Conversation with Andrew Tuttle

Photo by Bryan Spencer

Hi Andrew! It’s nice to meet you. Thanks so much for agreeing to this interview. I’d like to start off by asking how you are. Are you well, and how are you feeling during this global pandemic?

Hey James! I’m going alright, all things considered. Adjusting at different times to both the ‘new normal’ and letting go or adjusting routines, practices and priorities from the not too distant pass. Brisbane is pretty glorious in autumn though, so there’s worse places to be stuck in side.

Life must have changed dramatically in the last couple of months. Has the different pace of life and lockdown opened any new avenues of thought / perspectives on life, music, society?

Yes and no. I’ve definitely at times evaluated what I do, why, and what I hold dear; but in an ever transformational environment I’m mindful that any ‘lightbulb’ moment is just as tenuous as what has passed. I’m thoroughly enjoying the different pace of life though. I’m working from home full-time and am fortunate to be in a job and a house where that’s allowed me to better use my time. There’s something to be said for working smarter, especially where downtime between meetings can mean hanging out washing in the sun, going for a walk, and so on. I’ve definitely realised what doesn’t matter, which is healthy and vital as well.

Do you think that life will be substantially different once the pandemic is over? And do you think the changes will be permanent? Will we learn from mistakes, be able to make positive changes with an emphasis on cleaner air and more importance placed on the threat of climate change and the protection of the environment, or do you think we’ll go back to our old ways? Do you think history will repeat itself?

I’d love to think we’ll learn from our collective mistakes and that the sense of community, better air quality and the loss we’ve all felt will result in tangible positive outcomes. I’m incredibly concerned that society may return to the worst of the recent past. There’s already a tangible hubris, avowed no-nothingness and desire for the status quo from governments, big business, lobbyists and other neoliberal rentseekers worldwide. The small, basic and well overdue steps towards providing dignity via a social network in English speaking countries already feels like it’s going to give way to austerity packages which are needlessly cruel, socially damaging and fiscally innumerate. Living in a country that has felt devastating and ever more unpredictable weather events, the concept of continued climate change inaction and denialism terrifies me. The optimist in me does believe though, after what’s going to be an awful and still unimaginably tough 2-4 years, that there will be some fundamental changes to how we work and live that will be beneficial for future generations. The ends absolutely don’t justify the means, but have to hold onto something.

When did you first become interested in music?

I know this is an absurd answer, but not until a fair while after I started playing guitar. I’m still not sure why my parents pushed me towards musical lessons (they’re not massively musical themselves – plus lessons were of an evening and required driving me around), but I absolutely appreciate it. I first became properly interested in music when I was 12 years old, through friends I was making at the time.

When did you first start learning guitar / banjo, and what drew you to these instruments?

I first started learning guitar when I was 9. I didn’t enjoy it until I was 12, then kept doing lessons until I was 15/16. I was assigned to rather than drawn to guitar at first, but once I enjoyed it I then absolutely fell in love with it. With the banjo, I bought one before I started figuring out how to play it. Bought it in 2011, as I’ve loved the tone of an open back banjo for years and wanted to learn a new instruments. What keeps me drawn to both instruments is their resonance, the sound of a sparsely plucked melody, and the joy of exploration.

Your sound is bright, free-flowing, and open – is this a sound that comes naturally to you? Do you think these instruments lend themselves to these qualities, and does this generosity appear in and influence other areas of your life?

I definitely default towards major chords and trying to get a balance crispness and spacious sonic territory. Living in a hot, sunny climate definitely adds to openness and brightness too – I’m much more of a warm day, being in the sun person – even though the sun and humidity don’t exactly love me back. I’d like to think that I’m friendly, positive, warm and generous in my life as a whole; my default demeanour is to enjoy being in a good mood. I also know of course that it’s not necessarily for me to judge whether that actually comes across.

What’s it like to blend decay, reverb and electronics in with a guitar, especially an acoustic sound, when those effects may be more commonly associated with electric guitar?

It is both a joy and a challenge! I absolutely love the guitar and banjo both as natural sound sources, and as a conduit for creating more layered and blurred textures. That’s the joy, a joy I’ll probably never tire of in one way or another. The challenge – particularly with the banjo – is that the tones and frequencies of the instruments in their natural form can sometimes be a bit unpredictable when adding in a whole lot of extra effects and loops. Performing live can be a joy and a terror as a result, but keeping lots of room open for flexibility, re-workings of songs and to be able to ramp up/pare back based on a room always keeps me on my toes.

You’ve described your music in the past as being ‘outsider music that turns its listeners into insiders – please may you talk more about this?

Sophie Miles, co-director of Mistletone Records/Tours, good friend and constant source of inspiration, gracefully wrote that for me! So I can’t exactly speak to it, but I do absolutely love the phrase. My music probably sits within quite a cosy niche – not quite folk, not quite avant-garde, so it takes a little while to find and to adjust to; but once you’re there hopefully it’s inviting and inclusive?

Please may you tell us about your new album, Alexandra?

Alexandra’s my fourth solo album and it was probably the least difficult for me to create. It was written, recorded, mixed and mastered in a series of bursts from September 2018 – May 2019, which allowed me time to consider the work and how to evolve and progress from my previous albums.

When I made the album, I associated it – and still do associate – with Alexandra Circuit and Alexandra Hills, where I grew up. My relationship with the suburb and region waxed and waned over the years, but as both my parents and I have gotten older; I’ve really enjoyed spending time with them in their house – and spending a bit more time to hear the birds, smell the eucalypts, and breathe out.

