Bernard’s a fan of new directions
FORMER Powderfinger frontman Bernard Fanning’s second solo album, Departures, debuted on the ARIA charts at No. 1 when it was released last month.
As Fanning begins his six-week national tour – with plenty of regional dates – it’s still sitting in the Top 10. You’re promoting Departures, with a relatively young band. What’s it like going from Powderfinger, where you’d been through so much together, to working with young guys who haven’t done all this before?
Well I don’t want to be the wise old rock uncle. That’s a bit sad. But it’s fun to be working with new people. That was the whole idea for me. Have you missed playing with a band?
Yeah. It wasn’t like I was lying in bed wishing there were people clapping me. It’s more that making a racket with your mates is really fun. I even get the thrill from that rehearsing. Rehearsing is even more natural. There’s no posturing involved. It’s purely about the music not about the performance. A lot of people will tell you that that’s what their live gigs are about, but they’re lying. They’re bulls--- artists. There’s a certain awareness you’ve got an audience in front of you. Can you flick the posturing switch on and off?
I think you can. I’m better at it now than I used to be, as far as understanding what’s required of you in a live performance. Powderfinger came up through that whole anti-everything period in the ’90s with shoegazing and no recognition that the audience really matters. I’m glad that’s something I’ve managed to move well past. These days when people don’t really buy records, you have to appreciate people who bother to buy tickets and come and see you play.
And I mean a genuine appreciation of the fans – not the new paradigm of the social network appreciation: ‘‘I love my fans, so I have to show them what I had for breakfast on Twitter.’’ It must be interesting touring without those big Powderfinger anthems to rely on?
It was the same on the last solo tour. That’s exciting to me. It means there’s an imperative on the band to really make it work for people, without it just being a bit of a rite of passage. Because that final Powderfinger tour was like that, it was tied up with a lot more than just the music. People that had gone to Powderfinger gigs with their friends 15 years before decided they’d do it again for those shows. There’s none of that sentimentality attached to this tour. And I actually really like that. When you promoted your first solo album, Tea and Sympathy, everyone asked ‘‘Are Powderfinger going to split?’’ Was the most common question promoting this album ‘‘When will Powderfinger reform?’’
Pretty much. And the second most asked question was ‘‘Are you going to play Powderfinger songs on this tour?’’ It doesn’t put my nose out of joint. I understand why people would like that. Purely by doing promo for this record I can see how much affection there is for Powderfinger still. It looks like there probably will be for a long time. There’s a brotherhood there for some people. And I totally appreciate that. But I’d be on a hiding to nothing if I play them. There are rumours you will dust off some Powderfinger at Splendour in the Grass.
It really doesn’t matter how many times I say I will or I won’t, people will probably always hope that I do. Let’s just leave people hoping. For me it kind of defeats the purpose. What I want to do if I play Powderfinger songs again, at some stage, is make it an appropriate setting. If I was to resurrect any of those songs I’d only present them the way I wrote them before I even presented them to the band. Playing an elaborate cover of a Powderfinger song – you can go to the Royal Exchange on a Sunday afternoon to see that. For me to do that would be kind of stupid. You have sung on Powderfinger member Darren Middleton’s new album?
Yep, sang some background (vocals) on one song. It was great fun. It’s so easy. It’s like old times. I just told him to boss me around, which he did.
– CAMERON ADAMS
Bernard Fanning plays The Arts Centre Gold Coast (with Vance Joy) on July 19 (sold out), Splendour in the Grass on July 27 (sold out) and A Day on the Green, with The Cruel Sea, Sarah Blasko and Bob Evans, at Sirromet Wines, Mt Cotton, on November 3.