When I first saw Busby Marou I was 17 and having the time of my life at Woodford Folk Festival. That was six years ago, and here I am still loving everything the Rockhampton duo release. That cruisey, indie folk that has oozed from every one of their three studio albums thus far has had me hooked.
Their latest release Postcards From The Shell House is no exception. Coming to the end of a massive tour, I caught Jeremy Marou as he sets down back in his hometown to talk about the record and being pigeonholed onto world music stages.
The interesting thing about this tour is where it’s taken them. Rather than focusing on the major cities, Busby Marou has veered off the beaten track and into some of the most far flung corners of the nation. “It’s always something we wanted to do and with our booking agents and management being based in Sydney, they just kept saying ‘We don’t see the value in it, it’s about the numbers. We want to play the Metro or larger regional cities where we can sell five or six hundred tickets every night.’
“To their surprise, a place like Goondiwindi, for example, we can sell 100 tickets in a night and the numbers proved themselves… There are all these people out in these regions that love music. We are also from Rockhampton, we are from a regional area too… we are giving back.” Ever-loyal, Busby Marou have stuck vehemently to their identity. “A lot of bands have left Rocky to try and make a living and as soon as they move to Sydney or Melbourne, all of a sudden they’re a Melbourne band. We never did that. We are Rocky boys,” he says proudly.
Rocky boys they may be, but the pair have found themselves less than enthused about the avenues down which they’ve been pushed, relative to their status as an Indigenous act. “It’s not a bad thing,” Marou clarifies, “we’d always celebrate Indigenous artists and Australia, as much as Australia is behind the rest of the world in how it addresses its Indigenous people, it is one thing we do well – we recognise our Indigenous musicians. It’s probably because it’s a cultural thing, we all grew up with music as a way of culture… [but] we’ve never really seen ourselves as an Indigenous band. We are Indigenous people who love music. If you come to a Busby Marou concert you’re not going to see clapsticks. At the end of the
“We are Indigenous people who love music. If you come to a Busby Marou concert you’re not going to see clapsticks. At the end of the day, we are just playing music like everyone else. I am Indigenous and it’s something that I’m very very proud of.” He continues, “early in our career we were definitely pigeonholed. We would only get on stages, being invited to play on the world stage or the Indigenous stage. We did it ten years ago at the Blues & Roots Festival when we were on the Indigenous stage. If it means we get to play of course we did it, but in the back of our minds we are going ‘Next time we want to get on the main stage.’
“When you go into JB Hi-Fi, at the time when our first album came out, it wasn’t in pop or contemporary, it was in Indigenous and world music. There’s nothing Indigenous or world about that record at all, it’s just a stereotype.”
In saying that, the pair have been included in The Sound Of Indigenous Australia, a record which is a curated collection of the best Indigenous artists in the country, Alongside the likes of Yothu Yindi, Jessica Mauboy and Dan Sultan. Marou speaks to their inclusion on the album and its significance: “More recently Tom and I have started seeing ourselves as more of an example. Where I’m a blackfella and Tom’s a whitefella, people come watch us and yes, we are all for reconciliation, but people come and see us on the stage up there that we have written together and that we both love. We are singing songs about country, and about closing the gap. We’re talking about challenges that Indigenous people face together, we are singing about them, it really doesn’t get more down to earth than how Tom and I do it. It means a lot to us be able to showcase our work with other Indigenous acts on this album.”
Postcards From The Shell House is definitely a step in a new direction for Busby Marou. Filled with layered production and a really cinematic aesthetic, the record reflects a change in pace for the artists. A few years on and some big life changes this comes as hardly a surprise. With a widely publicised health scare earlier in the year, the band was rocked by Marou’s unexpected heart attack. Without making this the focus of the interview, it goes without saying that these transitions in Busby Marou’s intent with their album have been reflective of more than just time in the sun.
“The album itself is really about where we are in our lives. Our early stuff was really all about love and girls. Tom and I are married with children now, it is all about fatherhood and settling down. It’s just turned out that the album has a nostalgic island vibe about it. We think it’s our best work so far. We didn’t want it to sound like the first album or the second album, we wanted it to have its own sound to it and its own feel. It was a fun album to write, we recorded it in our backyard on Great Keppel Island. Sitting around campfires, writing the songs and recording them on the island. You can feel that contentment on the album.”
If you think of the biggest artist to tour with, the one with the most star quality and energy, you cannot pass over Elton John. So when the big man himself comes knocking, asking you to tour with him, you’d be a fool to disregard. This is exactly what happened to the once small town folk singers from Rocky. “It was pretty tough there for while because we had to keep it a secret for two months. But it’s very exciting – it’s Elton John and it doesn’t get much bigger.
“We knew he was a big collector of vinyl and he’s very particular about who he takes on tour as welll. He handpicks everyone and doesn’t leave it up to his managers or anything. We sent him a vinyl and put a little note in there, we’ve got a relationship with Chugg as well and so he was doing this tour and put a good word in for us. One day Chugg called up and said ‘Look, he loves the music, he wants to take the boys on tour.’ We were pretty excited.” It’s the opportunity of a lifetime, adding to the massive list of artists that the pair have already performed alongside – think Pete Murray and Dolly Parton, to name a few.
So what at this point has been the biggest moment in their career? With albums reaching #1, sold out shows and some of the country’s biggest festivals, Busby Marou have a few runs on the board. “To release an album and as a kid you never dream of an album going ARIA #1. When we got the news that we’d sold enough albums to debut at #1 that was pretty special for us.
“We were up in Cairns at the time and at mid-week it was sitting at about #6 and we thought we’d get to #3 and we’d be happy. There were some big players out there who had dropped albums in the same week and so we were up against some big albums.”
Postcards From The Shell House is a bold and exciting album, filled with a coastal flavour which only speaks to Busby Marou’s connection to their origins and the values they hold for their careers. Without tokenism and with a clarity of voice the pair has managed to carve out a path along which they can walk hand in hand with their personal and political experiences.