Ward Hancock took some time out from recording a new EP with The Bastard Sons to talk to Foldback Magazine about his move to Melbourne, cracking the scene there, studying songwriting and a return to Darwin soon for his EP launch.
FM: You’ve been in Melbourne for a while now, how is it all going down there?
WH: Very well. Yeah things have picked up, really picked up. At first when I came down, it was very slow. It’s been disheartening to be honest but things are finally picking up. I’m doing uni as well which helps. I’m kinda surrounded by music, which is pretty cool. I’m at AIM (Australian Institute of Music).
FM: When you say things have been slow, do you mean getting into the scene, getting gigs, getting a bit of a following?
WH: Yeah definitely getting into the scene, getting a following. When I first came down I was working shitloads. Now I’m doing uni I have a bit more time, get supported while I play. I actually have time to do heaps of stuff which is awesome.
FM: Cool. With the bands you’ve got The Bastard Sons and Rambutan Jam Band, is that still a thing?
WH: Yep its still a thing. We’re going to record around June this year. We’re just dissecting a whole bunch of tracks now and making them radio-friendly and improving them as much as we can before we go into the studio. We’ve also got a residency at the Evelyn Hotel next month with Rambutan. That will be great because having a regular gig a week will just tighten us up phenomenally.
FM: Obviously Melbourne is a much bigger place than Darwin and having a residency is not something you get much up here. You might get to play Shenanigans three or four weeks in a row but that gets a bit boring after while. Tells us how the system works down there with dedicated original live music venues as opposed to cover band pubs?
WH: The venues just care about how many people you bring in, unless they really like you. The Bastard Sons are playing a regular open mic night at a place called El Coco, just so we can tighten up before the Darwin gig. The management there love us and have offered us a regular paid gig there on Fridays. So yeah it depends on the kid of vibe you bring to a venue down here.
FM: I suppose if you were in Sydney you would have problems with lock-out laws and venues closing so Melbourne seems to have its shit together, you reckon?
WH: Oh yeah for sure. And there’s gigs on all week, its crazy. Like there is music on Mondays. We did an open mic on Wednesday in a place in St. Kilda and it was absolutely packed on a Wednesday night for an open mic. It’s really cool.
FM: I know that Room 105 played at El Coco recently on their southern travels. Is it an open mic in the traditional sense or more of a glorified jam for established bands?
WH: It’s kinda whatever you want. We jammed for ages. We did an hour and a half set there last week and half of it was jamming. They love it, they really got into it and so did everyone else.
FM: You are starting to make a bit of a name for yourselves now I imagine?
WH: Yeah and that’s a good way to do it, going to open mics because everyone know each other and these guys at El Coco, they’ll put up Friday gigs that get paid but they also run the music for other venues around town so there will be one in St. Kilda, one in the city, one in Brunswick and they will just put you onto whichever particular venue. So yeah then if you kinda get known, get a name for yourself then you’ll be laughing.
FM: Did you find that hard to crack? You sorta indicated that it was hard at first.
WH: Yeah it is hard to crack, we’re just starting to crack it now. It takes time. When I first came down I was trying to meet lotsa different people and trying to get to know everybody. They were a bit cold. I think it’s a situation where you have to prove yourself first. In Darwin you can talk to anyone. They hadn’t really heard me, or any of the bands play. I was just a guy asking to jam with them, which can get kinda annoying, I’m sure they get it all the time, there must be all these good players. If you play with your band, prove yourself and show you are up for it, yeah you do get known.
FM: You can be a good point of reference for any NT band or a band from anywhere really who want to come down and try their luck I suppose?
WH: Yeah exactly, open mics.
FM: Open doors.
WH: You’re not gunna get paid much, firstly because it’s Melbourne but there are heaps of gigs around and really good musos around and they are easier to access than you think.
FM: That’s great. One of the reasons we wanted to do this interview is to show NT artists that you can get out of town but you are going to have to go from being a big fish in a little pond to being a little fish in a big pond and work your way up but it can be done.
