Friday, 10 April 2009

The Sound of Wanderlust

Melbourne singer and songwriter Andrew McUtchen recently released his debut album, Down With Wanderlust. A provocative title, I thought, as I regularly bang on about the love of travel right here on this blog. So I asked Andrew to explain himself...

Q: Why the title? What inspired it?

A: The title refers to what I had to do to make the album. It was Down with Wanderlust, and Up with Songwriting, Recording and Sitting Still! Travel is phenomenally inspiring, but I suppose as a writer, or a creative generally, you have to watch that you don’t end up with a shelf full of notebooks and no finished works.

Travel provides the flashpoint of inspiration, but returning home for me is about processing what you’ve seen and experienced and then re-expressing it in words or music.

Q: Do you think a love of travel can be a harmful thing?

A: I reckon travel is an intoxicant and should be treated as such. Travelling keeps you in a childlike state of awe at the world, which is so refreshing after a period of routine. But for me, the movement needs a counterpoint to have real value.

Was it Wordsworth who said “Emotion recollected in tranquillity”? I think it only becomes harmful if your love of travel, like your love of single-malt whiskey or hard drugs, is just an escape from boredom, responsibility, or real, deeply rooted relationships with the people around you.

Q: How can you balance travel with putting down roots? (And would you agree it’s ironic that you left for South America just after the album was launched?)

A: Some pointers:
  • Get a job that relates to travel;
  • Get a girlfriend who loves travel as much as you do;
  • Find a vocation that can be developed on the road;
  • Write quality, PERSONAL emails to your best mates and family (CCs do as much damage as good, I hate getting CC:ed travel emails). I actually became closer to one mate of mine through our epic correspondence. He ended up writing our joint memoirs into a novel.
Yes, true, I left for South America less than 12 hours after my record launch at Pure Pop in St Kilda! I designed a quick international getaway in order to feel like a rockstar on a world tour. But no, I beg to disagree, it’s not that ironic, it was my first major OS trip in ages; I’d managed to push my wanderlust down for three whole years!

Q: Which of the tracks on the album address travel most directly?

A: Probably Freedom Hymn. The chorus has a chanted refrain of “Freedom is anywhere you want it to be”, which is intended to mean that true freedom is a mental state, not a dusty suitcase, a plane ticket and a passport. Though these things, in concert with an unencumbered mind, is the ultimate combination.

Sand Dunes
is the epic travel song though, in the sense that it’s really long, and is, lyrically speaking, a travelogue about a guy trapped inside Bruce Springsteen’s Thunder Road (incidentally, probably the best song ever).

Q: Does your day job involve travel?

A: Yes, I’m the managing editor of two high-end in-room hotel magazines: Destinations Victoria and Destinations Australia.

Q: Where have you travelled most recently?

A: Uruguay. I much preferred it to Argentina. Cleaner, greener, less corrupt and the coastline is studded with great little Mexican-style seaside villages. Did I mention the horses? Lots of horses!

Q: Is there a place you long to return to?

A: I probably shouldn’t mention it, because it’s quite busy enough, but my mind always goes back to Český Krumlov in the south of the Czech Republic. There’s something about the softness of the light in summer, the taste of the beer and the way the afternoons pass as slow as the waters of the Vltava River that runs through it; it’s just magical.

Not to mention that if you get a room with a wooden windowsill you are looking, every day, at a real-life Van Gogh painting; all those rustic golds, fields and swirling blue skies!

Q: How has the album been received so far?

A: So far so good. For me, the best thing about reviews is hearing who people think my influences are and what my music ‘sounds like’ to them. False humility aside, as a singer you honestly have no idea how the sound that’s coming out of your mouth settles in other people’s ears.

Some references are difficult to take (John Mayer always smarts a bit, but I know it’s the “air” my voice) and some are flattering (Cat Stevens, Paul Simon, Nick Drake, Ryan Adams), but all interest me for their subjectivity.

More info:
  • Down With Wanderlust can be purchased online via iTunes; or order the CD from Rare Records.
  • In Melbourne, the CD is also available from Rare Records, 82 Acland Street, St Kilda; Pure Pop Records, 221 Barkly Street, St Kilda; and Greville Records, 152 Greville Street, Prahran.
  • You can read more about Andrew and his music here.