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(Seeking directions. Aerial Maps l-r: Jasper Fenton, Peter Fenton, Alannah Russack, Adam Gibson, Mark Hyland)

“I REMEMBER WHEN I STARTED The Aerial Maps with Simon Holmes from The Hummingbirds, he was always saying to me, in his beautiful kind way, ‘Adam, speak in your voice. Don’t put on any affectation, dump it on any accent, don’t try to be Tom Waits or try to be Dylan or whoever, don’t try to be Kerouac. He said just be yourself.’

“It was one of those things where I said, okay, I’ll remove all those layers and visions I had of what was right and the proper way to do it, and just do it. Obviously to some extent my accent, the way I speak in The Aerial Maps, can still put people off, but I can’t do any more.”

Adam Gibson, who grew up in the eastern suburbs of Sydney when it still had a working class and did indeed read Kerouac, who still likes his rugby league and can quote Joe Strummer without hesitation, who revels in the sights and smells of Australian, coastal or inland, and loathes jingoistic nationalism, took the late Holmes’ advice to heart.

His dry-as-dust delivery and accent telling stories that don’t hide their poetry – and magic, and sense of wonder – inside the minutiae of the everyday have kept The Aerial Maps a going concern for coming on 20 years. The personnel around Gibson change occasionally – it’s currently Peter and Jasper Fenton, Mark “Na Na” Hyland, and Alannah Russack (who once was in The Hummingbirds) – but the intent never has. As he is fond of saying, borrowing from, yes, Kerouac, “something you feel will find its own form”.

The fourth Aerial Maps album, Our Sunburnt Dream, which is released on Friday, within inventive and imaginative music on the border of rock, guitar pop and earthy folk, rolls out story after captivating story that could be anywhere but couldn’t be from anywhere else, populated by people you know, have known or will know. Talking about it, Midnight Oil’s Jim Moginie, who produced the album in a dense, hectic five days, refers to his/ours/Gibson’s “sentimental landscape” as these touchstones, where even if we are not intimately familiar with details, the spirit and soul is understood. Almost like it could be easy, or at least natural.

Of course it isn’t. There are people who write songs about Australia where you know they have just put in a reference because they think that’s what they are supposed to do, especially if they’re writing a by-the-numbers country number otherwise packed with American iconography, or think they are some gonnabe Paul Kelly so get a street directory out to drop in something credibly local.

But Gibson’s landscapes are not sentimental or formulaic; they have the grit of truth, the patina of someone who has actually driven up that coast road, caught the sun at that hour of the day, talked to that person. Hell, is that person.

“Early days, when I was writing in a punk band I had in Bondi, in the late ‘80s, it was completely in the thrall of a combination of Midnight Oil, The Sunnyboys and The Clash, and the stuff I was writing then really, what’s the word, honoured those bands. Then I realised that they were speaking their version of their own truth, so it made sense to Mick Jones and Joe Strummer to talk about the Westway and made sense for Moginie and the Oils to talk about the long coast road and the smell of frangipani and the ocean sky blue,” says Gibson.

“It suddenly dawned on me when I was reading Kerouac talking about lower Massachusetts and all these things that sounded romantic and gorgeous and I felt like I knew it and could relate his vision of home and his experience to my version, so I went I’d rather write about Broadway in Sydney than Broadway in New York because it means something to me.”

The romance of realities – can we be convinced our realities a romantic? Is it important that we do?

“Peter Fenton talks about this romantic nostalgia and I’m a very nostalgic person but I am not a person saying it was all better back in the old days, some sort of golden era. I’m an advocate of celebrating what we have now,” argues Gibson. “You listen to Perry Keyes’ most recent album or you listen to a Knievel album, these things are happening now and they are beautiful, and this life in Sydney is happening now and it’s still beautiful.”

He adds, with some force. “There was a song I did a while back where I said, ‘they weren’t better days, they were just younger ones’, and the sooner we realise that the better for everyone.”

Speaking of romance and/or reality, having Moginie as the producer may have thrilled the teenage Oils fan in Gibson but there wasn’t really room, or time, to be awed, even if he were inclined to. Which he wasn’t.

“I thought, bugger it, we are all here in our lives, he is a human being, he has mutual friends of mine and a very sensitive guy,” says Gibson, before conceding with a grin that, yes, ok, there was something intrinsically perfect about this set up. “There was an element of excitement and I’m not comparing our band to Midnight Oil in any way, but on a psychological level there is a space that they opened up for me in terms of what might be possible.

“Combined with Not Drowning, Waving and David Bridie, I thought there is a real space there which can be occupied or can be looked at – not only an evocative sense of the land but vernacular stories and strange little incidents. It’s not all about me.”




Our Sunburnt Dream is out June 21.



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