‘Nothing I write is directly taken from my life – some things are quite close, but everything is fiction…’


Best Western

In an exclusive interview, Say It With Garage Flowers talks to our new favourite band, Melbourne’s Best Western. 

A few weeks ago, I was asked to review the self-titled, four-track debut EP by Australian alt-country band Best Western for Americana UK and I fell in love with it after the first listen.

Best Western is a collaboration between songwriter Zack Buchanan (The Outdoor Type) and fellow Melbourne musicians Kieran Ebert, Harry Cook and Georgia Knight.

The record opens with the wonderfully cinematic Home – as I said in my review, it’s ‘a sublime and atmospheric male/ female duet with great twangy guitar and tinges of electronica,’ which builds to a psychedelic climax.

It’s also a reflective, nostalgic and observational song, with a lyric that, like Richmond Fontaine or The Delines, recounts tales of people’s everyday lives in the suburbs: “Could you pick me up from my place? She’s out of town for her brother’s birthday – the car’s broken down again.”  Musically, it’s very haunting, with echoes of Mazzy Star.

Second song, Peace of Mind, is similarly gorgeous, but more stripped-down – acoustic guitar and pedal steel – while the third, the mildly festive-themed Lemon Tree – “Christmas lights and drunken fights…” conjures up the same kind of mood as its predecessor, but adds some subtle orchestration.

Final track, the folky and pastoral Freedom Song,  is set in the last days of autumn, as the low winter sun threatens to creep up and cast shadows on the landscape.

After listening to the EP, I contacted Buchanan and asked if he’d up for an interview. He said ‘yes’, so here’s our chat. When we spoke, he’d just come back from recording their new EP, which is due out later this year.


How’s it going?

Zack Buchanan: I’m good, thanks. I’ve just arrived home from a few days recording our second EP in the countryside. We worked with producer Josh Barber on his wonderful property in a converted church – bliss.

Great – I can’t wait to hear the results. How did Best Western come together?

ZB: I began writing the music that ended up becoming Best Western in mid-late 2019. At the time, The Outdoor Type was wrapping up and I was excited to explore some more story-based songs in a style that felt comfortable for me.

I had been making music with Harry and Kieran for a little while, so they were a natural fit for the band. Georgia on the other hand didn’t come along until we began recording the EP. We had decided that the song Home should be a duet and a friend sent me Georgia’s music. We were completely enamoured by her voice so invited her to sing on the track – she has sung on every song since.

‘Much of Best Western is informed by the characters and places of my youth’

Congratulations on your debut EP. I can’t stop playing it – it’s a great record. My favourite song on it is Home. What can you tell me about that track? How did you write it and what inspired it?

ZB: Thank you so much – that’s really lovely to hear. Home was sort of the genesis of Best Western. It was one of the first songs I wrote with a new project in mind. I would say that the song is inspired by my observations growing up in country Victoria. Much of Best Western is informed by the characters and places of my youth.

The song was originally going to be recorded with an acoustic guitar, strummed and a little more ’standard’. However, we found the more we stripped away from the song the better it sounded. The drum beat was inspired by some of Sharon Van Etten’s music – that gentle hypnotic pulse is something I keep coming back to.

Where did you record the EP? 

ZB: The EP was recorded at Sound Park studios in Melbourne. We self-produced the EP with engineer Andrew ‘Idge’ Hehir. Aside from the core band, we had our good friends, Holly Thomas and Claire Cross, on drums and bass, respectively.

Toward the end of the sessions we brought in Madeline Jevons (violin) and Matt Dixon (pedal steel) to complete the sound. The EP was recorded in about four days, and as mentioned, Georgia was originally brought in as a session singer for Home, so we were really flying blind to a degree – Best Western became a sort of happy accident.

The EP is digital-only. Will it be coming out as a physical release? A vinyl copy would be most welcome…

ZB: We are hoping so for sure. The plan may be to put our forthcoming EP out with the self-titled EP on vinyl.

