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BRODERICK SMITH: ‘MAN OUT OF TIME’ INTERVIEW

Australian songwriting and vocal  legend Broderick Smith has released a new solo album and a much anticipated autobiography, both are titled Man Out Of Time. AM’s Greg Phillips spoke to Brod about about the projects.

In a career spanning six decades, singer, songwriter and master storyteller Broderick Smith has cemented his place in Australian folklore as a genuine music legend. From his time with pioneering Australian blues acts such as Adderley Smith Blues Band and Carson, to the iconic alt-country rock band The Dingoes and numerous solo projects, the Boy On The Run has become a Man Out Of Time. Ten years since his last solo album ‘Unknown Country’, Brod has not only released another record but also his much-anticipated autobiography, both are titled Man Out Of Time.

The new album had been in the can for some time but sat on the shelf biding time while the book project was completed. “With Matt Walker and Rowan Matthews, the engineer … we finished the album a few years back,” Brod tells me. “We waited for the book to be released. Then we had to wait for a title for both of them that made sense. You know, I am beyond my user date, you need to put a couple of things together to have some degree of impact. So Man Out Of Time … it’s the title track now but it wasn’t always. Man out of time, man out of place!”

Lyrically, Brod has never been one to run out of ideas. He has a large collection of books going back years that are filled with lyrics, phrases and notions that he adds to when inspiration strikes.
“I have bursts,” he says of his writing pattern. “At the moment I am in a writing burst. Normally I will watch TV or read books for six months or three months or whatever and then I’ll put them away and do something else, then bang all of a sudden I’ll star writing lyrics. At the moment I have been pretty busy because I am also writing an album with CR Humphrey from Old Grey Mule, a blues duo from the States … both part Native American guys. The guy I am writing with is Charles Redfox Humphrey, he’s part Cherokee. We sort of just connected as people and started talking and then started writing for this little album we are working on at the moment. Whether it goes anywhere I don’t know plus we’re working on some original songs for another album idea. I’m a late developer I think.”

“I tend to over-write normally when I do an album and as we go along, we start carving it back and with a lot of records it will start to give you a shape. The original thought behind the whole thing (Man Out Of Time) was hidden costs. I felt that all of the songs seemed to have a hidden cost in them … through life … or it’s like when you do any kind of deal, there is always a hidden cost. Then we changed the title to Man Out Of Time to make more sense for the book.”

Musically, Brod has never strayed too far from his folk, country rock roots and Man Out Of Time is no exception. It’s a rich, textural musical landscape featuring Smith’s distinctive character-filled voice and thought-provoking tales from the past and present. His main musical collaborators for this album were Matt Walker (Lost Ragas) and The Flood’s Kevin Bennett but there were many others keen to be part of Brod’s project too.
“Tom Rogerson, a late American friend of mine who has passed, wrote some of the songs with me as well and he played acoustic guitar on it,” explains Brod. “His daughter Kaitlyn-Maree played some mandolin on it too. She plays about four instruments. Matt Walker naturally plays a lot, Shane Reilly, who plays in Lost Ragas with Matt… he contributed some wonderful pedal steel and high harmonies. We used Hamish Stuart from Sydney, who works with Lucy Thorne. He a jazz session kind of guy. He knew all about air and looseness. If you notice on the album, it doesn’t have a lot of stacked, busy-ness going on, it’s more about textures. Mark Pines added a little bit of banjo. Matt played banjo too, he also played about four instruments. Steve Hadley played some wonderful bass. Richard Tankard who plays with me all the time, is a wonderful keyboard player and he played some organ on Desert Blooms.”

