“Bellingen shaped my musical career.” MUSICIAN JACK CARTY’S COUNTRY CHILDHOOD
MY COUNTRY CHILDHOOD
Indie-folk musician Jack Carty on growing up in the NSW town of Bellingen and how it continues to inspire him.
“THE INTERNET HAS CHANGED EVERYTHING,” says Jack. “In the past, you were either musically famous or you weren’t and you couldn’t really make a living out of it unless you were signed with a major label.” Things have certainly changed. We no longer rent videos, we stream films online. We often pay money to stay in people’s homes rather than hotels. And instead of record shops and top-40 radio disc jockeys, we have music downloading and streaming services and lots of choice. “It’s open season,” says Jack, 31. “I can record a song in my bedroom, put it up on the internet and someone in Brazil could be listening to it within a few minutes. The internet has allowed people like me to forge a career and find a fan base,” he says. “But it also means so much more music is out there. The challenge isn’t getting your music to people now, it’s cutting through.” Thanks to a combination of prodigious talent and persistence, Jack — who went to the Bellingen High School, Newtown High School of the Performing Arts in Sydney and emerged as a music graduate from the University of Sydney — has managed to cut through. During his studies, Jack won Acoustic Singer-songwriter at the Musicoz Awards in 2010 and since finishing university six years ago, he has released five albums, some of them collaborations (Hospital Hill with Gus Gardiner, Home State, Esk, Break Your Own Heart and One Thousand Origami Birds) and two EPS (The Predictable Crisis of Modern Life and Wine & Consequence). In 2015, Jack was awarded an Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA) Professional Development Award, which he used to independently record — yes, in his bedroom — Home State, which shot to Number 1 on the Australian Independent Albums Chart and 36 on the ARIA album chart at the time. Jack played a three-month, 27-date house-concert tour across Australia and New Zealand in 2017, performing in fans’ backyards, living rooms, sheds and even a vineyard. Hosted by fans, this small and intimate style of gig has taken off thanks to the online community. Jack has written and recorded songs with a rollcall of industry heavyweights, including Dan Wilson, formerly of Semisonic — who works with Adele, Taylor Swift and Dixie Chicks — Josh Pyke, Katie Noonan and Thomas Rawle from Papa vs Pretty and Dreller. Jack’s original music has been featured on television soundtracks: Covert Affairs in the United States and local productions Packed to The Rafters and Winners and Losers. Music started for Jack when he was young. His parents, both lawyers, were musical. Jack absorbed their record collections by osmosis — “I was really into Neil Young, Nick Drake and Bob Dylan from my mum’s collection and Dad loved Men at Work and Pink Floyd,” he says. As a teenager, Jack’s own collection included Silverchair, John Mayer and Coldplay. “Typical for teens of the time,” he adds. The town of Bellingen on the mid-north coast of NSW was also an influence. “I saw heaps of great artists play at the Cool Creek Café,” says Jack. “Lior, a beautiful songwriter, Yothu Yindi and Floyd Vincent and the Child Brides. And so much world and underground music at the Bellingen Global Carnival. Music that you wouldn’t necessarily hear on the radio. It was really good for my musical development to be exposed to that because, as a kid, some of it’s not easy to find unless you’re looking for it.” Having landed a manager, an agent and a deal with the small record label Gilded Lily, Jack and his wife Natasha, a graphic designer and painter, relocated to London three years ago. But Bellingen is still home with memories of long sunny days riding the streets on his trusty Redline BMX bike with his friends fresh on his mind. “Safe, weird, beautiful, home…” is how he describes the town and the stories he tells — a carpet python that lived in the rafters of the family home, living and breathing all things soccer and forming a garage band as a young teen — capture some of the characteristics that make up a quintessential Australian country childhood. > For more information, visit jackcarty.com
