BEASTLY BUSI­NESS IN THE SUN­DAR­BANS {

Bernard Fan­ning talks to Iain Shed­den about the post-pow­derfin­ger world and the deeply per­sonal events that shaped his new solo al­bum

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Front Page -

BERNARD Fan­ning con­sid­ered aban­don­ing mu­sic as a ca­reer when Pow­derfin­ger split up. Af­ter 20 years in a band with his mates, it was time to do some­thing else: maybe go back to univer­sity, get qual­i­fied, find him­self a real job. He’d do one more solo al­bum, he thought, then jack it in.

‘‘ It wasn’t like I was say­ing the mu­sic in­dus­try sucks,’’ he tells Re­view. ‘‘ I just thought, while I was young enough, about study­ing and to see if I wanted to do some­thing else with my life.’’

That was al­most three years ago. It will come as a re­lief to his many fans that Fan­ning, 43, changed his mind. He stud­ied Span­ish for a while but not as an em­ploy­ment op­tion. That was when, af­ter Pow­derfin­ger’s farewell tour in 2010, the Bris­bane-based singer moved to Madrid with his Span­ish wife, An­drea Moreno, and their baby daugh­ter, Gabriella.

What was in­tended as an ex­tended hol­i­day with Moreno’s fam­ily turned into two years, dur­ing which their son Fred­die was born.

It was also the pe­riod in Fan­ning’s life when his pas­sion for mak­ing mu­sic was re­ju­ve­nated, when he re­alised that mak­ing al­bums and per­form­ing was what he was born to do.

The con­duit to this midlife mini-epiphany was the mak­ing of De­par­tures, Fan­ning’s sec­ond solo out­ing, to be re­leased next Fri­day. It fol­lows his 2005 multi-plat­inum, award­win­ning de­but Tea & Sym­pa­thy and is also the first step in his mu­si­cal jour­ney as an en­tirely solo en­tity. Last time Pow­derfin­ger was just rest­ing; now it has ceased to be.

‘‘ When I call some­one now I have to say: ‘ Hi, I’m Bernard Fan­ning from Bernard Fan­ning’,’’ he jokes.

We’re in a Syd­ney cafe, one that’s not of­fi­cially open when we walk in but whose staff are happy to ac­com­mo­date an un­ex­pected celebrity as they set ta­bles and pre­pare menus around us. Fan­ning’s af­fa­ble man­ner helps.

He’s a lit­tle thin­ner than in his Pow­derfin­ger prime and, as a rel­a­tively new par­ent, a tad tired. He’s not match fit ei­ther, he says, af­ter a long lay-off from the rock ’ n’ roll road. He’s hop­ing to turn that around by the time he and his band be­gin tour­ing with the al­bum next month. Fit or not, Fan­ning is in par­tic­u­larly good spir­its; ex­cited about be­ing back in the game, back in the spot­light, back in Aus­tralia. The fam­ily re­turned to Bris­bane af­ter De­par­tures was recorded in Los An­ge­les late last year. They’re in the process of mov­ing into a new home.

A nat­u­ral and con­vivial talker, Fan­ning is keen also to re­flect on the many changes in his life that have oc­curred since Tea & Sym­pa­thy, which in­clude hav­ing a fam­ily, the death of his fa­ther and the not en­tirely un­ex­pected end to a band he had been in for most of his adult life. Those de­vel­op­ments and oth­ers in­spired the al­bum’s ti­tle, al­though he had reser­va­tions about call­ing it De­par­tures. Too lit­eral, per­haps.

‘‘ At least ev­ery time I go to an air­port there’s an ad for it,’’ he says. To as­sist with the air travel as­so­ci­a­tion, deluxe ver­sions of the al­bum come with the Bernard Fan­ning neck pil­low and eye shades.

There’s a more se­ri­ous con­cern in Fan­ning’s mind about his new work. He’s anx­ious about how De­par­tures will be re­ceived, not just by his es­tab­lished fan base but by the mu­sic-buy­ing pub­lic in gen­eral.

It’s de­cid­edly not Tea & Sym­pa­thy II. That first al­bum, recorded at Peter Gabriel’s Real World stu­dios near Bath in Eng­land with pro­ducer Tchad Blake, was pre­dom­i­nantly folk and roots mu­sic-based. It yielded the sin­gles Watch Over Me, Song­bird and Wish You Well, the last of which topped the Triple J Hottest 100 in 2006.

The new al­bum is built on com­pletely dif­fer­ent foun­da­tions. The 10 songs, in­clud­ing the cur­rent sin­gle, Bat­tle­ships, the funky Limbo Stick and the an­themic pop shuf­fle that opens the al­bum, Tell Me How it Ends, a co-write with US drum­mer Joey Waronker, are based around elec­tronic beats and loops Fan­ning spent months cre­at­ing then adding to, first at his home stu­dio in Bris­bane then more com­pre­hen­sively in Madrid.

Two years af­ter he started, Fan­ning com­pleted this rad­i­cal turn­around in his songcraft at LA’s Sun­set Sound Stu­dios, work­ing with noted Amer­i­can pro­ducer Joe Chic­carelli, whose cred­its in­clude El­ton John, My Morn­ing Jacket and Jack White’s out­fit the Racon­teurs as well as Aus­tralian acts Augie March and Boy & Bear.

De­par­tures sits closer to Pow­derfin­ger than Tea & Sym­pa­thy, which was skewed, on pur­pose, away from the band’s pop bom­bast. How­ever, the elec­tronic as­pects, the strong rhyth­mic ele­ments, the 1970s glam-soul ref­er­ences and Chic­carelli’s pop sheen un­der­line a no­tice­able shift in Fan­ning’s modus operandi.

‘‘ About a month af­ter Pow­derfin­ger stopped I started muck­ing around in my stu­dio, be­cause I had all this spare time,’’ Fan­ning ex­plains, ‘‘ which I hadn’t had for about a year be­fore that. It was just my first foray into it and it was more like Tea & Sym­pa­thy.

‘‘ I lis­tened to it in Madrid and de­cided I didn’t want to go down that road again. I wanted to try some­thing dif­fer­ent. If I keep writ­ing that same way, I thought, just writ­ing with an acous­tic gui­tar or pi­ano, I’d just end up in the same place mu­si­cally.’’

Once he had taken the plunge into cre­at­ing drum and bass loops on Garage­band, a whole world of pos­si­bil­i­ties opened up.

‘‘ Do­ing it from those drum loops and from bass lines, I thought: ‘ This is re­ally fun and ad­ven­tur­ous’.

‘‘ I didn’t have any masters to please. I don’t mean that in a dis­re­spect­ful way at all to the Pow­derfin­ger guys, but there is a cer­tain amount of pleas­ing that you have to do when you’re in that sit­u­a­tion, where there have to be songs that ap­peal to other peo­ple as well.’’ THE end, when it came for Pow­derfin­ger, was as much a cel­e­bra­tion as it was a sad farewell from one of Aus­tralia’s most en­dur­ing and suc­cess­ful rock bands.

It was on Novem­ber 13, 2010, in their home city of Bris­bane, that the band — Fan­ning, drum­mer Jon Coghill, guitarists Ian Haug and Dar­ren Mid­dle­ton and bassist John Collins — said good­bye af­ter two decades, seven stu­dio al­bums, many more sin­gles and a heap of good­will from a fan base that built steadily af­ter the re­lease of their 1994 de­but al­bum

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