As they embark on their maiden headline tour Jordan Brady and James Draper from Winterbourne chat about their busking days in Pitt Street Mall, growing as a folk band in an electronic dominated world and recording new material. That’s not before consuming a hefty amount of donuts before our interview.
Photos by Liam Cameron
HAPPY: Are donuts the official Winterbourne food then?
JAMES: No not dumplings. Do you know a place called Din Thai Fung? We’re in the city a lot and in Pitt Street mall there’s the Din Thai Fung dumpling/ noodle soup, it’s spicy and we’re huge fans. We’re pretty obsessed.
JORDAN: It’s quite expensive but if we make enough money…
JAMES: We took our manager there and they were like “I recognise the name of this place from your bank statements” (laughs).
JORDAN: At least twice a week, 40 bucks a go. But we can’t take it on tour with us.
HAPPY: Surely as long time customers you can work out some kind of deal?
JAMES: We should’ve worked out some kind of sponsorship deal!
HAPPY: Well it is your first big headline tour, with fifteen dates. Is that the biggest run of shows you’ve played?
JAMES: Yeah. When we play supports we’d only play a couple. It’s exciting. It’s not too daunting because we’ve done all those support shows. The only difference is when we showed up we realised we have to plan and entertain everyone for the whole day. We have to keep the support act happy, which isn’t too hard, but it’s a whole different thing to be the headline act.
JORDAN: The hard part will be when we only have two songs left for time and we’ll have to stop!
HAPPY: So what’s the difference for you between playing supports and being the top dog on tour?
JAMES: The way we do our sets is obviously longer, we just try to plan it out and give people a headline performance rather than a set we’d play as a support act when you’d only play six songs and not worry about making everyone enjoy the whole evening. Whereas the headline everyone is there to see you and you have to be what they’re expecting you to be. We’re just trying to get the set to that standard and play in an interesting way rather than just trying to get through the songs.
HAPPY: And if you do run out of time you can always just pick up your guitars and continue the set as a busking sesh.
JAMES: Well we are playing The Lair at The Metro and we’ve played there before. It was sold out and there were heaps of people. We tried to go down and sign stuff for people but they shoo you out of there really quick, sop we’re thinking maybe we should set up a table outside on the street and say “We’re going to be outside, if you want some mercy come on out“.
HAPPY: There’s a pub across the road with a nice lane you could easily do that in.
JORDAN: You never know who’ll be out on a Sunday night…
JAMES: Yeah we might be facing a lawsuit.
JORDAN: Some people may need chaperones if we’re hanging in an alleyway.
JAMES: The gig is all ages but the mercy desk is over 18! (laughs).
HAPPY: Well I was thinking how you guys are acoustic focused, and for what it’s worth you’re doing pretty well with that niche. When you think about the larger music scene there is a looming electronic movement, so how do you maintain visibility as a band in this environment?
JAMES: I think we’ve been lucky because we’ve done the busking stuff. We’ve built our own little fan base, even if we’re not doing the trendy thing. Folk has become a little more trendy but we don’t want to be the guys who just do folk now, we have band now and we want play as many shows with the full band as we can. I feel like we’re going to more of a rock place. That’s where we started out before we went a bit more folky. So I guess we may end up with the next record going away from the standard folk we did on the first EP, because that’s really old. It will always be…
JAMES: Yeah. It’s lucky we had the busking because that definitely helped. You don’t need to be on radio or be the cool kids in town, you just need to be good. So we’ve been lucky that that worked out.
HAPPY: Hey even Mumford and Sons changed things up and went, as they say, electro.
JAMES: Which sucks for us as people always tell us “You guys are very Mumford and Sons“, and we were thinking we’ll get away from that because we’ve got the full band. We’ve got a drummer and it’s a bit more rock n’ roll. And they’ve gone and said “Our next album is gonna be rock with electronic“. Far out! We’ll always be in the shadow of Mumford and Sons.
HAPPY: It intrigues me that you say your core fans come from your busking days. Do people come to shows now that you know from busking?
