The eternal Go-Between returns to the road to promote his excellent new solo LP Inferno
Robert Forster created The Go-Betweens with fellow songwriter and guitarist, Grant McLennan in 1977. Although they were not a commercial success, between 1980 and 1989, when they disbanded, the band released six critically acclaimed albums.
The Australian Performing Right Organization named “Cattle and Cane,” a song from the band’s 1983 album, Before Hollywood, one of the Top Australian Songs of All Time. The band reformed in 2000 and made three more well-received albums, before McLennan had a heart attack and died.
In 1990, after the first Go-Betweens break up, Forster moved to Germany and cut a solo album, Danger in the Past. The album combined elements of rock and American country music with his quiet, confessional songwriting. Eighteen years and five solo albums later, Forster returned to Berlin to cut his most recent effort, Inferno. His songs continue to blend low-key rock, subtle melodies and mellow, plainspoken lyrics, delivered in his warm, intimate tenor, growing with each performance on his current tour.
Meanwhile on December 6th, Domino Records will be releasing the second volume of the G Stands For Go-Betweens archival series, covering the band’s creative output in the latter half of the 1980s and contains five vinyl LPs, five CDs, and a 112-page book with historical liner notes from Robert Forster, archival photographs and pieces from guest writers.
The box additionally contains the first vinyl re-pressings in thirty years of Liberty Belle And The Black Diamond Express, Tallulah and 16 Lovers Lane, all remastered from the original analogue tapes. An 18-song live double LP of the band performing in London in 1987 is included, as are five CDs of b-sides, radio sessions and demos.
As he is about to embark on the second leg of his world tour in support of Inferno (see dates below), Forster spoke to RNR Globe about his new album from his home in Brisbane.
Why did you choose “Inferno” as the title track? The album is more like a slow simmer than a blaze.
I like the sound of the word. I wrote the songs and did all the prep for the recording in Brisbane, during the summer. It had nothing to do with the sound of the music, or the sound of the album, but I do I hope there’s a sizzle to it.
Why did you open the album with “Crazy Jane on the Day of Judgment,” a poem from William Blake that you set to music?
I like musical introductions and thought it was a good way to start the record. It’s a two-chord rhythm and riff. The melody brings you into the album really well. I didn’t want to punch you over the head with a rock song, and it wasn’t a slow ballad, just something to bring people into the record.
How does this project differ from your last solo album, 2015’s Songs to Play?
It was recorded in Berlin, with all that that brings. Play was recorded in a mountain studio, about half an hour away from where I live, in Brisbane. The sound and approach echoes those locations.
In Berlin, Victor Van Vugt engineered and produced. His studio is there and he gets a different, bigger, more outgoing sound. You could even say a commercial sound.
The major thing that stays in my mind, or impressed me at the time, was the train ride to the studio and back everyday – the Berlin underground. It took me three changes and 30 minutes to get to the studio at 9:30 every morning. At 8:00 or 9:00 at night, it was the same. I found it centering and liberating – a real blast of different people in tight carriages and crowded platforms. It gave me a certain kind of energy when I arrived to work.
How long did it take to write the songs?
About four years. I think I’m fairly prolific, although other people wouldn’t think so. I write one or two songs a year and have done, since the early 80s. I try to write songs all the time, but I only write two or three a year that I really like, or want to record. That’s the rate that they come and I’ve learned to accept it. I wish I wrote quicker; it just doesn’t seem to happen. Once I’m writing something I like, I can finish it in a week or two. It’s rare that I write over years, or months. I write fairly quickly when I’m on to something.
Melodies come first. I can write lyrics endlessly. Words are not a problem, but I’m not a naturally multi-instrumental musician, so melodies are harder to find. Or, at least, melodies I like are harder to find. I’m always looking for, and thankful for, inspiration, but I do think you just keep on going with it, until you get hooked by something. When you write a good song, it gives you great pleasure, so you’re always after that sense of achievement, again, and again, and again.
How was the album recorded? Did you track it live, or layer it up?
There was a bit of both. We did basic tracks in about four days – drums, bass, most of the piano and a little of my electric guitar. Victor knows how to capture the live recording of a band performance and add overdubs for a good combination of textures. It’s not dead, or worked over, or crafted to within an inch of its existence on Pro Tools. It’s a performance record, with just a few overdubs.
I worked the arrangements out in Brisbane with Scott Bromley, who plays bass, and Karen Bäumler, who plays violin and glockenspiel. We did the basics and rehearsed them in the lounge room at my home, so we knew what we’d do in the studio. I made some mobile phone recordings and the keyboard player, Michael Muhlhaus and I, rehearsed them in Berlin. The drummer, Earl Havin, is a well-known session player from America, who lives in Berlin. We did it all real old school, just playing together, doing straight, live takes in the studio.
How much input did the players have?
They brought in a lot. I’d written the songs, arranged the songs and I’m singing the songs. That’s enough. I’m not someone who’s going to go over and say, ‘These are the bass notes you should play.’ I can’t play piano or drums, but I make suggestions, and they make suggestions, and it works.
What’s a live show like? Will it differ from the recording?
I’ve just done a three-week, European tour earlier this year and the things from Inferno vary a little, but not much. I do Go-Betweens songs as well, a broad mixture of material from the ‘80s and the solo albums. I see it all as music. I don’t define something as a Go-Betweens song, or a solo album song. I wrote all the songs I’m singing and it has the sensation of being one body of work.
I do a bit of time traveling when I sing. Songs can really do that. They lock you into the time and the place they were written and the musicians that played on them. I remember the writing, the recording and the touring of them. They really do take you back.
Robert Forster will be touring the USA & Canada in November 2019, and Europe in November and December 2019.
Tickets for all shows on sale now.
An evening with Robert Forster (solo):
31st October 2019: Ashgrove, QLD, Junk Bar
1st November 2019: Ashgrove, QLD, Junk Bar
3rd November 2019: Ashgrove, QLD, Junk Bar afternoon show
3rd November 2019: Ashgrove, QLD, Junk Bar evening show
7th November 2019: Los Angeles, CA, The Echoplex
8th November 2019: San Francisco, CA, Swedish American Hall
9th November 2019: Portland, OR, Mississippi Studios
11th November 2019: Evanston, IL, Evanston SPACE
12th November 2019: Toronto, ON, The Drake Hotel
14th November 2019: Boston, MA, City Winery
15th November 2019: Philadelphia, PA
16th November 2019: Brooklyn, NY
An acoustic evening: Robert Forster accompanied by Karin Bäumler on violin:
20th November 2019: Barcelona, L’Auditori
21st November 2019: Madrid, Teatro Lara
22nd November 2019: Porto, Passos Manuel
23rd November 2019: Lisboa, MusicBox
25th November 2019: Dublin, Whelan’s
26th November 2019: Birmingham, Glee Club
28th November 2019: Paris, La Boule Noire
29th November 2019: Brussels, AB Club
30th November 2019: Amsterdam, Vondelkirk
4th December 2019: Cologne, Gebäude 9
5th December 2019: Lüdinghausen-Coesfeld, Burg Vischering
6th December 2019: Leipzig, Naumanns im Felsenkeller
7th December 2019: Tübingen, Sudhaus
10th December 2019: Karlsruhe, Jubez
11th December 2019: Sulzbach-Rosenberg, Capitol
12th December 2019: Landsberg, Stadttheater
13th December 2019: St.Gallen, Palace
14th December 2019: Freiburg, Jazzhaus
AUDIO: Robert Forster Inferno (full album)