Steve Lane is finally able to speak, back in Darwin after some weeks out of range deep in the Northern Territory where the Melbourne musician has been running songwriting and recording workshops in the large indigenous community of Wadeye.
It’s a big part of his time these days, these kind of outreach projects, and it does good work for many, while keeping him financial so that he could fund his new album Revenge Of The Lawn.
But there are other rewards, ones which are reflected in this new record that deepens his roots in a very Australian style of storytelling and music making that connects the Go-Betweens, The Church, Paul Kelly and Josh Pyke.
“On a purely artistic level, there is an immense reward in actively engaging local musicians to be involved and capturing their unique sounds,” Lane says. “On a personal level, just being fortunate enough to experience the culture in this way.”
That culture mattered even more as both Lane’s parents died in the past few years, during the time he was working on the new album – his father’s death a long and slow one over several years punctuated by multiple strokes – and he says “I’m really thankful for what I’ve been taught about mourning and grieving, the concept of sorry business” by the indigenous communities with whom he worked.
“It’s been a huge gift.”
Revenge Of The Lawn isn’t just about, and in fact is mostly not directly about the loss of his parents, but the work – spread out over five years it took - can be seen now as part of his take on sorry business.
“I’m fortunate enough to have this mad music lifestyle where things change over time but I also have the ability to create space and I found that really helpful to have my version of sorry business, to take that time.
“These songs came out at different times and I didn’t set out to write about that issue [of loss] but it gave me space to take as much time as I needed to see it through. We have this expectation [in western cultures] that stuff will get done and then the next thing will be out and you go through the process of selling it, and that can be really unhealthy.”
The process, including stripping everything back to bare musical as much as emotional bones – with contributions from old friends such as David Williams from Augie March, as well as Lane’s son, Kai Lane-U’Ren - is one reason why this is a solo record and not credited to his usual project, Steve Lane and The Autocrats.
“Most of it was me, at home, in my face, trying to birth these songs and see them through,” he says.
Seeing them through became a process which often involved him just letting go as stream of consciousness lyrics and free-form musical parts were allowed to follow their own path.
Or, in the case of Cocoon, trying to understand the way his father may have felt as his body stopped him communicating but wouldn’t let him go, using found sounds like the radio playing in the background of Lane’s playing, or what he recorded on his phone sitting alongside his father in the hospital.
“At the time, I wasn’t sure what I was doing,” Lane confesses. “I was feeling it. “
But while the album isn’t defined by this, with some songs predating his parents deaths, there are others with lyrics by his friend and long-time confidant and collaborator, the poet John Holton - “these [Richard] Brautigan-like poems” he set to music - that have connections which tie so many strands together.
It turns out that this solo album, like his experience of grief, wasn’t exactly a solo journey after all.
“We are a similar age, similar backgrounds, similar place in life and similar issues with loss – his sister just passed away recently from cancer,” says Lane of Holton. “So it was two old blokes sitting there, a glass of red, and we just have this connection that is beautiful.”
Revenge Of The Lawn is out now.
Steve Lane will play these new songs, as either a duo or a full band, at Nightquarter, Gold Coast, August 27; Triffid Garden, Brisbane, August 28; The Junkyard, Maitland, September 2; Lazybones Lounge, Marrickville, September 3; Golden Vine Hotel, Bendigo, September 16; and Spotted Mallard, Brunswick, September 17.