Backsliders

Backsliders latest album, their fifteenth, Bonecrunch is their most varied release to date. The twelve tracks represent a band with varied musical influences from swamp-blues feels on Dog in the Fight and Tea & Sugar Train, intense blues riffs on No Know-How and Bad Recruit; surf sounds
on Tombstoning; to the eccentric Obake [Ghost] where 1960s Japanese soundtrack music meets dub-reggae. Dom Turner from the band goes through their latest album with Hi Fi Way.

Congratulations on the album, were you worried that you would never get there taking a while to write these songs?
It did seem a bit like that. We originally planned to start the album about 18 months ago but with all our touring projects, including Backsliders, it just didn’t happen. I suppose one of the positives of current times is that we were able to refocus on the song writing and recording.

What is the story behind the Backsliders and how did you both meet?
It’s a long story. I started the band in 1986 and we’ve been touring and recording ever since – Bonecrunch is our fifteenth album. There has been a few line-up changes over the years and the band is now essentially me and drummer, Rob Hirst who joined in 2000 when the original drummer left. We’ve been friends since the 1990s when Rob came along to a Backsliders gig.

How did the creative process work?
With each album we usually aim to co-write as many tracks as possible, interspersed with individually written tracks and a few versions of early blues songs. The co-writing is always a really smooth process, generally starting with either partially written musical ideas, or ideas that spawn from improvisational sessions in a rehearsal studio. We then match pieces with lyrical ideas / themes – sometimes brainstormed or at times written completely by one of us.

Did you spend much time rehearsing or was it a matter of once you had the idea go and record it?
We do rehearse before recording, but it is only for a few days. Part of our approach is to keep ideas fresh and at times evolving. There is always an element of surprise in how we approach playing a song, either live or when recording. So it was the same with this album. We go in with a scaffold and then develop songs as we record.

Did everything go to plan during the recording process?
Wonderfully so! A big part of that is working with Jim Moginie at Oceanic Studios in Sydney. We’ve done the last five albums at Oceanic and have a really fabulous working relationship with Jim and the studio, so much so that Jim co-produces with Rob and me. Backsliders is an unusual band to record for a number of reasons, one being little or no appearance of bass guitar, a concept that draws on Mississippi hill country blues music approaches. So this means the guitar, as well as the bass drum, work together and are mixed in a different fashion to how a rock band would. Jim gets it and so the mix and in fact the whole process is seamless.

As well, there was a lot of creative moments on the fly so to speak which really added to the album. Probably the best example is Obake [Ghost] the ‘dub’ meets ‘reggae’ meets ‘soundtrack for The Munsters’. The Japanese lyrics, and Jim’s addition of Vibraphone were all done on the spot. The song was originally instrumental, but a mysterious noise in the studio sparked the idea for Japanese Obake (Ghost) story lyrics.

Sonically, how would you describe the Backsliders?
A gritty guitar-drum riff-based sound. We are drawing from early rural blues as well as Mississippi hill country blues traditions as the basis for everything – even tracks that may appear on the surface as rock. So everything we do has a strong riff-based focus and is sonically raw, gritty and at times degraded. It’s a generally heavy sound influenced by the sonic approach of artists such as Hound Dog Taylor, RL Burnside, Junior Kimbrough and Fred McDowell.

Are there any plans to tour this album?
We have a launch in Sydney at Camelot Lounge on December 5 as well as Bluesfest in 2021. There will be further gigs announced in 2021.

What’s next for Backsliders?
Releasing an album immediately means thinking about the next. And of course touring.

Interview By Rob Lyon

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