WHY OFF-THE-PLAN APARTMENTS ARE ALL THE RAGE
Busby Marou are making waves across the world with their infectious style of music but the two mates still call Rockhampton home, writes Iain Shedden
JEREMY Marou has a ukulele in his mouth again. It’s getting to be a bit of a thing on stage when he and his partner Tom Busby play Underlying
Message, one of the songs from their 2011 self-titled debut album. Marou starts his contribution on the ukulele, switches to electric guitar halfway through to play a solo while holding the uke between his teeth, then with one smooth motion snatches it out of his mouth to finish the song.
Such stagecraft has become second nature to Busby Marou in the past few years. As a duo that served its time playing for up to 10 hours a gig at their local pub, the Oxford Hotel in Rockhampton, the two Queenslanders know how to improvise, how to pace themselves, how to entertain. And they know their way around everything from plaintive country ballads to bombastic rock ’ n’ roll wig-outs.
‘‘ We never thought about sounding a certain way,’’ says Busby, the frontman and prominent songwriter in the act. ‘‘ We just write and if it feels good that’s it. We could get a rock song or a hip-hop song or heavy metal song and do it our way. We like that. It feels comfortable. And the band helps us explore cool options . . . pushes us into some happy times.’’
The happy half-hour the two men and their four-piece band are having tonight is in a Brisbane laneway, performing to a crowd of maybe 100 at a makeshift outdoor venue as part of the annual Big Sound music industry conference and showcase.
It’s one of a dozen Big Sound venues around the city’s Fortitude Valley where, for two consecutive nights, buzz bands and upand-comers strut their stuff in front of publishers, managers, record company execs, journalists and, not least, genuine punters.
The show is a success, with an infectious energy pouring off the stage to ignite the crowd. It’s the beginning of a new adventure for Busby Marou. They haven’t played together with the band for a while and Brisbanebased Busby has just returned from a holiday in Vietnam, on which he became engaged to his partner Huma; so the six-piece ensemble is in a celebratory mood.
They’re excited also about the release next week of their second album, Farewell Fitzroy, a title that reflects the duo’s reach beyond the banks of Rocky’s Fitzroy River.
Busby Marou’s first album and an EP, The
Blue Road, that preceded it, recorded at Australian singer-songwriter Pete Murray’s home studio in NSW’s Byron Bay, earned them plaudits and launched them nationally, success they backed up with heavy touring on their own and as support to Dolly Parton, KD Lang and Birds of Tokyo, among others. Their first single from the album, Biding My Time, earned them an APRA award for blues and roots work of the year last year. Their version of Crowded House’s Better Be Home Soon was one of the highlights of the multi-platinum album He Will
Have His Way, a tribute to the Finn brothers, released in 2010.
Farewell Fitzroy was recorded with their band in Nashville on a Warner Music budget with top American producer Brad Jones. It’s a step up from their debut, which was a relatively low-budget, independent affair, released on the Brisbane-based Warner indie label Footstomp and partly funded by the federal government’s Breakthrough program in support of emerging indigenous artists.
‘‘ I’m extremely ambitious,’’ Busby says. ‘‘ Not cocky, but I’m motivated and determined. I would never let us stop. The first album was my whole life of songwriting, about being on the road and having fun and being a little prick, learning that I was good and I was bad. But I’ve got so much more to go. I want to be simple, like in the way Paul Kelly can tell a story. If I can make it honest and real without hurting anyone’s feelings . . . I think I’m going to get a lot better just by experience.’’
The pair’s life experience so far is nothing short of extraordinary. Both men had well-paid careers outside of music while they were embarking on their joint mission.
Marou, who studied environmental science at university in Rockhampton, was a public servant, first with the state department of natural resources and mines as a vegetation management officer. After that he worked with the state department of communities, acting as a liaison officer between community elders and land developers. ‘‘ It was really cool,’’ he says. ‘‘ I looked after the elders. If [miners] were coming into explore an area they would consult us to ask how to approach the elders.’’
Busby had planned a career as a sports journalist but instead became a lawyer. At the point, in 2009, when Busby Marou decided to go full time, he had been a prosecutor for the department of public prosecutions for five years.
‘‘ I was prosecuting people for things I’d already done in my life,’’ he says with a laugh.
‘‘ It’s not for everyone, criminal prosecution, but I loved it.’’
What both men really loved, however, was the magic they created together as musicians. There’s a great bond between Busby and Marou that fires up whenever they’re together. They are more than collaborators. They’re great mates.
It’s a chemistry forged from hard work stretching across 10 years and a shared passion for country music and rock ’ n’ roll, the two foremost components of their oeuvre, although elements of folk and blues are never far away.
Of the two men Busby is the more animated when he talks, whether it’s about music, family, fishing or rugby league (the Broncos), passions both of them share.
