Earlier this year, Clare Hennessy dropped her debut EP April… and we were blown away. She seamlessly blended elements of country, folk, blues and rock to create something uniquely her own.
The songs she presented held a captivating sense of foreboding; a unique spin on gothic songwriting.
So we caught up with the artist herself for a run-down on Australia’s distinctive brand of gothic music.
Following the release of her debut EP earlier this year, we caught up with Clare Hennessy for a run-down on the unique world of Australian Gothic music.
I’m obsessed with music that bridges the gap between the mystery of our internal world with the mystery of our outside world – especially because it’s impossible to ignore the way that growing up in Australia has shaped our music.
When I was writing Bittersweetest, I wanted the music to be heavily influenced by Twin Peaks and Spaghetti Westerns; two things that draw heavily on the mysticism of their respective places.
The music of the American South is massively inspiring too – but it got me to noticing the striking similarities in the music that springs up: it’s deeply rooted in the land (and sounding a bit scary).
When Australia got hold of Americana gothic, it mutated into something and our own unique type of fear and wonder in the outdoors (think flicks like Wolf Creek and Picnic at Hanging Rock).
“Gothic” was also an inheritance from our colonial overlords, too, who were desperately afraid of the unknown (and probably themselves, let’s be real).
What I like to think, though, is that this music has sprung up as a way of making sense of ourselves and the harsh, beautiful external world around us.
“Australian Gothic” is a loose term, but really it’s anything you can imagine listening to as you drive out of a city, past a small backyard fire, rolling hills, abandoned buildings covered in dust or cows on a road and think, “gee, that’s pretty much me in a nutshell“.
Next time you take your inner turmoil to the open road, give these songs a listen:
The Waifs – Higher Ground
Immediately, I’m driving through Katherine, in the Northern Territory. Rooted in the instruments of a traditionally folk/country landscape, this song takes a departure from conventional in reflecting a very Australian attitude to perseverance: “water is rising, it’s an awful sound/carry my feet to the higher ground”. The subject’s undoubtedly rooted in disaster, but the gentle tenacity of the rhythm and the space allowed to congregate around the melodies results in something quite uplifting.
Ash Grunwald – Hammer
We could be following the heat around to Broome, Western Australia. The sound is a little grittier, some electric guitar charging alongside Ash’s warbling melodies. “They say ‘give a child a hammer, world become a nail, and I’ll die with a hammer in my hand'”.
Totally Mild – Today Tonight
The mood is unmistakable dissatisfied: “sitting in the house all day I wait for you to come home / I am strong and sensible but I don’t want to be alone”. I’m thinking hot tropics now and the stifling claustrophobia of a summer night in coastal Queensland. The tremolo of the electric guitar is a bit of a rogue addition to an otherwise strictly ‘folk’ representation here, but I think it’s creating a strong sense of mood that proves a dark, gothic mood isn’t restrained to a singular ‘folk’ sound.
Cloud Control – Dream Cave
This was actually recorded in the Janolan Caves in the Blue Mountains of New South Whales. Given that the sound we’re hearing especially at the end of the song is water ricocheting inside the darkness of stalagmites and stalactites, it’s only fitting it makes an appearance here. “Here I am, I love it again, I’ll always be true” rings out with a haunting melancholy, the sound of a human trying to love somewhere dark and cold.
Leonie Kingdom – Night Terror
Initially, Leonie’s keeping it sparse with vocals and an acoustic guitar, arguably the staples of blues and it’s cousins, folk and country. She brings in the keys and some gorgeous strings to fill out the chorus that reminds me of driving along the coast and watching the sea rolling out. There’s a tension between the sweet timbre of her voice and the pain of the lyrics: “I never stood a chance / when I watched the devil dance”.
Marlon Williams – Vampire Again
I know Marlon is actually from New Zealand, but I think we can claim him for this, especially given the strong narrative and the literal references to a gothic theme here. It’s eeriness is increased even more when paired with nostalgic instrumentation, the dark made intriguing, creepy, but also sweet. I think of a community hall somewhere in summer, full of streamers and people longing to be outside.
Thelma Plum – Clair de Lune
This song is an absolutely gorgeous version of an already stunning song. Thelma’s rich yet delicate vocals conjure an image of an open sky in Tasmania, stars revealing themselves through treetops. The mood is dark and melancholic, but the fear of the unknown has been replaced with awe: “Don’t go, tell me the lights won’t change, tell me that you’ll feel the same and we’ll stay here forever”.
Basically, I think Australian Gothic is dark, melancholic, a bit theatrical (or just something vaguely emotional) that’s best with being outdoors, enjoying the world around us.