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Troy Cassar-Daley Stokes The Fire: ‘There Is Still Hope And I Never Want To Give Up On It’

9 May 2024 | 1:02 pm | Noel Mengel

A grieving Troy Cassar-Daley felt he had lost his musical mojo after the death of his parents. He reveals how he found it again in the house where he grew up for new album ‘Between The Fires’.

Troy Cassar-Daley

Troy Cassar-Daley (Supplied)

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Troy Cassar-Daley knows all about what it takes to keep the creative fires burning.

Or at least he thought he did. After all, his 30 years as one of this country’s most popular singers and songwriters had produced those 32 #1 country singles, 40 Golden Guitar Awards and a loyal audience always hungry to hear what he does next.

But sitting in his home studio, guitar in hand, he had to admit it: it felt like that creative fire that he had kept fuelled for so long was going out. And he was keenly aware that if you aren’t feeling it as a songwriter, no one else will feel it either.

Cassar-Daley says: “I lost my father in 2019, and then my mum. She was still living at the house in Halfway Creek [in northern New South Wales] where I grew up. When key people in your life are gone, it gives you a new perspective on where you’re life’s heading. You have to be prepared for change all through your life, and I get that now. It takes a big readjustment.”

These were not the only things weighing heavily on his mind. “Laurel [his wife, Brisbane radio announcer Laurel Edwards] and I hit a rough patch too because I had pretty much shut everyone out. She had her own things to deal with and it put us in a pretty precarious situation. I was struggling with grief and I was very scared that the light was going out in our relationship too.

“It felt like growing up as an only child and with Mum a single parent, that puts a lot of pressure and expectation on the relationship with that parent. When that history was gone, it sent me spiralling and I thought my heart was pretty much empty. The inspiration to sit and write was gone.

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“I was floundering. I thought, ‘I am not healing sitting here,’ so I would pack up the car with a guitar, pedals and an amp, and I would go down to Mum’s old place and mow the lawn. My brain was just dead but the more I went around and around on that lawn, the more I thought, ‘No, there is hope.’ I sat out next to the fire, listened to the birds, listened to my country, and that helped me heal. Once I lit that fire, it not only helped start me writing but also to repair the other things in my life.”

Cassar-Daley moved to that house when he was nine: “I picked up the guitar there, wrote my first songs there, did my first recordings there on a little Tascam four-track. It all began listening to vinyl with Mum there, people like Merle Haggard, and a record collection that had everything from The Eagles to Tom Petty and Creedence.”

In the place where he wrote his first songs, Cassar-Daley began again with a new song. “I did a demo and that was playing the next time I went back to Halfway Creek as I opened the gate. I could hear it loud and clear, explaining where I am living, what I was feeling. And I thought, here is the key to the door.”

The song is called Between The Fires, the title track and the first thing you hear on Cassar-Daley’s 12th studio album of original material, recorded with his band gathered around him in that childhood home. “Where is the light that used to guide me?” he sings. “Now I use the dark just to hide me / My lighthouse is gone, how am I going to find my way home?”

Cassar-Daley says: “This was the deepest feeling of emptiness and loss I’ve ever had. I was living pretty much between the fire that I was lighting down at Halfway Creek and the dwindling flame which was our relationship.”

He is heartened by the response to his raw honesty and heartfelt vocal performance since the song was released as a single: “I hope it makes people feel what I did when I was writing the song to get me out of where I was.”

The emptiness and grief made him feel as if he was at a crossroads in his career too. “I was at a stage in life where you get comfortable,” he says. “Are you going to be on autopilot to make another record or do you push yourself and your audience to come with you too? That’s always a challenge when you get this far down the line.”

Working individually with members of Cold Chisel threw more fuel on the fire. “Touring with Ian Moss on the Red Hot Summer tour also changed my outlook because it was such a different thing for me. It was something that no one expected Ian to do either,” Cassar-Daley says.

Another song that pointed the way forward was Cassar-Daley’s Shutting Down Our Town, recorded by Jimmy Barnes album for 2019 album My Criminal Record. “That changed the way I look at things too. I might be a country act but I have to be a country act that is different to the last time I made a record. Ian and I really connected on a lot of different levels and that Red Hot Summer tour was what I needed to get past that crossroads, then to put the foot down and keep going.”

Cassar-Daley is of Gumbaynggirr/Bundjalung heritage and has often sung about the importance of home and getting back in touch with nature and country. But this album digs deeper into his personal story than he has ever gone.

Congratulations and Thank You are bookends of the story about his relationship with Laurel. “The first song says, ‘Congratulations, we finally pushed each other away.’ Thankful is the other side of the story, where I’m just thankful that we got through.”

Old Road Home is about laying burdens down on a trip back home. Let’s Ride, with Kasey Chambers as co-vocalist, celebrates the freedom and clarity found out on the road. Every Other Day articulates Cassar-Daley’s response as he shut himself off from the world.

“Because I was so down and everyone knew it, I sort of got the shits with people trying to help me and it’s wrong to do that. Anthony Field of The Wiggles gave me a banjo as a gift. I opened the case and one of the first things that fell out was the melody line for Every Other Day. The song is saying, ‘Can you just step back for a minute and leave me alone? Stop sending books about being an orphan because I lost my mum and dad.’ The troubles are deeper and darker than that.”

We Still Have A Chance uses personal experience, life coming at you hard in the schoolyard, to talk about more universal matters, the questions that divide us. The rejection of the Yes proposition for the Voice made for a difficult year for many Indigenous Australians. “I have never written about the schoolyard before and the things said that can really hurt,” Cassar-Daley says. “Then I looked at the political climate and for some reason it feels like we are trying to turn into America.

“We don’t have to be America. We are Australia. I have also felt a shift in things for Aboriginal people in my lifetime, a small one but a shift nonetheless. Others in my family have felt that too. There is still hope and I never want to give up on it. The Voice rocked a lot of people around me. I had to check up on them and say, this is not the end of the game. We’ve got to keep believing.”

Cassar-Daley had Cold Chisel on his mind as he wrote the rollicking rockabilly workout Til I Get Over You – so he sent the song to Don Walker, who helped finesse the lyrics.

Windradyne tells the story of the Aboriginal warrior who led the fight in the Bathurst War, the frontier war between his Wiradjiri people and British settlers. Some Days takes on the advice from Troy’s father: “If you worry about what people say / You’re going to worry your life away / It just ain’t worth it in the end.”

A curlew’s cry introduces Dreams, with its vivid recall of childhood. “I had heard curlews all over,” Cassar-Daley says, “but I had never heard one at Halfway Creek, ever. Late one night I did and taped it on my phone. I played it to my son who is knowledgeable about birds. He said that sounds like one bird, not two calling to each other the way we usually hear them. And it sounds like it’s in distress. I said, ‘That’s a mirror of how I was feeling.’

“When you record an album in the place where you learnt to play the guitar, that’s a full-circle moment. Mum passed away there and I felt her spirit right there with me.”

Between The Fires is out May 10 via Sony.