Back roads inspire The Whitlams’ alt-country detour

Stephanie Gardiner |

As an Americana revival grips the industry The Whitlams’ alt-country project has joined the fray.
As an Americana revival grips the industry The Whitlams’ alt-country project has joined the fray.

Tim Freedman jokes he’s been beaten to the punch by Beyoncé.

“Tim Freedman is doing country music, who cares, Beyoncé just dropped two tracks,” The Whitlams frontman says with a chuckle.

“But she’s not going to be touring Geelong and Ballarat.”

As an Americana revival grips the global music industry – accelerated by Beyonce’s Texas-soaked renaissance – Tim Freedman’s alt-country project has joined the fray, with the release of debut album Kookaburra.

The Whitlams Black Stump record opens with the cackle of the Australian bird, followed by the band’s most loved songs, new work and covers infused with banjos, fiddles and a “crying machine”, or pedal steel guitar.

The melody on the opening track Man About A Dog, from The Whitlams’ 2022 comeback album Sancho, sets a scene of wide open spaces and country air.

It’s a fresh sound on a song that was recorded “too quick and overcooked” for Sancho, Freedman told AAP from Sydney’s inner-west.

“It’s a lot slower and breezier and it feels to me like there’s an elbow in the breeze and the grass is growing.”

The concept of a country album came to Freedman in a moment just like that, driving on the deserted roads of western NSW during a solo tour as COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns gripped the cities.

He found out Man About A Dog was getting airplay on country stations, so he tuned in while driving between towns like Gunnedah, Dubbo, Orange, Tamworth and Mudgee.

In a moment of whimsy, Freedman called acclaimed country producer Matt Fell and asked him to put together recording sessions with his dream band.

Freedman soon found his work was not entirely foreign to the traditions of Australian country.

“I’m quite a parochial songwriter in that I do like to tackle Australian themes,” he said.

“I’ve released songs about Ned Kelly’s sister and East Timor and Gough Whitlam and poker machines in the 90s, so I’m always looking for Australian subject matter.”

Tim Freedman at the 51st Tamworth Country Music Festival.
Tim Freedman loves to tackle Australian themes in his songwriting. (Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS)

Reworks of The Whitlams’ hits No Aphrodisiac, which topped Triple J’s Hottest 100 in 1998, and Blow Up the Pokies feature on Kookaburra.

No Aphrodisiac pops with a wailing fiddle and intricate banjo riffs, while Pokies is recorded at a slower tempo and lower pitch.

It is a joy to revisit older work and respect its place the audience’s life, Freedman said.

“There’s no denying that a musician likes playing his new music more than his old music.

“But I always try and repel those sort of feelings about those songs because they’re the moments in a concert where people are transported back to when they first heard them.

“Music is an extremely powerful tool for memory and nostalgia and time travel.”

The Whitlams Black Stump will play shows in regional areas and some cities in NSW, South Australia, Queensland, WA, Victoria and Tasmania from this month.