Plotting his third studio album during lockdown, Skyscraper Stan developed a "life changing" new skill that he showcases for Be_Hear / Now.
In the first of our video series profiling Ballarat’s sensational Be_Hear / Now program, which provides local artists with professionally shot videos and industry mentoring, we spoke to a much-loved pillar of the Victorian music scene, Skyscraper Stan.
He’d just swapped his usual pubs, bars and festival circuit for the Yarrowee stormwater drain in Ballarat, one of his favourite secret spots in the regional city.
What you need to know
- Watch Skyscraper Stan perform ‘Those Were Days’ off his forthcoming album
- It’s the first in Be_Hear / Now’s new video performance series, supporting local artists
- We’ll be showcasing every video and interviewing each artist, to stay tuned
Keep up with the latest music news, festivals, interviews and reviews here.
“It’s perfectly summarised the shift I’ve made to this urban environment,” Stan says. “It’s this remarkable feature of Ballarat that people don’t appreciate.
“These big storm drains that run through the town. It’s part of the urban environment that I wanted to highlight, I don’t know why…I like decay and gross things,” he laughs.
Stan Woodhouse got his break 12 years ago at the Wine Cellar in his hometown of Auckland, when his ex-boss spotted his talent singing over a mop bucket while on cleaning duty. If it sounds like a movie, think again.
“You can always make something sound a bit more like a movie than it actually was. I was cleaning vomit out of a doormat, in reality it wasn’t as romantic as it sounds,” he grins.
“That was Rowan Evans. He was the man, such a dude, gave me all my first shows.”
Stan then made the creative pilgrimage to Melbourne, aged just 21, in the late 2000s after hearing about the city’s thriving music scene.
“I actually did it – ostensibly – to finish a science degree that I was studying, but I’d heard about the music scene here so I told my parents it was an exchange,” he continues. “I came over here and spent the rest of the Uni career drinking.”
The drinking prepared him for a successful career as a touring musician, having spent the last decade delighting crowds with his poetic, storytelling songwriting.
His Zoology degree prepared him for the other facet of life as a contemporary musician. He’s currently balancing recording his upcoming album with the final stages of training to be a science teacher (“like so many of us musos, taking on a new direction during COVID”).
It involves a lot of writing, of a different kind, but Stan says his forthcoming dual careers offer an escape from each other, which ultimately combine surprisingly well.
“I write poetry that I turn into lyrics. I’m one of those guys that I think, maybe I’ve got a novel in me one day, when I’m 60, I’ll have a crack. But at the moment I’ve been doing plenty of academic writing as I train to become a science teacher.
“I’m trying to convince kids about the nature of science; they see science and creativity as mutually exclusive. They sit along each other quite comfortably in my brain, I like them informing each other.
“There’s a good reason why I’ve chosen not to teach music. I really enjoy being able to sit down and talk to kids about neural pathways and then I can go home and play the piano for as long as I want, without thinking about anything I’ve talked about that day.”
It will be a relief to Stan’s solid fanbase around the state that he’ll continue to grace our stages for many years to come.
Coming from a New Zealand isthmus, with only “a handful of kilometres” separating the seas in either direction, Stan was originally inspired by Australia’s great expanse.
He’s since inspired audiences across the nation in turn with his insightful, thought-provoking lyricism, which he continues to develop as he grows into a veteran of the scene.
“I like to be observational in my lyricism, they tend to be more urban stories,” he says.
“I was struggling to find things to write about because my songwriting is so experience based, and songs about me scrolling Instagram on the couch with my dog aren’t very interesting.
“I used to get so much inspiration for my songs from endless solo tours, it was one of my favourite ways to spend time. You meet so many people on those trips. Little sparks for songs come from the smallest things, something on the road that seems so bizarre.
“I saw a massive sign saying ‘Found Dog’ – you usually see Lost Dogs signs – I ended up writing several songs about that, which will never be released because they all suck – about that sign. But it’s those little things, I didn’t know what to do when I didn’t have that constant flood of cool things.”
His Be_Hear / Now performance is reflective of his desire to continue discovering the hidden beauty within the urban environment, a practice he regularly elicits through his songwriting.
The largest challenge for Stan has been the restraints on his creative processes during COVID – of which he’s certainly not alone – but perhaps more unusually than most, he now has to balance the flood of new ideas with a throng of teaching placements.
“We’re getting to the hot time when all my placements are coming for school, now’s the time when I’ve got heaps of songs to write for some reason,” he muses.
“I had all of this time and no songs and now I have all of the songs and no time. We learned three new songs at the pub half an hour before the gig just so we could do something new.
“It was this amazing, affirming thing to get new sounds and look forward to getting into the studio. I have no idea what it will sound like. I’ve been writing the next album and I keep adding more songs to it as I keep on evolving.
“You set yourself those challenges: the challenge here is to use fewer words, and say as much but with fewer. I’ve got so many songs that use so many words, but you set these challenges to make it harder.
“It’s swings and roundabouts, depending on how your noggin works.”
The final insight into his forthcoming album hides in plain sight on his performance of new track ‘Those Were Days’, featuring Stan’s nearly two-metre frame unusually straddling a keyboard rather than a guitar, the inclusion of which he describes as a “life changing” event.
“I was just slack and always dreamed of picking up the keys, then I got 20 months of uninterrupted practice time,” he explains.
“The timing happened to pan out where I had been dreaming of playing the keys, then the Apocalypse happened, and ultimately I may have abandoned it had I not been given all of this time.
“The keys have been a road to Damascus moment for me. It’s changed a lot about the way I can voice emotion, and the meter of how I’ve been writing words and rhythm and melody in a very different way. It’s been pretty life changing, one of the best things I’ve ever done.
“There has been a bit of a worry – you sound like who you listen to – and I don’t want to do too much. I’ve been listening to a lot of soul music and trying to write soul tunes, but I sound like this skinny middle class guy singing Delta soul tunes.
“I have to remind myself that maybe I should sing something in my own voice, but it’s got me away from all those things I was really used to.
“I’d pick up the guitar and play the same tunes over and over again because I was so cemented into them. Picking up the piano, I’m not in that rut. I have to be careful I don’t tread on people’s toes, but it’s opened up so much.”
Catch Skyscraper Stan live on 20 November at Bridge Hotel in Castlemaine at 27 November at John Curtin. Keep track of all tour dates here.
For more info on Be_Hear / Now and to track all the performances, head here.