Luke Austen - Truth is Simple
Biography By Polly Coufos
“If I'm walking on thin ice, I might as well dance.”
Still aged only 31, Luke Austen has spent nearly half his life trying to realise his dream of building a career in country music. His new album Truth Is Simple is proof of what can be achieved with the right blend of talent, application and fearlessness.
The self-financed independent album gathers 10 of his songs, most co-written with an array of collaborators including Shane Nicholson, Troy Cassar-Daley and Jerry Salley, and a couple of well chosen covers to create an album that not only highlights what a bright future Luke has but also how firm is his grasp of the history and breadth of country music.
“I believe in this album. I also believe it will work in a modern day Industry,” Grafton-raised Luke explains. “There are common reflections from the last album (his debut, Light Of Day, which was recorded and released as part of his major prize as winner of the 2010 Toyota Star Maker competition) that are expected from someone with strong country roots, but there is more of me to hear, and the best way to do that is to show the versatility and diversity in my sound."
While not copying any of them Luke says his biggest influences are all artist who use country music as a solid plank in what they do without being constricted by whatever is or was popular at any given moment.
“I didn't want to have much of the same old, same old on there,” is Luke's simple summation. This means Truth Is Simple includes a country blues Every Little Thing which sounds like Stevie Ray Vaughan had he been raised in Mississippi rather than Texas and Roll Freightliner, in part a tribute to Luke's dad's last22-wheeler, a fast paced rocker that name-checks Grafton and leaves plenty of room to show off the guitar playing of Peter Cooper.
The collection builds to track eight, which is Luke's lucky number. The fascinating One Song Left In Me, begins with the premise of what if an old guitar could tell the tale of all the tunes it had played and all the people that had held it in their hands.
“The idea came from watching a Neil Young DVD. He was talking about a guitar he got from Hank Williams Jr, which had been passed down from his dad. He said, 'I guess we never really own them.' I thought, 'wow, there's a song in that ', and when I told Jerry Salley about it he said, 'man, we've got to write that song'. I can't believe I had a hand in writing that. They are the moments that let me know this is real, it's my career and I'm in the driver's seat.”
Not all the songs on Truth Is Simple are so profound. “There's a few songs on there that are straightforward, like Lazy and Drinkin' And Fishin'. We aren't trying to cure cancer, it's only music,” Luke says with a laugh before making it clear that doesn't mean he does not take it seriously. “I'm not carefree about it and there's a lot of strong reasons behind what I've done and how I've done it.”
Luke put in a long apprenticeship, first playing around the traps with his truck driving dad and then on the road all across Australia with Brian Young and later Troy Cassar-Daley, learning all that he could about singing, playing, entertaining and how to make a living doing the thing you love. He knows what it takes, the sacrifices that must be made when you want to do things your way.
Right from the beginning when he was trying to squeeze blues licks into his dad's country songs Luke knew that he wanted to stand in the spotlight. It wasn't all just bluff and bluster though, for even as a teenager what drove him was that he understood that he, and by extension, his songs, had to be good enough to deserve to be in that spotlight.
“I wanted to be an artist, a singer songwriter. I don't think I was underestimating myself or my abilities but I wanted to grit my teeth and learn the ropes from those that do it. To live in their world and get a small taste of what it's like to be playing that role as an artist.”
He involved top shelf personnel and co-writers, including Jeff McCormack as co-producer. As well as being the long time bass player for Kasey Chambers, Jeff has made his name as the go-to engineer for many of Australia's premier country acts. The core band on Truth Is Simple includes Jeff, Peter, Tim Crouch, Chris Haigh and and Steve Fearnley.
Luke is an accomplished guitar player himself but chose not to play on much of the album. It wasn't about a lack of confidence in his abilities, it was more about focusing on the big picture.
“I wanted to play on the album but when we were tracking I wanted to save on studio time and budget and capture the vocals. I really need to focus on that. I thought it would be too much to put on me at this stage. It was more inspiring to go in there and let the players do their thing with the songs".
“I was writing charts for the band as we were going in to record. It was subject to change up until the red light went on. That wasn't about not being organised enough, it was simply about being free to apply ourselves as professionally and efficiently as possible.
“I loved that these players I respect were sitting back and taking what I was asking from them and going along with it. Intimidation does not exist when you involve a professional team of people, better than you, to creatively construct something.. Admiration does."
Truth Is Simple is out on October 5 and available from WJO distribution,all major music stores & iTunes.