INTERVIEW: Patience Hodgson (AUS), July 2012

This ended up being the final feature article that I did for FasterLouder. The ‘line in the sand’ was drawn not long after. I probably didn’t react the best to this, in all fairness. I’m kind of embarrassed about how bitter I was about the whole thing now. I have absolutely no ill will towards the site. I’m still a frequenter of its forum, and I think both Sarah and Tom are incredibly hard-working and switched-on people that I respect the absolute hell out of. They may never read this, but on the off-chance that they do: Keep doing what you do. I’m forever grateful for what FL was able to offer me as a starting point for my music writing. I got so much out of it; and it’s pretty crazy looking back at all the work I got to do with them.

This was a chat with the wonderful Patience Hodgson, normally of The Grates but lately of Southside Tea Room, The Minutes and BABBY! That kid is going to have the most fun in the world, I can tell you what. We chatted about the Bob Dylan tribute night she was a part of and I really enjoyed the challenge of interviewing someone about a completely different topic than what they’re normally interviewed for. She’s as bubbly and delightful as you’ve come to suspect over the years. So, here’s my last FL hurrah.

– DJY, October 2014

***

It was fifty years ago that a young Robert Allen Zimmerman released his debut album, a collection of mostly traditional songs with new arrangements, under his stage name of Bob Dylan. 33 albums and figuratively hundreds of songs later, the career of the iconic folk-rocker is set to be celebrated across a series of shows this July, culminating in an appearance at this year’s Splendour in the Grass festival.

Amongst the musicians involved are Jebediah frontman Kevin “Bob Evans” Mitchell, Josh Pyke, Seeker Lover Keeper’s Holly Throsby, Eskimo Joe’s Kav Temperley and the irrepressible frontlady of The Grates, Patience Hodgson. The Brisbane-based singer, podcaster and now small business owner is running a mile a minute after a round of coffees and a slew of interviews preceding our chat.

“We just opened a tea room in Brisbane!” she reports, the “we” being herself and her Grates partner John Patterson. “It’s gonna be a bar, too, when we get our liquor license. This is our second day of business!” Running the shop with Patterson, as well as her younger sister Raven, has been one of the many things that Patience has been occupying her time with. Along with fill-in radio work and preparing to record the fourth Grates album, Hodgson has found an entirely new audience due to her co-hosting of two podcasts alongside Brisbane comedian Mel Buttle, The Minutes (a comedy-oriented discussion podcast) and You’re Welcome (an advice-based podcast). It’s remarkable that FL has been able to pin down Patience for longer than 30 seconds.

“I’ve just had so much going on,” she says, almost breathlessly. “About five months ago, before we signed the lease, John and I wanted to make sure we had ten demos done for the next album. Then, the Dylan shows came along and I couldn’t say no. I’m glad I got some time to really focus on the songs as I’ve been so distracted with the podcasts and the shop. I got a LOT of lyrics to learn!” She adds that the opportunity to perform the selected works of Dylan adds to what was already a very interesting history and relationship with the man and his music. “I used to impersonate him for a brief period of my life, about six or seven years ago,” she recalls. “Not at shows or anything, but when I was living in a share-house I would always answer questions trying to do his voice. When I got the shows, my old housemate texted me and was all ‘I can’t believe you’re going to be singing Dylan!’”

She goes on to explain her origin story – discovering his music for the first time as a teenager at just the right time. “My dad’s best friend, who was a huge part of my family, gave me a Dylan best-of and some records to listen to when I was about fifteen or sixteen,” says Patience. “He died a few weeks after that. I know Bob Dylan because of him – I used to call him Uncle Merv – and when we would listen to Dylan after he died, we’d always think of him. I used to sit in my room and listen to Just Like a Woman, and I realise now that it was because I was in that in-between stage of being a girl and a woman. I could see those areas in which I was becoming more of a woman, becoming more independent – but I could also see that I could still be a girl that would break down and cry and need a parent.”