FM: And you are a good example of that. I want to move on now to the Ward Hancock & The Bastard Sons EP launch. What can we expect with that?
WH: Yeah well the EP launch at The Chippo. We’re working on that now, we are recording the EP right now actually. It’s going to be a bloody good show actually, we have been gigging regularly, we’ve been doing two gigs a week for the past month and we’re just getting as tight as we can. We just working on this set as much as we can to try and make it a real hot, entertaining show.
FM: What have The Bastard Sons got that Rambutan Jam Band haven’t? I don’t mean one is better than the other – I mean what is the difference in the two outfits? What sets them apart from each other? What’s the vibe?
WH: The Bastard Sons is kinda all the solo stuff I write, more classic funk and blues and custom reggae, more conventional stuff but it’s still hot, whereas Rambutan is more what we call ‘psychedelic reggae rap’. With Rambutan there is more delay and reverbs, kinda weird sorta stuff. With Bastard Sons I’m writing some songs with Lachie (Lachlan West, drums) and Dan the bass player and Joe the sax player so it’s pretty cool to get their input on it and they are very hot players.
FM: And you got a sax player as well, that’s really cool.
WH: Yeah actually he’s from Yuendumu, right near Alice Springs.
WH: Yeah it’s a bit weird, I met him at an open mic night when I first came down. It’s a bit weird, I think Territory people, I’ve met so many. I met a girl from Katherine the other week and people from Darwin, or people who have gone to Darwin…yeah it’s weird, you kinda attract each other down hear I think.
FM: Yeah you walk down the street and they kinda got a glow about them (laughs).
WH: Exactly and they are more likely to talk to as well, more talkative.
FM: Speaking of talkative, how is Stevo (Steve Lees) going down there?
WH: He’s killing it. I recorded with him the other day and he is absolutely loving Abbey Road Studios and from the looks of it, he knows his shit as well, he’s running a lot of shit. He’s dived into it and making the most of it, that’s for sure.
FM: Another successful export, that’s for sure. Getting back to The Chippo, obviously you have heard about Pedro (Pedro T. Swift, Chippo sound engineer passing away) – does that make it all the more special for you? Is the reason you are playing there because it’s a sentimental home base or just because it’s a bloody good venue and it’s available again?
WH: Oh yeah exactly. Yeah I remember when I first played The Chippo and Pedro was just a phenomenal guy. And he helped so many people. He’s educated so many musicians. All the shows at The Chippo were cool because of him, he pulled such an amazing sound. He was such a monumental guy in the scene. It was just terrible when we heard about it.
FM: You mentioned before the scene in Melbourne is supportive but is there good scope for young artists to rise above the masses down there and become standouts in the industry?
WH: Yeah there are a lot of younger people in the scene down here. We have other friends who are also sound engineers and we have been recording with them too. There are some managers, a bit older than us, who are keen to manage us. And then there is are filmmakers, artists, a lot more young people doing creative stuff and it’s a community for sure. It’s really great for inspiration and getting new projects going and it’s a great tool to sort of bounce off each other and come up with creative stuff in your respective fields.
FM: I suppose you have a bigger gene pool there but it seems to me, from talking to you, that the whole attitude of the place is different. Darwin can be a bit stifling at times, like having to play at the same venues all the time.
WH: Yeah exactly. There are four million people down here. You are playing to a different crowd each time and there are so many bands as well. You are spoiled for choice for venue or artist.
FM: What is your favourite venue down there?
WH: El Coco is good but it depends on the vibe you are after. There are lots of little bars. We’ve done some great house parties with Rambutan. They’re all different, it’s great.
FM: It seems like with your university studies and playing, you are pretty much full time at this.
