned that you recently had your first child; has fatherhood lived up to your expectations?
I had no real expectation as to what fatherhood would be like. It was pretty scary to be honest. I had no idea how to act; I don’t think anyone does. I think if you want to know yourself, have a baby, because it’s really grounding to have a little human being to look after and they’re completely vulnerable and they need you one hundred percent of the time. It’s been amazing. It’s really hard to describe because it’s just such intense love for the little guy.

How have you found juggling a family and your music career?
It’s busy. I think I’m the busiest I’ve ever been. I come home now and it’s straight into nappies and the food and all that, whereas before the baby I’d just come home and crash. But it’s amazing; I’ve got the best wife in the world, really. She’s always there to help out and support me with doing what I’m doing.

Do you ever have any arguments about whose career is more important?
Yeah, with our two massive egos we can’t even walk through the door sometimes. No, we don’t. She’s pretty content with what she does and it’s the same here.

Do you have a career highlight thus far?
I suppose one of the career highlights was meeting Joe Cocker. This was pre Idol days, I was over in LA and I was writing a song for Christopher Guest’s film ‘For Your Consideration’. Joe Cocker came into the studio and sat down and watched me do my vocal takes and then I hung out with him that whole day. I got to know him over the next few months while I was over there. Growing up in a household where Dad used to badly impersonate Joe Cocker at every family function, it was pretty a major thing for me to be singing in front of Joe and him going, “Yeah man, great voice”.

Have you met or played with anyone else memorable?
I played a gig in front of Michael Hutchence once when I was 14. That was only a few weeks before he passed. That was pretty amazing. I met Mick Jagger and didn’t know I was talking to Mick Jagger at the time. I also bumped into Jack Nicholson waiting for my car in LA. I literally bumped into him and he turned around and went, “That’s okay, I do that shit all the time”. It was amazing because I heard the voice before I looked up. We just started chatting away. I’ve sort of stumbled my way through all these amazing experiences.

Do you have any role models who you have looked up through your career, musically or otherwise?
I don’t really have many role models as such. I think there are people who have influenced me along the way, from my dad to industry people to guys like Christopher Guest. There’s a bloke over in LA called CJ Vanston who was the MD for Joe Cocker when they were in Adelaide. They came out to a gig of mine after their show and saw me and invited me over to LA to write a song for them. They were the first people that really invested their time and energy into me, whereas before that I’d just been floating around, working out what I was going to do and how I was going to do it. Aside from that, I think every day people become my role models, people who have actually got it together, a bit more than what I probably have.

Do you support any charities?
Red Kite is a big one for me, but I’ve done a lot of work with a lot of charities, I’m sort of a freelance charity person – Beyond Blue, Red Kite, Starlight Foundation.

What about Beard Season?
Absolutely. I think everyone’s got a beard in Bondi though. But you’re right, it is Beard Season so everyone should go out and get a skin check. You can book yourself in at www.beardseason.com.au.

Do you have any advice for youngsters looking to get into the music industry?
I could just rattle off Dave Grohl quotes now but I won’t. I think that a lot of kids think that being on television and being seen is what music is about these days, and it is part of it, but I think if you’re going to pick up a guitar and start writing songs it’s got to be an obsession. It’s got to be something that you actually truly believe in. I can only talk from experience and for me it was just a complete obsession and passion and it got me through my teen years. I wrote songs and got into bands and didn’t really care how bad I was at the start. I just kept going and kept playing wherever I could get a gig and wherever anyone would listen to me. It was all about improving my craft and harnessing a passion. A lot of kids these days ask me that question and it’s kind of hard to answer it because I don’t want to taint their experience. It’s a very personal thing and you should just have fun with what you do and don’t be afraid to suck before you get good at it.

You must work very hard to be successful; Is it punishing at times?
Yeah, it can be. I always say I have a real love/hate relationship with what I do but that’s the best part about it. That’s what drives me. If you didn’t have that you’d be too complacent and it would fade out. If you want to better yourself you’re always chasing that perfect song, and I don’t think anyone ever writes a perfect song. Except maybe John Lennon – ‘Imagine’ is close to perfection.

How long have you been growing the beard and hair?
The hair has been long for a long time. The beard is about a year and a half old but I’ve cut it a few times. This is the longest it’s ever been because I haven’t had time to go to the barber.

Do you reckon you will ever shave it off now?
I don’t know. Maybe one day.

How does the missus feel about the beard?
She loves it, so does the little guy. He loves it too; he hangs off it.

Tell us about your new album?
My new album ‘Roadtrip Confessions’ is out on iTunes and in stores. ‘Amsterdam’ has been played over 160 stations in America and debuted on the CMJ American charts over there in the top 200, which is awesome to do as an Aussie independent artist.

Are you playing any live shows locally in the coming months?
I’m playing at the Bucket List down on Bondi Beach on September 5, so come down for some cocktails and a boogie.

In an ideal world, what does the future hold for Wes Carr and Buffalo Tales?
In an ideal world I just want to be remembered for my music, I suppose. And as an honest, compassionate man that left a good music legacy and did whatever he thought was right at the time.

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