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HOW DO YOU MEASURE success or failure, personally and professionally?

When you’re a songwriter who tends to use songs to sort out some of your contradictions, seeing them “like a computer program, where you mind chuck in a bunch of parameters then let it unfold and see what happens, then test it with a different set of parameters”, this measuring of yourself against standards you’ve set is constant. But is it resolvable?

“I would say the initial and common feeling of success is that I made a thing beautiful. It could be a song about happiness could be a song about sadness or regret, it doesn’t matter, it always ends up beautiful, and that’s where the feeling of success comes from,” says father, truckdriver, singer and man who has delivered his first album of roots country this year, Bud Rokesky.

“That’s what I want for people listening to my songs, to hear the beautiful side of things, or the beauty in things that maybe aren’t regarded as beautiful. My hope is that you can hear the song and it paints over it with a glaze of beauty. It’s rose-coloured glasses in some way.”

It’s no secret that part of what makes the beautiful in his songs is the sheer attractiveness of his voice. On his debut album, Outsider, the songs are good, that isn’t in question really, and the record sounds good too. But the depth and richness of that voice, the way it elevates a croon into something exploratory and wise, sells everything.

When did he realise he had a voice, and how did it make him feel when he realised just what that voice could do?

“I do have very early memories of my parents enjoying my singing voice, and I would just sing whatever, soundtracks from movies that we watched as kids, things heard in the back seat,” Rokesky says, sitting in the cabin of his truck at the end of a long shift. He sang in choirs as a kid, took singing lessons, but he imposed limits.

“I didn’t ever want structure, I didn’t really want it to be a formal thing, because the singing just felt nice, whereas if you were trying to achieve something with singing then that took the niceness away. All I wanted was to see their feeling, not be graded.”

Organised singing went out the window when puberty hit in any case, his voice disappearing on him while restless, never quenched energy flooded in. So he turned to skateboarding, surfing, punk music “and just having a good time” in southern Queensland, away from the coast, away from the city.

But what had been satisfied by singing was in need, and skateboarding wasn’t going to cut it. The teenager who described himself in part one of this interview as a perpetual social fringe dweller “constantly observing and taking notes but still never quite feeling like I could be myself without self-checking constantly”, was a direction in need of a purpose.

“That’s when the songwriting started I guess, just trying to learn songwriting and how to put the stories across. So I didn’t pay attention to the voice at all,” he says. “I don’t know what set [his adult singing] off. You know I think it was maybe trying to sing things that I enjoyed, like punk music, but couldn’t. It was a losing battle: my voice just doesn’t do that, so it was like a resignation. I can’t do that, so I’m just gonna try and sing this stuff, and I found something that worked and it all made sense.”

It’s worth noting though that even in semirural or rural Queensland, just as much as suburban Melbourne or Adelaide, being a country music fan in your teens is not exactly anything cool.

“There wasn’t anyone around who was into that sort of thing so I never really brought it up,” he says. “It wasn’t something I snuck into a conversation as we are at the skate park, like ‘how about Gillian Welch eh?’ [he laughs]. I think observing and learning what to say and what not to say maybe saved me in those situations. I wasn’t going to hit the beach and put on some gentle Waylon [Jennings] in the background.”

I remind him that Gillian Welch started singing in a rock/borderline punk band, though neither of us can imagine what Gillian Welch being aggressive might be like.

“We all have everything in us don’t we? It’s just what you bring out,” Rokesky says. “Children’s entertainers can be very angry and aggressive at times, and you never know, Gillian might be at the stove absolutely headbanging to some death metal every now and then. On the way home, if I’ve had a really bad or long day, I’ll turn up The Story So Far, a punk band you could call them. It’s just matching that frequency.”

Whatever his occasional inclinations, there is no escaping the fact that roots or Americana or certain kinds of country that he plays, suits someone who tends to the melancholic. Does he, the Outsider, find himself naturally going to the grey-to-dark corners, or is he already there?

“It’s interesting, talking about matching a certain frequency. I drive trucks, a very hard worker trying to juggle all this stuff, I’m always trying to be dad of the year because that was my original life goal, before music really: I wanted a family, and I got the best version of it, which is incredible. And trying to be husband of the year as well. I enjoy light sounding songs that are about dark things, and dark sounding songs that are about light things, just to highlight that there is both in everything all the time.”

He has, as he says in a song from his debut, 3 Daughters. Three young daughters (one just into her teens, two short of that mark) is no small thing to survive for parents, and a challenge to any man to be a proper father, not a lightweight.

“We had broken homes growing up so we didn’t have the one father figure. So you paid attention to men and male figures and found your role models, be it my dad, or stepdad or grandad,” Rokesky says. “Maybe it’s who I’ve always been, the observer, taking notes all the time and looking at what kind of a parent I wanted to be when I grow up, but I knew that that’s what I would have to do because my children, be they boys or girls, would be looking to me probably the same way that I looked at my parents and grandparents.”

Given the depth of feeling in his voice when he talks of his (happy) childhood and his (happier still) own family, is he happy with the idea of being a singer, a songwriter, performer? Or is it a stepping stone to something else?

“I probably still feel like I’m auditioning for that role. I’ve just released a first album, it’s the first time people are hearing this side of me, even a lot of friends who’ve never really heard me sing, and I guess I’m interested in hearing people’s reception to at all,” he says. “Because I don’t really know what kind of impact it will have on people’s lives.”

There have been more than a few signs of that impact though, people regularly sending him videos of their children falling asleep to his songs. As someone who can vividly recall doing that himself, who not so long ago was watching his daughters do it – usually to the country soul of City And Colour – this is not an insignificant marker of connection. But the outsider has never presumed, and he’s not starting now.

“I definitely feel like I’m still auditioning for the role of singer, songwriter, storyteller, and I guess we’ll see if people will accept me in that role.”

Bud Rokesky is on tour with Matt Corby (three nights at the Enmore Theatre, from today, May 30, among them), and will be playing his own shows next month.

Wesley Anne, Melbourne, June 10

Valhalla Taproom, Geelong, June 11

Eltham Hotel, June 18

Midnight Special, Sydney, June 29

Ship Inn, Newcastle, June 30

Lefty’s Music Hall, Brisbane, July 6

BUD ROKESKY STANDING ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN: Click here to read the first part of this interview

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