Listening back to this interview, I'm starting to realise that I'm really putting on a thicker Australian accent than I do normally. I'm mimicking William Crighton, who was sitting across from me. I am a fraud.
William is the real deal though. The accent was one of the first things I noticed about his songs – songs about Australia. He sings with a real passion in the meaning. He emits something genuine. Earlier this year he released his debut album, William Crighton, recorded on the banks of Burrinjuck Dam, near the South West Slopes region of NSW.
I only spent a little bit under an hour with Crighton at the Grand Junction in Maitland, but I feel like I could have picked his brain for hours.
I saw you play at the last Dashville Skyline.
I really enjoyed that show. Matt Sherrod from America played there that night – he produced my record. Usually we play with an English bloke, but when's Matt's back we get him in.
How was Tasmania?
It was great – about a month we were down there.
We started at Bello Blues Festival in Bellingen, then up to Brisbane, Mullumbimby, all the east coast down, then ended up in Tassie. It's beautiful. Have you been?
Bit colder, obviously.
Yeah, but it's a different thing. It sounds weird but it's a drier cold.
Do you know when you're playing at Skyline this year? You played last on the first night last year.
I think I'm on the first night again – I've got to go down to Canberra for the following night. It's really unfortunate that I'll miss out on the rest of Skyline.
Brian Cadd will be good.
Wilson Pickers also.
I didn't really know a whole lot of the acts last year.
Did you have a good time?
That's the main thing, isn't it?
It was really good. Did you see Bahamas?
They were my favorite last year. Amazing. They had a thousand gigs under their belt – you could tell. Very refined.
You were good too.
I'll take that [laughs]. That was our second festival gig as this band. We played Wollombi Music Festival, then Dashville.
You've obviously been playing a long time.
In other scenarios, probably since I was a teenager in different things. Different levels of intensity as well.
Always in bands?
Yeah, in different bands. I grew up playing covers in pubs around the Riverina. I shifted to China when I was 19. My friend called me up and said he had a gig in China. It was a blues band – called Sam McNally's Blues Solution. We used to play in this big ice house. Do you know what an ice house is?
Back in the day, they'd keep all the meat in this big cement structure. It was like a bomb shelter. The walls were five, six feet thick. There was never anyone there to watch us. It was owned by this American-Chinese lawyer. I don't know what motivation he had for the place. We had a good time though.
Where in China?
2005. They were getting ready for the Olympics, I remember. They were spraying the sky blue and painting the grass green as an experiment. They shut off all industry for a day or two to see what happened. I have a lot of love for China, though.
I didn't expect you to say that.
You didn't expect me to say I love China?
Not really, no.
You seem to have this Australia quality about yourself and your music – not that anything says you're anti-China... I don't know what I'm saying.
Australia, for me, is about openness. Everything that makes me proud to be Australian is when we display generosity and welcoming to people. Anything else, I don't really identify with as being Australian. We live in a time in history [where] there are a lot of people on the planet. More than we know has ever been before. I can identify with the Chinese people who are trying to elevate themselves to an individual type of living that we all take for granted. It's tougher there – they've got a lot of people to feed and secure. A lot more competitive. Taken on face value, the people I've met are lovely and very welcoming. People are just people.
So you came home.
I met a mate over in China, he was working on a movie. American fella. He would come into the bar – he'd be the only one watching the gig. I ended up striking up a conversation and befriending him. Once I got back to Australia, he invited me to New York to check it out. I moved over there when I was 21. I moved backwards and forwards in America for a while. I came home from that for the second time and met my soon-to-be wife. We got married and moved back to America for a while.
Always doing the music?
A bit of everything. I worked on a few farms, played music in different capacities. I was doing a few tours with different bands and alone as well. A starry-eyed person trying to have a career of somewhat. Also not understanding what the fundamentals of music and happiness were. You're doing it, putting it out there, but you're not getting the right guidance on how to find your true self. Or at least getting on the trail of that. Being more concerned with things like success, names or gear.
I always felt very connected with the music; I would always put that first. What I knew wasn't exactly the correct route to writing a song that I was really proud of.
