Australian singer-songwriter, Michael Waugh's new album is titled 'The Cast'.
Michael Waugh's fourth studio album, 'The Cast', produced by alt-country luminary Shane Nicholson, is an impressive collection of short-story songs from one of our country's most eloquent songsmiths.
Michael paints vivid word pictures of contemporary Australian life. At the heart of the record, Michael is coming to terms with the grief and loss of both of his parents.
Yet, 'The Cast' shines with songs of hope, love, healing – and a fair degree of '80s pop culture.
"While I really missed touring and making music with my friends, I needed to be still after losing mum and dad – to reflect, to write and to be surrounded by my family," Waugh says of the making of 'The Cast'.
"Being isolated in lockdown was a little like having a broken arm stuck inside a cast – it was frustrating and I was itching to get out, but ultimately it's what I needed so that I could start to put myself back together again."
Here, we visit his lockdown bunker in Victoria, where the drama teacher and singer-songwriter reads out the roll call of some of the characters and stories that populate 'The Cast'.
I've always had an ugly relationship with food – it's something that I've felt embarrassed about for most of my life. I ate for comfort until it tasted of shame.
Growing up, I didn't hear many men talk about eating disorders – apart from to make self-deprecating jokes. I wrote 'Swollen' because I dared myself to put into words something that I really hated about myself.
Ultimately, I see this record as being a collection of songs that are hopeful and searching for healing. I am proud that I had the guts to start the record with 'Swollen': in order to heal, you've also got to work out what's broken.
The chorus of 'Dark' is a direct reference to Bruce Springsteen's 'Dancing In The Dark', which for me, is part of the soundtrack of a Friday night in a country town.
In Sale, near where I grew up, Ringers Nightclub was the place to be, and The Boss was boss on the dance floor.
There'd be farmers, FIFO workers from the nearby oil rigs, local tradies, under-aged drinkers; a cast of characters chugging Lemon Ruskies, dancing around handbags, fighting in the toilets, pissing away their week's wages.
Imagine 'Dark' as being the story of that character from Springsteen's 'Dancing In The Dark' or the protagonist in 'Khe Sanh' as if he was out for a night on the piss at a nightclub in country Victoria.
Dad died in January 2020 and Mum died six weeks later. Two weeks after Mum's funeral, we went into lockdown. It was a really hard time for me.
I was grieving and disconnected from the world of work and touring that would normally have kept me busy and constantly moving. It was like having a broken limb and being stuck in a cast – I was itching to get out, but I had to be still.
I wrote 'The Cast' about a real playground accident, and my feelings around it. There's a particular sting in the tail of this song, so I don't want to say too much about it.
Though, when I wrote it, I knew that it had to be the title track of the record because it conveyed those themes of being broken and yearning for love. Also, these were songs that I wrote while I was healing myself in a long hardened 'cast', which was the Victorian lockdowns of 2020.
Too Many Drawers
My Mum was a very sentimental hoarder. She kept memorabilia on seemingly everything: A suitcase full of minutes from her time as president of the Sale Catholic Women's League, Knickknacks, clippings, photos – even a drawer full of coasters from every pub that she'd been to on a particular holiday.
There was a safe, and we thought that we'd open it to find some treasure, and there was – an expired cruise pass from 2015's Cruisin' Country: a holiday memory so precious that it needed to be kept locked away safely.
After she died, I found a note that she'd written to me in 2004. She'd been diagnosed with cancer, and she thought that it might have been her last Christmas, so she left me a note behind a photo of her and dad.
I didn't find the note until 2020, after she'd passed. The note said: 'I hope it's not time for God to get me: I've got too many drawers left to clean.'
My Mum has always had a very special relationship with Felicity Urquhart. She never met Felicity in person – she had tickets to see Fliss play and wanted to meet her after the show, but Mum became too sick to attend.
Mum would religiously tune in to Felicity on Saturday Night Country – sometimes listening to Fliss in one ear while listening to a football match with the other.
Mum became too ill to care for herself, and we had to give her respite in an aged care home. I knew that she would be uncomfortable and scared on that first night away from dad and her home on Macarthur Street so I said: "Mum, is there anything that you need tonight." She said: "It's Saturday – can you get me a radio so I can listen to Felicity."
As she did for many, Felicity kept my Mum company through that night, Fliss' warm, enthusiastic voice making Mum feel that she was safe and less alone on a night she was scared and vulnerable.
When Felicity said that she would sing 'Too Many Drawers' as a duet with me, I knew that this would be the perfect way to commemorate the passing of my beautiful mum.
During the COVID lockdown, we were stuck within a 5km radius of our homes. I started to newly appreciate the beauty of my city, Melbourne.
I'm lucky enough to live within walking distance of the Yarra, and on those precious masked and socially distanced walks, I became conscious of the importance of our river in the identity and history of my city.
And we live at a time when we all have opportunity to learn more about the story predating European invasion – and the spiritual significance of the Yarra runs through the heart of that story, too. My home stands on Wurundjeri Land – and I know it always will.
This is my love song to Melbourne.
Michel Waugh 2021-2022 Tour Dates
Sun 17 Oct - Lizotte's Newcastle 12-14 Nov - Healesville Music Festival (VIC) Sat 4 Dec - Theatre Royal (Hobart) Fri 21 Jan - West Tamworth Leagues Club (Tamworth) Thu 3 Feb - Live At The Bundy (Bundalaguah, VIC) Sun 27 Feb - Memo Music Hall (Melbourne) Sat 12 Mar - South Sydney Juniors (Sydney) Fri 18 Mar - Music On The Hill (Mornington Peninsula)