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Angus Gill Unpacks Every Song On His New Album ‘Departure & Arrival’

21 August 2023 | 3:15 pm | Ellie Robinson

“I wanted to step away from my own life and stick my nose into other people’s lives and tell their stories, whether the truth, or a lie that points to the truth.”

Angus Gill

Angus Gill (Supplied)

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Last Friday (August 18) saw Golden Guitar winner Angus Gill release his fifth studio album, Departure & Arrival. It’s some of his strongest material to date, following up on The Scrapbook (which arrived in September 2021) with a rousing palette of country, blues and folk flavours.

It was a notably personal effort for Gill, having been inspired by his publisher, Philip Mortlock, to produce an album comprised entirely of his own songs and lyrics. Six of the album’s nine songs were written entirely by Gill, while the remaining three were minted in tandem with Billy Miller (of The Ferrets fame).

With the album out and already making waves in the Australian country world, Gill sat down to explore each track on Departure & Arrival in detail for Countrytown.

1. April Fools

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I was listening to Gretchen Peters’ version of a great Mickey Newbury song I Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In). I was struck by the line, “someone painted April Fool in big black letters on a dead end sign.” Such a visual line. I wrote April Fools down as a title on my phone and it didn’t leave me alone. I had the opening line first, “I kissed you at half past dark/near a fading rock painting in the shape of a shark.”

I was picturing two fading lovers on the Port Macquarie break wall. An image I’m familiar with, growing up on the Mid North Coast. Bill Chambers & TC Cassidy recorded a great country ballad version of this song on TC’s Golden Guitar nominated album Travelling Heart. I wanted to record a version that sounded as if Joe Cocker & Leon Russell joined a circus bound for Detroit City. I love Cameron Bruce and Dan Kelly’s unhinged solos on this.

2. You Wouldn’t Steal A Heart

This song was inspired by the annoying piracy ad that you couldn’t skip that was at the start of every DVD you ever rented from Network Video...oh there’s a trip down memory lane! It was just another title in my phone at first. It’s often how a song starts out for me. I believe a strong title already has the DNA of a strong idea contained within it and it’s our job to uncover that, chipping away everything that doesn’t look like David.

You Wouldn’t Steal a Heart was the second song Billy Miller and I wrote together. I really enjoy working with Billy, because I get to focus on being the lyricist, while he’s the composer. There’s a lot of guitar playing and cups of tea involved in our writing sessions. When we got into the studio, Billy encouraged me to play the solo and the leads on this song, as well as on Something Fishy and a bit on Can’t Kiss You Over Coffee.

3. Departure & Arrival

I started this idea in 2020. My publisher Philip Mortlock encouraged me to create more time to work on some solo songs. I think the original hook for this was “between somewhere and now” which thankfully morphed into “somewhere between departure & arrival”, after I read Alain De Botton’s book The Art of Travel. Departure & Arrival is a commentary on the transitory state we’re living in, trying to push through the mundane to get to the next riveting moment of our lives. On the surface, there’s a wry sense of humour in the lyric, but a deeper, more poignant subtext is bubbling away underneath.

4. Little Green Man

I was reading Trent Dalton’s bestselling book Love Stories during the ’21 lockdown. The chapter titled The Crossing really moved me and I started jotting down a few lyric ideas about the story of a 12 year old daughter and her father, approaching a set of traffic lights on Queen Street in Brisbane. The song’s narrative takes place in the space of about 30 seconds, as the father & daughter experience a closeness, in front of the flashing Little Green Man, as they cross Queen Street.

I wrote the lyric over a few weeks and when I had something I considered close to finished, I flicked it over to Billy. He sent me this beautiful musical arrangement, which perfectly complimented the lyric. Cameron Bruce compared the track we cut in the studio as reminiscent of Joni Mitchell’s The Hissing of Summer Lawns era. I sent the finished song to Trent and I got a beautiful email back, “It's so flipping beautiful mate! To turn something you read into such a beautiful song about fathers and daughters and time and life ... well... that's about the best thing I could ever think happening! It means so much to me, as a father of daughters myself.”

