“Wild. It’s been wild,” Husky Gawenda understates, shaking his head with a laugh. The Melbourne songwriter and his cousin Gideon Preiss are sitting across from me at a table in Austin, Texas after just coming off stage at The Aussie BBQ – the now infamous Australian showcase held each year at South by South West, aka the indie music world’s Spring Break.
It’s Husky’s first time in Austin and when we speak, on the second last day of what feels to us all like a year-long week, Gawenda and Preiss are looking a little worn out. “It’s pretty hectic as a band,” Gawenda says. “The shows are, you know, they’re a bit tough – it’s a bit of a hustle getting to and from them – but it’s been great. It’s an amazing experience.” Their Aussie BBQ show was the Melbourne band’s fourth of five gigs at SXSW, but it’s fair to say their most important set happened the previous night, at the much-hyped Sub Pop showcase. The band had announced their deal with the iconic Seattle label just a month before, causing substantial chatter amongst the global music press: they were the first Australian band to ever have the privilege. “It was an honour to be playing with those other bands,” Gawenda says, of sharing a stage with acts like Blitzen Trapper, Shearwater and Spoek Mothambo. And if you’re unversed in Sub Pop lore, here is the label responsible for the rise of Nirvana, Mudhoney and Soungarden, whose current roster boasts The Shins, Beach House and Dinosaur Jr. “It felt like a bit of a historic occasion for us.”
The record that got them here is Husky’s self-produced debut LP, Forever So, which came out in Australia through Liberation in November – but it all started before then, in February, when their single History’s Door won them triple j Unearthed. “The song got added to triple j rotation, and then the labels and the managers came knocking,” the frontman says. “It was pretty strange. We’d been very much alone, doing it on our own, everything – including the production and the engineering and the management, booking our own tours, booking our own gear… It was strange to suddenly have a lot of people calling. We weren’t expecting it.”
But they should have expected it. Three years in the making, Forever So is a meticulous, detailed and pensive record filled with the silky harmonic folk its leading single promised; all the way through, the music brims with energy, warmth and gentle nostalgia. Often compared to Boy & Bear and their new labelmates Fleet Foxes, the album certainly captured the zeitgeist of the time – but Husky weren’t content to rest on that well-worn formula of four-boy folk. “I think it’s a dangerous idea to make music to suit something, to suit triple j or to suit a record label or to suit the time; to try to create a sound because it’s fashionable. Because if you don’t achieve that, then you’ve got something that doesn’t suit anything, and you don’t necessarily really believe in it…” Gawenda says, trailing off before Preiss neatly sums up his point: “And then you’re left with nothing.”
The twist to Husky’s music, the sound that shields them from bandwagon accusations and creates a style that’s truly their own, comes courtesy of Gideon Preiss’ virtuosic jazz training; throughout Forever So, his keyboard lines are engaged in a nuanced push-and-pull with the rest of the music, building with and, against the gentle guitars and rolling drums, Gawenda’s smooth voice and those wonderful melodies. Live, the sound is full and fresh, and often seems spontaneous. “There’s a bit of freedom in the parts that come from having played different styles,” Gideon agrees.
Filled out by bassist Evan Tweedie and drummer Luke Collins, the band recorded the album themselves in a homemade studio at a rickety old property that Gawenda was leasing in Northcote. They were renting and borrowing gear as they went, taking YouTube tutorials on soundproofing and self-production, and basically starting from scratch. Recording took them over a year. (“I mean, by the end, Husk’s beard was like – I mean it really was something,” Preiss says in awe, as the frontman sagely nods: “It grew out, rather than down.”) “Having our own studio gave us the freedom that we needed for these songs. To make this album, we needed a space,” Preiss says. But it certainly wasn’t easy. “There were a lot of moments, or even extended periods, where things weren’t going right technically or we were having trouble with this or that,” Gawenda admits. “We’re not engineers. We’re not producers. It took some determination. But it was a really interesting, exciting, rewarding time.”
Just over a year has taken this young band from a home-built studio to national rotation to a debut record to Sub Pop Records. On behalf of every single new Australian act who’s out there trying to follow that exact same path, it would be remiss not to ask what exactly it is that Husky did right. But Gawenda has trouble answering. “It couldn’t – it’s sort of…” he falters. “It’s been a bit of a dream run for us, actually. Not that it hasn’t been a lot of hard work – and there was a lot of hard work before that as well, even before our three years as a band. But in terms of what I would do differently, or what I learned, or what advise I’d give – well, even now I don’t really know how it all happened, or what we did right, or what we did to deserve this. I don’t know. All I know is that we had our mission: to write great songs, and to produce a beautiful record. And I think that’s really the only thing we did intentionally. Other than that, it all kind of fell into our lap.”
BY STEPH HARMON
HUSKY play The Corner Hotel on Sunday May 6. Forever So is out now via Liberation. They also play the sold out Splendour In The Grass taking place at Belongil Fields in Byron Bay from Friday July 27 – Sunday July 29.