JORDAN: Yeah. People feel like they’ve discovered a new act when they walk past you in Pitt Street. They get really excited, they’ll follow it up and find your Facebook page. Whereas on the radio people are gonna hear a song but if they don’t hear it all the time they’re gonna lose interest. But if someone is on the street and they think they’re really good and buy their EP, the discover they’re playing a show they’ll go. So it’s a really loyal fan base because people think they’re a part of us, which they are. We really like the fans that come from busking and everyone has a story of how they found us at busking.
HAPPY: Do you still see those guys at your show now?
JAMES: When we just did Melbourne I asked everyone where they’d seen us. We’d just did the Patrick James tour and the Little May tour. So when I asked who’d seen us at busking it was about a quarter of them there. We definitely got a solid fan base from busking. All those years paid off.
HAPPY: Do you try and bring elements of busking to your headline tour?
JAMES: Just the interest. We always had to grab people’s attention because it’d be really loud where we’d busk, so we bring that to the stage. It’s different when people pay to see you. You don’t have to desperately stop people to listen.
JORDAN: Which is still what we’re getting used to as well.
JAMES: There’s people singing along which is totally different, but I think also we’re able to engage with people better because we got a lot of confidence through busking. We always end up chatting with people after busking. Not just fans…
JORDAN: Just people on the street.
JAMES: You’re in a mall, there’s no mystique. (laughs) “Oh my God, it’s those guys from outside Myer!” (laughs). You don’t really have that vibe, so it’s exciting for people to see us doing a show because there is that cool mystique factor.
JORDAN: Then we open our mouths and they realise that we’re not really that mysterious at all. We’re just comedians trying a music career.
HAPPY: See, Myer could’ve been another sponsorship deal!
JAMES: Yeah! We’re still trying.
JORDAN: They don’t like us, we’re a bit loud.
JAMES: It’s a bit scary, every now and then I’ll meet someone who works at Myer and say “I hear your songs threes times a week“. I’m like “I’m so sorry. You must know all the words without wanting to“. Then they come to a show.
HAPPY: Do they really?
JAMES: We’ve had a couple. We used to sit in the seats in the mall and we’d talk to the Myer people who’d come out for a smoke. It’s weird because they weren’t the type of people you’d come in contact with but you’re forcing yourself upon them. I bet they hate us.
HAPPY: It would be so weird if they used one of your songs a few years from now in an ad.
JORDAN: But it would male perfect sense!
JAMES: Well last year we walked in after our set and we could hear our song playing, we were like “But, we finished?“
JORDAN: We went up to level three of Myer and they had our EP playing.
JAMES: That’s what we should say, “If you want to hear more of us come into Myer“, then they could give us money (laughs).
HAPPY: Well now that you’ve built up the fan base and your sound to this level, what’s the next step for you? You’ve gone from a busking platform to headliner, so how do you want to evolve as a band from there?
JAMES: I guess we want to be in a place where we can do bigger shows. Build it up to a point where we can tour confidently and we’d have plenty of people coming. We want to even out our fan base in Australia. We’re very strong in Sydney and Melbourne, but we haven’t branched out in other places. We have fans all around Australia but we haven’t got to them until this tour.
JORDAN: On this tour we’re going out to Wollongong, Byron, all those less accessible places and it’s working out pretty well with ticket sales. So it’s about getting out to more and more people. And getting some new music out as well.
JAMES: We’ll conquer Australia, then we’ll go somewhere else. This year we’re focusing on this tour and then another record.
HAPPY: Tell me about the new record.
JAMES: The last one, the songs were from a two year period. We picked the best ones and chucked five on a CD that we thought would work well together. But for the last year or so we’ve been writing more together, jamming to get a cool sound.
HAPPY: Have you any idea who you’d like to record with?
JAMES: We haven’t really started to look very much. The guy who plays bass for us, Andy, he did the production for our last EP. I don’t really see us doing it with anyone else. We’re most comfortable with him. We want this tour to be successful and once that’s happened then we’ll focus on getting all the songs together and all the logistics. It’s really fun, I love booking studio time and all that. It’s such an exciting process.
JORDAN: Yeah, when your sound starts to come together in the recording process. Especially when these songs are pretty new, so it’s going to be interesting to see how they come together.
HAPPY: I’m curious, what’s your writing process like? I know the guys in DZ Deathrays live in different cities and email each other.
