Singer-Songwriter Jeff Lang took some time out of his busy schedule to chat with Glam Adelaide writer Gavin de Almeida about his latest release ‘I live In My Head A Lot These Days’, which was released on May 16. We also got to hear about Jeff”s choice of guitar as well as his tour that kicks off in Adelaide this Friday the 6th June at Nexus.
GlamAdelaide: Your album title ‘I live in my head a lot these days’ seems a bit loaded. Is there a story behind it? Nostalgia? Self-analysis?
Jeff Lang: It was actually suggested to me by a friend of mine in Canada. Almost any phrase could potentially become an album title and adding “…the new album” after any particularly silly or crude comment in a conversation is a bit of a game between a few of us. When my mate Chris threw “I live in my head a lot these days” and followed it with “THERE’S your album title” I said “You know, I think you’re right…”
GA: How does this album diverge from your previous work? Take us through your career and where this album fits.
JL: You know, after each recording I get on with performing the songs and they tend to mutate and transform to varying degrees over time. So it’s not so easy for me to judge where a current release diverges from or compares to previous ones. Perhaps you can tell me?
GA: You’re a very talented slide guitarist, you seem to be able to generate a huge sound live. What type of slide guitar do you use and do you use additional guitar effects or rely upon a ‘natural’ sound?
JL: The concept of a ‘natural’ sound is somewhat fraught really when you’re amplifying an acoustic guitar. Once it’s through a PA it’s not so much a case of it being a ‘natural’ sound, more (for me at least) getting something that sounds good to me. The lap steel I use at gigs is made by David Churchill in Ballarat and I’ve put a lot of time and attention into getting a sound through any PA system that sounds big, full, rich and dynamic. Basically that involves combining a couple of sources from the guitar, giving them their own preamp and EQ. That comprises the ‘acoustic’ portion of the sound. Then I split one of the sources through a volume pedal that I use to bring in the overdriven, ‘electric guitar’ type of tone from the same guitar. I’ve been doing that live for some 19 years now, as a way of getting a range of texture from the instrument to fit the varying moods of the material. The result can range from sweet and acoustic-sounding to raw, bare-wire voltage-enhanced feedback and all points between.
GA: You’ve got a strong, expressive narrative element to your lyricism. Do you consciously base your stories on observations and experiences or are you more driven by imagination.
JL: Thanks. I’m into songwriting, it’s what drives the whole ship for me. It can be a mixture of the things you mentioned. I more often write out of imagined stories and scenarios in a stream-of-consciousness fashion.
GA: Your strong silky voice has an almost effortless feel to it. Having performed for so long are you now at your peak as a singer, or is your voice as good now as it ever was?
JL: Sometimes I feel like I’m hitting my straps as a singer, other times I feel like I’m struggling. It’s night to night and not always for reasons I can fathom. I always enjoy it though. Hopefully there’s plenty of areas to explore yet.
GA: What are the best acoustic guitars you’ve ever played on and which do you prefer? Do you like Australian-made Matons and Cole Clarkes or major international brands like Taylors, Martins etc? (Or others.)
JL: David Churchill’s guitars are by far my favourite wood-bodied acoustic guitars. He’s in Ballarat. I’ve been playing his instruments for some 24 years. I also have various resonator guitars, one made by Don Morrison in Adelaide, one from Greg Beeton in Newcastle, NSW and the one I’m gigging with lately is made by Steve Evans in New Zealand. Liz Stringer and Charles Jenkins use Matons and their guitar sound is always good, and Martins are always worth a play but i’ve got my stable together.
GA: About ten years ago or so there seemed to be a bit of an explosion in blues and roots with acts like Ben Harper, Jack Johnson and in Australia the hugely successful John Butler Trio. Were you caught up in this wave and did it impact your career?
JL: The popularity of the artists you mentioned did see a general upswing of interest in “roots-based” music, so that was nice to see. But I don’t sound that much like any of them, and maybe I write about weirder subjects so I wasn’t squarely inside of that wave. It did help though, having John Butler dropping my name in interviews as an influence, definitely. Cheers John!
GA: With the huge rise of electronic music amongst younger generations, it appears the proportion of people into guitar-based music has lessened. Are there any young up and coming guitarists in your ilk that you think can re-engage younger fans?
JL: Has it? I wouldn’t know what ‘the kids’ are listening to these days, I’m 44! Haha! Ash Grunwald has loads of younger fans at his shows and they’re listening to him reinterpreting Howling Wolf songs. I don’t know, I guess it goes in stages. I saw footage recently of Courtney Barnett on US prime-time TV, ripping some telecaster solos and singing idiosyncratic songs. So that was great to see. Kim Churchill and Shaun Kirk are young dudes getting a following with pretty rootsy music. I think the scene will be okay. There are a bunch of quality songwriters around Melbourne right now. And it seems there’s always someone who’s intrigued enough by the songs their favourite artists sing to explore their influences I reckon.
GA: What can Adelaide audiences expect from your show?