Balina, Lighthouse Beach, Freo, Ulladulla, The Foam Booth on Cleveland Street. Adam Gibson has been there. “There’s a restlessness in the heart of many Australians; a need to move, to shift, to see different scenes, new horizons, better places”, the Australian singer/song-writer/poet explains of the methodology behind his new album Australia Restless.
The record focuses primarily on the romanticism associated with this nomadic existence, with the individual tales framed around the wider pursuit for national identity. Yet, Gibson — much like with his collaborative work with Aerial Maps and Modern Giant — remains enthralled by nostalgia, whether that’s fond memories of forgotten indie bands (“Buffalo Tom are playing tonight and, in 1995, they were the greatest”), retrieving stolen trucks or dealing with bushfires (“my Dad started hosing down the tiles”). The no-nonsense factual recalls are brought to life by Gibson’s attachment of detail, frequently zeroing into the specifics, utilising his intricately concise quips to highlight the seemingly simpler time (“this is for the bare foot days”).
Australia Restless, which incidentally was co-written by his brother Simon Gibson, is the first recorded work with new band the Ark-Ark Birds. While previously backed primarily by straight-up indie rock, this album focuses more on variety, with the intermittent field recordings especially effective in contextualising Gibson’s fables.
Australia Restless is out this Friday (May 8) and available to stream in full below:
Adam Gibson and the Ark-Ark Bands are also heading out on a brief run of East Coast starting this weekend:
Saturday, May 9: The Junk Bar, Brisbane
Sunday, May 10: The Triffid, Brisbane
Saturday, May 16: Yarra Hotel, Melbourne
Sunday, May 17: The Vanguard, Sydney
As an extra bonus, Adam Gibson has been kind enough to pen a few words explaining each of the album’s tracks.
All words below by Adam Gibson.
I have this idea of Australia being full of people restlessly moving within in its borders, up and down, over and across, and back again. From pre-European settlement to the present day, the sheer wide scale of the Australian continent is, for many, a siren call to explore the land. This song is a series of images and stories carved from that idea and in, in a sense, lays out a “statement of intent” about the album to follow.
“The Ark-Ark Birds”
The call of Australian raven, or crow, call it what you will, is the sound that has echoed through my whole life. From growing up in suburban Sydney, to small outback towns and all in between, the “ark-arrrk” sound of those birds represents to me a true sound of Australia. It’s lonely and desolate and yet somehow comforting.
“Long Time Dead”
This was the first song we wrote for the album. It’s basically a call to arms to say, “get off your arse and do stuff”. My mum uses the phrase, “You’re a long time looking at the lid”, ie. the lid of your coffin. So the idea is to upend that and live as interesting a life as possible. Basically, book that flight, go somewhere, stop sitting on your bum and treating life as if it goes on forever. It doesn’t, there’s no time to waste.
“Ode to a Cup of Tea”
The word “coffee” has almost become a verb in Australia. Everyone seems to talk about coffee. “Let’s go for a coffee” etc. But to me, a cup of tea is far more humble, far more enjoyable. In my family, of Anglo-Irish heritage, having a cup of tea was the cure-all for any ill. This is a heartfelt ode to the humble cuppa. In happy times, in sad times, a cup of tea, that’ll do me. What are you having?
I was staying for a while in the very north of Finland and as such I was able to look at my life in Australia, and my life in general, from a far perspective. And it occurred to me that many of us keep going over the same old ground in our relationships. We keep making those same old mistakes. But the key idea for this song is that, hey, maybe there’s a reason we keep making those “mistakes” with some people. Maybe they’re worth it, after all.
“The Years Nobody Cared What You Did”
I feel like our lives now are under so much scrutiny. Everyone has an opinion of what you’re doing or what you should be doing or what you’re not doing. Be it in terms of “the state” or just friends and family. It seems to me that we’re always being checked and monitored and evaluated. This song came from the idea that there was a time, not even that long ago, when nobody cared what you did. You just did it. You didn’t document it and no one documented you.
I like to find beauty in small things and here, for example, is some of the rough-hewn “poetry” I feel comes out of two-way radios in desert communities. This was recorded in the Pilbara, taking in the voices of truck drivers as they hauled massive oversized loads up the Great Northern Highway to the mining towns further north. There’s mystery out there in those voices.
I have spent a fair bit of time on the South Coast of NSW and have been in and out of the town of Ulladulla many times. The name always struck me for it’s rare, lovely beauty. The town itself isn’t beautiful, per se, but such indigenous names are all across our landscape and offer a significant power to our identity. The last time I drove through Ulladulla, I said to myself, “I just want to say ‘Ulladulla’ more often”, and the track was born.
“Feels Like a First Love”
A simple track based around the idea that you can be with someone for a fair while and yet, suddenly, when the weather or the tide or the moon or whatever is just right, you feel like it’s the first time you’ve ever been in love. Both in general, and with that person. Sometimes things feel brand new, and it’s a good feeling.
“I Will Always Go Seeking Water”
A track about the overwhelming longing I always feel to see a body of water, wherever I am. Even if I am in a landlocked country, I want to find the river or a lake or a stream. Overall, this track is about my need to find immersion in water, usually the ocean, and thus give me a sense of having been immersed in that landscape.
“The Year Our House Burnt Down”
I was working as a reporter for a major newspaper many years ago and was sent to cover massive bushfires west of Sydney, in the Blue Mountains. I was near the Grose Valley, running down a smoky road when a woman came running the other way. She looked at me and said, “Our house burnt down”. I did a story about her plight and I managed to contact her later. To this day we are in touch and she talks about that year as “the year our house burnt down”.
“Blanchey (You Were Beautiful)”
On a pure level this is a completely true story about my grandmother and my mother. My mum was born from an illicit affair between my grandmother and her sister’s husband. A complete scandal back in early 20th Century Melbourne. But on another level, I wanted to write a tale about the 20th century in Australia, and I did that by hanging such a tale off the lives of my mum and grandma. I find this song impossible to perform – it just makes me too sad, it overwhelms me.