Of all the Dylan tracks that we speak about, Just Like a Woman is the one that appears to have resonated the most with Patience over the years. It takes her back to both a vulnerable and vital time of her development as a person. “I think there’s kind of a sexuality to that song, too – a lot of his songs, actually,” she says. “It’s especially apparent when you’re a teenage girl listening to these songs alone in your bedroom. I guess I was hypersensitive to it, that’s all – here I was, hadn’t even had sex yet, and there was this man singing to me about making love just like a woman.” Sadly, despite her passionate back-story, Patience will not be singing the song on the tour. “We put in a bunch of songs that we all wanted to sing,” she says of the process behind creating the setlist. “I was trying to be wise and see what songs would work for my voice. I’m so glad the pressure got taken off me, though. I just want the show to be awesome as a whole. I really wanted to sing Just Like a Woman, but they gave it to Josh – and I’m really glad, because I think he’ll do a far better version of it than I ever could. I would have loved to hear that song from a female perspective, but I think it’s smart to give it to Josh.”

Another interesting point worth mentioning in relation to Patience’s Dylan story is how she didn’t actually own any of Dylan’s numerous LPs until quite recently. So what was her first foray? Blonde on Blonde? Highway 61? What about The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan? Not even close. “Christmas in the Heart, two years ago!” she says, with both a laugh and a cringing realisation. “That was actually the first one I actually got. I remember hearing about it, and I couldn’t believe it. What a guy! It was just the funniest. How punk of him, doing whatever he wants. I was in the States when it came out, and people were just giving him so much flack. It was seen as so blasphemous that he released it. When he wrote Hurricane… that song’s about boxing! There were all these hippies that didn’t like that he wrote a song about boxers. Whatever! It’s fucking bad-arse!”

“How about that?” she adds with even more giggling. “I never even thought of that before. I’ve done all these interviews and no-one thought to ask me what my first Dylan record was. You got it out of me!” Despite what many would regard as a shameful introduction into his extensive discography, it’s difficult to dispute Hodgson’s passion for Dylan’s music. She offers a further insight into how she views the impact of his music when asked to pick her favourite era or persona of Dylan, of which there have been countless. After a brief pause, she answers with a peculiar sense of decisiveness.

“I think I’m most drawn to when he went electric,” she responds, going on to relay another anecdote to emphasise her point. “I was listening to Like a Rolling Stone the other day, and I had to play it to John [Patterson]. He’d never heard it before! He’s listened to Dylan now, but he’d never heard any Dylan from back then. I guess he’s not really interested in political music or whatever. It’s a bit of a generational thing, too. No-one introduced it to him growing up, so he doesn’t have that context when he’s listening to Bob Dylan. But I was playing him this song, and I was like ‘Listen! LISTEN!’ It’s just when his lead goes out and then comes back in. They recorded things really differently back then. I love that about him – he’s such a punk rocker. He never seemed to care what people thought of what he was doing with his music – and even if he secretly did, he was still so persistent. It’s almost like he had an entirely different idea of what people wanted – like, ‘this is what they want. They just don’t know it yet.’”

The 50 Years of Dylan shows will see Hodgson performing on her own, duetting with Holly Throsby and coming together with the other musicians for two final songs. Although she refuses to name the tracks – “They’re curveballs!” she teases – it’s promised that the shows will be a unique and entertaining tribute to the troubadour. She’s even keeping it in the family when it comes to the tribute night’s Sydney stop. “I’m flying my parents down for the Sydney Opera House,”she reveals with a glee not becoming of a grown woman spending time with her parents. “I’m loving this – the night of the Sydney show, I’m going to be sharing a room with my folks! I’m going to be sleeping on the pull-out. I’m really excited – I’m not sure if I’ll ever have another chance to play the Opera House, so I’ve got to take full advantage of it while I can!”

INTERVIEW: Seeker Lover Keeper (AUS), July 2011

In 2011, I saw Seeker Lover Keeper five times. I also met all three of them and welled up like an infant. It was three of my heroes from the class of 2004 (go check out all of their releases from that year and thank me later) making remarkably beautiful music together. I couldn’t have asked for anything more. I get really happy when I think about that time in my life – I was super-close to finishing uni, I felt like I was getting somewhere with my writing and I had this goddamn album! So yeah, I spoke to Sarah Blasko and despite seeing all three of these women in public several times since I have never had the guts to go speak to any of them again. I’d probably bore them to death, anyway.

