Darren Hanlon

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Darren Hanlon


Darren Hanlon is on the phone from his manager’s place in Sydney, couch-crashing yet again.

Darren Hanlon is on the phone from his manager’s place in Sydney, couch-crashing yet again. "I haven’t had my own home for about a year. And even back then, I wasn’t really living in it," he says, "I have havens around the world that I visit, but I don’t stay put anywhere for very long. It’s really like being free. I know one day I’m going to have to settle down, but it scares me to have to stay in one place at the moment. I’ve got rambling fever."

Hanlon spent a large chunk of 2010 touring America, hitching rides from town to town and sleeping on whatever surface became available while supporting the likes of Billy Bragg, Sean Lennon and Tim Kasher from Cursive. He wrote an article about his adventures last year, providing a lurid account of waking up in unfamiliar surroundings, framed by the smell of cat pee and odd, blood-like mattress stains. He wrote about the kindness of strangers, and the many seemingly unbearable things a 37-year-old man will do just to keep himself on the road.

"I got a bit cheeky at the Billy Bragg shows last year," he confesses, "I just started asking the audience if anyone was driving to the next gig. That seemed to work quite well. I only ended up having to pay for one bus ride that tour," he laughs.

The beloved Australian folk troubadour has had nine years to perfect his on-road survival skills; nine years of trips to Europe, Asia and the US, where his notoriously affable character has won him friends, patrons and supporters. Last year, thanks to the proactive emailing of his current housemate/new manager, Hanlon had the added benefit of an American distributor. He signed with Yep Roc, home to Billy Bragg and Paul Weller, just prior to releasing his fifth long player, I Will Love You At All.

"We sent one email, and within a day someone got back to us and said, ‘Oh, yeah we were fans of that guy back in 2002, is he still around?’ My manager said, ‘yeah, he’s put out three albums since then!’ They were keen to hear them, and they liked them, so I wrote I Will Love You for them."

Hanlon shrugs when asked why it took such a long time to find a US partner.

"Previously, we weren’t really looking for a US label, and if we were, Yep Roc was overlooked. We had friends that were involved with labels that were a lot more hip, you know, Sub Pop and Secretly Canadian, but I didn’t really fit on those labels. Yep Roc have an older roster – even I’m young on that roster! They’re starting to get more and more young bands, but the really specialise in renowned singer-songwriters.

"When I started working with my new manager, who’s my best friend, he just said ‘what do you want?’ I told him I wanted more opportunity to play America. I’ve done some really big shows there but never really capitalised on it. I never went back and played those towns again. When I played LA with Magnetic Fields, I sold 250 CDs at one gig, and then I never went back. It’s just ridiculous. So every time I went back to America, it was just like starting again. Having someone on the ground there makes it easier."

The label opened a few doors, Hanlon says, but he still did most of the groundwork for the last tour. He emailed Billy Bragg directly to ask for the support slot, and found himself on the road with Tim Kasher after drinking tequila with his manager.

"I had no idea who he was at the time, but he’s really amazing. It was a fun tour. His fans are a bit more emo than those I would normally play to, so it became a bit of a game to try and win them over. Some I definitely didn’t! But I’m getting emails from some of them now that say ‘we’ve never heard music like you’re before, you actually talk to the crowd.’ That’s really pretty amazing."

Hanlon started developing a slightly more assertive approach to crowd control in the face of unfamiliar fans.

"I have this thing where I’m not really into abusing the audience if they’re not listening, but I travelled with a songwriter called David Dondera over there and he just let’s them have it: ‘Man you guys suck, I hate you guys.’ I got angry a couple of times, in extreme situations. I have no problem playing a club where the whole club is talking, because them it becomes white noise and I just play for myself. It’s when the room is silent and people want to listen, but just one or two people are talking. You almost can’t play, because their voices really intrude. I’m starting to feel better about asking people to shut up," he jokes.

Now safely returned to the bosom of his adoring Australian fans, Hanlon probably won’t be facing too many hostile audiences in the near future. The singer is bringing two new tracks to Melbourne this week as part of his Butterfly Bones tour, Cloudy Mind and I Waited For The 17, which were written early last year as bonus tracks for the US release of I Will Love You At All. As someone who tires of his own material pretty quickly, Darren is happy to have something fresh to share with us.

"I’m self-conscious about playing shows where people have heard all the songs," he laughs, but it isn’t easy to churn out the hits.

"Someone asked me the other day if I would still write songs if my career was over, and I really don’t think I would. I don’t have a burning desire to get a message out there; most of the time it’s just a means to be able to travel and meet people and have adventures," he smiles. "It’s a lot of effort – almost like a pain nerve. I wouldn’t stop writing. I like writing stories, and it’s definitely a more enjoyable pursuit writing prose, but songs are hard."

DARREN HANLON plays The Thornbury Theatre this Thursday March 10 (tickets and info at thethornburytheatre.com) and the PORT FAIRY FOLK FESTIVAL March 11 and 12 (tickets and info at portfiaryfolkfestival.com). His latest album I Will Love You At All is out now through Flippin’ Yeah.