One of the Greats: Dave Graney

I’ve just read Dave Graney‘s memoir 1001 Australian Nights.Dave-Graney-front-cover

It’s a fascinating tumble of stories, tour diary and musings on music and culture, which I really enjoyed and read quickly.

I’ve been a huge fan of Dave Graney since first seeing him interviewed by Roy & HG in the mid-90’s. Since then I’ve seen him about half a dozen times, reviewed his music and interviewed him for street press.

I actually think he’s one of Australia’s greatest singer-songwriters. A real original who instinctively defies popular trends and seems to exist in his own artistic space.

For those not familiar, Graney and his wife/collaborator Clare Moore have together produced 23 albums in 28 years, starting with their early band The Moodists, through Dave Graney & The Coral Snakes, to his later solo work and new backing bands, The Lurid yellow Mist, and now the mistLy.

The most commercially successful period was with the Coral Snakes around the mid-90’s when the album The Soft N Sexy Sound went gold, containing the popular Rock n Roll is Where I Hide and won the Best Male ARIA.

His signature strength is drawing on the persona of the classic outsider observer, sketching the mood with a first-person subjectivity. A mysterious loud mouth invisible rock singer cowboy.

Avoiding the domestic, literal images of a Paul Kelly, his songs tell of mysterious, outlandish, personalities with a bold colour more often seen in 70’s black acts. He says he primarily listens to hip-hop these days, of which he would be an ideal sampling source.

dave-graney-650You can hear it in the names of his songs: Death by A Thousands Sucks, No Pockets in a Jumpsuit, I’m Not Afraid to be Heavy. Brilliantly bold, yet familiar turns of phrase fill his songs.

There’s the cool drama of Lou Reed, but grounded in the Australian landscape, such as King of Adelaide, or Three Dead Passengers in a Stolen Secondhand Ford.

Musically, his sound is large, full, mellow and full of grooves, like David Bowie’s older, black brother. Or Prince, if he played country music & sang three octaves lower. Even alone on acoustic guitar his voice sounds like a room of music, always in stereo, fat and full.

I also love his playful confidence, so missing in modern songwriters. Ironically his colour, masks and character actually highlight the pretentious myth of popular cool and the fake striving for authenticity.

He plays the fool-prophet, pricking our balloons by filling his own. Always standing on the edge of mockery, but never succumbing, remaining more interested in his ‘own big world’ than spoof.

Who else records a double album with his wife called Hashish & Liquor?

He seems to be winking through his songs, yet they never sound less than true. No one sounds like Dave Graney, and his length of career and consistent output is remarkable, particularly as much of it has been without major label support. One deficit of this being some audio production on a couple of this decade’s albums.

Graney lists his best album as 1997’s The Devil Drivesbut his most revered is probably 1993’s Night of the Wolverine named by rock historian Ian McFarlane as “an Australian rock classic… full of elegant and eccentric detail”. It’s the one I’m thrashing on this holiday.

My sentimental favourite is probably still The Soft n Sexy Sound, but I also love his 2001 album Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, which as the great Have You Heard About The Melbourne Mafia? which satirises the elusive, cool band scene.

Any list of the greatest Australian songwriters will have Dave Graney alongside a Nick Cave or Paul Kelly. But from Paris to Mt Gambier, and especially in his mind, he’s in his own pantheon.

If you’re new, tracks to start with include, I’m Gonna Release Your Soul, Night of the Wolverine, & The Birds & the Goats.

If you’re familiar, get him on Twitter, or head to iTunes and type in his name.