It’s been a busy four years for Melbourne-based Americana four piece, Raised by Eagles. Since their inception in 2013, the guys have played sold-out shows nationally, notched up a string of award nominations (winning Best Country Album and Best Emerging Artist at the Age Music Victoria Awards), and even hit Nashville in 2015 to perform at the prestigious Americana Music Festival. Their third studio album, I Must Be Somewhere, has received widespread critical acclaim, firmly establishing the band as one of the most sought-after independent acts in the country. Singer Luke Sinclair kindly took time out from the current national tour to speak to us about I Must Be Somewhere, some of his most memorable live experiences, and what the musical journey’s been like so far for this gifted, yet grounded, group of homegrown musicians.
SR: I Must be Somewhere is getting well-deserved rave reviews. How long did it take to write this album and what was the process like?
LS: The process was a little different this time around, compared to the first two. We were writing and arranging it right up until we started to record it; whereas, with the first two, we were well and truly acquainted with those songs because we’d been playing them for months on the circuit, and then we just went into the studio and laid them down really quickly. But we were working on this one right up to the point where I was still in the vocal booth hammering lyrics out on the laptop and making changes right up to the last minute. So it was a different sort of process, but we’re really happy with the outcome. It’s taken me a while to sort of get to know these songs. I’ve sort of got to know them through listening back to the record rather than through playing them over and over live on the circuit. So that’s been interesting, but we’re really proud of it. We’re really happy with what we came up with in the end.
SR: Speaking of the live circuit, what’s the tour been like so far?
LS: It’s been great. We had a show in Sydney and one in Maitland and they were both fantastic. Sydney was a real surprise, actually. We’ve played Maitland plenty of times and they have such a great local crowd up there that really gets behind live music. And it’s just a real live vibe in that pub, so we were really looking forward to getting back up to Maitland. But Sydney—it’s been a slow build for us up there and it was really nice to get back up there and see some people in the venue. It was a great turn out and we had a really great show. We were stoked after the Sydney show because we thought finally we’re starting to make some inroads into having a solid audience up here in New South Wales. So that was really great. Then we have a couple of days off and then we’re playing Geelong and our hometown Melbourne show. But it’s been a great start to the tour.
SR: I was reading an interview where you were discussing the Sydney/Melbourne difference and the fact that Melbourne has a very vibrant scene. What do you attribute the difference to?
LS: Oh, it’s always been really hard to put my finger on. I must’ve been talking about the alt-country or Americana scene because that’s where I’ve really noticed a difference between the two cities. I mean, Sydney does have a very vibrant music scene but it’s more sort of indie rock and pop music and that kind of stuff; whereas, down in Melbourne, for whatever reason, we have a lot of Americana acts and a lot of bands that are really into that sort of musical subculture I guess. But it’s hard for me to understand it. I’m not sure why that difference exists. I mean, culturally, Melbourne and Sydney have always been fairly different. Without sounding like I’m taking sides or anything, Melbourne seems a bit more grounded, perhaps, than Sydney. There’s a real grounded honesty in the music of Americana and alt-country, and maybe the people who want to make it are more drawn to Melbourne’s culture than they are to Sydney’s. But who knows? Maybe it’s just because it’s feeding itself—there’s a lot of Americana bands playing here so people playing Americana come here, you know?
SR: I know you had that amazing experience playing the Nashville Americana Festival a couple of years back. Where have your most spirited audiences been so far and what have been some standout gigs for you?