Creating instrumental music, I think it can be difficult to be prescriptive about how a listener approaches an album – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I made this album about a particular place and at a particular time, but if someone listens to the album and transports their own surrounding or special place into it, that’s amazing.  

Please may you tell us more about your music, particularly its identity and the conflict between the rural and the suburban? Does that come from your youth and your time growing up in Alexandra Hills? How formative were those years for you, both personally and musically?

I think outside this album, I wouldn’t say that Alexandra Hills has been a particularly large inspiration on my music. My school days and formative musical years existed in a time where the rural/suburban balance had pretty much settled. Making this album definitely made me re-approach and re-evaluate the area for sure. Also, listening back to field recordings I’d made in lakes, creeks, shopping centres and major intersections made me consider the interconnectedness and spatial importance of sound; which I think comes through.

How does Alexandra differ when compared to your other records? Do you see a definite change, evolution, or growth, and are the results what you expected to see?

I’d love to think that Alexandra is considered both a leap and an evolution of what I’ve previously released. It definitely feels that way to me. I was fortunate to receive some funding from Redland City Council to develop the songs and album, which allowed me to consider some of my approaches to creation. This was the first album under my own name where I didn’t record and mix it myself, having the budget and time to work with an outstanding mixer/composer in Chuck Johnson and a high quality studio/technically brilliant engineer in The Plutonium/Aidan Hogg was such a joy. I know my technical strengths and limitations, so having great ears on board to adopt new mic techniques for instruments and to bring more space to my music really pushed the album forward. Given that I was going into a studio to track (over two separate visits), it also forced me to write first and edit later, rather than my usual methods. This resulted in completed songs and still allowed for happy accidents and re-jigged ideas. Even a year after it was finished, I’m still delighted with how the album turned out.  

Alexandra is named after the street in Queensland where you first fell in love with music. Is Alexandra a love-letter of sorts, as well as being the sound of rediscovering home? What does home mean to you? Is it where the heart is?

Alexandra was thought of, written and created from a personal adventure about re-discovering and re-learning the family. For context, Alexandra Hills is the suburb where I grew up. It’s a suburb in outer Brisbane (more specifically, in Redlands City) that my parents moved out to just after I was born. When they moved out there, it was almost rural, but over time the whole area has built up. Buying early, my parents were able to buy a three quarter acre block; one which had some beautiful and massive eucalypts which still stand there today. Life is all about growing up, growing out and growing understanding; so my relationship to the area has varied wildly in different stages of my life. I’ve spent most of my adult life in Brisbane (with some stints in Melbourne and Berlin), in the inner suburbs where I’ve made friends, seen countless gigs, talked music, and developed a comfortable identity. In recent years, I’ve grown to re-appreciate Alexandra Hills as an interesting and somewhat unique suburb under the surface. I’d taken for granted the mix of unique Australian fauna and flora, whilst probably dismissing everything else as ‘middletown suburbia’. It was a bit weird belatedly discovering some of the great little quiet spots after all of these years, but I’ll take it. There’s something to be said for reminiscing on the present through past and present experiences.

Alexandra is full of diverse instrumentation such as pedal steel, horns, strings and piano – what was the process like working with all of these musicians? How did you get in touch with them, and was there any particular reason why you chose these instruments?

Quite simply, the process was super informal and beyond my wildest hopes! The collaborations with Tony Dupe, Gwenifer Raymond, Joe Saxby and Joel Saunders were all done via file-sharing, I’m fans of their music as well as them personally so it was an easy process. I sent everyone the basic (guitar, some overdubs) tracks for them to write and record their pieces over the top, they sent files back, I weaved contributions in. The piano tracks that Sarah Spencer contributed were during the recording sessions at The Plutonium and again were low-key and a really fun hangout. I’ve admired Chuck Johnson’s pedal steel and steel string guitar for some years now, having him mix the album was so great. In a fortuitious set of circumstances, Chuck was in Australia during the first week I was tracking. He came in for a day, recorded pedal steel for one song and we then improvised for a good hour or so – from which Tallowwood View was taken. All of these musicians are multi-instrumentalists, so I didn’t really give much of a brief at all. They took these very very loose guidelines and made magic from that!

Was it important that the album was processed and edited partly at your childhood home, and did this influence the overall sound or mood of the record?

It was definitely important to write and edit parts of the album at my parents place. They’ve got a little bit of space and a really lovely backyard, so it was a great environment to work in. They were away for a few weeks so I took some time off, set up everything, worked on music – in between walks, swims in the pool and naps. I work better when I can view sunlight, so in late spring I was absolutely in luck.

This isn’t a trick question, and it may well be unanswerable, but I have to ask anyway…  Do you have any plans for the rest of the year? Are you working on any other projects?

I’m not sure about plans to be honest! I want to be flexible and open to ideas, but not sweat it if things don’t happen. Although I sadly had to cancel some Australian launches at beautiful venues, there’s a possibility of doing an audio/video show – with a limited, physically distant capacity – at a beautiful venue later this year. Would love to make it back to Europe and UK late 2021 if things allow it by then.

As for making new music, I’m honestly a little way off trying to write anything. Still haven’t found myself in the headspace post-lockdown, which I’ve accepted is fine. That said, I have been working on a collaboration with the delightful London duo Padang Food Tigers via file sharing. We’ve low-key been sharing some files on their bandcamp page, with more to come.

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