What can you tell me about the song Peace of Mind, which is more stripped-down, with acoustic guitar and pedal steel?

ZB: We played around with different ways of recording Peace of Mind –  the arrangement was certainly more dense initially. As with many of the Best Western songs, we found that less was more.

Peace of Mind is the only track that is truly ‘live’ on the record – we all sat in a circle and played. It’s a restless song full of restless feelings. It’s about dealing with a lack of direction but an urge to act.

The song Lemon Tree is vaguely festive –  I like the line about “Christmas lights and drunken fights…” Where did that track come from? It has some subtle orchestration on it….

ZB: The orchestration of that song – and on the rest of the EP – was written by Harry, who also plays keys. He is a bit of a musical force. This song in particular perhaps reflects the imagery of growing up in my home town. I wrote that song last, leading into the EP sessions around Christmas time, so, yes, I guess it has been imbued with that festive spirit.

‘Peace of Mind is a restless song full of restless feelings. It’s about dealing with a lack of direction but an urge to act’

The final track on the EP, Freedom Song, is folky and pastoral, and it starts with an organ drone and what sounds like a guitar being plugged in. It has an autumnal / wintry mood, doesn’t it? Any thoughts on it?

ZB: Yes, I suppose you’re right. I would say it’s another yearning, or searching, song. We loved layering the harmonies on that one.

The songs on the EP tell stories and are influenced by real life, aren’t they?

ZB: Yes – I would say that I am inspired by my life experiences. Nothing I write is directly taken from my life – some things are perhaps quite close, but everything is fiction. I guess I’m inspired by people and relationships, rural life and the inherent struggles that come with that, and by class.

Who are your musical influences?

ZB: Oh, there are too many to list. All the usual ones I guess. If I had to list a few: Paul Kelly, Dylan, Lou Reed, Billy Bragg, Joni Mitchell, John Prine, The Go-Betweens. More contemporary artists might be Waxahatchee, Sharon Van Etten and Big Thief. Harry and Kieran love Sufjan Stevens.

I think Best Western have echoes of Mazzy Star and The Delines? How do you feel about those comparisons?

ZB: I love Mazzy Star and am very humbled that you would make that comparison. I must confess, I wasn’t familiar with The Delines, but have just given them a listen. They’re a great band and I’ll definitely be coming back to them. That song The Oil Rigs At Night … what a tune!

So, what’s the plan for 2022? There’s a new EP on the way… Is there an album coming, or live shows?

ZB: Hopefully all of that. We are in the midst of recording another EP now, which may turn out to be an album – we will have to wait and see.

I would hope the first track from that will come out around April/May. We are certainly wanting to do live shows. Things are a little touch and go due to Covid, but we will be out on the road as soon as we are able and it is safe to do so.

Recording the next EP, in a converted church in the country

Please can you come and play in the UK?

ZB: Hey, if you can hook us up with a few shows, we’ll be there!

What music – new and old – have you been enjoying recently?

ZB: It’s a year or two old now, but I have not stopped listening to Waxahatchee’s Saint Cloud album – beautiful. I’ve also been going way back lately and digging into some Hank Williams. Also, Lou Reed’s Coney Island Baby and lots of Townes Van Zandt. Oh and one last one, Adrianne Lenker’s Songs album.

‘If you can hook us up with a few shows in the UK, we’ll be there!’

Have you ever stayed in a Best Western hotel? If so, where, and what was it like?

ZB: I must admit, I have never stayed in a Best Western hotel. But believe me, after 10 years of touring in various bands, I’ve stayed in my fair share of Best Western-style hotels. Maybe we can get some sort of sponsorship going, then I can report back to you.

The self-titled debut EP from Best Western is available now digitally.


