Changing Cities

12 June 2012 | 6:30 am | Benny Doyle

No stress, no studios, no time constraints... Ned Collette discusses his latest release with Wirewalker.

Melbourne born and blooded, songwriter Ned Collette is currently plying his trade in the creative bohemian expanse that is post-wall Berlin. His move to the German capital a few years ago made perfect sense for the 32-year-old; he could get a freelancer's visa easily, people were making music that interested him, and most importantly, there was an ever-pressing desire to live in Germany. Collette admits that he could predict the next ten years if his life was to remain in the Victorian capital. In Berlin, he now has no idea what's around the corner, and he loves that.

This is perhaps why he's so enamoured with the new Ned Collette & Wirewalker record, 2. Nothing was planned leading up to the making of the album, least of all regular member Ben Bourke not being a part of the process. While the bassist chose to remain in Melbourne and focus time on his young family, Collette wrote new music, and with the help of percussionist Joe Talia ,crafted an album as a duo. However, it still remains under the familiar banner.

“Nothing was really planned in a sense,” he admits. We were [still] going to try and make a Wirewalker record with Ben, we had plans to try and make that work, and meanwhile I was working on a bunch of demos and solo stuff here. Then Joe came over last year to do a couple of his own gigs and just hang out and do some work on recording, and we ended up having a discussion and it went from there. It just sort of turned into a Wirewalker record because it still felt like a Wirewalker record, just without Ben on this particular one,” he reasons. “But the thing is, these songs started off as solo stuff, then Joe contributed to it, so it was just easier to put it under the Wirewalker banner.”

But far from forgetting their friend back at home, both Collette and Talia longed for the doting dad in Victoria. These pining emotions were only encouraged further by a trip back home during the recording process. “We'd speak to Ben and say that we'd miss him, and we wished he was playing bass on that stuff,” he recalls. “But Ben's a unique character and we don't get caught up in that ego stuff. We're all sad that's he's not on the record, because when we did one gig back in Melbourne last year when I was mixing the record and when Ben played on all this stuff live, it was just unmistakably him. The thing is, when I played bass on these recordings, I just tried to think what he would have done.”

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Pieced together from songs old and new, 2 is an album that reflects Collette's current European existence. Dark, pensive and personal, it encapsulates late nights, city lights, and offers some of the troubadour's most unique songwriting; no more apparent than on the foreboding, kraut-influenced lead single Ill Futuro Fantastico. “I think we opened with [Ill Futuro...] when we played this one show in Melbourne six months ago,” he recalls. “It was actually Harvey [Saward] from our label in Australia who originally encouraged us to go with it, because it sounded really different to what we had done before and it sounded really impressive as an opener. That was fine by me; if they tell me they think that should be the lead single, then they're the label, so that's great. But I'm really happy they chose that because I really like that song.

“It's basically a fantasy of what might occur if everything that certain people in the world are telling us will happen,” he continues, divulging information of the song's thematic origins. “I mean, basically, I was living with a guy who was obsessed with collapse theory and how the Western civilisation is going to collapse far quicker than what anyone else thinks, and how in twenty or thirty years we're all going to be fighting for food; but not in any sort of religious sense, in purely a natural way in terms of natural resources. So I just extrapolated on that and used it as a songwriting jump-off point for a tune about what that might be like.”

While this opening track of the album talks about the possibility of taking arms against your neighbours, other songs play out like dissonant allegories, tackling mortality, losing contact and regret, but not in the hedonistic ways a Berlin base would suggest. “I don't really lead a crazy life here, it's all rather quiet,” he remarks. “I mean, I hang out with people late, but the decline after the party is more a metaphor for reaping what you've sowed if you go too far in any direction. You could say that currently America is suffering through a decline after the party.”

The record covers a lot of territory, from experimental stuff scattered through the album – strange and haunting moments spearheaded by Talia – to Collette's more recognisable ballads and folk numbers. It's a diverse collection of songs that walks between an earnestly pure nature and a sonically adventurous trip; fresh adventures mingling with the stripped-back acoustics that have helped establish Collette both domestically and now abroad. But it's not simply a two-pronged attack found on 2. Joining Collette and Talia on the recording are a plethora of different female voices. Ranging from husky to ethereal, their tones add a depth in personality and character to the album.

“In the end they all did their jobs perfectly, otherwise the songs wouldn't be on the album,” he states. “It was really good fortune with all of them that it just worked, and every time that it occurred that we needed a second vocal within a particular track, the right person was just around. Gemma [Ray], for example, sings on a pop ballad [The Decision]; that was something that I lined up, so we tracked her down and got her into the studio one afternoon and she was happy to do it. Then with Laura Jean and Biddy Connor [Sailor Days], that was just something that happened in Melbourne when we needed it. I just thought that it would be nice to have some other voices on How To Change A City and they just happened to be coming into the studio then anyway, so we played it to them and away it went. It was really just a bit of luck here and a bit of planning there.

“There was really no stress involved [with the recording] because there were no studios and no time constraints,” he finishes. “It felt well paced and organic, and we're both really happy with it – I think it's the best work we've done. But that's a cliché,” he lets out a light chuckle, “everyone says that.”