5. Crying Out For Love

Last year, a good mate of mine, Alan Mackey and I got into the habit of emailing each other a song title and setting ourselves the challenge of trying to do something with it. One week, Alan sent me this title, Crying Out for Love. I let it percolate for a few days, then I thought of the hook “waiting, wishing, crying out for love.” I was a point with my solo writing, where I wanted a few songs with interesting feels, so I started writing lyrics to drum grooves. I found this latin drum groove in Garageband, which reminded me of Paul Simon’s Rhythm of the Saints record and I started to write the lyric for Crying Out For Love to this groove. It’s unlike anything I’ve done before. It’s very much fusing what I do, my storytelling, wit and lyricism with world music - an infectious latin pulse.

6. Can’t Kiss You Over Coffee

I got the idea for Can’t Kiss You Over Coffee after I went out on a date with a girl who suggested we go for coffee...because nothing screams “just friends” like a medium latte on almond. Suffice to say that relationship fizzled out like a coffee machine at 2pm, but I did come away with an idea. I took this to Billy and we wrote the chorus quite quickly but we ran out of time, kinda forgot about it and a year later we finished it off over email.

Billy brought some great ideas to this project, production wise. He’d often talk about working with Molly Meldrum on The Ferrets’ Dreams of a Love album and how Molly was a stickler for introducing a new instrument/element per section.

7. Start Up The Old Dance Again

I was reading a lot of Bukowski last year and I came upon a compilation of letters he’d sent to various people, titled On Writing (not to be confused with Stephen King’s book of the same title). I remember seeing the line, “and then I start up the old dance.” I knew that was an idea I needed to write. It bugged me for a while and one day, it just poured out of me, mostly fully formed, like a welcome reward after a hard slog streak. It’s quite a multi-layered song. It operates on a surface level, but there’s a greater issue being confronted, when you dig below the rocks. It was a thrill to have one of my favourite pedal steel players, Lucky Oceans (Asleep at the Wheel) play on this one too.

8. Something Fishy

This is a spoken word blues piece, written mostly in Iambic Pentameter, to the same structure as Shakespeare’s O For a Muse of Fire soliloquy. My friend Steve Earle told me he used the structure of that soliloquy as a basis for a few of his spoken word pieces. I’ve wanted to write a monologue piece put to music for a long time, but I never quite had the right story for it, until I started working on this piece about my Grandad and his mate Henry, who found the body of a convicted criminal while out fishing.

They did an Underbelly series on it and of course, my Grandpa was miffed by his portrayal as ‘an old man in a ragged hat.’ We cut the band track and my vocal in a single take and Cameron Bruce had a ball playing Theremin on this. I also had a musical saw player from Greece, Nikos Giousef feature on this.

9. I’m Just Gonna Grab A Sandwich

I’ve become a big Steely Dan fan over the last few years - I blame it on Eric McCusker! He’s got me hooked! I was watching an interview with LA guitarist Jay Graydon and he was talking about how meticulous Fagen and Becker were in the studio. Jay and a string of other A-list session guitarists came in to play a solo on Peg (Jay’s solo made the record) and if Fagen and Becker didn’t like what the guitarist played, they’d say to Roger Nichols, “I’m just gonna grab a sandwich.” That meant “off with their head.” I decided to write a lyric for this title, from the perspective of an underworld figure at the end of his life.

When I’d finished the lyric, I liked what I had, but I didn’t know what the musical foil was going to be. My friend Alan Mackey convinced me to keep pursuing it. I’m glad that he did. There’s several character based songs on this record and this one rounds it out. I feel like I’ve found my voice with this collection of songs, as I didn’t have to compromise much on what I wanted to say. It’s always been important for me to have a slightly different focus with each album project, lyrically and sonically. I wanted to step away from my own life and stick my nose into other people’s lives and tell their stories, whether the truth, or a lie that points to the truth.