‘It’s been a long time since I was able to start a year and say: ‘I’ve got some new music coming out’ – it feels very special’

Matt James


Matt James, former drummer with ’90s anthemic indie-rockers Gene, has launched a solo career, and in February this year he will be playing his biggest show yet – a charity gig at Shanklin Theatre on the Isle of Wight, as part of a tribute night to my dad, show business journalist, John Hannam, who died in September last year.

In an exclusive interview, he tells me what it’s like to be starting out on his own, teases his debut solo album, which is due out in July and was produced by Stephen Street (Blur, The Smiths, Morrissey, The Cranberries, The Pretenders, The Rails) and explains why he’s excited about visiting the Isle of Wight for the first time…

“I suppose that means there’ll be no returning hero moment with the Islanders lining the streets and waving palms,” he muses. “That’s what happens when I go to Guernsey and Sark…”


Hi Matt. How’s it going?

Matt James: It’s going great currently, thanks. I’ve been lucky enough to be pretty healthy the past couple of years, when so many people haven’t, or have been affected in other ways. I moved from London to the country in 2015, which may have had something to do with it…

Thanks for agreeing to play my dad’s tribute concert – it’s great to have you on the bill. It means a lot to me, as Gene were one of my favourite bands and my dad liked them, too – in fact, he actually interviewed you before a gig at the Wedgewood Rooms in Portsmouth. I used to get him to talk to bands that I liked, and he enjoyed music by a lot of bands that I was into….

MJ: It’s a pleasure to do the show for you. My sincere condolences for your loss. I know what it’s like to lose your dad. Thanks for asking me. It’s great that John opened his ears to your taste. I’ll definitely be doing the same with my kids. These things should work both ways, no?

Poster design by @tica_attica

The gig is in Shanklin, on the Isle of Wight. The South Coast was good for Gene, wasn’t it? You played Portsmouth, Southampton and Brighton several times. I was at most of those gigs, but you never made it across the Solent to the Island, did you?

MJ: We always returned to towns that liked us. There are mini music businesses and communities in every town, and you have to keep being good and pleasing them to preserve their loyalty.

I’m not sure why we never went to the Isle of Wight…Maybe the community there wasn’t up for us, or more likely I would think that our agent felt that we were covering the south by doing Portsmouth and Southampton. Anyway I’m really very excited about coming to the Isle of Wight now.

Have you ever visited the Island before?

MJ: Nope – I’ve never been there, which is rather strange, as I’ve travelled the UK extensively. I suppose that means there’ll be no returning hero moment with the Islanders lining the streets and waving palms? That’s what happens when I go to Guernsey and Sark… ahem. Joking aside, it’s time to put the Isle of Wight in my treasured memory bank.

Maybe you could play the Isle of Wight Festival as a solo act? That would be great…

MJ: I would certainly love to play the festival if they would have me. It always looks amazing on the TV. I’ve just booked my ferry for your show and that gave me a tinge of excitement. If I was returning to play the festival, they’d need to tie me to the boat to stop me bouncing off…

Shanklin Theatre, which is the venue for the gig, is lovely. You should feel right at home there, as you like a bit of old school showbiz and glamour, don’t you? Gene always had a sense of drama to them…

MJ: Yes – we loved old theatres and treading hallowed boards.  That’s why we featured the Royal Albert Hall on the artwork for our second LP [Drawn To The Deep End].

My mum was an amateur opera singer and I can remember being a small boy and hiding in huge curtain folds, looking out at her singing live. I internalised that very deeply. I’ve been lucky enough to play in some smashing places in my time, but it’s been a while. This will only be my fourth solo gig –  and on the biggest stage I’ve done so far.

‘I have made a stand for creativity, and I also wanted to tackle some tricky subjects. It’s what my life was missing, and lockdown gave me an unexpected opportunity’

Let’s talk about you ‘going solo’. After Gene and your next band, Palace Fires, broke up, you started a career in the wine industry, but now you’ve become a singer-songwriter. How is it being a solo artist? To quote a Gene song, are you, ahem, fighting fit and able?

