“Are we Aussie Irish, Irish Aussie? What are we? Our parents brought us out to Australia in in 1988 to give us a good new start. Things were rough over there [in Ireland]. We see ourselves as Aussie. And Irish.”
That’s Gavin Healy, one third of Perth-based trio, The Healys, the other two thirds being Allan and Nigel Healy. Around The Sound spoke to Gavin and Allan over a cuppa (English Breakfast for us, coffee for them – irony every which way) in a Leederville eatery as they prepared for the launch of their latest album, Dusk Til Dawn.
Photo credit Lauren Merton Photography.
The Healys buck the reductionist, stay-at-home trend that seems to be gripping the world at the moment. Their way makes a lot more sense, is richer for all the humans involved and is resulting in some very fine music.
In an age where the mainstream media continually stirs the pot on identity politics and national pride is daily churned into nationalism, it’s always refreshing to talk to musos about the universal language of music. It’s grounding and cuts through the bullshit to give us all some hope.
A bit like The Healys.
Dusk Til Dawn is The Healy’s first full-length physical release in eight years. The eight tracks on the album traverse a range of genres, from the folk/rock/traditional Irish music that The Healys are known for all over the world, to country, and the Afro-beat inspired opener, ‘Spectrum’, that wouldn’t be out of place on Paul Simon’s Graceland.
Reflecting on what gave The Healys such a sense of genre-bending freedom with their latest release, Allan Healy begins by taking it back to their roots. “We were brought up on country and folk and all that kind of stuff. Our old man would play that kind of style and we kind of went away from that. The Vast album opened our minds again and reminded us that it’s OK to play any style of music. Whatever comes out, go with it.”
Allan Healy is referring to the band’s involvement in the Vast project. In September 2017, a group of around 30 Aussie musicians travelled to Cossack in Western Australia’s Pilbara in the remote north-west of the state for a week of collaboration and recording inspired by the history, culture and landscapes of the region. The artists included Qynn Beardman (The Blues Train), Aimee Chapman (musician/producer/songwriter), Paul Dempsey (Something For Kate), Bernard Fanning (Powderfinger), Jae Laffer (The Panics), Anna Laverty (music producer), Olympia (solo artist), Sally Seltmann (solo artist/novelist) and Kav Temperley (Eskimo Joe), among others.
Pretty good company for a band like The Healys to be keeping? Well, yes and no. A bit like their fluid sense of identity, The Healys were both humbled to be asked along and right at home in the company they found themselves keeping.
GH: “We’ve been holding off on doing a CD for quite a while. I don’t know if it’s because we’ve just been busy, we’re gigging all the time. We just recently did the Vast project. That was such a great inspiration to us to get our own material together again. I think that was a good kick up the bum.”
AH: “There were three organisers [of Vast], Qynn Beardman, Jae Laffer from The Panics and Aimee Chapman, who works in an agency over east and is also a solo artist. They came up with the idea and then thought, ‘OK, who would be interested in coming up to a ghost town in the middle of the Pilbara and collaborating? Which people would work well together? They said they came up with a list of about 100 Australian artists and then cut them down by think about who would fit together. They gave us a call and said they love us to be in the project, kind of like a house band.”
GH: “We didn’t know if we’d record any of our original material or just help other artists. We just went up there and thought, ‘This will be interesting.’ We were the only actual band as such, all the rest were solo artists.”
AH: “It was funny, it was all these individual artists, and The Healys!.”
There’s definite delight that remains with The Healy brothers at having been invited to be part of Vast, even over a year after the initial meeting of musos in the Pilbara. And it’s clear that their involvement in the project played to their musical and ancestral heritage as well as spurring them on to create what became Dusk Til Dawn.
GH: “At first, it was kind of strange to have so many different egos and personalities, but everybody let their guard down and just chilled out. It was more like a school camp. When people started getting into the vibe of the thing, it was nice. That first day, everyone was kind of unsure. There was no set layout for what we were going to do. They told us, come up and if you’re inspired, create. If you’re not, that’s OK, enjoy yourself.”
AH: “We love being thrown in the deep end. We always have been. Our dad was a muso as well and we were just kids when we started gigging. He would just play songs and we’d have no idea what he was doing. When I played a bum note, he’d give me a kick (laughs). So, we’ve always been thrown in the deep end.”
GH: “And then the [Vast] concert happened and we thought like the guys would have who they wanted to play with them on their songs and then we got another call asking us to be the house band, so you’d better get learning all the songs.”
