Tim Freedman, singer, The Whitlams
I am happy for this to be a snapshot of what people return to see us do in concert – play songs that breathe and feel alive ...
If it was up to us to compile an updated version of the great Australian songbook, you can bet your bottom dollar that our list would include ‘No Aphrodisiac’ and ‘Blow Up The Pokies’ – two seminal hits from Sydney-born band The Whitlams. Since rising to prominence in the mid-1990s, The Whitlams has cemented itself as a fixture of the Australian music scene, with an enduring legacy and reputation for tugging on heart strings via earnest ballads or inspiring singalongs with rousing melodies. Last month The Whitlams released ‘Ballad of Bertie Kidd’ – the first single from the band in more than a decade and a taster for a new full-length set for release next year. Lead singer and pianist Tim Freedman has embarked on a solo tour to celebrate, hitting the road for a string of shows that will include two nights at Brisbane Powerhouse on December 15 and 16. We chatted to Tim ahead of the shows to get some insight on the inspiration and composition of the band’s new material, the benefits of playing solo and Tim’s interest in Greek stoicism.
We’re thrilled to have new music from The Whitlams in our lives. We’d love to know more about how the new single – ‘Ballad of Bertie Kidd’ – came to be. What first drew you to the tale of one of Australia’s most notorious underworld figures and this robbery in particular?
I was drawn to it because it seemed stranger than fiction. The comedy of the moment when four robbers deny they are on their way to a heist despite all having balaclavas covering their faces in a stolen Sigma was irresistible. It was not until later that I started to understand the fear and awe that the gang’s leader, the prolific Bertie Kidd, was held in by the criminal class. And it was later still when I asked him to appear in our film clip.
The track is the first single from The Whitlams in a long while. What inspired the group to gather, and can you describe the energy and the dynamic of the sessions that led to the creation of this track and the new album?
We want to play live more, and new songs add some zest to the whole endeavour. The dynamics of the group in the studio were unchanged – we have great conversations about where the songs should be going and rarely do I need to cast a deciding vote. Terepai and Jak are in the studio a lot with other artists and they don’t let anything go out under their name unless they are completely proud of it. I’ve become a bit less of a perfectionist.
How has your own and the band’s songwriting process evolved over the years? Does inspiration strike the same way as it did in the beginning or is the process of creation markedly different these days?
The songwriting is still me at the piano and then I throw it to the boys to jam on the arrangements for between one hour and ten. Lyrics are coming a bit slower for me these days. I think I’m getting pickier about what subjects are worth labouring over.
On a similar note, how did you and the group approach maintaining The Whitlams’ core identity and artistic ethos while working on new material?
I didn’t have to worry about that because we are the same four guys that recorded most of Love this City (1999), all of Torch the Moon (2002), and all of Little Cloud (2006). Just like on stage, it’s our thing and our thing alone, but what it is I don’t know.
Would the record strike long-time fans as a new sound for the band? Are there certain qualities of the album you’re particularly excited to share?
On The Whitlams’s spectrum it’s quite tough. It will speed up and slow down like the real thing in concert. I don’t have radio play in the back of my head anymore, so I am happy for this to be a snapshot of what people return to see us do in concert – play songs that breathe and feel alive.
We’re excited to hear snippets of the record and some of The Whitlams’ hits when you perform solo at Brisbane Powerhouse later this month. What’s it like hitting the road again following months of sitting idle?
Many of the punters haven’t heard live music for nine months, so they have been really easy to impress. Either that, or I am good.
Aside from stripping back the sound out of necessity, how would you say performing solo alters the impact of your songs compared to their full-band renditions?
I act out the songs a lot more in the vocal delivery because there is space to hear those variations. I’m glad to announce that Jak Housden will be joining me at the Brisbane Powerhouse now that the capacity has been lifted, so there will be plenty of harmonies and guitar textures as well. We should be called the Half-Whits.
Finally, what would you consider to be some of the major influences in your life and work currently?
I’m enjoying the Stoics – they are useful for these times. I have a new song about listening to Greek philosophy while driving through the hills to see a man about a dog after the drought has broken – I might play it to you guys.