Interview: Riley Catherall blends folk with country on new album ‘The Light, The Beautiful Liar’

“This record is about that line where the unseen becomes seen and the promises that the comfort of darkness can offer”

Naarm/Melbourne based singer-songwriter, Riley Catherall, has blessed us all with the release of his second full-length album ‘The Light, The Beautiful Liar’.

Unsurprisingly, the tracks are as poetic as the title of the album itself – nothing new for the critically acclaimed songwriter.

Riley Catherall 'South of Somewhere'

A seamless blend of folk and country, Catherall’s smooth vocals and masterful lyricism have cemented him firmly in the Australian Alt-Country Music scene. 

The Light, The Beautiful Liar’ captures the isolation of  touring on the road, heightened by the dim light of morning’s spent alone. This dream-like tranquillity is exactly what Riley Catherall transforms into lyrical poetry.

Read the full interview with Riley Catherall below and scroll down to listen to ‘The Light, The Beautiful Liar’.

HAPPY: Tell us a little about where you live, what do you love about it?

RILEY: I live in an apartment on the St Kilda junction at the end of Albert Park Lake. I’m on the 14th floor which is wild – it feels like coming home to a hotel every time I walk in the door. Which, in a way feels more like the sort of home I’m used to: living out of a suitcase, lugging gear into an elevator etc.

Living south of the river feels like a quiet escape from the artsy, gig-centric hub of the northern suburbs. It’s like I get to leave all of that up there and retreat home to the south after a show or a rehearsal.

I get to try and separate the two sides of my being for a while, and not succumb to the notion that to live the Melbourne-Creative experience, you must live in the north.

HAPPY: Tell us a little about your creative community?

RILEY: I found myself in the country music scene a few years ago, and upon digging down further, I found the small Alt-Country/Americana community here in Melbourne.

I’ve always thought of myself as not folk enough for the folk world, and not country enough for the country one. I guess being the music capital of Australia, I was bound to find a few others who felt that they lived in the same crack.

HAPPY: Can you share a bit about your journey into music? What initially inspired you to become a singer-songwriter?

RILEY: Mum was a piano teacher; Dad was a piano teacher. I never stood a chance.
No, I guess I always had a desire to be musical.

Throughout school I became one of those kids whose entire personality was one thing, and mine was the guitar. I went to Jazz School and learned all the notes, then eventually grew a real appreciation for great storytelling through concise songwriting and simple chords.

This coincided, I guess excitingly, with my late onset angsty years in my early twenties. I now just have a real fascination with crafting songs and discovering the tools that make people feel things through music and lyrics.

HAPPY: How do you feel you’ve grown as an artist since your debut album ‘When I Go’?

RILEY: My first record was something I’m still very proud of. It was a foundational record for me – a chance to introduce myself through a full-length body of work.

My new record “The Light, The Beautiful Liar” was an opportunity to illustrate some evolution in both my songwriting and personal life since then.

I’m no longer hung-up on getting the perfect take when recording. I’m also not interested in the type of relentless editing to my writing that risks halting the creative process and killing the soul of the song.

This time around, I wanted to capture each song as it was happening. Let the imperfections, the voice cracks, the wrong notes and the innately human aspects of creating something rule the sound.

Riley Catherall 'South of Somewhere'

HAPPY: What does your songwriting process look like? Do you have any particular routines or environments that help you write?

RILEY: I write a lot on the road. Not entirely because traveling for music is inspiring – it’s quite exhausting and lonely.

I think that the intensity of this exhaustion, cocktailed with terrible eating and drinking habits as well as sleeping when you can and missing people back home, makes for the perfect environment for any buried emotions to show their face. I find that that’s where a lot of my song ideas come from, even if it’s not the right time to fully realise the song.

Fragments end up in the notes part of my phone, or little melodies swim around my head until I get the downtime to turn them into songs.

HAPPY: Who are some of your biggest musical influences, and how have they shaped your sound, especially in the alt-country genre?

RILEY: I’m a huge James Taylor fan. I think he was the first one that helped my realise that you could write simple songs with great effect. Others like Jason Isbell really helped me understand the genre. I later found Big Thief, really admiring Adrianne Lenker’s writing.

Other more contemporary artists like Bonny Lighthorsemen and Father John Misty and their records were massive sonic referenced for recording too.

HAPPY: What inspired the song ‘South of Somewhere’? Is there a specific story or experience that influenced its creation?

RILEY: This song was a focus on all the nights spent sleeping on the side of the road in my car or in terrible hotel rooms.

 When I was younger, my dad had a running gag where he would point out creeks, rivers or any body of water we drove past, saying “see that river? I caught a fish in that river”. I now do the same but with rest stops or McDonalds carparks that I’ve slept in.

I’ve gotten really good at knowing when I need a powernap or stop for the night to sleep. This song is about the limbo you experience where you’re not quite awake and not quite asleep, disoriented with the sounds and lights from sleeping on the side of the road.

Constantly being tired, missing those back home and replaying scenes from the past over and over in your head in a way that blurs dreams with reality.

HAPPY: You’ve reflected on life on the road in your latest single. What has been the most memorable or challenging aspect of touring and being constantly on the move?

RILEY: Trying to stay romantic about it, whilst simultaneously reminding those back home that it isn’t as romantic as it’s made out to be.

HAPPY: Did you collaborate with any other artists or producers on this album? How did these collaborations influence the final sound?

RILEY: I had a little bit of help writing a few of the songs.

There’s a song on there I wrote with Camille Trail, one with Jess De Luca, another with Dana Hassall and then Gabrielle Parker helped me finish Coming Down, Coming Over.

I felt it was super important to get most things down live, so we live-tracked my band for most of the songs. There were lots of hands involved with the engineering, but most of the credit goes to Damian Cafarella who I co-produced it with and who mixed the record.

HAPPY: Your upcoming album ‘The Light, The Beautiful Liar’ explores themes of love and longing. Can you delve into the overarching narrative or message you aimed to convey through this album?

RILEY: I realised pretty quickly that I had a lot of songs with the same theme: the kind of love that struggles with the stark reality of the morning.

Like South of Somewhere, there is a real abruptness with waking up from a dream where life is different than the stark reality that hits you with the dawn.

It also speaks to the forever-rolling of day into night, night into day – time moving on even if you can’t. I grew really fond of visual art in this time that played with negative space, particularly drawn to the use of light and shadows.

This record is about that line where the unseen becomes seen and the promises that the comfort of darkness can offer, and that the light will inherently break.

HAPPY: Lastly, what makes you happy?

RILEY: My dog Mia. She’s pretty as hell.