Danny Widdicombe's new album featuring Trichotomy is titled 'Between The Lines'.
Somewhere in between pneumonia, a marriage breakdown and two hip replacements, singer-songwriter Danny Widdicombe found the time to write his new solo album 'Between The Lines'.
Known best for his work with The Wilson Pickers, Danny has written and recorded his fourth solo album with Australian instrumental trio Trichotomy, aiming to emulate recordings from the '60s and '70s where artists like Van Morrison, Nick Drake, John Martyn and Richard Thompson hired jazz musicians to improvise around their songs.
Ostensibly a break-up album, 'Between The Lines' is a journey into Danny's emotional depths and back again. On the first single 'I'm Not Around', Danny allows an inside peek to his struggles with depression. The album also features Danny's daughter, India, singing with him on the song 'Coin Drop'.
Having launched 'Between The Lines' with live shows in July, Danny talks with us about making the album, the stories it tells and what it was like working with Trichotomy.
Tell us about your new album 'Between The Lines' and what you wanted to achieve with it? I was going through a marriage breakdown and writing songs which didn’t fit either of my regular bands, The Wilson Pickers nor The Honey Sliders.
I thought these new tunes had legs. So I asked my friend, the pianist Sean Foran, if he’d be interested in being involved. His instrumental trio Trichotomy heard some of my rough demos and said 'yes' straight away.
From our first rehearsal we knew that it was meant to be. They added colours and rhythms to the songs that I never would have come up with on my own, and conversely, my songs are something completely at odds with what they’d normally be improvising over. We’re both stretching ourselves.
Is there a theme or idea that unifies the songs on 'Between The Lines'? This is a break-up album – but it’s not all doom and gloom. There are two instrumentals which are uplifting; there are songs about holding onto love, a song about a Hieronymus Bosch painting (sounds wanky, but I literally just described what I saw in the painting), a song about dealing with grief while on hallucinogens and more.
What ties it all together is the cinematic approach we took to the music and the idea that I simply play and sing the songs, while Trichotomy improvise around me. I gave no instructions, apart from when I heard something that I absolutely loved, I’d ask them to try and keep playing that part.
By the time we went in to record, I loved everything they did so we just played the songs three or four times and moved onto the next one. The whole album was done in three days apart from the strings being overdubbed by Luke ‘Fiddleboy’ Moller from Austin, Texas.
What are some of the stories behind the songs on the album? The first song, ‘I’m Not Around’, is very much a heart-on-the-sleeve description of how I felt in my darkest hours: ‘It’s better for everyone if I’m not around.’
We all know someone with depression, and I’ve spent time in hospital with that diagnosis and it never goes away completely. If you can recognise a trigger that returns you to the same pattern of thinking, then at least you’re on the way to starting to heal.
Another song is about a documentary I watched with Ram Das and Timothy Leary talking about psychedelics and they discussed its use with dealing with grief. Ram Das explained that if you feel like your grief is like a bottomless pit, it isn’t. It just feels that way. On the upside, if you have that depth of emotion when it comes to grief, then you’re capable of having the equal amount of love fill your heart. That song is called 'Coin Drop' and my daughter India sings on that with me.
'Let’s Get Lost' is about one night when I drove around trying to chase a total lunar eclipse. It was cloudy in every direction. I took a punt and headed south with Sun Ra’s 'Space Is The Place playing on the car stereo. I was thinking about my family and the people I love.
What did Trichotomy contribute to the songs, and how did their involvement shape the final product? I wrote all the songs, but in the process of working out what Trichotomy wanted to add, there were moments when one of them would add an idea about dynamics or even new chords in a section, so I gave them varying degrees of songwriting credits depending on their involvement.
Overall, their input has turned my dreams into a reality. When you’re writing songs you start to imagine what could be added to help express a certain idea, and Sean, Samuel and John all got it straight away. It’s a joy to play music with them.
I’m not a jazz musician and I’ve never claimed to be, but when I’m playing with Trichotomy, I feel like I have to be at the top of my game to keep the whole thing afloat.
In the early days of the album's release, are you happy with how it's being received? I sure am. There are certain key people in the music world whose opinion and knowledge of music I truly respect. All of them have come back starry eyed and bewildered at the departure from my normal sound, but at the same time saying how it sounds more like me than my other records.
It’s also the first album of my own that I’ve played pedal steel on and something really magical happened when that and the strings were overdubbed. It’s a sound I had hoped for, but when Yanto Browning put his magic ears to work mixing these recordings, a wondrous texture was created that gives this album an otherworldly feeling. It’s this sound that people have really been eager to know about and discuss.
Was there a different approach taken to writing and recording this album than with previous releases? I usually write what ever comes out and then pick the tunes that suit each other and then beat them into shape. When I have enough songs, I put the album out.
With my band The Wilson Pickers, there are guidelines because it’s a five-piece acoustic and harmony singing group so the songs have to fit into a more defined space. With this album I just let myself go in any direction I cared for.
When you have a band playing songs live all together, it really doesn’t matter what style the songs are because the thread running through the album is the sound of the instruments. One of my favourite albums is 'John Wesley Harding' by Dylan. The songs are sort of all over the place, but the performances provide a solid foundation for the listener.
How have the recent live shows for the album gone? Because I’m singing and paying guitar, I had to find someone to cover my pedal-steel parts. I thought I'd ask my teacher Michel Rose, who happens to be one of the best exponents of pedal steel in the world. To my great surprise and delight, he said yes!
I also asked Kristin Berardi to sing with us at our launch shows. She does most of the backing vocals on the album, along with my daughter India. So we had Michel, Kristin and the three Trichotomy members, Sean Foran, Samuel Vincent and John Parker. I was in musical heaven.
The audience feedback was unanimous in their overwhelming gratitude and praise. We’ve found something that we don’t think too many people are doing and it seems to work.
Will there be another Widdicombe-Trichotomy collaboration in the future? If they’ll put up with me, then definitely. Since we first got together about a year ago, I’ve been through a marriage separation, a hip replacement and pneumonia. I think they’re probably wondering who the hell they’ve invested all their time with, but they seem to be keen for more.
I’ve started writing the next album. What's coming next for you? My beloved Wilson Pickers are playing Gympie Muster and Mullum Music Fest, Trichotomy and I will tour Victoria. I’m making an ambient, pedal steel album with Yanto Browning, and in December, The Honey Sliders are joining Tim Rogers to play The Rolling Stones’ album 'Let it Bleed' in Brisbane, Sunny Coast and the Goldy. I can’t wait for all of it.