You needed to figure it all out.
Touring all over America?
The biggest tour we did we bought an old RV 1979 model Southwind. We travelled up the west coast and up to Canada, across and down into America again. Doing gigs in little cafes – we opened for Sheryl Crow one time. For the next five or six years after that it was Australia – America – China. After all that we moved to Burrinjuck, when this music started to come.
You recorded it all out there?
I moved out there, and I wasn't sure what I wanted to do – I was 28... We went back to basics. We got a place near the water at the top of the Murrumbidgee, we had gardens, fished; I made a living from cutting wood and doing the odd gig.
I often think if you're going to go and play – I don't know if you'd call it country music, or rural music –
Would you say it's rural?
I think it comes from a place where there is a lot of space; it's meditated. Whether that comes from chopping wood, I don't know. I think you're right. I believe it comes out of isolating yourself from society. Rethinking a lot of the values and core beliefs that we grew up with, [from] school or whatever. The first seven or fourteen years of our lives we make a lot of decisions that stick with us for our entire lives. We all reflect. I guess I needed that time to look back and maybe adjust my view.
A season away.
Yeah. Getting back to where I come from, but also seeing it with a new lens. Out there, you're really back to basics. You don't care about what's on TV.
If you live in the city, you need to make ends meet somehow.
You need time to collect your thoughts. I love the city. I've lived in some of the biggest cities in the world. There's a lot of inspiration to gather and put into the music too. I think music as much came from living out there but also wherever else I've lived. Realising the effect that some of those decisions have, an effect on our life as a whole.
From both sides.
That's definitely what that place helped me see. I think the album is an accurate representation of where I was at that point. I can look back at it and feel happy with it saying what needed to be said at that point in time. I think because of the way we captured it in that cottage, with the limitations we had, it has a real element of time and place. That you're there.
A time and place.
That's what it's about, for me. Documenting moments.
Do you think you're translating something you're feeling into a song, or is it a narrative?
The narratives – say ‘Priest’, for instance, it definitely has a feeling of story –
That's a pretty true story. Ryan's not my brother, but it's a story about growing up in Tumut. In the Riverina there are –
Snakes up the bank?
Yes, there are, but there's also a huge ice problem, methamphetamine. In the story he hangs himself because he's under the influence of methamphetamine. It's still happening. It's a snapshot into things that are real. Not necessarily the one dude –
A universal theme?
Everything in that song has happened. That area of the Riverina had the highest rate of youth suicide in the country when I was growing up there. You grow up in such a beautiful spot, playing footy, playing cricket. As you get older there's a bit of a longingness, there seems, in your teens.
The grass is greener.
Exactly. If you can't get out, you get out in your mind by taking drugs. Not always, but in those cases. You would know, it must be the same here.
I think it's the human condition. Always looking at your neighbour's bowl.
Whether we're trying to get out of our country town, or trying to leave Earth because we've fucked it, it's the same thing. Some of us are very content to stick around and love the planet, which is, I think, the way to go, but there's definitely that ‘what's next’ in some of us.
Human nature. So where do you start writing a song? Sitting down with a pen and paper?
Everything's different. Sometimes things just come to you; others you struggle with. That initial inspiration is what drives me to write music. I know I sit for a long time with lyrics sometimes. I try to articulate the thing I'm trying to communicate as well as I can. I take it very seriously if someone comes to a show or listens to the album. I want them to have as pure an experience as I have – I don't want to dress it up or fuck around with it. Whether they love it or they hate it, it's a cycle.
You've got more stuff on the way?
I'm working on it. Doing some recording in December, as well as some earlier in the year in Byron. The next [record] is started. I think it's a different time. When I recorded this last album I was in Burrinjuck; it was a very relaxing and reflective time. Now I'm up here and on the road, I'm taking all of that in too. It's the catalyst for a different inspiration.
Skyline should be fun.
I think so too.
You can check out William’s music online at www.williamcrightonmusic.com, and at the Dashville Skyline festival in Belford, September 30th to October 2nd.