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THE SIDEMAN BECOMES A STAR

Davey Lane, photo by Clinton Kraus Photography
Davey Lane, photo by Clinton Kraus Photography

Sideman – A professional musician who is hired to perform live with a solo artist, or with a group in which they are not a regular band member.

Still cringing from the train wreck that was Meatloaf at the 2011 AFL Grand Final, the AFL have, since then, often looked to Aussie performers to bring the goods for the game day entertainment.  As a consequence, booking Jimmy Barnes for the 2018 Grand Final was really only a matter of time.  He’s an Aussie rock legend guaranteed to deliver.

It’s like Lane has finally uncorked his creative bottle and what has come out is a rambunctious collection of songs that borrows from everyone from The Kinks to The Who, Blur, The Buzzcocks, Kraftwerk, Pink Floyd (with Syd Barrett at the helm), everything!, but which defines a sound that is Lane’s entirely.  This is one for the ages.

Search the Internet for details of Barnes’s performance on the hallowed turf of the MCG and you’ll find little information about the band that propelled his songs that day, except that he was sided by perennial Aussie guitar hero, Diesel, and joined on stage by his daughter Mahalia Barnes, who also sang the national anthem.

Davey Lane, arguably one of Australia’s best guitarists, does not rate a mention.  Yet, he was part of Barnes’s band that day, playing for a TV audience of millions; just the same as he’s been a member of one of Australia’s best loved bands, You Am I, for the last 20 years; has toured with the likes of Crowded House and Todd Rundgren; and added his guitar licks to a whole host of recordings by artists as diverse as Charles Jenkins and the Zhivagos, Chris Bailey & The Saints, and the final two albums from Australian rock legend Jim Keays of The Master’s Apprentices.

In terms of behind the scenes influence, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to cast Lane as an Aussie Jimmy Page, who in the days before he formed Led Zeppelin, was one of the UK’s most prolific and influential session musicians.  Only difference is, Page made it in his own right, whereas Lane remains the giant on whose shoulders so many artists stand, but who has yet to properly see the light of day as a star in his own right.

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With the release of Lane’s solo album, Don’t Bank Your Heart On It, all of that is about to change.

Don’t Bank Your Heart On It, is the sound of an artist stepping into the spotlight and announcing his arrival.  And, for someone who’s known for his guitar playing, the thing that really hits you on first listen is Lane’s voice.  It’s powerful and assured, quirky and divergent — as are the songs on the album — and it’s the thread that helps tie together what is a satisfyingly diverse trip through the genres of rock and pop such that, when you’ve finished listening and turned the platter over to start again on track one, side one, genre doesn’t even come into it, you’re just listening to a Davey Lane record and, fuck! it’s good.

Lane maintains the album is about loves lost and found and the loneliness you can only experience from within a relationship that, in your mind, you’ve already left.  But listen between the lines and it’s clear that, during the creative process, Lane’s subconscious has been hard at work resolving the uncertainties — demons even — that have held him from the spotlight thus far.  On the album’s second track, ‘A Clear Road’, he sings, I need a clear road / To stand on my own this time.  It’s on this simple conclusion that the brilliance of Don’t Bank Your Heart On It pivots.  Somehow, this time, Lane has allowed himself to stand his own ground and the results are nothing short of stunning.  It’s like Lane has finally uncorked his creative bottle and what has come out is a rambunctious collection of songs that borrows from everyone from The Kinks to The Who, Blur, The Buzzcocks, Kraftwerk, Pink Floyd (with Syd Barrett at the helm), everything!, but which defines a sound that is Lane’s entirely.  This is one for the ages.

Speaking about the recording process, Lane gave some insights into his propensity for going down rabbit holes as well as the eclectic mix of styles that the songs on Don’t Bank Your Heart On It traverse. 

“I recorded most of it myself and mixed some of it myself, but got a few other people to mix as well.  I had my head buried so much in the minutiae of each different thing, you know, ‘What is the frequency of that hi hat?’ you know, things the music listener isn’t going to give a shit about.  It was only once I had it sequenced and sat down and listened to it that I felt like maybe this thing isn’t cohesive at all, but I kind of didn’t care.  But, I’m glad I’ve been getting feedback, that there is, after all, some cohesion to it.”

For those of you who know well the likes of Barnsey, Diesel, You Am I and the Crowdies, but are only vaguely aware of Davey Lane, welcome to his world.

Davey Lane is the quintessential geek:  nervous, fidgety, tongue tied, prone to delve deeply into the detail of whatever takes his interest, accumulating encyclopaedic knowledge.  Until he picks up a guitar.  Then he struts his stuff with the best of them.  He is rock and roll personified.  Until he puts the guitar down again and tries to talk about himself.  Then he’s back to being all fidgety, having difficulty making eye contact.  The guitar transforms him.

“I was such an awkward kid growing up,” explained Lane.  “I was so socially inept as a kid, I started playing music so I didn’t have to talk.  I’ve gotten a bit more comfortable talking now.”  A little bit, perhaps, but his conversation is still punctuated with the awkward pauses of the painfully self-conscious.

