Q&A with The Cannanes

Photo Credit: Lance Hillier

Photo Credit: Lance Hillier

Hello Frances!  It’s so good to be able to touch base with you about your recent Small Batch EP and catch up on how you and Stephen are doing.  You’ve been going at it for a long while, first forming The Cannanes in 1984 and then segueing through various incarnations of the band to your current duo status.  What was the spark that ignited your desire to craft Small Batch?

It is always an honour to work with Stephen Hermann (Explosion Robinson and one-time member of Sukpatch), who  produced our Trouble Seemed So Far Away album, and I guess it just took a bit of time to get organised to get these recordings out. We are aiming to get another batch (small or otherwise) out in a year or so. That may be rather ambitious as Steve is in New York and very busy, but hey!, ‘aspiration’ is our middle name.

We have got a number of other recordings we have done over the last 10 years, so slowly they will make their appearances too. 

How is work coming along on your upcoming album, Howling At All Hours?  At what stage are you in the creative process?

It’s finished! It came out on 3 July on the Chapter label in Melbourne.  The creative process was short and sweet in one respect. We all gathered at Wipplegong, a large house with a studio surrounded by trees and greenery in Bendigo, an old gold town a couple of hours from Melbourne. 

We wrote the songs with everyone bringing contributions. There was a fair bit of fun recording late in the night with free flowing liquid refreshments. (The Bendigo Heathcote region is known for the quality of its red wines…shiraz etc) . We then gave the unruly mess to producer Lance Hillier who has tried to make heads or tails of it. He has done a pretty good job. It was an unenviable task really. He is a bit of a perfectionist and it must have been akin to torture for him.

The album has a lot of contributors and anyone would have to like at least one of the songs! I hope…. David Nichols is back on songwriting and drums and the combined songwriting and singing talents of Francesca Bussey, James Dutton, and Mia Schoen have been pressed into action. 

The Cannanes - Small Batch EP

The Cannanes – Small Batch EP

The imagery that the album title conjured up in my mind was at first someone howling at the moon, then the wind, and then a baby.  Did one of my visions hit the mark?  Is this imagery reflected in the sonics and/or lyrics of the album?

Well perhaps howling at the moon is relevant! And the wind…

It is actually also a Wordsworth reference which brings in horns and nature. And it is a reimagining of an album we did many years ago called Love Affair With Nature, though you’d have to be acutely observant and analytical to work out how.

Near the start of The Cannanes, Frances, you played bass and Stephan sang and played guitar.  Now you’re the singer.  How did this transformation come about?  Just FYI, nothing against Stephen’s vocals, but I think you’re tops as the vocalist of The Cannanes.

Well actually the first singers were Annabel and then Randall Lee (now in Ashtray Boy) . Both of them were much better singers than me but due to the passing of time I started doing it. It’s a lot easier to sing than play bass! Actually what I like best is writing the songs. Stephen is the passionate singer of the band. He should do more. Thank you for the compliment though. I am in a recording studio in Flagstaff as I write this. In studios and with sound engineers I am always acutely conscious of my lack of traditional singing talent. Sometimes they even point it out, which can be a bit daunting.

You’ve been playing some gigs in the U.S. recently, including NYC.  What’s the experience been like?  Do you flesh out your line-up for live performances?

We just played the one show in New York.  We were lucky to have Carlos Icaza from Mexico City on drums and Zac Engel from New York on bass with some cameos from Stephen Hermann and Alex Young. 

They were all great and we had fun at the show but it’s actually hard playing with different people. We only had 2 rehearsals.  I envy bands who earn enough money to have a stable lineup and travel with them. But really I should not be whinging. We are lucky to have played with some very talented people and to travel and play round the world. Amazing really…

Where is home base for you and Stephen?  You’re originally from Sydney, I think, or at least were based there for a length of time.  What is the appeal of Sydney, as opposed to other Australian cities like Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane, or Perth?

Well, we have spent most of Cannanes time in Sydney, but lately have been living in a city outside Melbourne called Bendigo. Not sure where we will be in a few years though.  All cities mentioned have something to offer! 

Photo Credit: Lance Hillier

Photo Credit: Lance Hillier

You have a long and rich musical history and have influenced and inspired a bevy of bands over the years.  What was the best ‘thank you’ you’ve gotten from members of other bands?

I guess the most surprising thing is bands with younger people knowing our stuff and covering songs. Actually, one good thing is most people who like the Cannanes tend to be in or form bands. We are the poster band for You can do it too!”

I have to admit I’m a bit fuzzy on your history as far as the revolving door of band members goes, so forgive me if I’m incorrect, but at some point did The Cannanes include members of the bands The Cat’s Miaow! and Fog & Ocean?

Well I might have to get on the internet and check exactly who was in those bands myself. Think David and Mia may have been Fog & Ocean. 

How did Stewart Anderson of Boyracer renown fit into the band?  You played a gig with Boyracer in 2011.  Was that a one-off and if so, how did that come about?

Well, as we speak we are in a studio recording a few songs for Stewart and Jen Turrell’s new label. We met Stewart in the UK and toured with him in England and Europe. He also made an album with us in Australia called Communicating at an Unknown Rate that is one of my favourite albums we have done.

 Your lyrics can be a bit bittersweet and regretful and your vocals a little downcast, like on “Crawler”, but somehow your music always maintains a certain level of buoyancy.  Is this a deliberate attempt to counteract any maudlin tendencies?

 That is rather observant of you. It’s certainly not a deliberate attempt to do anything, but certainly to be too maudlin would seem rather self important and I think avoiding pretentiousness is a major aim, though we do not always succeed.

 If you had to pick a favorite song out of your back catalog, which would it be and why?  I know it’s one of your newer songs, but I just love “Tiny Compartment”.  It’s just so melodic, compact, and fun.

Yeah, “Tiny Compartment” is good. Did you see the video David made for it? It’s funny.  I think I would choose “You Name It” or “Frightening Thing” or “Robert” or “Hey Leopard” or “Lamington Lane” or “Treasure the Light”. 

Lastly, can you please list your official site?  Thanks so much!