With his new album The Scrapbook climbing to the top of the charts in his native Australia, singer, songwriter and all-around jack of creative trades Angus Gill is doing more with his 23 years than most of us do in a lifetime. The collection of bluegrass songs is not only a love letter to the genre, but it features some amazing collaborations, from Jim Lauderdale to Charles Esten.
I recently sat down with Gill to discuss Steve Earle snippets of wisdom, soaking up the sponge, and why his sense of humor helps him as a performer.
Americana Highways: You are 23 years old and already have four albums under your prolific belt. What does it feel like to have an entire catalog of music at such a young age? Do you feel as prolific as you seem?
Angus Gill: I do feel a sense of accomplishment, but ultimately I write because I have to. There’s no other option. If I’m not writing, I’m re-writing. I’ve always got my antennae up, there’s always a title or lyric rolling around in my head. The writing usually leads me to producing a track and that leads to the road. I also work regularly writing for other artists, which I love as well!
AH: There are a lot of distractions in today’s world. How do you stay focused on your creative endeavors and maintain the kind of work ethic that continues to generate results?
AG: In Australia, we’ve basically been living in a state of paralysis for almost two years, due to COVID, so being stuck at home, there hasn’t been many distractions for me. I don’t really believe in writer’s block. As writers, we spend so much time coming up with reasons not to write, when we could actually be doing it. Steve Earle once told me, you have to treat it like a job and ‘punch in/punch out’ to get the work done. Over the course of the pandemic, I’ve been able to write a lot more on my own, but I’ve also been embracing Zoom, writing with my regular collaborators and other artists. Various projects have come along and given me a drive and purpose to get up every day and be creative. If a project doesn’t exist, I usually create one.
AH: The Scrapbook has been out in the world now for a few weeks. If your career was a book with each release a chapter, what would this chapter tell us about who you are today in 2021?
AG: I think this chapter would be called Retired Old Man, because I feel like I’ve had 60 years added to my life, being stuck at home in 2021. I have always been an old soul, but I’ve grown a lot as an artist and a person over the last year. I’ve become much more of a critical, analytical thinker. I’ve consumed more art, books and music than I’ve done before and I’ve even become a vinyl hoarder of sorts. Reading every day and playing a new old vinyl that I’ve not heard before, has not only been useful in filling my ideas tank, but also keeping my constantly inspired and intrigued.
AH: What are you most proud of with the album?
AG: I’m proud of the contrast and balance we achieved on this album. Bluegrass is a very specific genre and there’s audience expectations that need to be met, if you’re calling an album bluegrass. I’m proud of the songs and the fact we were able to achieve quite a vast range of contrast, whilst still conforming to those expectations. One of my favorite songs on the album is “Forget Me Not,” an a cappella track, where I arranged and sung all of the harmonies. The swing-grass track “Caught Between a Rock and a Heartache” also played a part in achieving contrast, as did the 3/4 time track “Let’s Have a Drink (To Not Drinking Again).”
AH: When albums land in our laps, we only hear the music. The end result is what we remember, but for you, there is an entire process to writing, recording and promoting a record. What will you remember most in 10 or 20 years about bringing life to The Scrapbook?
AG: The catalyst for the album was “Whittling Away,” which I came across last year, while taking stock of my songs. I wrote it with Jim Lauderdale back in 2019 and it really struck a chord with me when I came across it last year. I sent Jim an email, letting him know I was planning to cut it and I also suggested that the song could be a duet and I’d be thrilled if he’d sing it with me. Jim agreed to do it and sent me his part about a week after and then I had a standalone bluegrass track, which didn’t fit with any other projects I had on the go. Shortly after, I was doing pre-production on another song, “Samson,” which eventually revealed itself as a grass song too. I also came upon a pile of bluegrass or traditional country songs written from several years ago, and before too long, I had a bluegrass album on my hands. Tim Crouch and I started flying tracks across Dropbox in January this year and we brought in a few other musicians, Randy Kohrs, Clay Hess and Tony Wray to play on it too. It took a few months to finish. We had a terrible flood here in late March, resulting in my studio getting flooded. Thankfully my hard drives, computers and a lot of outboard gear was saved, and I was able to finally finish and mix the album in April.
AH: There’s a ton of collaborations on the album. Is it creatively inspiring to work with other people – even in short snippets – and do you find yourself taking different things (lessons, advice, etc.) from different people?
AG: I love working with other people, but maybe I’m trying to compensate for my pathetic social life too. (Laughter) Jokes aside, I love the process, as long winded as it can be sometimes, it’s always fun sharing that process with others. I think every time you write a song, there’s something to learn. Songwriting is such a mysterious, elusive beast. A song will always unravel in a slightly different way every time, depending on the dynamics of who is in the room. I also love writing on my own and being able to fully examine and analyze my thoughts and then edit an idea down to it’s most cohesive, concise and honest form in my own time. I occasionally write with people who aren’t songwriters too, but have great ideas and I enjoy channeling their thoughts and stories into song. At the end of the day, it’s always a positive when something is created that didn’t exist before.
AH: Not many people can say they’re friends with Steve Earle, but alas, you can. How important have mentors been to your career?
AG: Hugely important. I owe a lot to people like Steve, Adam Harvey, Graeme Connors and others for their friendship and the support they’ve given me, as I was hugely influenced by their music growing up. Someone told me once that while you’re young, you have to be a sponge and absorb everything. I think I’ve subconsciously always done that and I still do. It’s part of the songwriter and the old soul in me, constantly picking up on things that people say and jotting them down.
AH: You have performed at the Grand Ole Opry – one of the youngest Australians (at the time, 19) to ever do so. As far as bragging rights go, how does that one do back at home? Does the Opry carry as much prestige as it does here in the States?
AG: Absolutely. It was a huge honor and a lot of people back home couldn’t believe it happened. “Feet of Clay,” track 5 on the new album, was the song I performed with Charles Esten on the Opry. He and I wrote it a few weeks before and he called me up the night before he was going to play on the Opry and asked me if I’d be keen to come along and sing it with him. I’m very grateful to Chip for that experience!
AH: Other than your music you’re also known for your sense of humor. There are all kinds of tools in the toolbox of a touring musician, but being able to interact with a crowd helps to make a show a memorable one for those in attendance. How do you use your personality to help maintain that connection to your fans, either on stage or a million miles away using social media?
AG: My family and friends often never know what is going to come out of my mouth, the humor comes naturally to me. I have my father to thank for my sense of humor and it does work in my favor as a performer. I grew up studying entertainers like Beccy Cole & Adam Harvey, seeing how they could captivate a crowd with their personality and great songs. I’m also a big fan of stand up comedy and musical comedy, and have studied the craft of comedy writing, almost to the degree I have with songwriting. I often get asked to host shows or perform a short side set as a comedian, which is always a hoot. I got together with a bunch of my favorite Australian comedians last year to write and record a comedy album, which actually got us an ARIA Awards nomination. It started with the question, what if I got together with a bunch of comedians on Zoom and after chatting with them, come up with a comedy song based on a story or topic we spoke about.
AH: Time machine question. If you could jump ahead 10 years and get a glimpse of what your career looks like a decade from now, would you take that journey? If not, why?
AG: No, I wouldn’t. I’d prefer to live in the moment and let it play out in real time.
To get your hands on The Scrapbook and find more information about Angus Gill, visit http://www.angusgill.com.au.