There are a couple of tracks on the album which are closer to Brod’s heart than others and it’s easy to see why. Both Birds Fell From The Sky and Angus McMillan are two atmospheric tunes which prove that there’s much power in timing and space, the moments that aren’t played as much as those that are.
“I try to put an album aside for a while and then have a listen from the perspective that I didn’t do it and then things tend to stand out,” Brod says of listening back to his own recordings. “The other day Angus McMillan stood out but also Birds Fell From The Sky, just the emotional reading of it got to me when I was listening to it. So those two I like but it depends on what kind of mood I am in. With Birds Fell from The Sky, I’d been listening to some Johnny Greenwood from Radiohead,” says Brod. “He did the soundtrack to There Will Be Blood and thought he did some great atmospheric stuff. I wanted like a grating edge in that song just to create a bit of tension, so that was Matt playing piano on that one.”

“With Angus McMillan, I did one like that on the last album too called Jack Napoleon. I’m interested in the Australian first nations’ history that doesn’t usually get a look in or we tend to put it aside as we’re worried about what we are going to have for dinner or something. That song came about through (Prime Minister) John Howard actually. He said once that we should forget the past and move on. I thought ok, well that’s a reasonable statement but how can you forget something if you don’t know about it first? That’s been done a lot. I have a lot of Koori friends and I have a map here somewhere of all the Koori massacres in Victoria and it takes up a fair chunk of the map. I think because we are a young country, as a nation we’re just 240 years old. We still have time to change things like shire names and all those sort of things and confront this stuff. I also felt with Jack Napoleon that the true freedom fighters in this country were the first nations people. The true ones were fighting for freedom and I always thought you could do a TV show and do a half hour each on these freedom fighters in the country.”

Launching at the same time as the Man Out of Time album is Brod’s autobiography of the same name. It’s a project that he felt he needed to do rather than wanted to.
“I needed to do it because I was 70,” he states. “When I was about 40, Toby Creswell lined me up with a publisher In Sydney and I started to wrote one but he didn’t like it and I didn’t particularly like it. It took a long time to write and I didn’t really want to do anything until I was 70. I mean Justin Bieber, My Life … you know, I mean give the guy a break, he has another 50 to go! I started writing down anecdotes and things that I remembered. Then a dear friend of mine, John Tate who used to run Essendon CDs, he helped out with John Dubois (Dingoes band member) book, ‘Dingoes Lament’ and tried to make some sense of that. With mine, he didn’t write it but he edited it and he whipped me. As we were going along, he’d say we need a bit more here and a bit more there. So I would go away and write it. I needed a sergeant in my ear yelling in my ear to finish it. I wouldn’t recommend writing a book to anybody to be honest. I tried to make the book not so self-absorbed. I find most rock bios are self absorbed to the degree that they become really difficult to read. I don’t care if you had a relationship with that guitarist’s girlfriend you know, whatever, I just want to hear about the music and he history of it. I wrote it like a pilgrims version … through being a migrant, a tough but rich migrant town and then the bands and the army and all that. It’s not a dissimilar story to a lot of young guys at that time. I tried to give other guys praise and tried to highlight the folk roots scene, which has been a bit neglected. There’s a tendency to look back now and think that Countdown was the wellspring of everything for that period but you forget about the folk shows, the ones that were important to me like GTK and Radio With Pictures because they were live. I’m stunned that we haven’t seen them come out on DVD and given their rightful place as the true wellspring of the scene. GTK and Radio With pictures was warts and all.”

With the album and book out now, Brod will be playing some gigs in Melbourne and Sydney, as well as participating in some St Kilda Writers Week events throughout the next week. At some point in the future, we can also look forward to hearing two more albums that he’s currently working on.
“I am coming out and doing some gigs,” says Brod. “I’m not retired but I am an old pensioner dude now. I’ll do as much as I can but as I say, I’m 70 and the phone’s not ringing for me to be on the cover of Vanity Fair. I’m just trying to pack in as much as I can. I am physically OK and there is so much to write about now because everything is so crazy. It’s a crazy time. Everywhere you look, it’s like all the politicians are nuts … maybe they always were.”

MAN OUT OF TIME album is out now through Bloodlines
MAN OUT OF TIME book is out now through Starman Books

brodericksmith.com