On February 20th Heath Cullen returns to The Street to launch his freshly minted third album, OUTSIDERS. Recorded over just two days at the legendary Sing Sing studios with Elvis Costello’s longtime band The Imposters, this recording marks the first occasion that The Imposters as a unit have collaborated with a singer other than Costello – quite a coup for a lad from the NSW far south coast.
Heath Cullen talks to The Street in this week’s latest STREET TALK.
“Cullen mines a well where names such as Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits float to the surface.” – Weekend Australian
WHAT WAS THE FIRST CONCERT YOU EVER WENT TO?
Apparently my parents took me to see Neil Young & Crazy Horse when I was 3 yrs old. And I’d wager that could well be the reason for my chosen occupation.
HOW DO YOU CREATE? IS THERE A PROCESS THAT YOU ALWAYS GO THROUGH TO GET INTO THE SONGWRITING HEAD SPACE, OR DOES IT JUST STRIKE ANYWHERE/ANYTIME?
There’s no formula or set process, apart from donning the suitable hat & boots and heading out into the field for a day’s work. Songwriting to me, as with any creative endeavour, is a job of work: you must make time & space for it, but: you must also be on call and ready to work anywhere, anytime that The Muse presents herself.
Some songs will arrive unannounced and you just can’t hide from them, like a flock of wild birds. I have a few songs that came that way. Silver Wings is one of those, and Two Left Feet is another. Silver Wings just blew in the window one day… I don’t know how else to describe it. Others are made up of odd spare parts, found objects, and you have to work hard to make the pieces fit together. Some lines you found while you were sweeping up. It’s a hard thing to pin down.
I think the most important part of it is that you have to accept the fact that when you go to work, every day, most or much of what you make may be completely useless, no good, shit. And you have to be aware that that is not a failure, it’s just part of the process. Sometimes it takes ten pages of useless crap to come up with one or two golden lines.
ARE YOU SUPERSTITIOUS? IS THERE A PROCESS THAT YOU ALWAYS LIKE TO GO THROUGH BEFORE STEPPING OUT ON STAGE?
As for pre-show rituals: I like to have a little time by myself if I can. A quiet peaty Scotch occasionally does the trick too.
REVIEWERS HAVE LIKENED YOUR SOUND TO THAT OF TOM WAITS AND LEONARD COHEN, WOULD YOU LIST THOSE GUYS AMONGST YOUR INFLUENCES?
Absolutely, it’s difficult not to mention names like that when you’re in the troubadour business. People like that have cut wide paths through the dense underbrush. But if I were to make a list, it would be a mile long, in fact I wouldn’t know where to stop. My first heroes were people like Woody Guthrie, Patti Smith, Jimmy Reed, Johnny Cash. But that list could go on and on, it’s endless really. Today when I think in terms of who inspires me, I’m inspired by the people I choose to fill my life with. My heroes and greatest influences are my dearest friends and collaborators.
WHEN YOU JUST WANT TO RELAX, WHICH ALBUMS ARE YOU PLAYING?
I’ve been loving the new LOW record, Ones and Sixes. Lots of David Bowie lately, of course. Aaron Embry’s Tiny Prayers is a favourite. My friend Steve Nieve has a solo piano record out called Lazy Point that I love to play when it’s raining. Much of my listening time right now is actually spent working on the final mixes for a new record I’ve been producing for Californian-born songwriter Michael Menager. We tracked the album in Los Angeles last year with a rhythm section built of Canberra’s Matt Nightingale & my dear friend / drummer of choice, Jim Keltner. The album, Not The Express comes out in April.
WHAT IS THE BEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU’VE EVER BEEN GIVEN?
Always wear your boots out in the garden, you never know what could be lurking there.
THIS IS YOUR ONLY AUSTRALIAN GIG BEFORE HEADING BACK TO THE U.S. WHAT’S THE INSIDE SCOOP ON WHAT COMES NEXT?
Adventures! I’ll be taking Outsiders overseas for some shows, and I’ll be starting on the writing & recording again. We’ll see where the road leads.
Thanks so much, HEATH!