WH: Yeah uni is full on but it keeps you in the mindset of music, which is probably the biggest thing. A lot of uni students don’t do heaps of gigs, they just don’t have the time to. But for me, all day I am thinking about music. You come home from uni and you might have a gig or practice. You are just in that music mindset which really helps the whole process of getting better and creating new songs. It helps the writing process as well. Moving down from Darwin to a massive city put me in a different perspective as well. There is lots of inspiration in terms of the weather, its very dreary. The people are dreary (laughs), a lot of them are like zombies but there is also lively things going on, parties and yeah, it’s crazy.
FM: Is the whole Rambutan Jam Band down there?
WH: Yeah the whole band is down here. Daniel (Decurtins) is down here. We got a new guitarist, Jack Piper. He lives with me and Daniel, we just playing music every day and every night and living the dream pretty much.
FM: You’re making me jealous.
WH: I can definitely see it’s very hard to…it’s a big risk as well but I think it’s worth it. The idea for me personally is within these two years of university to get as good as I can and when I come out, I’ve got to be phenomenally good to be employable so I’m really taking advantage of getting supported, being in uni and just having time on my hands in general.
FM: Will there be any touring or is uni going to get in the way of that?
WH: Well uni is easily deferrable and I have been told by people at uni don’t be afraid to defer if you got big gigs so I think the set for Rambutan, we gotta smash it, we really got to make a big splash, go hard, otherwise….we don’t want to fade out. I think we got a really good thing going here, we just got to work hard. We got the music, we got the skills, we got the passion, we just need the work ethic. That will be the thing over the next year to a year and a half. We’re going to have an EP out, we’re going to have great songs and we’re going to be gigging hard. So we’ll be tight and ready to go and try our best.
FM: That tightness is important. I’d like to see you guys sidekick along with guys like Sticky Fingers or Bootleg Rascal or something like that eventually.
WH: Yeah exactly, that’s the dream. Yeah to go on deal with those guys and if we can do that I think it will kinda be smooth sailing from there. The music will talk for itself and the same with the shows but it’s just to that point of being known, put in the same category, to be associated with those bands, and be known when, you know, to pop up in someone’s mind when they’re talked about. I think that if we can do that…
FM: You’ll be on your way. What exactly are you studying at uni?
WH: I’m doing a Bachelor of Songwriting at AIM. I was doing Contemporary Performance but I switched to Songwriting and I’m majoring in guitar.
FM: Well that’s appropriate. Obviously you have got to have some talent. Is there some sort of audition process before they will let you do that degree?
WH: Yeah so I showed them one of my songs and I learnt a solo, the solo of ‘No Woman No Cry’, Peter Tosh. Yeah so I managed to get through that, that was a couple weeks ago. So I’m going back on Monday so that will be exciting. It’s a way bigger workload because I was doing a diploma but now I’ve switched to Bachelor. I had a big think about I and I really want to develop songwriting, that’s what I do. I call myself a guitarist and singer but songwriting is really my thing and will always be my thing so it will be great if I can get quite good at it and that is where the big, big money is. It’s more riskier but it’s more money on the massive scale of things.
FM: You gotta take a risk in this business, everyone has to take a risk and you are in a great position to do that. Speaking of which, I would assume you are getting lots of support from your family?
WH: Yeah heaps of support. They are happy I am doing it, I’m following my dreams. It’s good because my dad’s a freelance photographer and journalist so he knows exactly what it is like to hustle, work hard and work for yourself and overcoming challenges, you know, people undercutting you or new things coming into the industry or big companies and all that sort of stuff.
FM: Or merely someone saying “no, we don’t want you here tonight”, that sort of thing. I would imagine there would be a few rejections along the way.
WH: Yeah exactly, there is going to be something like that going on all the time so if I let any of that stuff get to me, I wouldn’t be where I am now. It’s all about getting better and you gotta be the best.
FM: Absolutely. I think you wanted to confirm some changes to the upcoming Chippo gig?
WH: The gig has been changed to the Friday the 17th June so it doesn’t clash with other things on the Saturday.
FM: Cool we will make sure we publicise that. Okay well thanks very much for your time Ward and we look forward to seeing you in Darwin soon.