Don’t get me wrong, Lane is a generous raconteur, warm, witty, insightful and happy to lay himself bare.  It’s just that the extreme awkwardness that he encountered as a kid is still in play.  These days, it’s part of his charm, and that geeky thirst for knowing everything about everything he’s interested in colours his music to the extent that it’s part of what makes him unique.  It’s also part of the reason why he didn’t form the Aussie equivalent of Led Zeppelin some 20 years ago.  He just wasn’t ready.

Take the vocals on Don’t Bank Your Heart On It as a case in point.  “This is the first record that I think I’ve reached a point where I’m really comfortable as a song writer and, especially, as a singer,” Lane said, “because that’s one thing that I’ve felt has been a bit of a learning curve and quite a shallow learning curve in that it’s taken me over 20 years of actually doing it to get to a point where I feel like I can hear what’s coming out of my own mouth and not be disgusted by it.

“It’s got to a point where I actually really enjoy singing.  Singing used to really terrify me.  Now, give me the opportunity to sing — I know everybody knows me as a guitar player — but I’ve had the opportunity to do things in the past couple of years where I’m just singing and I get such a kick out of that.  Whereas, going back five or six years, the idea of that would have had me reaching for the Valium.”

I’m guessing that the sound of his own voice wouldn’t have been the only thing that’s had Lane reaching for the Valium or other equivalents over the course of his life so far.  His level of misfittery inevitably needs to be salved somehow.  The wonderful thing with Lane, though, is that he’s had music and, reading between the lines, it has literally saved his life.  In a world gone horribly wrong, this is a score on the good side of the ledger, the side that has heart, spirit, empathy and that values emotion over masking.  The side that sees Davey Lane become a fully-fledged rock star in his own right.

Speaking about the record, Lane let slip a few insights into not only his creative processes, but also how he’s remained sufficiently upright and vertical for long enough to write and record Don’t Bank Your Heart On It.

“It (the record) does end on an optimistic note,” Lane said, “and it’s not a coincidence that I’ve got Tim (Rogers) singing on the last song.  Tim was one of the biggest presences in my life around that time.  We’ve both been propping each other up at times and in one way or another for 21 years.  So, that last song is very much like picking up your bat and ball and keeping strolling on because life ain’t so bad.”

Any decent storyteller knows that, no matter how bleak their subject matter, you have to offer your audience hope for redemption.  Don’t Bank Your Heart On It charts a period in Lane’s life where he lost, gained and then lost love.  It makes his subject matter as real as real can be, not only because Lane is the protagonist on his own concept album, but also because he’s speaking to an audience that, in one way or another, shares his pain.

“It doesn’t take much reading between the lines, from the get-go this record is about breaking up,” Lane said.  “It’s about intensely having that feeling of being on your own in this union and within that the guilt of coming to the realisation that this is not working any more.  It basically tracks from that and into coming out of that and thinking that, once you get out of that, everything’s going to be OK, but, as they say, it always gets worse before it gets better.  It is that thing of coming out of that and, without being too literal about it, falling in love with someone again and going, ‘Wow! This person is amazing,’ and then they turn out to be not at all the person that you thought that you knew.  Having the euphoria of a new thing and that turning into a fucking nightmare.”

For Lane, birthing Don’t Bank Your Heart On It was a difficult process, with a somewhat unexpected saviour.  “At the lowest point of the chronology of the record’s arc,” Lane said, “I did a tour with Todd Rundgren and that saved me in a way.  I was staring into the abyss in a way and that tour could not have come at a more opportune time.  To play his music with him — talk about euphoria!  His music is joy and compassion and a higher level of understanding, all those things.  So, there is meaning to having all those people involved in the record.”

‘All those people’ is Lane’s reference to the somewhat impressive guest list of artists who appear alongside Lane on the record:  Tim Rogers, Vika and Linda Bull, Todd Rundgren, Chris Cheney (The Living End), Phil Jamieson (Grinspoon), Tommy Stinson (The Replacements), Robyn Hitchcock , Georgia Mooney (All Our Exes Live in Texas), Mark Wilson (Jet) and Stu MacKenzie (King Gizzard).

Reflecting on this list, Lane said, “The idea of having feature artists [on an album] is something that I’ve always thought, seeing other records that had feature artists on them, I’d go, ‘How gratuitous is that?  They’re just getting their more popular mates in so they can get a few more streams on Spotify.”

Then, he grinned and said, “I hope I do get a few more streams on Spotify.”

Listening to the album and to Lane speaking about his work, it’s difficult if not impossible to apply the ‘How gratuitous is that?’ scenario to Don’t Bank Your Heart On It.  That guest list is just people repaying favours, simple as that.  The music on the record stands with or without the star cameos.

No matter how many streams it gets on Spotify, Davey Lane can rest assured that Don’t Bank Your Heart On It will be recognised as a classic album, one that took him from side of stage to centre stage.

The spotlight’s on you now, Mr Lane.  Pick up your guitar and shine!

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