Those are recurring topics in the Busby Marou camp. It’s the talk of two well-grounded blokes living the dream, playing music for a living, but still proud of and grateful for their big break, as Tom & Jeremy, picking up beer money at the Oxford playing for anyone who would listen. THE Oxford Hotel doesn’t strike you as somewhere a music career could be launched. Situated in Rockhampton city centre, a few minutes’ walk from the river, it’s a pub, says Busby, where old men go to drink after work.
Two days after their Big Sound performance, we’re sitting in the front bar of the Oxford having a late morning beer. Our host, the hotel’s owner Ian Jones, has close ties with the duo. His son, Joshua ‘‘ Jonesy’’ Jones, is Busby Marou’s manager and also has his own events company operating out of Brisbane. Jonesy is the third partner in the Busby Marou organisation.
The bar is pretty much empty, just as it was when Busby joined Marou on stage (in effect, the corner of the room) for the first time 10 years ago.
‘‘ There was Ian, Jeremy’s brother and his mate,’’ Busby recalls.
Marou honed his guitar playing in a rock ’ n’ roll covers band, Keep Left, in Rocky before he formed an alliance with Busby. Theirs was an impromptu collaboration, with Marou impro- vising on songs of Busby’s and covers he had never heard before.
‘‘ It felt good right from the start,’’ Busby says. ‘‘ I felt good playing myself, but when Jeremy started playing the songs it just clicked. We started getting crowds at the Oxford and it grew and grew. We were playing five or six gigs a week and that really helped us.’’
The Oxford is a significant part of the Busby Marou story, but just as important is Rockhampton. It’s their heartland, the place they talk about the most. Home.
It’s where both men grew up, although they didn’t know each other until music brought them together. Busby is the youngest of eight children from a Catholic family of Scottish descent. His father, 74-year-old Ray Busby, still runs a construction and demolition business, while Tom’s three brothers head up associated companies. You don’t have to walk too far in Rockhampton to see or hear the Busby name.
Marou’s roots are in Murray Island in the Torres Strait. He too had a strong Christian upbringing and got much of his musical education singing and playing drums, bass and guitar in church in Rockhampton.
‘‘ I didn’t listen to much secular music,’’ he says. ‘‘ I wasn’t even allowed to listen to the radio in case the devil came out of the speakers.’’
His great-uncle was land rights activist Eddie Mabo who, Marou recalls, lived for a time in a caravan in his great-nephew’s front garden. Through his Murray Island lineage, Marou has inherited a considerable part of Murray Island’s land.
He still lives in Rockhampton and is married with three young children. ‘‘ It’s my home,’’ he says. ‘‘ I was born here and I’m lucky to have this amazing place as my back yard. Why would you want to leave?’’
Busby, even with his base now in Brisbane, is no less passionate about being at home. Their success has been welcomed by the city. They can’t walk down the street for more that a few minutes without someone wanting to ask how they’re going.
‘‘ I don’t understand how anyone doesn’t love their own home,’’ Busby says. ‘‘ I’ve got seven brothers and sisters and 30 nephews and nieces. I’ve grown up with happiness and I’ve been very fortunate. I don’t want to miss out on anything that goes on here. So for me it’s about family and friends and nothing changes.’’
Except things do change, professionally at least. Busby Marou have had a taste of success locally and have performed in the US and Canada. It seems likely Farewell Fitzroy will bring further Australian and overseas acclaim. The chemistry on songs such as Get You Out
of Here, the rootsy My Second Mistake and the country rocker Heard it All Before on the new album is aided, Busby says, by the fact the duo insisted on taking their Australian band — drummer Damon ‘‘ DJ’’ Syme (DJ), bassist Enzo Russo, keyboards player Vaughan Jones and guitarist Chris Sheehy — with them to Nashville instead of using local session musicians there.
The songwriting process has been the same all the way though their career. Busby comes up with a basic melody and lyrics and takes them to Marou.
‘‘ We mould it to the way Jeremy plays and the harmonies he uses,’’ Busby says. ‘‘ For me the harmonies are really important. That’s when you know you’ve got something.’’
The key component, however, is the understanding the two men have of each other’s talent. They used to fight but have managed to overcome their musical differences, centred on Marou’s slightly more enhanced love of country music.
‘‘ Jeremy used to try and get me on to Keith Urban and Brad Paisley,’’ Busby says. ‘‘ I was flogging Bruce Springsteen and Paul Kelly. That went on for years.
‘‘ Then we realised how we were doing it together . . . me doing it my way and Jeremy doing it his way . . . and it works. I love every music if it makes me feel good. I think we’re on the same path with that now. It’s all about moving on to the next chapter.’’
Tom Busby and Jeremy Marou, opposite page, playing live, left;