LS: Oh, all those Nashville gigs will always be standout gigs for me personally. I’ll never forget what it felt like to come out and say, ‘Good evening, Nashville’. It made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I’ll remember those shows till the day I die, and hopefully we’ll get to go and do that again at some stage. To play music to people in the heartland of the kind of music that we’re drawn to and have them applaud and like it and give us great feedback was a really special thing. And I mean we can never really go past our hometown audience down here in Melbourne. Over the years we’ve been together as a band, our audience has gotten bigger and there’s just a whole lot of love in the room when we play down here. They really love us and we really love them. And standout gigs? The launch we did at Howler in Brunswick down here last year for our last album was a sell-out. We played with Jim Lawrie and Ruby Boots and it was just an amazing show. We had a big Raised by Eagles lit up banner behind us onstage and a beautiful light show and it was just a really special night. I’ll never forget that. But having said that, when we played at Maitland on the weekend, you’re sort of in the corner on the floor and the whole place is just packed and loving it and right in front of you and getting right into the show and yelling out between songs and all that stuff. Some of those early gigs that we used to do in clubs and bars down here, where the shows were always like that, are some of the ones I’ll never forget either. The further down the track you get as a band, if you start building an audience, you get a manager and a publicist and then there are all these rules about where you can and can’t play and what you should and shouldn’t do. And you try to build your audience and play bigger venues and only play ticketed shows and only play festivals. And we really, really miss those shows where there’s beer on the floor and everyone’s just having a great time and the room’s packed and the vibe’s incredible, you know? That’s what we had in Maitland on the weekend and it made us realise how much we all miss playing shows like that.
SR: Speaking of places, you’re originally from Beechworth and I read that you couldn’t wait to get out of there and hit Melbourne. Do you feel like a fully fledged Melbournian these days and how does your environment tend to affect you?
LS: Oh, I think it affects you immensely. I do consider myself to be a Melbourne local now. I’ve been here since 1993, so it’s been a long time. I also did some growing up in Melbourne because I had some family down here as well. But I was born in Beechworth and I grew up in Beechworth, and I guess that’s where the seeds of country music were sown. My dad was right into the more commercial side of seventies country music and that was always on the stereo. And we raided my friends’ older brothers’ tape collections as kids in the country and found all this John Prine and Steve Earle and Tom T. Hall and all this stuff I’d never heard before… Townes Van Zandt and Johnny Cash… We just spent so much time listening to that music. And I didn’t start playing it until I sort of got serious about being in bands, which didn’t happen until I got to Melbourne. But every time I picked up a guitar, country music is what came out. So that’s where all that stuff started for me—back in Beechworth. So I think home and where you’re from really informs the emotional undertones of what you write. And the kind of music that you make perhaps has a lot to do with where you’re from and also where you’re at. If you write honestly and stay true to who you are, then you can’t help but be affected by your environment.
SR: You guys have only been together since 2013 but you’ve already made such an impact on the music scene. What’s the ride been like so far?
LS: It’s been great. We keep hearing this four years thing and how it’s such a short time to have three records out in, but we’ve never felt like that at all. We’ve never felt like we were sort of churning anything out or moving at any sort of pace. It’s been a really natural sort of pace for us. We’ve been writing the whole time and just recording when we’ve been ready to. It’s just been great having people respond to it and like it. We’ve all been in so many bands over the years and it just seems like with this one something’s clicked and people really seem to enjoy the music. It’s been a slow, steady climb for us, and every year something happens and it gets a bit better and a bit better and a bit better. It’s going well.
SR: What’s the band dynamic like? Are you really similar, or quite different people who bring quite different perspectives to the creative process?
LS: I think we’re similar in terms of where we write and play from, emotionally. It’s handy because when we’re working on a song, we never have to really talk about how we want it to sound or anything. I’ll just bring a song in and play it the way I’ve been playing it at home and the band will just sort of fall in. We’ll just take a few runs at it and knock it into shape pretty quickly, and all of a sudden it’s this beautiful, fully formed thing. It just happens very naturally and I think that’s the great thing about this band: we all just sort of get the emotional undertones of the song. And what it’s about lyrically is just so beautifully transcribed by the playing without it ever having to be spoken about. And I think that’s what we’ve got going for us. We all seem to be able to do that. We’re not all that different to any band. There’s certainly different dynamics going on between certain members in the band, but I think we could only really be Raised by Eagles with this line up. It’d be a strange thing if one of us had to be replaced. I’d probably have to change the name of the band.
SR: This album deals with very universal themes, like difficult relationships, overcoming negativity, and insecurity. When you were writing these songs, what sorts of things were you being shaped by?
LE: Life, really—stuff that’s happened to me or to friends. I’m not a pup anymore, you know? A lot of stuff’s happened to me and my friends and my family. You really just have to walk out the front door and look left and you’ve got a song. I don’t know. Sometimes I do feel like every song I’ve written is the same song told a different way perhaps. I find it hard to write a happy song. I think there’s a certain happiness that comes from writing sad songs, and even listening to them—a cathartic process. I get a lot out of it and I’d certainly be miserable if I wasn’t doing it. But I just write about the stuff that comes to me, really, and that helps me heal something perhaps, or move through something. And hopefully, people who listen to it might get something like that out of it, too. That’s the beauty of songs.
