25 years ago sisters Vicki Thorn and Donna Simpson hit the road and embarked on a journey that would carve a path for them to become one of Australia’s most iconic folk rock bands. Meeting up with Josh Cunningham en route on their first tour, the three young musicians formed The Waifs and have since gone on to release six studio albums with scores of well-known hits like ‘London Still’ and ‘Sun Dirt Water’.
The Waifs stop by the Darwin Entertainment Centre for a show at the Playhouse Theatre in April. Off The Leash caught up with Cunningham ahead of the band's nationwide tour to talk about their new album and amazing career that has spanned the past two decades.
You’ve been playing together and travelling the world for 25 years now, what are some of your biggest career highlights?
That's kind of like asking a parent who their favorite child is. The biggest highlight is the fact that we have been able to do what we love with people we love for all these years. It's first and foremost a life more than a livelihood. Before we ever had "success" in the more typical sense, we always considered ourselves successful just because we loved it and were able to do it.
With each of your group members living far away from one another, how do you guys find time to catch up and/or plan your next project?
There just seems to be a day that comes around where it feels like it's time to do it again. I wish it could happen more often but with everyone having family, and the geographical distance, we just take it where we can and cherish it when it happens. The planning of projects is guided largely by our manager. That's his skill set and apart from the fact that he's a wonderful human being, that's why we have him in our lives.
Where was this latest album recorded?
In my house. I've been building it for 12 years now and it's getting close, but it's still not finished. We recorded where the kitchen/living area is going to be and had James Newhouse come from WA with his equipment and set it up in the house. It was a great way to do it for us because it's a beautiful environment that is familiar and comfortable and, without the rigidity of a conventional studio setting, we were able to have a much more natural and relaxed experience which you can really hear in the recordings.
What was the song writing and recording process like for this latest album?
We all brought the songs and ideas we had to the table and just started working them up, recording the whole process as we went. The songs really evolved in a natural and spontaneous way. All of what you hear on the album is us sitting around and playing those songs in the moment. We did a few instrumental overdubs after the fact but pretty much everything you hear is live.
We understand that all three of you guys write and contribute songs to your albums, is this what happened with the latest record?
That's right. We tried to write together for the first time on our previous album but soon realized it doesn't work for us. The three individual personalities and voices are really an important aspect of The Waifs. It keeps the sound varied and also makes for very personal songs which we feel is a good thing.
How does it feel to get together and record new music after such a long time playing together?
It feels very natural. After so many years, the bond is really solid. We miss each other and we miss playing music together so when we have the chance to do it, we recognise how precious those times are.
How would you describe Ironbark as an album?
It's the album we have always wanted to make. Stripping it back to the elemental roots of the band and recording live and in the moment helped to create not just a sound but an atmosphere that we've been searching for since Up All Night. We didn't intentionally craft the album around a theme but we have noticed that the idea of survival and endurance is very prominent in a lot of the songs. The title track was inspired by several significant people in my life who have endured struggle and still contributed something beautiful and positive to the world rather than be defeated by it. The ironbark tree is an apt metaphor for that and it's quintessentially Australian. We felt it said a lot about us and our music without actually saying anything.
Have you guys been to Darwin before?
Yes. 25 years ago we were there for the first time and we've visited often since then.
What are your thoughts on the NT?
We love the Territory and have so many beautiful memories through the years. We've enjoyed the natural beauty and the unique character and personality of Territorians, and had a rich connection with the place. Prior to meeting Donna and Vikki and forming The Waifs, I lived there for several months. I was fresh out of high school and it was my first taste of the big wide world. Darwin was literally like another world altogether to me. I love places that are unique and have a strong sense of identity and Darwin is very much that way.
What has the rest of the year got lined up for you after this nationwide tour?
We'll be touring in North America for a few months mid year and then back in Australia towards the end of the year to tour here again. Being our 25th anniversary year, we'll be celebrating it by getting out a bit more than usual.