Troy Cassar Daley’s 11th studio album, The World Today, is a moody, bluesy exploration of the darker side of the Australian psyche. It deals with themes of mental health, the loss of family, marital breakdown, and the gross overrepresentation of Indigenous people in our prisons. Working with some of the biggest names in the game like Paul Kelly and Don Walker, the album wheels between destruction and redemption, ultimately championing the restorative power of country and the great Australian landscape.
“If I hadn’t written this record, I really don’t even know whether I’d be talking to you the truth.”
Troy Cassar-Daley is an icon of Australian country music. With 11 studio albums now under his belt from a career spanning some 30 years, he’s a titan of the beer-drinking, campfire scene. But for all the machismo and brash, hard-living that comes with this territory, his most recent album is an honest reflection on just what happens when you let your kids grow up to be cowboys.
“I didn’t expect it to take me on the trip that took me on,” Troy says about The World Today, “but I was in a pretty dark place.” The title of the album is a broadly reflective one, revealing a stepped-back mentality – the silver lining of the pandemic – as Troy assess the state of who we are and how to become the people we want to be.
It’s a theme that’s universally relevant through these turbulent times. The album doesn’t offer simple solutions however, nor is it particularly interested in politics. The title is actually part of a question aimed at the listener, “what are you going to do for the world today?”
It’s a question Troy says he asks himself every day to steer himself toward the good. The answers lie in the small things, he explains, like, “am I going to nod to strangers? Am I going to nod to people from different religious backgrounds? Of course I am, because it’s my duty.” The mentality here is toward positive changes that are individually focused with the potential for a butterfly-effect of good will.
These are only changes and realisations that Troy has come to through difficultly and challenge. Creating positive, life-affirming music is his way of coming to terms with everything he has been through. “I think this is the first time I’ve ever really had any questions about my mental health,” he says.
“I look at the record and I think to myself, this was my way out. It was terribly hard to write some of it. I don’t think I’ve ever really been this honest.”
The challenges he refers to include the death by suicide of his father in 2019 and the near-collapse of his 25-year marriage to TV presenter Laurel Edwards. Add COVID to that mix and it might have been a recipe for disaster. Not so for Troy.
“I felt sorry for myself for a week or so and then decided to just try and channel every bit of energy that I had into being creative, into just starting to make songs.”
“I think the best art comes from adversity. If you’re feeling it, you’re gonna write about it and if you are feeling it properly, it’s really stabbing, then I really do think that you’ve got a chance to write something that will mean something to people”.
Struggles with mental health aren’t typical country music territory, and certainly not the type of thing that men of a certain generation feel comfortable expressing. That’s why hearing Troy ironically dismantle the expectations of masculinity on the song ‘Drive in the Dark (Be a Man)’ is so refreshing.
Of course, singing about troubled times is nothing new for the genre, and is arguably what it is built upon. Troy pays homage to this legacy through echoes of Johnny Cash in ‘Doin’ Time’ while infusing it with raw Aussie experience.
“I had to tap into that. I actually watched the Folsom Prison concert the week before I went down to Sydney to record,” Troy says.
Watch the music video for Troy Cassar-Daley’s “Back On Country”
He has more demons than most to exorcise in this area. Being a proud Gumbaynggirr/Bundjalung man of mixed heritage, the systemic assaults on the livelihoods and agency of our Indigenous population has always been close to home.
“Having some first cousins that have been incarcerated and actually have pulled through the jail system, it was really wonderful to be able to sit down and try to tell their stories as truthful as possible”.
Indeed, his work with Midnight Oil’s Makarrata Project, a musical underscoring of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, sees Troy lend his voice to the lines from the statement on incarceration.
“Proportionally, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet. We are not an innately criminal people. Our children are aliened from their families at unprecedented rates. This cannot be because we have no love for them. And our youth languish in detention in obscene numbers. They should be our hope for the future”.
While supporting this fight, Troy’s music doesn’t lean on political answers alone to solve our issues. His worldview is an inclusive one, centring the land as a healing force or rejuvenation and spiritual guidance. The song ‘Back on Country’ sings “no matter what your bloodline, we belong to this land. You might be black, you could be white, but come and joint the choir.”
“The old saying goes the truth will set you free will,” Troy says, “the truth to me starts conversations”.
“If you push people’s politics aside, we are all the same”.
When asked if he’s hopeful for the future, he laughs. “More than hopeful,” he replies, citing the changes to collective understanding of Indigenous issues and the Marriage Equality Act as examples of how far we’ve come in one life time.
He is however critical of how the Uluru Statment was received, saying Malcolm Turnbull “threw the statement under the bus”.
“It needs to be brought out from under the bus and put on show again, like Midnight Oil are doing. That’s where the shift’s going to come from”.
For Troy, the dinner table and conversations around the fire are his own political battle ground. “You can walk into a bar and sit and talk with some people from all walks of life and you will find stack similarities. That’s one thing that I’m inspired by. I’ve felt the shift as a person born in 1969.”
It’s this man-on-the-street approach to empathy and storytelling that makes the album great. Troy sings about the struggle of single mothers and construction workers in an effort to extract that commonality. His track ‘How You Fall’, written in collaboration with Paul Kelly, asks “can you show me how to get up? Doesn’t matter how you fall down”.
In fact, the song itself inspired the theme for the whole album. Those lyrics, Troy explains, “became my way of getting up off the ground.” That song, and the renewed sense of the inevitably of struggle, is what pushed him to create the album, not only for himself, but for anyone doing it tough right now.
“We aren’t too big to talk about the stuff that actually can heal you, you know. A lot of people are too proud to talk about stuff like this,” Troy says. “The only way I could express this record was to honestly just come out and start talking.”