SR: You’re obviously a natural storyteller. Have you always felt that sense of narrative and how have you developed that over the course of your songwriting career?
LE: Thank you. The only thing I was ever good at in school was writing and English, really. It was all I was interested in, and I did a professional writing and editing course that really made me realise what it took to write well. When I did that course, I was surrounded by so many good and great writers that you really knew where you were at in terms of your own creative process and journey, for want of a better word, through writing. It taught me to know what to leave out, and I think that’s the most important skill when it comes to storytelling—knowing what not to say. The thing that stuck with me the most was the mantra of ‘show, don’t tell’. You can say a lot by not saying too much and I’ve tried to do that. And the more songs you write and the older you get, especially, the more you realise what a good song is and what it takes to write a good song. You know when you’re onto a good song and you also know when you’re writing a bad song. So I guess it just comes from practice and writing a lot and writing plenty of bad songs as well. You hopefully hit on a good one from time to time and they’re the ones you want to put on record.
SR: In this musical environment, where there are so many artists emerging all the time and competing for audience attention, is it ever overwhelming having to keep up with stuff like social media and promotion?
LS: I’m overwhelmed as we speak, Bec (laughs). You do these tours and you have to stay on top of the social media side of things. You play the shows and then you come home for a bit of a rest. And when you’re resting, you’re really doing a whole lot of admin these days. It can be daunting for sure. There are so many bands and it’s such a saturated market. Sometimes you sort of wonder what the point is of all that stuff outside of playing live and how that feels. When you play a show and it’s a good show, you know exactly why you’re doing it. But yeah, as an artist these days, you have to know how to do everything and you have to be across it all if you want to have a good go at it. You can be lucky and have people who want to work with you and manage you and be your publicist, but all those things cost money, as well. It’s been great to get a bit of a hand this year through ABC Music. And you string some festivals together and get some money in the bank, and really, you’re just trying to get enough money to make another record without having to pay for it, because it’s so expensive unless you’ve got money and backing and a label. Most independent musicians, and that’s most people who are in the Americana or country field, in this country anyway—because it’s not as supported as it is in America—are self-managed and have to be across the whole gamut of things. I’ve certainly done that for a lot of years before people became interested enough in wanting to work with us, or for us. So the short answer to your question is yes—I’m constantly daunted and a little worn out by the whole social media side of it.
SR: Do you set yourselves goals or make five-year plans or anything like that? Where do you hope to be in 5-10 years?
LS: No, we’ve never done that; but, like I was saying, when there are other people involved who are working with you or for you, they tend to want you to have those sorts of things mapped out. So I’ll leave that up to them. We just really want to play to as many people as possible inside of Australia. We’re constantly talking about whether we should take it overseas and how far we should go with it over there, but it’s also really important to me to be successful at home, you know? Everyone’s keen to get out of here when you start doing well and making good music. A lot of the time it’s because Australia’s so small when it comes to the amount of people you can play to. There’s really 5 or 6 capital cities you can go to and just keep going to, and a whole lot of regional places; but, in America, you can do 21 cities in 2 or 3 weeks. Over here, it’s just not like that, so I think that’s really why people want to leave here. I don’t know. I’m constantly torn by not knowing what to do in terms of a five-year plan. I really want to keep trying to build our audience here, you know? We’ve still got a fair way to go in Australia before we can say, ‘Right—job’s done here, boys. Let’s move on.’
SR: Well, if you continue the way you’ve been travelling to date, I think the sky’s the limit for you guys.
LS: I hope so, Bec. I hope so.
SR: Do you have a message you’d like to send out to your fans as you continue on your tour?
LS: I’m just constantly grateful that they show up to the shows. The people who come to our shows have got a lot of heart and they’re always really good people who are very grounded. I think this kind of music attracts that kind of crowd. I just want to say thanks and I love you. Thanks for letting us do what we’re doing. Thanks for making it possible. We wouldn’t be doing it if the rooms were empty.