‘One third’ Waif Josh Cunningham fresh from the folk festivals of America spoke with Tiffany Mitchell about their new album Beautiful You, playing at one of their favourite gigs – the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival and getting back in the van for their West Australian road trip in September.
The three songs penned by Josh Cunningham; Dark Highway, Crack of Dawn and Born to Love have really popped out on The Waif’s seventh studio album Beautiful You, soaring with that certain southern country sound, silently stealing the scenes from lead vocalists Donna and Vicki. This writer is a little hesitant to tell him that his voice sounds like Zac Brown, the singer from Georgia heading the popular and hardworking Zac Brown Band. When revealed there is a long pause… oh no is he possibly miffed at this likeness? But Josh is delighted and humbly surprised, replying “Well that’s a high compliment! Singing has never been my strong point. I guess over the years I’ve grown more comfortable and now I actually enjoy it. We’ve just been playing live over in the States and the songs I’ve been singing in the last set – people have really been responding, so it’s been very encouraging,” he says.
The album Beautiful You has a definite country roots and earthy flavour to it. When asked whether the band tries to introduce different sounds, Josh muses, “As you get older in life it translates into music expression. We’ve never tried to adhere to a sound or style or fashion. We just make music that‘s in our hearts to make, so hopefully its always going to resonate. The producer that we used, Nick Didia, was really into a lot of guitar parts and guitar sounds, so on a lot of the songs I put some different effects on it so it does sound like an organ or a banjo embellishment, so what you are hearing may just be a guitar,” he says.
Prompting Josh to talk about his favourite American festival he quickly nominates the famous Rocky Mountain Folks Festival in Colorado. “The festival is at a little town called Lyons which is right at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and most of the accommodation for the artists is at a town thirty minutes away, so you head out there in your car, park your tail lights facing the main stage and hang there all day,” he says. “That festival is amazing – it’s just such a beautiful setting, there is a little river that’s running behind the main stage right down beside where everyone sits and there’s this red cliff-like escarpment behind that creating this nice natural little amphitheatre. That’s one of the great things being at those music festivals, that you obviously get to play your own music but you get to see some pretty awesome stuff. And that particular festival this year was probably the highlight of the whole tour because we got to watch Gillian Welch. She has been a long-time favourite of ours, she closed out the whole festival – the last act on the main stage, probably three to four thousand people there and everyone is sitting on this big expanse of ground and they’re playing just acoustic music – acoustic guitars and two voices – they had everybody entranced it was really magical.”
From the Rocky Mountains of Colorado to the dusty desert plains of Kalgoorlie – the gold mining town is the first gig on the Waif’s Australian prospective tour – plus additional shows due to sold out venues. We ask a final question to the Waif’s guitarist, vocalist and songwriter; are they yearning to reminisce and escape back to those gypsy itinerant days playing music? “We are actually doing a lot more driving for this Western Australian run, we are driving almost around the state, up the West Coast and playing like we did back in the early days when we were just hippies in a van,” he laughs. “We really miss those experiences, it’s great to drive and take in that landscape and go at slower pace. We look forward to it. We feel really lucky to do what we do. We had really no ambition but to just travel around and enjoy playing music, so we always felt we were successful anyway just doing that. Yes I still pinch myself – even back then I used to think I could’ve been sitting in a university class learning about economics and yet here I am living in a dream and still the dream endures. Yes I certainly don’t take it for granted.”
Beautiful You was released on 14 August via Jarrah Records.