Graveyard Train will soon be heading back up to Tamworth to renew the band’s volatile relationship with the local and visiting country music population. It’s an association guitarist and vocalist Nick Finch says has its ups and downs – but that’s what makes it fun. “We’ve been there three years in a row,” Finch says. “We go down pretty well there, but there’s definitely a group of people up there who really don’t like us. There’s a country singer called Reg Poole who wrote a song about us called Don’t Let Them Murder Tamworth, which is about us ruining country music – which is quite flattering, really. I don’t know what they’ll think of our new album, because we really take liberties with the whole country thing,” Finch laughs.
Graveyard Train’s new record, Hollow, continues in the band’s idiosyncratic country music path, though this time around the zombies and werewolves of previous albums have been replace with themes of mortality and religious salvation. Finch comes from a Catholic family, though professes to have little ongoing religious affiliation. “I’m not really religious, but I’m quite interested in religion. I grew up with all these religious icons in the house – I like the symbolism of religion,” he says.
Finch says it’s his interest with that symbolism that underpins the religious aspects of the songs he contributed to Hollow. “I was writing a lot about death on this album,” Finch says. “Even with Hollow Wind, I tried to write a song about my missus, but it ended up being about death,” he laughs. Perhaps the high point of such themes is the captivating Stooges-esque The Doomsday Cult Blues. “I think that death and the end of everything were on my mind – not that I’m a very morbid person. With the religious overtones, what attracts me is the symbolism – it’s really powerful stuff. Religion ran the world for a while – and it still does to some extent. Tacking the big issues – that’s the Graveyard Train!” Finch says.
The recording of Hollow followed a welcome break in Graveyard Train’s touring schedule where the band members aggregate disparate and nascent songwriting ideas with a view to putting together a new album. “It’s been two years since the last album,” Finch says. “We went through a dry patch with songwriting because we were touring really heavily. It was that whole endless on the road thing. But when we decided to do another album, about half the album came together pretty quickly.”
As a seven-member band, Graveyard Train has to navigate the fine line between democratic consensus and individual leadership. “We’re sort of a democracy,” Finch says. “We’ve got a mum and dad in the band – I’m the mum and Josh, our banjo player, is the dad,” he laughs. “You need some sort of leadership, or otherwise it’s like herding cats. You need some sort of dictatorship, but you don’t need to take it to the Billy Corgan level.” Finch says Hollow was a return to the ‘fun’ style of previous Graveyard Train efforts. “It was a really fun process doing this album,” he says. “We spent a lot of time together – we felt like were back in the very early days.”
With its relentless touring regime, including regular forays across Australia and trips to the United States and Europe, Graveyard Train has established itself as one of the local music scenes hardest working bands. While Finch says Graveyard Train has tried to curtail some of its more excessive on tour behaviour, the band retains its fondness for the touring circuit. “We’re certainly not sick of it,” Finch laughs. “But it can be physically brutal. This band basically started out as a drunken idea between friends – we never expected to be serious musicians. There are always been a lot of benders on tour, but we’ve been cutting down because we’re getting older. We’re trying to tour a bit smarter, and I’ve even given up smoking. I think we’re getting older and wiser,” Finch says.
Graveyard Train’s recent tours overseas have provided a particular highlight – Finch nominates a gig in a Belgian town he describes as ‘the Bendigo of Belgium’ where an enthusiastic crowd of punks showed their affection by hurling glasses as a notable touring moment – and even Tamworth, with its occasional Bundaberg rum and coke encounters with the locals, has its special moments. “Any gig is a good gig – like pizza,” Finch laughs.
While Graveyard Train has plenty of fans across Australia, and overseas, Finch doesn’t see that the band has escaped the clutches of musical poverty quite yet. “It’s always fun, but there is definitely a point you go through when there’s this horrible patch when you get fired from your job because you can’t be around all the time, but you’re only playing to 20 people in Toowoomba,” Finch says. “We’re still in that period to some extent, but hopefully there’s an end to it. I think it’s hard for most musicians to get beyond that point and make a living from playing music.”
In the short term Graveyard Train is hitting the road again to promote Hollow; a few irons in the fire should hopefully see the band return overseas to both the United States and Europe. Beyond that, there’s always a chance of a radical image change. “We were overseas recently and we were laughing at ourselves, and what we were doing,” Finch says. “We came up with the idea of a new band called The Normal Men, and we’d write songs about really normal things like forgetting the shopping list at the supermarket.”
BY PATRICK EMERY
GRAVEYARD TRAIN play The Hi-Fi on Friday June 1 and Saturday June 2. Hollow is out now through Spooky Records.