Twenty-seven years ago a rag-tag bunch of folkies got together and formed a band called Things of Stone and Wood that went on to define Melbourne in the early ’90s. Off the back of their top 10 single ‘Happy Birthday Helen’, the band achieved national success, international tours, a gold album title The Yearning and even a Late Show parody, kicking off a career that would place them as one of Australia’s most loved folk-rock bands. We chat to front man Greg Arnold ahead of their return to The Workers Club for a very, very special show as one of only two Victorian appearances.
Hi Greg, how are you and what have you been keeping busy with lately?
All busy with different projects. I’ve been making a solo album here in Geneva and writing for a new TOSAW album, but as always, looking forward to all being in the same country and the ol’ TOSAW tour van again.
Can you describe how the industry has changed over the several years you guys have been active? Do you need to be adaptable to be in the music business?
It has changed radically since we started out. The internet really gave the whole scene a fantastic “means of production in the hands of the workers” thing, but with that has come a lot of tricky things as well – like the implications of streaming. You definitely need to adapt, but also remember that most of these discussions about change generally occur around the medium – not the material. I think making sure you write the best songs you can, make the best records you can and put on the best gigs should be eternal aspirations.
What is it about folk music that draws you in?
The honesty. The simplicity. I remember that I ran screaming into this music at the end of the ’80s when technology and sound had become so overwhelmingly huge. I just wanted a good tune, with meaningful lyrics delivered by a good band – none of the bells and whistles (although I do note we did have actual bells and whistles on our records).
What’s been your proudest moment as a band?
Sounds corny, but just being a part of this band (between ’91 – ’94 in particular). I had such faith that we were doing such strong shows and making serious strong records. Any success or gongs were always just a bonus to that great feeling.
While you guys are phenomenal with phenomenal music, somebody always chooses to be a critic. How do you go about dealing with critics? Is it hard to keep your spirits up?
I try not to read reviews primarily because I remember every cruel comment and forget all of the nice ones (“Greg Arnold seems to think he is at the centre of a particularly miserable universe” … ouch!)
Have any of you ever considered doing something other than music?
I went back to uni when I was 40 in the vague hope of growing up and wound up being an academic in music for a few years… so it’s a life sentence I’m afraid.
What does the future hold for Things of Stone and Wood?
Well, nearly up to 30 years now (yikes) so a national tour for that and hopefully a new record too!
When & Where: The Workers Club, Geelong – December 16. Tix available via Oztix.