I can’t help imagining James Teague in primary school singing Advance Australia Fair in his wildly odd voice, with its weird pronunciations and insanely cool tremolo thing. “Sorry, the what tremolo thing?” he asks and then chuckles bashfully. It’s a rare moment of acknowledging praise by the young Perth folk/country/psych-rock artist, who is about to undertake a tour to promote his self-released debut album Lavender Prayers.
“There came this period, probably from about early 2010 where I just spent a lot of time experimenting with my voice and songwriting in general, trying a lot of new things,” Teague says in his breathless way. “I listen to a lot of different types of music and it just happened, and it felt like me, and it felt fun.” Teague says he’s not that great a musician when it comes to other instruments; just enough to write songs and get his ideas out there. “My main instrument is my voice and I suppose that’s been my main focus, so that’s why I’ve been able to kind of develop this strange sort of sound, I guess. At the end of the day that’s just been a natural progression due to constantly experimenting and listening to heaps of weird, obscure shit.”
The prowess of Teague’s band complements his vocals in an extraordinary way, the beauty of which comes through on lead single Strange Birds, and the “friends and friends of friends” which comprise the group have found an effective way to write together. “I’m not going to dictate every single note,” Teague explains. “But at the same time I give them a sort of ballpark to work within. Quite often I’d have to sit down and write the parts as they were playing them. It was a pretty long, strenuous process.”
Discussing details of the writing and recording process is sometimes trying for Teague because it was so long ago now. “It seems like a dream,” he says. During the 2010/2011 summer there was a couple of months of working on the songs. Teague would record rehearsals and then work on arrangements at home. They all then went to a hall in Pemberton, WA and recorded Lavender Prayers in early 2011. After an extended mixing process where the tracks went through a couple of different engineers, it was released in March 2012. “[The songs] have obviously evolved since then, since we’ve been playing a lot more together,” he says.
Teague has shared bills with Bob Dylan, Grace Jones and Elvis Costello in the last few years, but it was Darren Hanlon (writer of some of the sweetest, funniest shit of the ‘00s in my opinion) who was first impressed with Teague’s style and soon released Lavender Prayers on vinyl through his own label. “He’s just incredibly lovely,” says Teague. “When I first met him, I sat down and had a meal with him actually, in Melbourne. He came to a gig of mine. I suppose he’s definitely a lot shorter than he looked on stage, but I can definitely relate because I’m also quite short, come to a show and then you’ll see,” he laughs.
Teague is optimistic about how he’s going to go on this tour, with many more dates than he’s performed consecutively before. “I have a beautiful white Ford Falcon station wagon, and I’ve called him Feodor, with an F, like the same spelling as the writer,” he says. “We’re driving across the Nullabor so that in itself is frightening. I’ve actually added a few more [shows] since I released the dates so it’s looking like about 16 shows or something. I’m sure I’ll be alright, I’ve bought a heap of groceries just to start us off. I’ve been taking Swisse multivitamins for the first time, so hopefully they’ll kick in. They’ve got everything: minerals, the natural herbal stuff, keeping the immune system in check, yeah. I might need to stop taking them after the tour because it might take away the androgyny of my voice, because let’s be honest, it’s really the only thing that’s ah, you know, making me stand out,” he laughs.
That really isn’t true though. Teague’s amusing and insightful lyrics weave through tenderly arranged guitar-and mandolin-driven tracks that are full of manic heart. And soon enough, these sounds might become a soundtrack for our own city. “I’ve been to Melbourne probably three or four times; I love it,” he says. “I will probably be moving. I know that’s a typical thing for a budding Perth musician to do, but I just genuinely feel at home in Melbourne.”
BY ZOË RADAS
JAMES TEAGUE plays The Old Bar in Fitzroy tonight, The Spotted Mallard in Brunswick on Thursday March 28, the Grace Darling in Collingwood on Friday March 29, and the John Curtin Band Room in Carlton on Sunday March 31.