AH: “Everyone else’s songs, not just ours. And we thought, if that means playing with Bernard Fanning and Paul Dempsey, well, great! Being on stage with Paul Dempsey was something else. The guy was a monster of music. You know it by what he’s achieved, but actually being in his presence and understanding that he’s pulling all the strings on stage. You can feel the influence he’s having.”
GH: “And he’s the nicest guy, as well.”
That ‘kick up the bum’, as Gavin Healy has it, was just the creative spur The Healys needed to inspire their next creative steps.
GH: “[Vast] was like opening up the floodgates for us. Three days and all these tunes. Some of the songs [on Dusk Til Dawn] are old and one of them is brand new, ‘Funny Money’, that’s a country song and we’ve never done country before.”
AH: “It was like, we had these songs that we’d done. We released an album in 2010 and that had a lot of trad. songs and more Irish stuff on it. We were definitely hitting the Irish market and that was the plan. That album got a lot of radio play and still does. In the eight years since then, we’d written and recorded songs kind of one at a time, because the music industry changed, going away from albums, it’s [all about] songs. So after Vast we decided, let’s give these songs a home. Let’s put them together in a package for people who like The Healys, and let’s do that so we can take the next step.”
GH: “Which we already have.”
There’s a creative restlessness about The Healys. They’re always looking to new horizons and, while they’ve never strayed too far from their musical roots, everything they do has a sense of freshness and renewal about it. That ‘next step’ that Gavin Healy mentioned is actually a series of steps, on a range of fronts. There are more recordings, that’s a given. But wait, there’s more. Lots more.
AH: “We’re off to Ireland [in August this year]. Every year they have a thing called The Fleadh Cheoil, it’s the national traditional music festival. It’s a week-long music festival and a town in Ireland gets it every year, they actually get it for two years. Our home town, Drogheda, they got it for last year and then this year. It was a huge success (last year), half a million people came.”
GH: “It’s like Bridgetown Blues Festival, but on a huge scale.”
AH: “So, they contacted us for that and they want us to do two main stage shows on two nights. We’re going to do that in August and we’ll have a little tour around Ireland as well.”
GH: “When we play in our home town, in Drogheda, it’s a homecoming. They see us as the little boys that made it.”
This is the sort of homecoming that any expat band like The Healys would love to have. For all its vastness, Australia is short on the sort of population that could drag 500,000 people into one small town for a week-long music festival, so the opportunity to play such events gives a different meaning to success for Aussie musos.
For The Healys, there will always be that sense of doing things the Irish way, as well.
GH: “We went back in 2016, we did a tour of Ireland and we played our home town. Over there you only do a two-hour gig. And we like to play, we like to play as long as we can. We played this new venue and we were going to start early, around four in the afternoon.”
AH: “We got there at two and the venue was half full already. We wanted to get in early so we could get our gear set up and then talk to people as they arrived, but the place was already jammed when we arrived. And we played from four till close, which was eleven. It was the greatest day. And the pub ran out of beer. Not just beer, booze, entirely.”
Some would say that’s an Irish tradition right there. But The Healys, for all their Aussie Irish/Irish Aussie, for all their traditional Irish music roots, are now an international phenomenon, owned by the world.
GH: “We’ve been sending CDs to England, Ireland, America, Canada. It’s (Dusk Til Dawn) available across all the digital platforms and a lot of people are listening to it on Spotify. We haven’t done a CD for eight years now, we didn't think there was much demand for albums on that format any more, but we’ve been quite surprised. The support has been awesome, people are getting onto our website and purchasing it from all around the world.”
If you want further proof that The Healys now belong to the world, check out their YouTube channel, ‘The Healys’ Kitchen’ where they play music on request for fans from every part of the globe.
GH: “We get a lot of hits from all over the world on those videos. A lot from Asia, which was a bit of a surprise. We’re planning a tour to Asia later this year.”
The Healy brothers are musicians who’ve tried it all across their individual careers. As Gavin Healy says, “Before we became The Healys, we all had our own individual original bands. All these kind of crazy things.” But they really found their groove when they came together as The Healys, embraced their cultural heritage and, in doing so, took their music to a bigger audience than even they thought possible. In this sense, The Healys buck the reductionist, stay-at-home trend that seems to be gripping the world at the moment. Their way makes a lot more sense, is richer for all the humans involved and is resulting in some very fine music.
Dusk Til Dawn Album Launch
25 January at 25 JB O’Reillys, Cambridge Street, West Leederville