On a grant from his country’s government, the onetime Ahern Brother heads to Nashville to cut an outstanding third solo album
One of the most exciting areas for new weird Americana is in the land Down Under, believe it or not. And after over 40 years of being largely defined by Nick Cave, INXS and AC/DC, it really is damn good to see the influence of such long established acts as Paul Kelly & The Messengers and Midnight Oil imbued through the sounds of modem artists like Ruby Boots and Henry Wagons bringing new life to the concept of country music and roots rock on a global scale. Heck, speaking of INXS, even Andrew Farriss is getting in on the country game with his forthcoming solo debut.
As one half of the internationally acclaimed folk duo The Ahern Brothers, Josh Rennie-Hynes has surely played a key role in the evolution of Australian Americana. But for his third solo LP Patterns, he took full advantage of the Nashville Songwriters Residency grant bestowed upon him by the Australian Council for the Arts. With the blessing of his continent, Rennie-Hynes headed to Tennessee and set up shop at the legendary Sound Emporium Studios. And like any wayfaring stranger worth his or her salt breezing through the Music City streets, Josh rounded up a new generation of Nashville Cats to create his grittiest and most compelling work yet.
Among the brood on hand to help craft Patterns include guitarist Alex Munoz (Margo Price, Nikki Lane), who also produced the record, drummer Allen Jones (Lilly Hiatt, Will Hoge), bassist Christopher Griffiths (Will Hoge) and keyboardist Micah Hulscher (Margo Price), not to mention a duet with Americana star Erin Rae. Together, they create a work of pure analog grave, cutting winning material like “Standing Still,” “Caught in a Dream” and “Borrowing Time” live in the studio. At times, like on the excellent new single “Pieces,” the collective comes across like a lost Squeeze album recorded at Muscle Shoals.
The RNR Globe had the chance to correspond with Josh Rennie-Hynes to gain more insight on his journey across the planet to fulfill a lifelong dream.
Patterns arrives in record stores on September 27th.
I love how much country music and Americana has seen a resurgence in Australia these last few years. What do you attribute to this trend going on down under?
Australia has always had great songwriters and bands across all genres. ‘Americana’ as a genre has grown a lot in the last five to ten years down there on the back of what’s happening here in the US. I think as Australians, being a smaller country we tend to look outwardly at what is happening around the world then put our own spin on it, and musically we’ve always held our own.
What is your earliest memory of country and Americana music growing up?
I was exposed to quite a lot of the greats when I was growing up thanks to my parents taste in music. Artists such as Slim Dusty (Australian country legend) Marty Robbins, Hank Williams, John Williamson (Australian country singer/bush balladeer) Johnny Horton and so on.
Congrats on the grant from the Australian Council for the Arts! How amazing it is they have that for musicians. What was your strategy in securing the grant? Was it an involved process? How often is the Nashville Songwriters Residency given out and what entails eligibility?
Thank you. It’s quite a detailed application process and it’s awarded to one Australian songwriter a year. You basically have to outline exactly what you want to do with your time in Nashville and that’s pretty open-ended. For me I wanted to make this album, so the whole application was built around that. My manager at the time in Australia spent a lot of time putting it together and I’m grateful to have received the residency, it allowed me the opportunity to move to Nashville and focus solely on this record.
You’ve been compared to Paul Kelly in the press. Are you a fan? Do you think Paul Kelly both solo and with the Messengers is underrated if so? Also, where are you in terms of Midnight Oil?
Paul Kelly’s great, he’s another guy I grew up listening to. I’m honoured people have made that comparison. Maybe he’s not as well know here in the US but he’s held in very high regard in Australia, one of our most revered Artists and Songwriters I’d say. Where am I in terms of Midnight oil? Geographically? They’re from Sydney, I grew up Queensland, the next state up. I love Midnight Oil. They were one of the first bands I saw as a child, Peter Garrett flailing about wildly on the stage, incredible energy.
What was your experience like coming out to Nashville initially? Was it your first time in the States? How was it on your equilibrium to live in a hemisphere that’s essentially a day behind you in terms of the time difference?
I’ve traveled around a lot of the US so it was not my first time coming here. Nashville’s treated me very kindly. I moved into the East Nashville community specifically and it’s special. People are just great here – warm, open and friendly. I find this country incredibly fascinating in many ways. So diverse with lots of forces and tensions at play. A giant melting pot of many different things. Beauty and darkness and everything in between. To experience it as an outsider has always intrigued and fascinated me.
What’s East Nashville like in terms of community as a music scene?
Vibrant. Real. Raw. Inspiring. Welcoming. Light-filled.
What inspired you to name this album Patterns?
I was thinking a lot about my Patterns as a human being. What Patterns I repeat and so on. Also I’m just fascinated by certain Patterns and aesthetics, so it made sense to me.
You play with a fantastic ensemble of musicians on Patterns in Alex Munoz, Allen Jones, Christopher Griffiths and keyboardist Micah Hulscher. How did this group come together? Is there a new generation of “Nashville Cats” bustling in town in 2019 not unlike that whole Bob Dylan/Byrds era from your perspective?
I put this band together from scratch. I had a specific sound and feel I wanted for this album so I chose these guys carefully. We cut it all live to tape. They are incredible musicians and they all brought so much to this album in terms of their musicality and feel. As a whole I can say we’re all very proud of what we made with this album. Nashville is full of so many great musicians, I’ve only been living here for a year but I can honestly say it feels like something quite special is happening and I know I’m not the only one to feel that. When you get a whole heap of creatives and artists and musicians and put them in close quarters, weird and wonderful things usually happen.