Melbournian folk band Husky have been on our radar for a while now. A smooth, soulful and distinctive sound has seen them enjoy international success, support bands including Gotye, City & Colour and Neil Young plus winning a swag of awards across Australia. After releasing their second LP Ruckers Hill, the cousins and bandmates jetted off to Berlin, immersing themselves in the local scene before touring extensively across Europe and the US - and now they're back on our shores.
We chat to vocalist + guitarist Husky Gawenda ahead of their appearance at WOMADelaide this March.
BNKR: An APRA Award, Triple J Unearthed success – obviously Australia loves you! Can you tell us how Husky all came to be? Husky: Basically, Gideon and I are cousins so we grew up together and we’ve always been very close. And both of us did our own thing for a little while, worked on our own music – I was doing a lot of songwriting, he was doing a lot of piano playing with local bands around Melbourne – and at that point we decided that it made sense to try and do something together and I guess it just kind of clicked, very quickly. So we put the band together and got some guys to play with us and I guess that’s how it started.
How do you feel your sound has progressed since beginning the band? I think it’s changed a lot, and I think it’s also always changing - which is kind of a natural thing, and also probably a sign of a pretty healthy band. I think you need to progress - I think if you try to stay the same it doesn’t really work, and you're always wanting to explore your sound and your writing. And also a lot of it is about where you’re at in your life, what you’re listening to, so it’s certainly changed a lot over the years, and is still changing all the time.
Have your musical influences changed since you began Husky? Some of our musical influences will always be influences on us – you know, some of the really important bands and artists we listen to. Often, the ones we listened to growing up, those influences are really important. So we listen to lots of songwriters and folk bands from the ‘60s and ‘70s.
Like who? I was listening a lot to folk singers like Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, Joni Mitchell, and then bands like The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Doors – all of those bands from that era. And then there’s all those current bands I’m listening too, and that’s always changing. There are always new influencers coming into your sound.
What are you listening to at the moment? I guess if you were to look through my playlist it would be stuff like Steve Gunn, Joe Pug, The War on Drugs, The National, Explosions in the Sky – all sorts of stuff. Your tastes fluctuate and change, but it certainly depends what you’re going through, what you’re feeling and where you are.
How is it working so closely with family? The experience for us has been really good. I think working so closely with anyone is challenging in some ways - obviously you never have exactly the same taste and you’re never at exactly the same place in your head or in your life, so that has to be reconciled - but in terms of us being family I think it’s made it easier.
It’s been a kind of unspoken trust and closeness that means that no matter what our differences are or how much we disagree on particular things, we always kind of know that we’ll find a way to make it work – we always respect each other’s opinions...and on top of that, we’ve done a heap of touring over the last four years and having family on the road for me makes it a lot easier. It’s almost like you take a piece of home with you.
How does creating music in Australia compare to your time living and working in Berlin? I guess wherever you are influences the way you make music – the things you write about. You’re experiencing different things, the music scene in every different place has a big influence on what you’re doing and your sound. I mean Melbourne has a very good music scene, and Berlin has a good one too, but very different. So I suppose that has an influence on the way we write and the way we play.
I think it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how different places influence your music differently, but I do think that your surroundings and what you're seeing and experiencing every day, and the people you're meeting everyday has a big influence on the way you make music and write music.
Did you get quite immersed with the local musicians and artists while you were over there? We knew some people before we arrived – there were people we knew from home who are set up there now – there were some people we had met from touring over there, because we had already done a fair bit of touring in Germany and played quite a bit in Berlin, so there were some local musicians that we already knew over there, so we had quite a good network there and definitely spent a lot of time checking out the local music scene and arts scene. It’s a very vibrant scene there.
So you’ve supported bands such as Gotye, City & Colour – any excellent tour stories? What happens on tour, stays on tour. [laughs] Obviously you meet a lot of great people on tour, see a lot of great places – sometimes you're moving through places very quickly and don’t get much of a chance to check them out, but not always. I think the second best thing about touring is the people that you meet and the places you get to see, and I think the best thing about it is always – for me - the shows. Playing the shows – not every show is the greatest, but we’ve found that most of our shows are really good, and the kinds of people, the kinds of audiences that we've played for have been generally great audiences, really open and enthusiastic – I really think that audiences are a huge part of making a show great. There’s an exchange there with the band, so I think for me, the experiences that stand out are the stages we've had the opportunity to play.
In terms of weird experiences, playing with Neil Young we did stadiums all over Australia and that was quite strange, playing those huge spaces. It was intimidating to begin with – you get used to it – but certainly the first show we played at the Perth Entertainment Centre was quite nervewracking. But it’s just for a band like us, whose music has a kind of intimate quality, to play our music in those spaces to so many thousands of people was strange, and probably an experience that I wasn’t really expecting to ever have – so that was pretty wild.
So let’s move on to WOMADelaide – the line up of the festival is incredibly diverse – who are you looking forward to catching? With a festival like WOMAD, I feel like the best thing about it is that you turn up to bands that you’ve never necessarily heard of and you just see these amazing shows; that’s what I love about playing festivals, and especially a festival like WOMAD. So I’ll be there for the festival, and I'll be seeing as much music as I can.
What can fans expect from you during the festival? We’re writing at the moment, and I think we’ll throw in a few very fresh songs - it's always nice to have the opportunity to try new stuff on a live audience. Other than that, we’ll be playing songs off our first two albums. We put a lot of work into our live show, and we’ve done a fair bit of touring lately, so we’ll be aiming to put on a great show - and I think at a festival like WOMAD, there’s going to be so many great bands and artists, you really have to bring your best.
Like I was saying before, I think with a festival like WOMAD there is such a great energy in the people, in the community at the festival that it really does lift the artist. You rely on that kind of energy from an audience, you really need it, and I think the beauty of playing great festivals like WOMAD there’s plenty of that energy and it's almost easy, you know? You just ride off that great energy and it can't really go wrong.
F A S T Q S
First thing you do when you land in a new city? I probably check on what music is on – try and check out a gig.
What’s on your Spotify right now? 'Way Out Weather' by Steve Gunn.
Favourite venue to play? The Thebbie is great – great theatre to play in. it looks really beautiful, it sounds great, and it holds a lot of people but it has a kind of intimacy.
You covered INXS for Like A Version – who would you choose to cover you? I’d love to hear Tame Impala cover us.
Your first job? Working as a labourer on a building site.
Do you have anything you take on tour that reminds you of home? It’s not so much that it reminds me of home, but it is a comfort thing. I take my pillow everywhere I go – it’s a memory foam pillow and I take it everywhere, no matter where it is. Overseas, every city, every bed I ever sleep in on tour I have my pillow with me, and for me, as long as I have my pillow I know im going to have a good nights sleep. My bandmates make fun of me all the time for it, but they don’t know what they’re missing out on.