I remember the first time I ever laid eyes on Tinpan Orange. I had ducked into a tent at Woodford Folk Festival to escape the searing heat and there on stage was a flame-haired singer spinning like a top; an impassioned, vested guitarist; and a violin virtuoso summoning some of the most intoxicating music at the festival. With a string of summer performances leading up to their fifth studio album, it seemed an opportune time for vocalist Emily Lubitz to reflect on how the band has evolved since that distant Woodford intro.
“My life has definitely changed,” Lubitz says.
“I have children now, so I think that changes the way I write and my creative process. The songs I wrote earlier in life were quite autobiographical and were quite dependent on having a dramatic life. Now I’m happily married. Though marriage definitely has its challenges, so I get some fodder from that. My songwriting now is more about craft than this urgent need to express what’s going on in my life. They’re are a bit more fictional now, or based on someone else’s story. In the past I’ve been quite private in my songwriting, but ‘You’re Not There’ was a co-write between me, Jesse and Harry. We’d never really done that before. It was just the three of us there in a room, strumming guitars, throwing ideas.”
Jesse Lubitz is Emily’s brother and the band’s guitarist, while Harry Angus is her husband and all-round charmer from The Cat Empire. Rounding out the Tinpan Orange ranks is violinist Alex Burkoy, though it’s only recently that they’ve stripped back to a trio. They are a band who have experimented in form and sound greatly over the years, and this latest chapter heralds both a rebirth and return.
“Our lineup for this summer and the coming year of touring is the original trio. That’s kind of who we are, it’s how we started. I feel that’s the most authentic incarnation of the band. We’re a folk group, and having keys and drums, it turns us into just another band. Plus Alex just shines so much when there are fewer people to muddy the sound. So this Woodford and Jamgrass we’ll be back to that. I’ll be on this 1964 Gretsch Hollowbody, which Harry bought me. It took me ages to actually play, I was so intimidated, but he was very sweet and encouraging, and now I’m pretty much playing it for the whole live set.”
Given the sibling connection, Tinpan Orange have always been something of a family band. With Lubitz’s husband now closely involved, and the couple’s three young children shanghaied into instrument cases and drumheads for the tour, we are looking at the beginning of a 21st Century Partridge Family.
“I feel like road life and parenting are quite compatible. You’re only actually working for one hour in the day. There’s a lot of dead time where really we all could be learning a dozen languages. But instead we just watch The Wire and start drinking early,” Lubitz laughs. “What I found challenging has been creating and writing, finding time for that side of things. Especially on this new album, I don’t know how it happened really – it’s a miracle. It’s been squeezed out of the corners of our lives.”
Although not scheduled for release until April 2016, you’ll be able to catch snippets of Tinpan Orange’s fifth album – including current single ‘You’re Not There’ – at Port Fairy Folk Festival in March next year. Indeed, there’s no finer space to discover just what it is that makes Tinpan Orange so enchanting.
“That’s our home. Festivals are how we’ve created a career. We’re not a smash hit band, we’re a touring band, and festivals are where we have our following. They’re our chance to really draw you in.”
Written by Adam Norris
When & Where: The Melbourne Folk Club [single launch], Melbourne – December 13 & Port Fairy Folk Festival, Port Fairy – March 11-14