JAMES: Well we don’t have that problem because we live fifteen minutes away from each other. We just drive (laughs). Usually it starts with me. I’ll come up with some chords and melody. Jordan will change one of those chords or a lyric, and there’s five percent (laughs). Lately we’ve just been jamming, and if we really like a melody or something we’ve been trying to discipline ourselves and try finish it. We’re not a band who writes thirty and picks some. We’re a band who writes seven.
JORDAN: If we finish a song, we like it. That’s our rule. We tend to listen to them over and over again until we do like them (laughs).
JAMES: Which is very confusing, because I’m not sure if I do like them or I’m just really familiar with them.
HAPPY: Is there ever a sense of ownership over a song. Like James if you came up with a lyric and Jordan changes it, is there ever a point of contention?
JORDAN: I never contend James. Ever. I can’t stand another beating (laughs). We’re pretty similar in our tastes. There’s rarely a moment where we go “No. That’s so shit I can’t even accept that being a song“. We can compromise in our ways to get our ideas through. But we both know what’s good for the song at the time so there are not many fallout moments.
JAMES: Not to say there are some ideas that are knocked back. Fiercely. “That is the worst thing you’ve ever said“
JORDAN: That is something you’d say to me.
HAPPY: It seems in that regard being a two piece makes things like that easier.
JAMES: Well if we were a five piece we’d have five opinions, I can’t even imagine what that’d be like. Having two is useful because you need that extra opinion. You could write a song and think it’s amazing because you’ve got a special relationship with that song. But then if someone else hears and it doesn’t resonate with them then that’s a good indication that it might not resonate with anyone else.
JORDAN: I think a lot of it comes down to just going with the song. Just writing it even if you don’t think it’s perfect, just going with it and then owning it as it is. Rather than spending so much time trying to rewrite bits just go with it.
JAMES: If we have to re-write something, generally we’re so lazy that we just won’t and we’ll end up with a recording that won’t have a verse. And then we’ll come back to it the following year and say “Hmm, we should really come back to this“.
HAPPY: Has that actually happened?
JORDAN: It just happened. We currently have a demo without a verse.
JAMES: We have this song, we love it. We ran out of time that day and since we haven’t put down an extra verse. Oh, and I saved over it by the way.
JAMES: So we’ll have to start that one again.
HAPPY: One of the final things I wanted to touch on was your wider social identity. As is you guys have a lot of YouTube videos which really imbue Winterbourne with a sense of brand and identity. Is that a conscious effort on your part?
JAMES: Yes, I wish we could do more.
JORDAN: We’ve been a bit slack with the videos lately but we want to do heaps more.
JAMES: I remember when I was fifteen or sixteen and YouTube exploded as the place for bands to post behind the scenes or acoustic songs. I’d subscribe to as many as I could and watch them. We have a lot of videos kicking around.
HAPPY: Is a video tour diary in the works?
JORDAN: No, but there should have been. It’s hard when there’s only the two of us in the van.
JAMES: Yes, only one of us would be in frame the whole time. We need to hire someone to follow us around and film.
HAPPY: Well my final question to you, at Happy we shockingly write about things make us happy, so I want to put it forward to you guys. What makes you happy?
JORDAN: On a musical level or lifestyle?
HAPPY: Anything that isn’t making music, all bands say that.
JAMES: Can I say something really profound?
JAMES: (leans in close to the microphone) Contentment. And Football, with the feet.
JORDAN: Contentment, that’s your answer? That’s a word. Contentment is happiness. What makes me happy? Alliteration! That makes me happy.
JAMES: People make me happy. My girlfriend makes me happy. My family makes me happy. Football makes me happy. My guitar makes me happy. My dog makes me happy. I’ve just done six Jordan, I don’t know what you’re gonna contribute.
JORDAN: Well you’ve just listed all the ones that are possible! (laughs). I like reading and tea, things that make me think. Reflection and thinking, and exploration. Travel.
JAMES: That’s bullshit because he doesn’t do any of that (laughs).
JORDAN: I do! I’m on tour mate. I’m in Newtown.
JAMES: So am I!
JORDAN: And that makes me happy.
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