Hobnail step up again
Porirua singer-songwriter Rob Joass has written his share of ‘‘ heartbreakers’’ in the 17 years since he formed Hobnail Boots, but none more authentic than those which comprise the band’s fifth album, Baggage.
His marriage to Jo Moir, the band’s fiddler, came to an end in 2008. Though an emotionally tough time, Joass had no shortage of inspiration for his songwriting, which has always leaned towards wistful and wry reflection, never far from the heart of country and folk music.
While he accepts that Baggage is a ‘‘break-up album’’, he had no intention of bumming listeners or band members out with ‘‘drunken misery’’.
‘‘You have to evaluate if it is a valid piece of music or just putting emotional stuff down on paper. I had to let the songs lie around for a while.
‘‘I didn’t want to focus on a short period of a bust-up, like Ryan Adams’ Heartbreaker. I was more interested in the passing of time, the optimism and understanding that comes from it . . . It’s not just about a relationship being over, but moving forward.’’
Joass culled 25 tracks down to nine, and also borrowed The Warratahs’ thematically apt Hands of My Heart.
Not knowing what was happening with the band, its future or Moir’s involvement, he worked the songs towards a stripped-back solo album.
Ultimately, though, when you have talented musicians for friends, you want to get them in the studio, he says – Moir included.
‘‘There’s no bigger fan of all of our songs than Jo. The title track Baggage is me and Jo singing at each other.’’
He found that many of the songs resonated more from fuller arrangements and were sonically consistent with previous Hobnail Boots albums.
In addition to Baggage and a tour supporting its release, the band has added Canadian Bonnie Riley on guitar and dropped the ‘‘Boots‘‘ from their moniker.
Joass says Riley has a real feel for country music, and it’s nice to have a bandmate who can sing country music with a legitimate American twang.
It also frees him up to play more electric guitar, banjo and mandolin when performing.
‘‘It’s certainly added more texture to our live shows,’’ he says.
Joass says the name downsize is ‘‘a bit of a rebrand to reflect a slight change of focus’’ – and, quite simply, Hobnail looks better on a poster.
New model: The’ve lost the ‘Boots’ but Hobnail are still kicking. From left, Bonnie Riley, Caroline Easther, Rob Joass, Hamish Graham, Jo Moir.