Robert Forster, singer-songwriter, Lights On at Brisbane Powerhouse: Songs From Your Shutdown

Demand that the world can’t go back to the way it was. Demand changes ...

The streets of our town have been eerily quiet ever since the COVID-19 pandemic arrived on our shores back in March. Live-music venues across Brisbane were forced shut their doors, leaving us music die-hards bereft of one of our favourite pastimes and musicians stuck without places to perform. As we inch closer to a sense of normalcy, a select few venues are reopening for special socially distanced gigs. Cultural epicentre Brisbane Powerhouse is one such institution helping resurrect the struggling live-music scene – this month the centre will host Lights On at Brisbane Powerhouse, a series of curated shows hosted in a re-imagined venue specifically designed for smaller audiences. On August 14 and 15, Lights On will present Songs From Your Shutdown – two nights of intimate musical performances hosted by Robert Forster (co-founder of iconic group The Go-Betweens), who will join Darren Hanlon, Sycco and Minor Premiers in sharing a collection of stories and songs created during lockdown. We recently spoke to Robert about how he’s spent his time in isolation so far, his thoughts on socially distanced performances and the importance of supporting the live-music industry as the world moves into a post-COVID existence.

Many folks are utilising this time to indulge in creative practices or find new passions – are there any endeavours (large or small) outside of music that you’ve taken up over the stay-at-home period (we hear you’re working on a novel …)?
Yes, I am writing a novel, and these times are suited to that endeavour. I find I am doing more reading than I have done in years – going from book to book in a way I haven’t done in a long while.

As live-music fans, we’re unreasonably excited for Songs From Your Shutdown at Brisbane Powerhouse. You mentioned in one of your recent Facebook updates that you’ve been working on new material while at home – can you give us any insight on the ideas, themes or moods informing in the music birthed during the pandemic?
I don’t think the pandemic has affected the content of the songs to a great deal. What I do feel is a clarity has come – the noise levels of life are down a little. A space has opened up to concentrate on the writing of music and lyric ideas.

In regards to your creative process, has forced isolation had a positive impact on the way you work, or have the circumstances hindered the formation and actualisation of ideas?
I worked contently from home before COVID–19, and have done so during the duration of the disease so far. I’ve just been able to sink a bit lower into my work than I have in the past. ‘Forced isolation’ is how I like to live.

Over your career performing in a band and solo, you’ve no doubt picked up an ability to tailor your performance to suit any room or audience size – how do you envision this reimagined socially distanced setting will differ from the norm and how will you adapt to suit it?
I will have to shout more so everyone can hear. My jokes will have to be funnier, and my rock poses grander and more ridiculous than they already are.

Are there any aspects of life as a touring musician that you’ve found yourself missing more than you expected?
None, really. I’m lucky in that I released an album early last year and was able to tour it through the rest of the year. So this was going to be a quieter year for me anyway. I am just putting my head down – creating and reading and thinking like crazy – to have things to show when this pandemic either blows away, or ways are found for artists to travel and work.

As we emerge from this period of isolation, what role do you think live music in particular will play in rebuilding a sense of connection and lifting collective spirits?
Huge, as it should. Performances in the months or even years after COVID are going to be very intense and meaningful. Artists will be giving their all.

Additionally, what do you think are some positive steps people can take to contribute to the collective healing of the post-COVID-19 world?
Get out of the house. Walk down the street. Pop into shops. Eat with friends. Demand that the world can’t go back to the way it was. Demand changes.

The current climate – socially, politically, environmentally – can be taxing on one’s mental health. How do you practice self care during elongated periods of widespread distress?
I walk through nature everyday – 40 minutes is all I need to refresh and return to the house ready to take on the second half of the day. I also try and stay in the moment, not let myself plan and twist a possible future – you can’t. I love to disappear into my writing and books – you can’t live this current reality without deep distractions.

Songs From Your Shutdown will take place as part of Brisbane Powerhouse’s Lights On series. You can still purchase tickets to the event, which is taking place across two magical nights on Friday August 14 and Saturday August 15.

Image: Bleddyn Butcher


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