Heidi Pett spoke to frontman Husky Gawenda about his literary influences and thoughts on triple j Unearthed:
“I’d say we’re about songs.” It’s a deceptively simple explanation from Husky Gawenda when asked to define his band and their music. Variously described as indie folk and harmonic pop, favourably compared to the likes of Fleet Foxes and Boy & Bear, Husky have certain a knack for creating gentle melodies that nonetheless stay with you all day. Single History’s Door received extensive radio play on both triple j and Sydney’s FBi, as well as some recent lovin’ in the Bobbysix End Of Year Reviews, and with good reason: it’s an almost perfectly-crafted modern folk offering, sparking all sorts of comparisons with such a range of artists it leaves Gawenda faintly bemused. “I’m always so surprised by how people describe us and the different bands we’re compared to. I don’t always agree or hear the influence and sometimes it’s somebody whose music I’ve never actually heard, but I don’t think there’s any point being precious about it. People will listen to music and want to categorise it. It’s human nature.”
“I can say whatever I want about the songs I write and the sort of music we play, but in the end it doesn’t matter what I think. It matters what you think, it matters what the people who come to our shows think.” It’s an almost postmodern attitude – the death of the author/songwriter in favour of the audience’s interpretation. When I mention this, Husky laughs and admits “Well my father’s a writer and my mother’s an English teacher, so literature and writing was a big part of my upbringing and part of my life as far back as I remember. I grew up reading the classics, novel-wise. Most of the 20th century classics, as well as 19th century English and Russian literature, and a bunch of poets – Dylan Thomas, Wordsworth, those sort of guys. There are musicians as well, who are as much poets as they are songwriters; Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, even Paul Simon.” These early literary influences certainly come through in his music, expressed through a strong lyrical component to the songs on debut long-player Forever So.
Recorded in a backyard bungalow in Melbourne’s northern suburbs which the band spent late nights soundproofing themselves with the aid of Youtube tutorials, it was an album Husky says, “we really wanted time and space to record”. Well, that and the fact that before scoring a spot at Pushover Festival thanks to a triple j Unearthed competition, Gawenda admits they were fairly unknown and thus hadn’t the cash to hire a studio and producer. “We wanted the luxury to be able to record songs that we won’t necessarily use. To take the time to write, develop and arrange the album. If we went into a studio and were paying by the hour we wouldn’t be able to do that. It was a mixture of getting the sound we wanted, and just not having the money to record in a proper studio.”
Looking back on their success over the last year, it seems Husky won’t be running into the same problems again. “I think what Unearthed does for bands like us is incredible. It does exactly what it’s supposed to, which is to bring bands to the attention of the public that otherwise nobody would hear of. That’s the beauty of the platform that triple j has, they can pick bands out of near obscurity, and put them on the radio.” Since the release of Forever So in late October, Husky spent some time touring before the busy summer festival season, where they’ve found the crowds, “really embracing and responsive”. Husky notes that the festival circuit is an equally important way for emerging bands to establish themselves. “You get exposed to people who might not know you that well or might not otherwise have come to your show. They discover you for the first time and you get to meet all these people that you otherwise wouldn’t have met. I think festivals are great for all bands, but especially for newish bands like us.”
Having seen them at Woodford Folk Festival over the New Year, I can attest to the fact that they put on a charming live performance which has certainly added to a fan base that has grown exponentially over the past year. Offering something a little different from the current crop of fingerpicking, harmonising folk acts, they’ve attracted praise from high places – triple j’s Richard Kingsmill, for instance, described them as “pure class.” This is something which Husky attributes in part to the varying musical backgrounds within the band. “I think the jazz training that they’ve done over the years have influenced them and it’s certainly added to their ability as musicians,” he says of bandmates Evan Tweedie, Luke Collins and cousin Gideon Preiss.
Despite spending a lot of time together growing up in quite a creative family, Husky says he and Gideon, “didn’t really formally play music together until about three years ago. We spent a lot of time listening to music and going to gigs together, but he was on a different path for those early years. He was playing in a lot of jazz bands and I was kind of just writing songs. Then, about three years ago, we decided to get together and have a play and see how that went.” It seems things have panned out fairly well so far, and Husky agrees. “Even from the beginning it felt right, and it’s never stopped feeling like that.”