This is the story of a song.
When you’re making songs like ‘Neighbourhood Hero’ and people are calling for them at your shows, you have to know you’re onto something. That was Perth’s Green Pools in 2019. They were on a roll. And then, of course, they weren’t, because their moment was cruelled that day in March 2020, the day the music died.
If you ever underestimated what it takes to create music, the story of ‘Blue’ will, hopefully, make you think again.
There are so many of these stories, about bands that had to take a break during the COVID lockdown. So many of them that they’re becoming a cliché. Now we’re talking post COVID and the shaky return of live music. People are playing shows again, but under the constant threat of more lockdowns and sudden cancellations. It’s amazing, really, that so many flowers are blooming in such arid conditions.
What’s different about Green Pools’ story? Maybe nothing. Maybe everything. You make up your mind.
Green Pools are just about to launch their latest single, ‘Blue’. Self described as playing ‘heavy folk’, whatever that is, Green Pools’ ‘Blue’ is a song in two parts. It starts out all shy and softly spoken as it coils itself around your heart and gives it a gentle squeeze — just enough to take your breath away — and then, around the 2:30 mark it builds into this beautiful behemoth of thing as layer upon layer is added until what you’re listening to is a towering edifice of wall-of-sound alt folk.
“Yeah, but without the creepy Phil Spector vibe and the guns and all that,” said Tess Hutchinson, vocalist and one half of the song writing partnership that is at the core of Green Pools, when I put my thoughts to her about ‘Blue’.
The other half of the song writing partnership is Joe Simich, who also is Hutchinson’s life partner. Yes, Green Pools is one of those bands where the music is born of love and everything works beautifully. Until it doesn’t. Brian May once said that if a band is ever going to argue about anything, it’ll be the song writing. Imagine taking those arguments home with you.
Added to that, Hutchinson walked away from her calling for a time and Green Pools had a line up change. This is a band that likes to have the degree of difficulty set to ‘high’ while they play the video game called life.
“This was quite a hard task,” said Hutchinson, with what I learned in our time together was a knack for quiet understatement, “because the EP that ‘Blue’ is the single off was created over two years in three studios, three different engineers and two different drummers. Trying to bring all that together and make it sound slightly cohesive was a real challenge.
“All the new music was created after I had a really rough experience, as many people did during COVID and after. So much so that I didn’t want to do music anymore and I didn’t really like my own songs.”
Hutchinson said that last bit like it was just a trifle. Then she went on to say, “I just gave myself a rest, and me and Joe stopped, we just went to shows for fun. We stopped playing shows for a bit.”
I’m not going to say that Hutchinson is a slippery customer, because she was a delight to speak with and refreshingly insightful, open and honest, even trusting this old stranger with a few absolute gems that I can’t write about here, but that will give me enough dirt on her for a good while to come. But she does rather have a way of being brief and poetic about the important stuff, as a lot of songwriters do. If you’re not paying attention, you can miss the meat on the bone.
Wait, what? You and Joe stopped for a while. What do you mean?
“My relationship wasn’t at its best,” Hutchinson elaborated. “This was probably six months before COVID and I had originally started writing ‘Blue’. I had left and gone away… I go to communities up north to run music programs and do sound for Indigenous bands. I go for about a fortnight and I’m with a team, but I can’t call anyone, you’ve got no service. My relationship was at a pretty rocky stage, and I wrote the beginning of ‘Blue’ at the beginning of our breakup…”
That’s the part that coils around your heart as Hutchinson sings, My blue dalliance, my treasured circumstance / We started where we parted / Bound up by youth. The chord changes and the low-down, Paul Kelly country guitar in the opening of ‘Blue’ are set to maximum heartbreak, so much so that, if you have any soul at all, you’re shedding a tear for Hutchinson’s loss before she sings a single word.
Around this time, Green Pools’ drummer also quit the band. Luckily for Hutchinson and her bandmates, it wasn’t an acrimonious parting.
“The band’s been together for five and a half, six years,” said Hutchinson, “and our drummer, Ken, had been with us for a good four and a half of them. He was so sweet, he said to us, ‘Listen, I’m leaving, I’m going to go to Melbourne, but I want to give you guys time’.”
What with her relationship on the rocks and her love of making and playing music evaporating like petrol poured on an open flame, you could have forgiven Hutchinson if she’d knocked back the casting call for Green Pools’ cameo in This Is Spinal Tap. But, no, they carried on.
“Then, Elle (Walsh, Axe Girl, Love Junkies) mentioned that she wanted to jam and that she might be free for a bit,” said Hutchinson. “It’s changed our band in a really good way. I was really proud of my music before and I’m still really happy with our back catalogue but the new stuff’s really exciting, it’s really cool.”
Stop the presses! New drummer creates pivotal moment for band! That wouldn’t happen too often. Drummers are pivotal, there’s no disputing that — if your drummer is shit, so is your band. But, unless you’re John Bonham or Dave Grohl, no one really cares who it is that’s sitting on the drum stool. Now we can add Elle Walsh to that list. In my estimation, she’s definitely a worthy addition.
So, things are on the up for Green Pools by now, but ‘Blue’ is still only half written. Where’s the lift at 2:30? All those layers, where did they come from? What inspired them to create wall-of-sound alt folk?”
You may have guessed, but let’s let Hutchinson, the poet at the centre of this story, finish her telling of it.
“…and then we reconciled, and I wrote the end,” Hutchinson said. “It was nice because it had two different mindsets.”
‘Nice’ Hutchinson said. Understatement again. The ending of ‘Blue’ is a monster of an outro, it just grows and grows until Hutchinson sings, in staccato voice, This setting sun, can come real near / ‘Cause it’s bringing me home / To my baby, my dear / We started where we parted / And I’m still here, and then the guitars and strings take it out. There’s even feedback. That’d have to be a first for a folk song.
If you ever thought pop music was just throwaway stuff that gets cobbled together by strung out musos in a few short minutes. If you ever thought songs have a shelf life after which they become annoying or just forgettable. If you ever underestimated what it takes to create music, the story of ‘Blue’ will, hopefully, make you think again. ‘Blue’ is a song that took years to write and record, traverses the ending and rekindling of a lifetime relationship and survived multiple drummers. It’s a song about chaos and beauty and, through all of that, possesses its own quiet pulchritude and inner strength. And it knows how to party when times are good. ‘Blue’ has it all.
‘Blue’ also marks the return of Hutchinson and Green Pools.
“It was really cool, we did it,” said Hutchinson. “‘Blue’ was the first one I wrote where I felt, ‘Yeah, OK I can still do this’. Then we wrote a song called ‘Dollar Dreams’ that will come out next year. It was really angry, it’s all about the reasons that I wanted to stop, and I think I broke the dam on that, I’d verbalised how I feel, and it’s done. I’d called out the things I was doing wrong and the things that other people were doing wrong and now I feel like I can move on. It was like closure, song writing closure.
“And ‘Blue’ was the first time I played ukulele on a song.”
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The launch date for ‘Blue’ this Friday 9 July at the Aardvark has to be postponed due to ongoing COVID restrictions. Please hold your tickets and check for updates on Green Pools’ Facebook page.