‘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.

Q&A

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.

https://www.bestwesternmusic.com/

‘I’m out on my own – I’ve never felt part of a scene…’

 

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Here at Say It With Garage Flowers, we’ve been fans of Wesley Fuller since we heard his debut EP Melvista, a killer collection of crunching power-pop, ’80s New Wave synth sounds and anthemic glam rock songs, when it was released in the summer of 2016. 

The Melbourne-based singer-songwriter followed it up a year later with the album Inner City Dream , which was more of the same, but with some added ’60s psych and vintage electro pop.

On a cold, wet night in November last year, 28-year-old Wesley played his first ever show outside of Australia – in South London, at The Windmill in a Brixton backstreet. And we were there…

During an exclusive interview before the gig, he told us that he wasn’t sure what to expect, but he needn’t have worried, as he and his band played a storming set to an appreciative crowd. It was easily one of our favourite shows of last year. 

We spoke to him about having great glam rock hair, growing up in Perth and moving to the ‘bright lights’ of Melbourne to pursue his inner city dream, and recording his debut album in his bedroom…

“I’ve never played a show outside of Australia – it’s very exciting and a little bit scary,” says Melbourne singer-songwriter Wesley Fuller, sat on a sofa in the tatty backstage area of The Windmill pub, in Brixton, South London, on a cold and wet night in late November. It’s a few hours before the first gig on his UK and European tour.

Say It With Garage Flowers apologises for the awful British weather, but, as Wesley points out: “Melbourne weather isn’t that much better to be honest – it’s quite like London. It’s interesting to get an experience of what a gig is like in a different country. A lot of music is the same, but the surroundings are different… I don’t really know what to expect…”

 

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Q&A

You were born in Perth, but you moved to Melbourne in 2013. The title of your debut album is Inner City Dream, from the song of the same name. Did the title come from the idea of you wanting to move from Perth to Melbourne to pursue your dream of becoming a successful musician?

Wesley Fuller: Spot on. The whole reason I wanted to leave Perth was to reach the bright lights of Melbourne. I left Perth at the start of 2013 – Perth is quite a small, isolated city and I lived out in the suburbs. I wanted to live in the entertainment area of Melbourne – the inner city – and move to a place where I didn’t know anyone.

What was the music scene like when you were growing up in Perth?

WF: There are a lot of great bands in Perth and a good music scene, but it’s on a small scale – the city is isolated, so you can’t really tour. I’ve always loved the idea of touring with a band – getting in a van and driving around to different places. You can’t do that in Perth – you have to fly across to the other side of the country.

So you moved to Melbourne…

WF: Yes. I lived in Fitzroy, which is an inner-city suburb of Melbourne, for a couple of years, but I realised that it was a little bit overrated. I was paying so much for my rent that I didn’t have any money to spend on going out to places…

The album is one where I’m at a crossroads – ‘what do I want to do? Do I want this inner city life, or is it just an illusion? Do I want a quieter life out in the suburbs?’

What’s the scene like in Melbourne? Do you feel a part of it, or are you out on your own?

WF: I’m definitely out on my own – I’ve never really felt part of a scene,  but I’ve tried to create one. Melbourne is very much a trending city – trends come and go – but there are lots of different little scenes. I’ve found it a lot more promising than Perth because you can find an audience.

‘I got into ’60s music because no one else I knew was getting into it. Once I discovered it, I thought it was awesome!’

 

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Let’s talk more about the album. Was it written in Perth or Melbourne?

WF: Most of the songs were written in Melbourne in my first year there – I was in a new environment, feeling and experiencing new things. I had a very creative period there.

Did the album come together quite naturally?

WF: Most of it came together how I wanted it to because I was doing it myself from my bedroom studio – I produced it myself. I was lucky enough to have quite a large bedroom and I set up all my instruments in there, so it was like a mini studio. I did everything, apart from a few lead guitar parts, and some backing vocals. I wanted to do it by myself and, luckily, my band were very understanding. I’m not a trained sound engineer but there was an element of experimentation –  I did have a clear idea of the sound that I wanted to achieve.

Your influences include power-pop, psych, New Wave, electronic music, glam rock and ’60s pop, like The Zombies, The Beatles and The Beachboys. When you were growing up were you into ’60s and ’70s music? Did your parents get you into old stuff?

WF: I’ve gone through different phases, but it certainly hasn’t come from my parents – we never had The Beatles playing in the house. My parents are still quite young – they were more into ’80s stuff, but I wasn’t into that. I got into ’60s music because no one else I knew was getting into it. Once I discovered it, I thought it was awesome!

You’ve also added some vintage electro sounds to the ’60s and ’70s influences… 

WF: I’ve always loved ’60s music, but once I started DJing, that opened me up to a lot of different eras and sounds, like funk and New Wave and glam, so I started listening to songs in a different way – from a dancing and production perspective. I used to listen to songs for melodies or harmonies –  that pure ’60s vibe…

There’s quite a groove on some of your songs…

WF: Yeah. I DJ’d for clubs most weekends and I run a night in Melbourne called KICKS.

Let’s talk about some of the songs on the album. Someone To Walk Around With is a great rock ‘n’ roll tune, with big guitars and organ, but Skyways and Morality are more electro-pop, with retro synth sounds… This isn’t just a power-pop album, is it? There are different styles on it?

WF: The album is hard to classify or label under one genre or sound. I’ve always liked those albums that have different styles. They have an overbearing sound that ties them together, but they showcase different influences. As this was my first record, I wanted to lay everything out on the table: ‘this is my sound and this is what I can do’…

‘I went through a phase when I tried to be a mod, but it’s hard when you have curly hair’

Morality came from listening to a lot of early ’80s New Wave and so did Skyways, with the synth on it, but there’s also a Motown beat on Skyways. When I recorded the EP, [Melvista] I was mainly listening to glam.

You have great glam rock hair…

WF: I went through a phase when I tried to be a mod, but it’s hard when you have curly hair.

Marc Bolan, who had curly hair, started off as a mod…

WF: Marc Bolan could’ve pulled anything off..

One of my favourite songs on the album is Wish You Would. It has a ’60s psych-pop feel and reminds me of The Zombies and The Beachboys… 

WF: I wanted to have one song on the album that was almost like a tribute to The Mamas and the Papas – I’ve always loved ’60s harmonies. I began writing that song when I was in Perth, in the summer of 2012. It was hot and the song has that kind of summery vibe.

This is your first tour of the UK and Europe. Have you built up a good following in Melbourne? 

WF: Yeah, but you’ve got stay active to keep them interested. I haven’t reached cult status yet!

You’re only young – you’ve only had one album out…

WF: Yeah exactly. Hopefully by the second one…

Have you made plans for the next record?

WF: Yeah  –  I’ve written the bulk of it and I’ve already recorded the drums for some of the songs. I start with the drums and then I build it up from there, bit by bit. I have six or seven full songs written that I want to have on the next album, but there are three or four that I’m a bit iffy about, so I’ll see how they turn out. I’m definitely hoping to have a new record out in 2019 I’ve got to start dedicating more time to it. That’s the hardest thing, because I have a full-time job. I work for a law firm. I used up all my annual leave to record the first album. I’m aiming to have a record out in late 2019. Fingers crossed that will work out.

What do you think it will sound like?

WF: It will still have the same kind of influences, but I’d like to try a few different things production-wise. We’ll just see what happens…

Inner City Dream by Wesley Fuller is out now on 1965 Records. For more info, go to: https://wesleyfuller.bandcamp.com/

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Wesley Fuller and his band at The Windmill, Brixton. (picture by Sean Hannam)