CW Stoneking

CW Stoneking

Interviewed by
Danielle Street
Thursday 23rd October, 2014 4:35PM

CW Stoneking has a voice that is impossible not to listen to. It's warm and gravelly, and he speaks with a slow drawl that finds some words running up against one another, like tar drops pooling on a hot pavement. It's a voice that is on full display in the Australian musician's new album Gon' Boogaloo, a rough gem of a record that he boasts was recorded over two days, using two microphones into a two-track tape machine. The simplicity makes it the perfect format to capture his particular brand of primitive pop, with tracking coming courtesy of Sound Recordings, a Castlemaine-based studio run by former Auckland resident Alex Bennett, who played with the likes of Raw Nerves before jumping the ditch to set up shop. With the record hot off the press, and CW casting his gaze this way in preparation for a string of shows on these shores in early November, we caught up with the man himself to ask about his lawn, hardcore jazz fans, and of course recording the new album...

UTR: Hey CW, so a mutual friend of ours, Alex Bennett, said I should ask about your lawn...

CW: Haha, I’m standing on it right now.

What’s he getting at there?

Well, he’s out in Castlemaine and where it’s all very nice and wet. I’m a couple of hours up the road where it's very dry and all that comes through are weeds, so I’ve scraped my entire yard bald with a spade, which he doesn’t seem to get tired of the funniness of.

So it’s more of a dirt patch than a lawn…

It’s a very big dirt patch. It’s huge. It’s like my own personal desert.

How long did that take you?

Ahh, several months. Coz I’ve got to touch it up, you know, because if there is any moisture on the ground it starts springing up again. But it’s going to be so hot here soon that nothing will poke its head out of the dirt, so I’ve just got to keep them down until then. It’s gets 47 degrees here.

Wow. Where are you staying?

Ahh, it’s like the northwest of Victoria.

So, let’s talk about the new record, Gon’ Boogaloo. It’s been six years since the one before it, what have you been up to besides scraping your lawn?

Well, I’ve been trying to write songs. Ahhh, done quite of touring with my band. And what else did I do? I had a couple more kids. That’s about it.

How many kids do you have?


Do they help you out in the yard?

No, they don’t help me out with anything. I help them. That’s how it goes. It only flows in one direction.

So, tell me, how did you connect up with Alex from Sound Recordings?

Well, because ah, I had an idea about how I wanted to record, which was very basic, not a lot of microphones and stuff like that. And so I figured someone with an old-fashioned studio would be used to working that way, so I started looking around for people like that, and I bumped into somebody who told me about this dude, this young guy down in Castlemaine from New Zealand. So I tracked him down and you know he’s running a B ‘n’ B there too. We found this thing on Facebook and I showed it to my wife and I said, “check this out man, they’ve got a studio, they are baking bread and freakin’ pastries and making jam”. You know, the best we can do is wake up in the morning and make a couple of sandwiches for the kids. My wife was like, “I hate these people, let’s go there straight away”. So we took a drive down there the next day and I met them and took at look at the studio, and there was a few good looking machines in there. I told him what I was wanting to do, and he had these great old tape machines, and he said: “I’ve got this 8-track machine up there, but it doesn’t sound good if you hit it hard, it’s distorted. It’s okay for modern stuff or if you want to use a lot of tracks, but we’ll use this other one for you”. I was like “cool cool cool”. I went and got a band together, got the songs ready, and rolled back up there, he got me plugged into the 8-track. I thought it was weird, but he had some problem with the 4-track.

So we started recording a little bit, but I didn’t like the sound of my guitar with the closed microphone, so I kept pulling it back and pulling it back. And then it was so far back I was like, “why don’t we just play it into the back of my vocal microphone?”. So we got rid of the guitar mic, and that sounded better right away, and then I was like, why don’t we get the double bass to stand up and play next to me. So we eventually whittled it down to two mics, from maybe four.

So we went to the 2-track after that because we had whittled it down, and it sound much better. You could hear it when you played it back, it had this like wonderful sheen on it. And so, I said "that’s it, let’s use these two mics and do the whole record”. And I think Alex was quite thrilled at that concept because that’s sort of right up his alley. The band was slightly less thrilled. My bass player was horrified, but he didn’t really have a say in it.

You’ve got a few records under your belt, is it the first time you’ve done it in that fashion?

Yes it is. From my point of view, from all the records I’ve done, I always do my bit like that anyway. My last record I did all the songs live with the drummer and the bass player, but then afterwards I brought in horn players and percussionists and pianos, and oh my god. And we stacked it up on top. So I was able to sit back, and listen to what worked, and do multiple takes. This time we didn’t have time to do multiple takes, nothing. We had two days only to get it finished with everyone there, so it was just hot, you know.

So you’ve had a little while to sit on the record since it was finished. Are you happy with it?

It is what it is, you know. It’s not the type of record probably lots of people would do. It’s rough, but from my perspective and the thing that kept me busy for six years was getting the songs to be where I wanted them to be as songs. So it doesn’t matter to me about the recording, even some mistakes. The worse thing for me is if I fluff a line here or there, and we have to use that take because of whatever. But I always say the song is the best thing. Most of the music I like was recorded very basic, you know, there was no high-fidelity. It doesn’t stand up in court, you know. But I like the music and the people singing it, they were unique. So, I am happy with it? Yes I am.

When you mention the music that switched you on to that sound, who are you talking about?

Well, there’s so many. I started out playing 20s and 20s blues for about 15 years before I even made a record. I guess that was the first sort of thing, but having said that, even talking about the blues from that time, it’s so varied. That’s one of the things that appeals to me about it. And now I listen to a lot of those gospel records, and not just old gospel like the 50s, some of the 70s ones are good. Ah what else, so much. You just get into it, you just have notions, you know. If I feel like there is some sort of energy I want to get into a song and I have a vague notion that I think there is some kind of Jamaican musics like that, I'll try and find it. But it seems like there is about 100 different words for all the Jamaican musics. I still get confused by it. When I first discovered calypso, I was like “wow”. It was like things I had dreamed about.

You will be in New Zealand in November, how many times have you played here before?

I’ve been there twice before. I played a show in Wellington once, and I once went and played at a jazz fest where I got heckled by a 60-year-old.

Where did you get heckled?

It was some freakin’ jazz festival out on an island there…. ahhh….

Waiheke, maybe?

Yeah, that’s the one. It was like a hardcore jazz festival, you know. And there was like this millionaire there, who drives around in his porsche and his wooden Italian speedboat and shit, I think he lives sometime at the island, he puts the festival on there, so he bought me over. But the dudes were like hardcore jazz old-school, and I think they thought I was a joke. So I had a bit of back-n-forth with these old bastards in the audience who thought I wasn’t jazzy enough.

I’m sorry to hear that…

It didn’t tarnish my view of New Zealand because I’ve seen those uptight jazz fuckers everywhere. So I’m very much looking forward to getting to New Zealand actually, and getting a van and driving around and doing shows. It’s one of the things I’m looking forward to.

CW Stoneking will be playing five shows around the country kicking off in Auckland at The Tuning Fork on 5th November. Then travelling through Masterton, Wellington, Dunedin and Christchurch. Head over here for details.

Gon' Boogaloo is out now through Caroline Records.


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