– DJY, October 2014

***

Anyone can dream up a supergroup, but it’s very rare that these fantasies actually come to fruition. It’s also very rare to see it happen of late outside the field of big, burly rock – anyone for Chickenfoot or Hellyeah? It’s interesting that it’s taken something as left-field and unexpected as Seeker Lover Keeper to break this mould. The collaboration between Sarah Blasko, Holly Throsby and Sally Seltmann was first brought to wider attention upon their announcement as a part of the 2011 Splendour in the Grass festival, but the idea of uniting three of Australia’s finest voices has been in the works for quite some time.

“I think I saw Holly play live first – we had a common manager at the time,” says Blasko when asked to recall the origins of her friendship between her counterparts. “Sally, I remember hearing on the radio for the first time and really loving her music – that would have been around the time of her first album. After seeing each other around all the time, I guess it was natural that our friendship developed. We’ve all got a lot in common, and have the same kind of sense of humour. I guess it was only a matter of time.”

It was after a show that Seltmann showed the other two a song she had been working on entitled Rest Your Head On My Shoulder, which would go on to become the final track on the SLK album. “That was really the turning point,” recalls Blasko, “where we all genuinely wanted it to happen. Sally came up with the name, and we scheduled to record not long after all of that.” Considering that Blasko’s last album, As Day Follows Night, was recorded across a month in Stockholm, it certainly came as a notable change to record Seeker Lover Keeper in New York across a fortnight.

“We all wanted to have a really different experience from the last time we all recorded albums,” says Blasko. “We kind of set ourselves a few parameters for this record. We wanted it to be recorded in a really large way. The harmonies, the base of the sound, we just wanted it all to be really natural, really organic. We decided very early on that we wanted it all to be very simple. Kind of like a folk album – I mean, it’s obviously got other elements in there as well, but our sole intention was just to create a simple, beautiful album.”

Mission accomplished. Seeker Lover Keeper is an album of cohesive musicianship, strikingly honest lyrics and kind of freeze-in-tracks, jaw-on-floor close harmony that would normally only come through shared bloodlines. Blasko is particularly enthusiastic about just how liberating it felt to be singing alongside these women, describing it as a “really wonderful” experience. “I think probably the last time I ever really sang like this, in this way, is with my sister when I was really young,” she adds. “In a way, all three of us kind of become children again when we start singing together. It’s a really special, pure thing to do. All of us have had harmonies on our records before – Sally, especially – but I guess we’ve never really had the means to properly replicate our harmonies live. It’s been so fun rehearsing these songs, and finally being able to do it like this.”

Another interesting aspect of Seeker Lover Keeper was its songwriting process. Rather than simply penning songs for themselves to sing, each of the three women wrote songs for the others to sing. Blasko, who sings the most lead vocals out of the three, says that although it was certainly a challenge, the end result was more than rewarding. “I’ve often enjoyed doing covers and things like that,” she comments. “When you sing someone else’s words, you have to put yourself into their mind a bit. You have to draw on your own experience, but you’re struck by these words that you wouldn’t say yourself. It really makes you pay attention to the way it’s been constructed. To me, it was a real pleasure to sing those songs.”

With the role reversed, Blasko emphasises just how amazed she was with what Throsby and Seltmann did with her songs. “It’s really quite amazing to see your songs take on a different meaning when they’re in someone else’s hands,” Sarah notes. “People just have different inflections, different ways of saying the one thing. Hearing Sally do On My Own, I thought she just sounded so sweet and so pure. It was really lovely to hear it done so differently.”

The songs will be brought to life on the band’s first ever tour, extensively taking in most of the east coast of Australia. With Dirty Three drummer Jim White at the helm, Blasko is really excited to be performing songs from the album, as well as each other’s songs. “We’ll definitely throw in a few of our own,” she promises. “It’s going to be really special.”