MJ: It’s been a long, long time since I was able to start a year and say: ‘I’ve got some new music coming out’.

I’m sure you can imagine that it feels very special. I have made a stand for creativity, and I also wanted to tackle some tricky subjects. It’s what my life was missing, and lockdown gave me an unexpected opportunity.

I’ve loved being a wine merchant and still do, but, if I’m honest, music is what I’m best at. Even when wine folk ask me about it, I always say: “I like wine almost as much as music!” I missed it so much, but I did need a long break.

You’ve released two great digital singles as a solo artist so far: A Simple Message and Snowy Peaks. Your debut song, A Simple Message, has a political message and a Gene-like sound – it’s down to the organ and the country-rock guitar – and the second, Snowy Peaks, is an anthemic love song. What can you tell us about those tracks? What inspired them?

MJ: I decided as I was starting from scratch as a solo artist that I would share quite a few tracks from the LP before releasing it, to give me a long build. There are three more songs to go before the LP is released in July and that feels right.

A Simple Message was the first one and, if I’m honest, it’s the one that’s most like Gene on the LP. For those people that know Gene, it has a Long Sleeves For The Summer-type jazzy drum shuffle and Steve Mason-esque guitar, although Steve [Gene guitarist] isn’t actually on that song – it’s me and Perry [Peredur ap Gwynedd] from Pendulum.

I wasn’t sure if that was a good idea making it the first release, but, in hindsight, it has worked out really well. It’s a decent song, in my opinion, with some understated charm, and I remembered that’s what worked for Gene with our first single, For The Dead.

The song is about how populist politicians rely so much on simple messages that are often completely inadequate instructions for people that need to determine quite complex and important issues.  I think it was Joseph Goebbels that called it ‘the big lie…’

Snowy Peaks is a simple love song I wrote for my other half – it was the first song I wrote for the LP, but it’s been through quite a few versions. I like what I ended up with, but now I’m trying to work out how to play it live on my own, so I’m changing it yet again.

Steve Mason plays guitar on Snowy Peaks, doesn’t he?

MJ: That’s the fella! Steve was a fan of the song and he kept me on my toes by getting me to try and improve it. He sent me off to write more bits when I thought it was finished.

I love writing with Steve – we are obviously quite long in the tooth in that department. He plays on four songs on the LP and Kev [Miles – bassist] from Gene is on five, which feels good. I was very careful not to make the LP ‘Gene without Martin’ [Rossiter – singer], though, so there are other people on it, too.

You’ve also been recording with keyboardist Mick Talbot (Style Council, Dexys Midnight Runners), who played with Gene…

MJ: Yes – Mick plays on five or six songs, and I was very privileged to have him involved. What a legend he is and what a talent – not to mention he’s so nice and made us all chuckle with his quips and stories. Having him in the room with Kev, who is also a master of comedy, made the proceedings such a fun time.

‘Stephen Street has been advising me since I first started writing and learning to sing for the first time. He is someone who I trust implicitly not to bullshit me, but to also be nice enough to actually listen’

Mostly it was me and [producer] Stephen Street working, but when people showed up it changed the vibe and provided some injections of energy and goodness.

Stephen has been advising me since I first started writing and learning to sing for the first time. He is someone who I trust implicitly not to bullshit me, but to also be nice enough to actually listen. With so many people releasing music and vying for attention these days, it’s so hard to get anyone to listen or take you seriously – especially when you’ve been round the block like I have. That’s where I’m so lucky that I have a past and some music mates.

I’ve known Stephen for 30 years. He ended up producing the LP after initially aiming to do just a few tracks. We got some momentum though and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

I didn’t – and don’t – feel under any pressure at all to be successful. It really was just the pure joy of making music together. Hopefully that shows on the record. Now that it’s made, I’m chuffed if people want to check it out.


