Q&A

Perry Keyes, singer song­writer, 52

The Weekend Australian - Magazine - - FRONT - By Greg Bearup

You’ve been de­scribed as Syd­ney’s Bruce Spring­steen. He says his job is to de­scribe the dif­fer­ence be­tween the Amer­i­can dream and the Amer­i­can re­al­ity; how do you see your mu­sic? I try not to sound pre­ten­tious. I hope the sto­ries and the songs are some­thing peo­ple want to think about and be moved by. It’s al­ways been im­por­tant for me that the songs come from some­where real. Your songs ex­plore the lives of the ur­ban poor. What was your up­bring­ing like? I grew up in Redfern, Syd­ney, in a two-bed­room terrace with my grand­par­ents, un­cles, aunts, cousins – there were eight peo­ple. My grand­fa­ther worked at the Botany tan­nery and Dad was a mer­chant sea­man. Mum was only 17 or 18 when she had me, and I had an older brother. I got po­lio when I was 18 months old and spent a lot of time in hospi­tal. My par­ents lived nearby; there was no aban­don­ment. It was just a mat­ter of ev­ery­one help­ing out with the crip­ple kid. I was given every­thing I needed. How did be­ing “the crip­ple kid” af­fect you? I had plenty of friends, but when they played foot­ball or ran around I would be there watch­ing, tak­ing it all in. I was an ob­server. I wrote New Year’s Eve when I was 17. I didn’t know any mu­si­cians when I was 17 and to think that all those years later Missy Hig­gins would cover it. To me that was a very spe­cial thing. In 2014, the year South Syd­ney won the NRL grand fi­nal af­ter 43 years, you were asked to per­form your song The Day John Sat­tler Broke His Jaw be­fore one of the fi­nals matches. Why did you de­cline? It is ac­tu­ally an anti-nos­tal­gia song. It says: “Look, the good old days weren’t as good as you think they were”. There was no lucky coun­try in Lewis Street, Redfern… there were whole fam­i­lies liv­ing in houses that had one tap. This is the ’70s! You’ve got to be very care­ful about what you ro­man­ti­cise. It was great that Souths won the comp but I didn’t want my song to be­come some sort of an­them. What themes do you ex­plore in your fifth al­bum, Jim Salmon’s Lament? There’s a lot about father­hood. I be­gan writ­ing it not long af­ter my dad died in 2013. Is it about your fa­ther? It started off that way but moved into an ex­plo­ration of fathers in those poor neigh­bour­hoods. They ranged from be­ing great guys to re­ally bad men, but all un­der the Houso umbrella of get­ting by and do­ing what they had to do to keep things go­ing. You still live in a Hous­ing Com­mis­sion house, in Water­loo, in­ner Syd­ney. Are you con­cerned you’ll be moved on? Syd­ney’s never cared about its poor. It’s inevitable. Most of my ex­tended fam­ily were moved from city ter­races to cul-de-sacs in the west at Airds, Black­town and Mount Druitt. From frying pan to fire, mate. My pre­vi­ous al­bum Sun­ny­holt [2015] was about my fam­ily out west. With this new al­bum I sort of wanted to turn back to the in­ner city. With Water­loo dis­ap­pear­ing un­der the weight of re­de­vel­op­ment, I thought I would make one last record be­fore it’s all gone. Your song In An­cient Rome fea­tured on the hit US TV se­ries Californication. Did that change things? It was great but, hey, I’m still liv­ing in a Houso joint.

there was no lucky coun­try in lewis street, redfern

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