In the second of our series on WA artists to watch in 2022, Around The Sound speaks with Gav Healy.
As a member of The Healys, Gav Healy is a well-known professional musician having been a staple in many a venue over many a year. 2020 saw Healy release an album of original songs, All In Good Time, which was his way of making the best use of his free time during COVID, taking a bunch of songs, some of which had been on the shelf for 15 years, polishing them up and putting them out to the world. At the time, Around The Sound said, “If we have to assign the album a genre, let’s just call it bloody good music that will find a way of speaking to your heart and soul and leave it at that.”
All In Good Time was Healy’s first solo outing and his first release of original music since what he calls his, “Wasted youth teenage days”. In the 90s, Healy had a massive brush with fame, playing proto grunge metal with two schoolmates in a band called Wasted Youth. They played festivals across the country and, a slip of fate a little to the right or left, could have been as massive as silverchair.
Let’s get back to the music and leave that for the moment.Gav Healy
Since then, Healy has kept his original works on the shelf until last year’s solo release. So, when he said he was about to release some new music, I needed to speak to him to find out why.
Healy began like most good musos do, by taking the road less travelled. “I don’t know how to talk about this, to be honest,” was his opening gambit.
I waited, having learned a long time ago that silence is sometimes the most probing question, and the words started to flood out of the mild-mannered Irish Australian sitting across the table from me.
“It was spontaneous,” Healy said of the new recordings. “I started the year (2021) not knowing if I was going to keep playing music as a career, because I started off with really bad bursitis in my shoulder. I felt like I was pretending up there on stage, I couldn’t hold chords properly and I was really struggling. It wasn’t only my shoulder, I had no strength in my hand and I had real panic and real fear that that would be it. There was the stress, also. I had a lot of bad news through the year, and I went partially blind in my left eye. It’s called central serous retinopathy, it’s fluid build up in your macula so your vision becomes like you have a filter.
“So, I started off the year not so great.”
I paused, took a sip of tea, while Healy gathered himself. I could sense there was more coming, but there was little to prepare me for what.
“Why I was stressed was, apart from the pain, there were issues with my Dad,” Healy continued. “My Dad has been unwell for a very, very, very long time and, coming into this year, was getting really bad. He’s finally been diagnosed with schizoid personality disorder, which has taken a very, very long time to get that diagnosis. Twenty years ago, Dad had an episode. He’s lovely, he has a good heart, but you never know who you’re going to get and, apart from that, he was an alcoholic. He hasn’t drunk for nearly 20 years now. Over the last five years, he’d retired and he’d been helping people with disability as a volunteer. The organisation he was volunteering with changed hands and he didn’t feel comfortable there anymore, so he became isolated and he pretty much put himself on the couch for the last four or five years. He didn’t turn the TV on, he didn’t do anything, and that’s because he was mentally unwell. We’d been to doctors, hospitals and everything and they’ve been telling us he’s fine, but we knew he wasn’t. For so long he was not fine.
“We had a couple of interventions and finally we got him admitted, but before he could be admitted to the psychiatric ward he had to go through the hospital for a health check. He’d been on the couch for five years, his body had withered away and he hadn’t been looking after himself. He was only supposed to in hospital for the day. Turned out he was in there for a month and it turned out he has terminal lung cancer.”
Healy delivered his last piece of news with the controlled emotion of a man who has come to terms with what his life currently has on offer.
“It’s been bittersweet,” Healy said. “Finding out that Dad has this condition was a relief, but then to find out that he’s terminal, that was devastating.
“That’s been going on my whole life really, but it became really heavy this year.”
If this were a fair world, that would be it. Surely it’s enough to have your livelihood and part of your very being taken from you as well as to find a diagnosis and treatment for your father’s chronic mental illness only to have his life pronounced terminal at the same time. But, for Healy and his family, life had something more to offer.
“Then, during that, my wife Rebbecca, we found out she ended up with cancer, too,” Healy said. “It was the best of a worst-case scenario for Rebbecca. There’s four types of throat cancer that you can have and she had the one that was really small and they could get it. So, she went under, they got it out and she was left with a really nasty scar across her throat, but she’s healing well and you can hardly see it now.”
