Putting the soul back in: Emma Donovan and The Putbacks

Sly Steve chats to Emma Donovan on the release of the debut record Dawn from Emma Donovan and The Putbacks and ahead of gigs in Brisbane this weekend, and at Bluesfest in April 2015.
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It’s been a busy few months for you, working on the new record with The Putbacks. Single Daddy was the first taste we heard, was that the first track you guys started working on for the release?

Yeah pretty much, there was Dawn and I think Voodoo were the first ones we started messing around with when we started playing together. I met Mick and Rory, the bass player and drummer from The Putbacks a long time ago with the mob from Black Arm Band, they were the rhythm section there. They gave me the ideas for Dawn and Voodoo to kind of start with and then after that and after playing a few little gigs and picking some playlists and doing some covers together we just started writing more, it was a lovely little combo you know.

Well you seem to have found a song writing soul mate in Mick Meagher of The Putbacks, how did the two of you meet?

Black Arm Band were doing a gig called Murundak, with a lot of regional touring around Western Australia and Northern Territory. There was this one kind of soul song that I had on the show called Lullaby that I wrote with another band member in Sydney and they really liked my song in the set and it was a lot more soulful than a lot of the kind of rock ballads and rock/reggae songs that were on the gig. They loved it and at the time Rory would say, because at this time I was living in Sydney, ‘you should come to Melbourne and have a sing with us and catch up properly’ and we did. We just kept the conversation going and it ended up happening. I could pretty strongly say I that I really wanted to move to Melbourne to work with them mob. I just love them you know, I love The Putbacks, I’ve seen a lot of their live stuff and I just thought they’d be my dream band to work with.

There’s a real sort of funk and soul community vibe going on in Melbourne at the moment. Has it been good tapping into that and getting in touch with the crew down there?

Yeah it has, their (The Putbacks) relationship with Hopestreet Records too has been really solid. Them mob have been making really good music with that label, and really opened my eyes and ears with what Hopestreet do with like recording records and the way that they record stuff too, it’s pretty raw the way some of the recordings are set up live. Not to mention all of the beautiful people who work for the label, there’s lots of love.

You’re also doing a vinyl release for the record, as well as CD and digital, is that something new for you releasing on vinyl?

Yeah it’s the first time I’m going to release an LP, I’m going to have to buy a record player now (laughs). I asked mum about an old record player that I had when I was younger and she was like ‘That’s so old Emma, I don’t think that would work’ (laughs). I did have one when I was real little that Nan gave me, like an old carrier box one, I’ll have to dig it out.

That would be cool to put your record on your Nan’s player. As you say you’ve been working with Hopestreet Records, who have put out a few releases from The Putbacks, what’s the relationship been like with those guys?

Just when the album was getting mastered and getting close to being finished, The Putbacks released a single with Nai Palm called Spanish Harlem and we shared a little gig together down at The Espy. It was nice crossing paths with her, as I’m a big fan of Hiatus Kaiyote and Simon from The Putbacks plays in Hiatus Kaiyote so there was a nice little connection there. It feels like we’ve been sitting on this album for a bit though, kind of busting to hurry up and get this out now (laughs). People have heard a few songs and we’re really looking forward to people hearing the rest of the album now.

Well I can safely say we’re pretty excited for it too. Musically it’s a bit of a different path for you and from what people may be familiar with from your solo work and with groups like Black Arm Band. How has it been exploring your soul side?

It’s a bit different to what I normally do, but my mum who’s my biggest critic and my family were like ‘this is way different’ (laughs). I showed my Uncle the clip and he’s like ‘why did you call it dawn?’ you know, they kind of got their back up a bit (laughs). I like that it’s different and I think one thing is my singing. It really stems from working with vocals and melodies on my own and sharing that with Mick, the bass player, who would bring straight guitar and bass lines and we would kind of workshop those and then we’d get the band together once we had like a skeleton and go have a really good jam. We got some really good funding last year so that gave us an opportunity to stretch all of that out a little bit more too, particularly on the pre-production side of things. Gave us a lot more time so we could have a rest with it, come back and play more with it. So that’s been a lot different also.

There’s also some powerful lyrical moments on the record and Mick and yourself share the song writing credits, has it been quite a collaboration between the two of you in that sense?

Yeah a lot of the stuff is from my personal journey over the last four to five years and you know just getting stuff out, a part of healing but I didn’t want it to be too sorry and sad. There are some dark moments in some of the song writing which you can hear but I think the music and the outcomes of it all come out in a good way and that’s where we wanted it to go. I’m all the better for it you know after the last few or so years and with the support of brothers like Mick and the band and Hopestreet and everything, I want it to be in a good place and it definitely ended up there. I hope it comes through in the music you know, not too heavy.

We’re looking forward to some live shows too coming up through December in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, have you been getting a bit of a jam in before you hit the road?

There’s a bit of a live thing happening. We’ve been tying it back into some of the older stuff that I was brought up on like gospel and some of the language and we want to tie some of that into the live stuff. It could even bring out some more ideas for a new album who knows, we’ll see how we go, they are just ideas for now. We want to show a bit of everything, show a little bit of what we were doing when we met. This music for me has had to make me dig and look back a bit and I’ve had to ask mum a few questions about Nan and Pop and about some of the songs my grandfather used to sing. Even listening to some of the albums I grew up singing. Mum’s a big country fan and I grew up on country music and in the last few months I’ve found myself downloading all these old Loretta Lynn albums. Pretty much where it all comes from is me and Mick sharing playlists and sharing songs. I’m sure I still owe him some music but I get a bit shameful giving him all these old country tunes you know (laughs) but it’s been a really nice collaboration.

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Catch Emma Donovan and The Putbacks this Saturday 20 December at The Motor Room, Brisbane or Emma solo at Bluesfest 2015.

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