Around The Sound first properly encountered Lincoln MacKinnon and the Wrecking Train when they supported The Southern River Band at Mojos on their recent tour. After that night, we were moved to write:
Front man Lincoln MacKinnon stalks the stage like a tousle-haired delta preacher who’s just about to experience the rapture while high on amphetamines. He’s unpredictable, mesmerising and shakes out his words and guitar licks like he’s been shot through with electricity. Backed by one of the best bands going around, MacKinnon and his unholy henchmen owned the Mojos stage.
The dusty distances of inland Australia are equally at home inhabiting his songs. They are sparse like the land that has partly inspired them, but rich with layer upon layer of musical sensibilities and lyrics the likes of which you only hear very rarely.
Yeah! It was pretty heady stuff! So, when MacKinnon announced he was releasing sophomore album, Sparks Will Fly, we knew we needed to organise a time to sit down to talk to the front man of one of Perth’s hottest bands.
We hunkered down in back of Leederville’s iconic Greens and Co(ck), place of many lights and probably one of the world’s best cake displays. When I opened by asking MacKinnon where the ‘assassin’ part of his band’s bio line, “sometimes assassin, sometimes saint,” comes from, he laughed it off.
“Well, you know, I think that’s just the stage thing. Sometimes you give it all you’ve got, you know.”
“I’m really shy. When I’m at someone else’s gig, I’ll never dance. But there’s something about performing, it’s like there’s no rules or something. I was a very ratbag kid, so music was introduced into my life to calm me down. Then my Dad got me into drumming and that was my main instrument. So, when I get on stage, it must be some other-worldly calming mechanism. I don’t know.”
Yup, that about sums it up. On the day of writing this piece, we’d woken to video of Mick Jagger getting his groove back on after heart surgery. It was great to see and, watching Jagger busting a move in front of the mirrors of a dance studio, obvious that the perennial front man of one of the world’s enduringly great bands puts so much into his performances. The art and artifice of it were fascinating. With MacKinnon, there’s just as much art, but no artifice whatsoever.
“I just feel it. I’d like to play every day, because I enjoy it so much.”
He’s moved to move. Maybe it is a bit of the rapture in him. Who knows? MacKinnon sure doesn’t, and that all fine, some things just are.
MacKinnon is also a teller of stories, but he’s a bit shy of the title story teller. It’s a heavy crown to have thrust upon you, so we can understand why MacKinnon’s a bit wary of it, but we reckon he’s got it in him.
“I’m from a place called Ocean Grove in Victoria, so I’m used to having that endless sky on the horizon and, moving to Tennant Creek, you still get that with the desert. I was really drawn to that harsh environment, but it’s the people that make the place. I did a lot of work in indigenous communities, doing anything from making films, to touring Indigenous bands, and that’s where I wrote this album.
“It’s a harsh environment, but it’s full of stories, like any environment. I remember some wonderful stories and some horrific stories. The beautiful stories being the landscape and the way people live on that land; the love stories, the camaraderie in a place like Tennant Creek. As I’ve described it, the wild camaraderie. It’s only a small town so you get to know everyone’s business and what that does is bring everyone closer together, for better or for worse. I was really drawn to that.
“In terms of the aesthetics of my music, I was drawn to some of the stories. There was horrific racism in that town, so there are songs on the album like, ‘Sparks Will Fly’, that are directly about an experience in one of the pubs there and the police specifically targeting Aboriginal people time and time again in that town. And there there’s the beautiful love stories you get in those sorts of places. Admiration for how people can survive in a place that can seem quite barren. But it’s not, it’s very fruitful, if you know what you’re doing.
“The songs were mostly inspired by love stories. And, even just being in a place like that creates this sparseness in your songs.”
Then, MacKinnon has a realisation.
“I haven’t consciously thought of it until sitting down and talking with you right now, but a huge part of that album, yes, it was written in Tennant Creek, inspired by it. But, it’s probably equally a reflection, if not more, of my life before Tennant Creek, but with the distance.”
Distance from his former self is what MacKinnon means, but the dusty distances of inland Australia are equally at home inhabiting his songs. They are sparse like the land that has partly inspired them, but rich with layer upon layer of musical sensibilities and lyrics the likes of which you only hear very rarely.
Like the country that sees MacKinnon looking off into the distance even when he’s confined by four walls and a cake stand, he’s an artist with vistas as wide as any horizon, so it’s hard to pin him down sometimes. Asked to get to the very essence of his music, MacKinnon starts with one word, “Empathy,” and then immediately backs away from it.
“Empathy is probably a mix in equal parts of a few things. I think it’s probably just inherent in humans. It’s a product of your upbringing, parents, relatives, siblings. I think it’s a product of everything, really. I don’t know if it’s really reflected in my music. Maybe it’s just something that’s ticking away in my music, but I’m not trying to write empathetically. All my songs are about people. Every song on that album is about someone or a group of people. Every single song on that album is about someone.”
We can’t help but smile. Story tellers rarely know their own gifts.
Lincoln MacKinnon and the Wrecking Train launch Sparks Will Fly at Mojos on 24 May with support from Marmalade mama, Nika Mo, The Tender Hearts and DJ SWEETMAN. Then they’re off on a national tour and we hear that album three is already written. Watch this space, as they say.