(Photo by Renae Saxby)
WILLIAM CRIGHTON has delayed fishing in Lake Macquarie with his father and brothers to talk: the bream and flathead can wait, even though it’s been a long while since he got together with family.
That’s no small gesture: family matters for this imposing figure, from the Christian upbringing and church singing with his mother and his father’s love of country music, (both of which still resonate in his songs today even as they stretch deep into guitar-driven rock as well), to his three children and wife/partner/co-writer, Julianne.
“We are a team, we kinda always have been. Regardless of whose singing it all whose playing it or whatever, everything I do we are a team,” Crighton says of Julieanne. “And beyond that, just the strength: she gives me an enormous amount of strength, an enormous amount of licence to be experimental, to try and find myself too. Everything goes through the filter of the two of us.”
Why does that matter? Crighton grew up in a religious family, and while these days that may be a more complex topic ask him what he puts his trust and faith and hope in now, and things start to clear up.
“I have faith in the spirit of the kids, and the spirit in each other, and the land,” he says. “There is no formal way to present such things; in a lot of ways established religion is the thing that encased spirituality and buried it. I find faith in the country around me. I’m not so much a pantheist as I do believe everything is conscious to different degrees, I do believe that everything is alive.
“And we’re so afraid of death and pretend it doesn’t happen, until we die, but you look at other cultures that have a greater acceptance of death and they seem to have a happier life.”
What does that mean though? Death is coming so don’t worry? We’re all gonna die soon so get some shit done now? How does that help him?
“When I was five I watched my grandfather die and that was a thing that at the same time was very sad but it made me strong to accept death and understand that death is a natural part of life. And that gives me faith too.”
This is a reminder too that assumptions about Crighton as he confronts issues like Australia’s treatment of first nation people and the land, or the compromised future we’re creating (as he does throughout his third album, Water And Dust); or because he’s cranked up the guitars progressively since his rootsy debut and now stretches across intense folk, collaborations with Indigenous musicians like didgeridoo master William Barton, almost tropical country music, and full-force rock’n’roll; or because he looks like a scary hairy man, all miss the point.
He isn’t angry or despairing or some similar reductionist line; you have to have faith in people to believe there can be change.
It's just one more thing he shares with another Australian act drawing on a mix of religious roots, activist politics and righteous action: the clue can be found in that album title that has a certain echo of diesel and dust.
Supporting Midnight Oil as he is doing at the moment on parts of their final national tour – and having Oils guitarist and drummer, Jim Moginie and Rob Hirst, play on Water & Dust – is not just a coincidence for a man as capable of pointed commentary and demands for a better world as he is presenting an imposing figure at the front of the stage.
Up close with the veteran band members, what has he taken away from these experiences?
“To me, they’ve always been like Neil Young’s been, and that’s a licence to be yourself. They are so glaringly authentic and committed to their endeavour, that it’s undeniable,” Crighton says. “For me they are one of the most unique ever Aussie bands, if not the most. Psychedelic rock, some punk rock in the earlier stuff, and they’ve got a wonderful work ethic.
“From working with Rob and Jim they are both distinctly different characters; their talent is huge; and their work ethic is huge. And that is one thing that seems to be the same amongst all of the people who leave a mark on me.”
And that mark is?
“They have been a big influence in the sense of giving me the courage – before I knew them: I’ve only known Rob and Jim a few years – to be of this place, to do something that hasn’t been before, or put your own touch on it. So what I’ve taken away from them is be strong and be committed to the cause, whatever the cause may be, and don’t try to be anything else but yourself.
“They are clichéd lessons that we hear a lot, but they live them.”
Water And Dust is out now.