Q & A With Marty Donald of The Lucksmiths

MP3: Lucksmiths – A Hiccup in Your Happiness

The Lucksmiths’ 2005 album, Warmer Corners was a huge surprise. Not only had I only heard about them in passing, but I didn’t even know they had been working on anything. After getting it from the kind folks at Matinee, I quickly fell in love. That’s why I proceeded to pester Marty Donald for almost five months about agreeing to an interview. Amid taking time off for his new child, Marty was gracious enough to discuss the band’s growth and his personal involvement in the band.

How’s the songwriting process for you guys? Do you all have well-defined roles, or is it pretty democratic?

It varies. Generally speaking, Mark brings his songs to the band more or less fully formed, with each part written; Tali tends to have a few lyrics and a melody and we work from there. My songs fall somewhere between: I’ve usually got the words done (or nearly), the chords, and a rough idea of the arrangement. I may have written another little guitar part, or a bit of the bassline, or something. Once it’s brought to the band, though, we tend to flesh out the arrangement collaboratively. In fact, we have been regularly mocked (mainly by our producer, Craig Pilkington) for how democratic we are.

What are your feelings about the Lucksmiths often being cited as a major influence among the newer generation of musicians?

It’s flattering, if you’re to be believed. Precisely how flattering, of course, depends on how much I like those bands.

As Australian musicians, do you feel like there’s any pressure to crack the American/European markets? How have America/Europe responded to you during tours, etc?

Thankfully, we’re not a band that has ever thought in terms of “cracking markets”, or we would have given up and got proper jobs long ago. But, to our surprise, we discovered when we first ventured overseas some years ago that it was possible for an independent band that almost no-one had heard of to turn up in a city on the other side of the world and play to an appreciative handful of people, and then do the same thing somewhere else the next night. It was also somewhat liberating: the Australian music scene is much smaller than that elsewhere (especially in the US), and we’d never really felt like part of a “scene” as such at home, so it was a revelation to go overseas and play with like-minded bands to like-minded crowds. Our biggest audiences remain in Australia, particularly in our home town, Melbourne; but in many ways, I feel that overseas audiences often seem to “get” us more than those at home.

You’ve said before that, while your songs seem personal, most are works of your imagination. Do you find yourself more attached to songs that are based in real occurrences, or those that you’ve invented?

I don’t think it matters, really; my fondness for a certain song generally has more to do with how successful I feel it was, from an artistic viewpoint. Having said that, though, I suppose (since you’ve given me cause to think about it) there are some songs of mine that I feel particularly attached to because of their more personal nature. “Requiem for the Punters Club” is one that comes to mind.

In what ways would you say Warmer Corners is different from your older material?

I think each of our albums shows some sort of progression from what’s come before it. In terms of the songs I contributed to Warmer Corners, I’d like to think they display a greater understanding of some of the more “classic” tenets of songwriting than my earlier songs. I paid more attention than I once did to the melodic aspect, for example, rather than just the lyrics; a lot of the songs have a greater melodic range, and utilise Tali’s lovely voice more than much of our older stuff did.

The most obvious difference on Warmer Corners, however, is the contribution of Louis Richter. While there have been a number of “fourth Lucksmiths” over the years, this was the first time Mark and Tali and I had the experience of working with someone else from the beginning of the writing process all the way through. And as a result, Louis’s parts seem a lot more integral to the songs; rather than just icing-on-the-cake sort of stuff, his contribution is more like eggs or butter. His musicianship — and the fact that we’re all somewhat better musicians now than we used to be (you’d hope so, after this long) — enabled us to take a more sophisticated approach in some of the arrangements, too.

Was there ever a point in which being in the Lucksmiths ceased to be fun?

There have been several — two sleepless, flu-ridden, homesick nights in a Madrid hotel spring immediately to mind — but fortunately they have always been followed fairly quickly by a moment that reminds me why I’m in a band — this band — and that I love it. Usually.

What does the future hold for The Lucksmiths?

The four of us haven’t been in the same room for the better part of a year now; Mark has been living in London since our US tour wound up in May 2005. But we have a new EP about to come out: the title track, “A Hiccup in Your Happiness”, is taken from Warmer Corners, and there are three new b-sides which I think sound great. One (“To Absent Votes”) was left over from the Warmer Corners sessions; the other two are brand new. And we’re about to start rehearsing for an Australian tour of sorts (more a series of shows, really), which will be followed by a trip to Europe later in the year. Beyond that, who can say? More recording and touring, a split over artistic differences, ill-fated solo careers, book deals, a wildly successful reformation tour where we finally win the recognition that eluded us for so long, our own TV show, and an ugly descent into alcoholism. That’s the plan.

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