OK, that’s enough, isn’t it? This was like living through one of those stupid late-night TV ads, the ones that blare out, But wait, there’s more.
“We have had some really good news,” Healy continued. “Apart from Rebbecca recovering, her Mum has also been waiting for a heart transplant and it came. Somebody has to lose their life for somebody to live, so it’s bittersweet; we’re so happy, but so sad. Rebbecca’s Mum is doing so well now and recovering too.”
In all things there are balance, that’s a natural consequence of the universe being a closed system. But when you translate physics into human terms, it means that, even though his mother in law survived the heart transplant and is doing well, Healy and his family have to carry with them the grief of the life that was lost to save one of their own.
Healy summed it up like this: “So, we’ve had some fantastic news and some really harsh news.”
Then he said, “Let’s get back to the music and leave that for the moment.”
The music, born of heartbreak, loss and triumph. Is there any better music in the entire world?
Having been through a strenuous program of rest and then rehabilitation, Healy is now able to play the guitar again, perform and write music.
“To finally play music again and to sit down with the guitar and write and to actually feel comfortable and not in pain and to express myself… I wasn’t sure if I was going to ever feel like that again, or to be able to do that again,” Healy said. “I’ve been able to finally get back to work, which has been really good.
“I was getting really down about not playing. Not feeling good about it is a terrible thing when it’s your job. That’s how I cope. Music is my job, but it’s also my passion.”
Out of all this came three songs, collectively titled 3, that Healy released into the world today, 3 January.
In his own words, “I was very comfortable with how they just came out straight away. When I listened back I thought ‘I’m not going to go too far with this. I’m not going to spend lots of time with this, I’m just going to let this be.’ I tend to work on things over and over to the point where I end up just sitting things on the side never to be looked at again.
“As I’ve gotten older and, especially at the moment, I wanted to get something off my chest and I felt like I wanted it to be from the heart and meaningful and honest.”
Having listened to the songs before speaking to Healy, I have to say I was intrigued by their rawness at first, but uncertain as to why he’d left them to sit there almost as demos. These are recordings that could be layered and produced into the sort of ballads that have people like Ed Sheeran playing solo to packed stadiums. But Healy chose not to do that. Just like his Wasted Youth teenage years, he chose the path of family and what he terms “openness and honesty”.
Having listened to Healy’s story, I went so far as to say to him that the recordings show a generosity that many artists never achieve. There’s no hiding for Healy in the lyrics of these songs, no plausible deniability about their meaning.
Take ‘For You For Me’, which Healy said, “is a compassionate kind of song. It’s a silly kind of tune”. It opens with, Another day goes by / You wonder why there isn’t more to life / And when you’re feeling down / You look around /And is this what I want?, leaving you in no doubt as to Healy’s state of mind.
‘Slán Go Fóill’, which Healy said, “is about my Dad,” starts with a sigh that, in the scrubbed up produced version would be erased from existence. And yet that single exhalation is as expressive of Healy’s state of mind when writing and recording the song as a thousand rhyming couplets. Healy’s choice to leave it in is a stroke of genius.
The final track on 3, ‘What We Are’, contemplates our place in the great comedy of the universe, about which Healy concludes, It’s not what you’ve done, or haven’t done / It’s what you’re doing now.
What Healy is doing right now is turning his pain into some of the rawest and most beautiful music I’ve heard in a long time. Having listened to his story of how his life’s been over the past year you could forgive the man for contemplating giving up. For Healy, not carrying on was a consideration at times, but once his capacity to create music was gifted back to him, he chose courage and family, just like he has at every significant juncture in his life.
Healy also chose to record and release 3. Having spoken to him, it feels like these songs were recorded for himself, as a means of making sense of his experience. Fortunately, we get to listen in.
What really makes Gav Healy a WA artist to watch for in 2022 was his comment, once I’d stopped recording, that he’s thinking about putting on a showcase of his work. Now, that would be something worth witnessing from a man whose life has always been about the music.
“I grew up in a house filled with music,” Healy said while reflecting on what had brought him to the point where he was preparing to release 3. “My first words weren’t Mum or Dad, they were, ‘Jet, ooo o ooo o’, you know, the Paul McCartney song.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Listen to 3 on Spotify