“MY DAD, JOHN, GREW UP in Terang at the very end of the Great Ocean Road and was one of 12 kids. My mum, Vivien, is from Sydney and she moved to Melbourne once she finished university and they met through work. They’re both lawyers. My name is also John, but no-one’s ever called me that. Jack isn’t just a stage name, it’s what everyone calls me. When I was two and my sister Ruth was six months old, we moved to Bellingen on the mid-north coast of NSW — my father fell in love with the town when he and Mum did a big road trip from Melbourne to Kingaroy in Queensland for my uncle’s wedding and they stopped there for a night. I don’t think Mum was that keen at first — she was a city girl. But they went and set up a law firm there, Carty and Co., and had two more kids, Vincent and Dashiel. We lived in the country, about 40 minutes from town, down a rickety old road in Thora. You have to cross four or five bridges to get there, so you’d get flooded in for weeks on end. I have a memory of the carpet python that lived in the rafters dropping down next to Dad one night when he was doing the dishes and him grabbing it. I remember Dad as being brave. I’ve asked him about it since, because it seems kind of crazy, and he said it wrapped itself around his arm and he was really scared and didn’t know what to do. Anyway, he was fine. Bellingen’s a pretty alternative place. There’s the farming families that have been there for a long time and then the hippies who’ve been moving there steadily since the ’70s and, more recently, people from the cities who can work from home or have made their money and have retired there. As a kid, before I’d done much travelling, I was always surprised when anyone described Australia as a dry place because Bellingen’s not that dry. It gets a lot of rain. It’s pastureland, with lots of dairy cows, beautiful rivers, green rolling hills and the Great Dividing Range above you. What I love most is the river at Gleniffer. It’s where Tash and I got married. Or meant to. We planned on getting married in the field next to Gleniffer Hall, a beautiful old wooden country hall, and had picked the weekend of the year with the lowest chance of rain. Of course it rained, so we got married at Ned’s parents’ place — Ned was my best friend growing up and I used to spend a lot of time at his place and it is the most amazing house. One of the disadvantages of growing up in a small town is that it can feel like there’s not very much to do. I never felt bored though because I was really into football from a very young age. I played every weekend and also played for the regional team. When I was about 16 music really became my main focus. It was a way of staying busy, doing things and hanging out with your friends and doing something constructive. There was a really cool group of kids in town that were all into music. We played guitar together, tried to write songs and formed a band called I Am. I was 12 when my parents divorced. There were about five years of it all being up in the air and everything changing, but as far as divorces go, it wasn’t that messy. There was a lot of pain involved but my parents did a pretty good job of being mature adults about it. Being in a small town like Bellingen, even though the split was a bit messy for a while, it didn’t feel that turbulent because Bellingen wasn’t changing. That was when I got into music, playing drums, trying to write songs, learn how to play guitar and find my singing voice. For a while there it was football and music, and at about 16 the music really became my main focus. I had a really good music teacher at school called Mr Meale, my parents were always supportive and the whole town took a vague interest. It felt like that, anyway. I mean I think a vague interest is good — people have busy lives, you know. A lot of good music comes out of Bellingen. It’s got a pull to it so even though it’s a small town there’s a lot of inspiration and a lot of people to help you figure out how to do things. I’d become pretty obsessive about music. It was all I thought about and wanted to do. I was just completely bonkers for it, so it was just a given, really. There was no question in my mind that if I got into the Newtown High School of the Performing Arts in Sydney, I’d go. I was single-minded and it didn’t feel like a decision for me to make. If they accepted me, then I was going to go and I didn’t even really think about how hard it might be to live away from my family until I got here. I was 16 when I left Bellingen. It was an amazing place to grow up and, when I think about it now, as an adult, I was very lucky.
FROM LEFT Jack (second from right) with siblings Dashiel, Ruth and Vincent; bath time; journalist George Negus played an integral role at Jack’s soccer club.
FROM LEFT Jack (centre) with one of his best friends, Reilly Mcglashan (right) and Reilly’s friend, Hugh; Jack and his second cousin, Dean Storchenegger, in Dorrigo, a 30-minute drive from Bellingen.