‘I don’t feel under any pressure to be successful. It’s really just the pure joy of making music together. Hopefully that shows on the record’

How and where did you make the album?

MJ: I wrote the record on my iPhone using GarageBand. I have a garden office and I worked in there.

I wrote 20 songs for it and 10 have made the LP. After it was written, we went to various places to do the drums and finally ended up at Stephen Street’s studio, The Bunker, which is a room he has at Damon Albarn’s studio in Latimer Road, London. It was nice to be in that kind of environment again. Damon came and said hello – he was nice.

We ended up using some of my original demos, as they just had a unique vibe that didn’t need to be recreated. It’s a nice mix and match of demos and new recordings, but Stephen is a master at mixing, so he polished it up very well.


There’s a new digital single, High Time, coming out on February 4 – just before the Isle of Wight gig. What can you tell me about that song?

MJ: Yes – February 4, which is just before your gig, so you can learn the lyrics and sing along. The song is about however much you try to control your life, it still throws dramatic unexpected events at you that can be good or bad, but have the power to swerve your life journey…

The song references a terrible road accident I was involved in 1991, with the lads from the band Spin, and also the random event of meeting Martin Rossiter a few months later in the Underworld [in Camden] completely by chance. That time it had a good outcome.

We were actually out with Stephen Street that night, so that’s another interesting link. There’s a mild religious element to the song too. I’m not an overly religious person, but I’m not an atheist either.

So, the album’s coming out in July…

MJ: Yes – July 2022 is my big moment. There are 10 songs – five on each side. I am making some vinyl…

It will be released on Costermonger Records, which is the old Gene – and one other band, Brassy-associated label, started by music journos Keith Cameron and Roy Wilkinson.

I always thought it was an amazing label name and I was sad when Gene stopped using it and changed to Polydor. They had signed us of course, so it wasn’t an option to use Costermonger anymore. Keith and Roy won’t be involved right now though, other than they are mates with trusted musical ears.

‘The album will be released on Costermonger Records, which is the old Gene label. I always thought it was an amazing name and I was sad when Gene stopped using it’

These days, with digital releases, a label doesn’t mean quite as much, unless you are in a stable of acts, but for the vinyl I wanted a label name with gravitas. I’m honoured that they’ve allowed me to resurrect it and start those catalogue numbers again. COST11 is coming soon – I’ll save the LP title for now… Who knows there may even be other acts on the label one day… it comes from a place of friendship but it’s mainly just me at the moment and Mrs James, who helps with the artwork.

I have had some help from the guys at Demon too, who did the Gene re-issues [in 2020], and some PR pals will be helping. It’s all very informal and fun – I’m loving it. I would say that eight of the 10 songs on the album could be singles – it’s that kind of record.

The fourth and fifth singles will have B-sides that are not on the LP. We consider those to be perhaps the best chance of piquing the interest of people who don’t know anything about me. Erm, so that’s nearly everybody!

Finally, we should raise a glass to my dad. Can you recommend a decent, affordable red wine?

MJ: Absolutely. I’ll bring one with me to the gig. If it’s a red, I love Bordeaux, something like Clos de L’Oratoire Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classe. Chin-chin and all due respect to John for his great life achievements.

Matt James’s new single, High Time, will be released digitally on February 4. You can pre-save it here.  His debut solo album is due out in July this year.

Matt will be appearing at Sunday Night at Shanklin Theatre – a tribute to John Hannam: Sunday February 6 2022: a night of live music in memory of legendary Isle of Wight journalist and broadcaster, John Hannam, who died in autumn 2021.

The gig will feature My Darling Clementine, Matt James (Gene), Andy Strickland (The Loft, The Caretaker Race, The Chesterfields), Matt Hill, Brian Sharpe, Bobby I Can Fly, Chris Clarke, Amy Bird, Bob and Bertie Everson.

Proceeds will go to the British Heart Foundation and the Wellow Ward, St Mary’s Hospital. Tickets are available here.