Throughout his 45-year career, Mick Thomas has proved one thing – he is a captivating storyteller with the ability to accurately represent the Australian landscape, time and time again.
But, even within the throes of a global pandemic, you can’t keep a good songman down and so the musical journey continues with Mick Thomas and The Roving Commission documenting life in lockdown in the best way he knows how – creating an entire album in isolation.
Written and recorded almost entirely in lockdown, Thomas dubbed the seven-track album ‘See You On The Other Side: A Postcard from April 2020’, marking the release as somewhat of a time capsule of the tumultuous period.
“For me, the big key to this record is that it was written, recorded and released in a very concentrated period of time,” says Thomas. “Basically, if you grabbed me on the 1st of April, none of these songs existed.”
While it was never Thomas’ intention to write a record in isolation, his passion for storytelling triumphed over the challenges of isolation. A songwriter at his core, Thomas simply sat down and wrote a verse and a chorus for what would become the epic nine-minute track ‘See You When I’m Looking At You’ and the rest was history.
Featuring a long list of collaborators including Angie Hart (Frente), Nick Barker, Vikki Thorn (The Waifs), Darren Hanlon, Shelley Short, Alana Jagt, Brooke Russell, Van Walker, Ron S. Peno (Died Pretty), Alannah Russack (The Hummingbirds), Ben Salter, Dana Gehrman, Cam Butler and Jen Anderson who all blindly add their own chapters to the track, Thomas explains how this was the catalyst for the creation of the entire album.
“I had thought to send it [‘See You When I’m Looking At You’] to Sal Kimber who I then remembered was pretty much going into labour around this time and I got to thinking how long ago her show at the Merri Creek Tavern seemed (it was only about two weeks previous – March 13). This gave me the idea for the tune ‘I Heard Sally Singing’.”
From here, Thomas continued to find inspiration in the small things – flicking on the TV to see a special airing of a 2009 AFL match between the Cats and the Saints led to ‘Round 14, 2009’, while children propping their teddies in the windows of neighbouring houses to spread a little light while they were stuck indoors inspired ‘Rainbows and Bears’, and the empty railway train spawned ‘Ghost Train to Mernda’.
The only album track recorded pre-COVID is ‘Mint Condition’, a gem Thomas penned as the title track to the short-form drama series of the same name about Melbourne record stores. Released amid isolation, its place on the record was assured.
“I got a call from one of the producers – Gareth Calverly – a guy I had met at gigs and spoken with off and on about working together in some capacity over the years. He asked if I wanted to come and do a cameo part in one episode. I was reluctant as I can be pretty awkward in front of a camera. But when I found there were no actual lines for me to speak and that I got to flirt with Sibylla Budd I thought it might be fun,” Thomas reveals of his involvement in the independent series.
“So, I went and did my bit and just got pretty excited once I got the whole picture of what the show was saying and celebrating. I was riding home on my bike and I just started singing the chorus in my head. It was pretty easy to write and I think it’s good for a writer like me to balance my more involved referential works with something more innocent and plain in terms of its message. They never asked for the song but I was pretty adamant they should have it.”
Marking the second Mick Thomas’ Roving Commission album, following the release of Coldwater DFU last year, recording and releasing an album during a pandemic was new territory for Thomas.
“The last album was done in Memphis with a great emphasis on planning, developing, creating funding, doing budgets,” he explains.
“This was just done totally on the fly, making it up as we went along. I think more than anything it made me take stock of myself and my life creatively and say ‘I’m a musician, this is what I do and I am going to find a way to do it no matter what happens’.
“Getting these little bits of binary reinforcement and encouragement each day in the way of WAV files beaming in from around the country strengthened me no end,” he adds.
Replacing what would have been an overseas album session, ‘See You On The Other Side’ is a record by a uniquely Australian creative force not only observing what was on the outside during a temporary life of forced solitude but also fully embracing and exploring the possibilities of real-time connection in unusual circumstances.
“At the start of the lockdown Ben Salter and Charles Jenkins both released albums and I thought initially – why would you do that when you can’t tour? But then I thought – no they’re right. What’s the point of having something to say and play and then keeping it to yourself when the rest of the world needs something to get them excited? And then to constantly open my computer and see people going through their ten favourite albums of all time made me want to make NEW music,” he admits.
“Access to cheap streaming seems to have made people more nostalgic and less daring in their choices. I guess if every time they go on Spotify to listen to a new Mick Thomas song they end up listening to a Weddings track from thirty years ago we are up against it.
“But it’s always been difficult getting new songs out there. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try and, pandemic or not, there’s no time like the present.”
Release: ‘See You On The Other Side: A Postcard from April 2020’ is out now.