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Racing Heart

20 June 2012 | 3:48 pm | Brendan Telford

The perennial Hugo Race speaks about how his lengthy, expansive career has led him to musings on love.

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Hugo Race is one of Australia's most travelled musicians – not just geographically, but musically. He has traversed most genres with aplomb, putting out a plethora of releases on a cluster of international labels, constantly pushing boundaries and enjoying himself all the while. And whilst he has been part of big globally-renowned acts (Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds, The Wreckery, Dirtmusic) and with Hugo Race and the True Spirit, No But It's True marks his first “official” solo album – although he concedes this isn't exactly true.

“Like most things I do, it's a little more confused than that,” Race chuckles. “Aside from the True Spirit records, I did a live acoustic album in 1994 called Stations Of The Cross, which isn't usually included on the catalogue because it came out on a German label called Normal as part of a mail order series, but then got distributed to an Italian label in Naples that ended up in stores. Then three years ago I did an instrumental record called Between Hemispheres but that doesn't count… And my last album Fatalists is a solo album, but since then I've formed a band called Hugo Race Fatalists and we have another album coming out… none of this is very clear or makes much sense, does it?”

No But It's True is an intriguing prospect because it requires Race to play songs that others have written and others have played for many years, whilst Race himself struggles to listen to his own music after it hits the shelves. He opines that the issue wasn't about playing familiar songs, but about striving to find the key to their success.

“I never really listen to anything I have written after it's been recorded because I have lived with it for so long,” Race admits. “But I have always quite enjoyed hanging around with other musicians and prodding each other, saying, 'Can you play me a Carpenters cover?' or, 'Play me a Captain Beefheart or a Blondie song.' I'd been talking to two close friends about what types of covers you might choose if you were to record them. Out of it all came this idea about what makes songs really eternal, what makes them connect with so many people, and the conclusion was that they were all about love. Love can do that. Songs about partying, good times, bad times – they come and go. Yet there is this drama about love and what it is; how it's good and how it's bad. It defines people's lives.”

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Race's innate knowledge of, well, everything, and penchant for consistently pushing himself into new sonic parameters bode well when it came to collating the songs for No But It's True. Race poured considerable energy and concentration into gleaning a brace of disparate tracks that spanned eras and genres. On their own they speak their separate stories, but when pared back and placed side by side offer a singularity in their message about love that is driven by pure lyricism.

“We started with 30 or 40 love songs, then reduced them down by which ones made sense with how I play, because some songs I love and am crazy about don't fit me. Because I did them so stripped back, very minimalistic, some songs didn't work without its accompanying arrangement, and it's that moment that you realise that it's composition that drives it, that makes the song tick. Yet with a song like (Bruce Springsteen's) I'm On Fire, which is incredibly well-known, I realised that I had never really listened to the lyrics before. I only knew part of the chorus. So when you strip away all the production, some simple yet powerful sentiment remains. It is astonishing.”