BOUND BY HAR­MONY

It hasn’t al­ways been smooth sail­ing for folk rock­ers The Waifs. But the three-piece have found that no mat­ter where they are on the globe, their shared love of mu­sic al­ways draws them back to­gether

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - LIVE & LOUD - NOEL MENGEL

The Waifs were a band who lived in each other’s pock­ets for years. They don’t any more. In fact, they are scat­tered so far around the world, it is a spe­cial event when they can be to­gether.

When that hap­pens, it is just like old times. Even down to the fact that they still can’t write songs to­gether.

It is 23 years since sis­ters Donna and Vikki Simp­son set off from their home town of Al­bany, on the south coast of Western Aus­tralia, with no great plan other than to get away and play mu­sic.

Some months later, the sis­ters met gui­tarist Josh Cun­ning­ham and, hun­dreds of shows later, The Waifs be­came the lit­tle band that roared, with hits like Lon­don Still, and ac­claimed al­bums like 2003’s Up All Night and 2007’s Sun Dirt Wa­ter.

It wasn’t as sim­ple as that sounds: Vikki and Josh fell in love, the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the sis­ters could be tense on stage and off, then the band sur­vived the split be­tween Vikki and Josh.

To­day, Vikki Thorn, mar­ried mother of three young boys, lives on a se­cluded prop­erty in Utah.

Af­ter some years in the US, Donna lives about as far from Utah as it is pos­si­ble to be – in Fre­man­tle, WA.

Cun­ning­ham, mean­while, di­vides his time be­tween Cal­i­for­nia and NSW.

“Some­how we just make it hap­pen when we need to,” Vikki says. “To be hon­est, none of us were sure if we ever would get back to it again. We are so busy in our lives and that seemed to be like a nat­u­ral end­ing to things.”

But the old feel­ing that has al­ways been there al­ways rises again. What­ever else is go­ing on, they just want to play.

“I had writ­ten a lot of songs, and played them with a few other peo­ple, but it never felt quite as right as play­ing them with The Waifs,” Vikki says.

“In the early days, I wouldn’t write many songs be­cause I didn’t pick up the gui­tar when we were tour­ing. But af­ter be­ing at home for a few years it’s my pas­sion, even with chaos all around me and in the mid­dle of house­work.

“The boys will be run­ning around, com­ing up to ask for this and that, but when a song is com­ing I seem to be able to take the time to do it.

“If I’m nod­ding va­cantly at them, they know to leave me alone and go and try dad.”

Vikki en­joys song­writ­ing more than she ever has. She even found a col­lab­o­ra­tor in Perth alt-coun­try singer Bex Chilcott, aka Ruby Boots. Four songs they wrote to­gether at a song­writ­ing ses­sion in Utah ap­peared on this year’s Ruby Boots al­bum Soli­tude.

An­other, Blindly Believ­ing, ap­pears on Beau­ti­ful You, the sev­enth Waifs stu­dio al­bum.

“I had such a great ex­pe­ri­ence with Bex that I said to the oth­ers, ‘Let’s do some­thing we’ve never done and write an al­bum to­gether’.”

They carved out a week and rented a house in Duns­bor­ough, south of Perth, ar­riv­ing with gui­tars and note­books.

“We’ve al­ways writ­ten sep­a­rately,” Vikki says. “This was the first time in 15 years where it was just the three of us in a room to­gether like that, so we started talk­ing.

“It got a lit­tle awk­ward. We talked too much, it got too an­a­lyt­i­cal. Donna got the shits and went to a back room and came back with Beau­ti­ful You. I went off and wrote Black Dirt Track. We wrote a cou­ple of songs each but there was no col­lab­o­ra­tion.”

That Waifs thing, just rolling with it, still works best.

Thoughts of home are never far away in Vikki’s songs. Black Dirt Track re­calls a child­hood by the ocean, and 6000 Miles is the dis­tance from her new home to her old one. “I just can’t let go of your golden shores,” she sings.

“Where I live is iso­lated al­though prob­a­bly not as ge­o­graph­i­cally iso­lated as Al­bany. It is high desert, canyon coun­try. You get snow in win­ter but there is red rock so it looks like the Kim­ber­ley some­times.”

The Waifs are in the mid­dle of a tour which has taken them from Al­bany to Broome, then the east coast and to Alice Springs and Dar­win.

“It is incredible to me, af­ter not play­ing for three years, to find there is a lot of love for the songs and the band.”

The Waifs, from left, Donna Simp­son, Josh Cun­ning­ham and Vikki Thorn, are cur­rently on tour around Aus­tralia.

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