Words by Tracey Moyle.
It’s possible that at some point over the last few years you may have come across a young Brisbane musician and his guitar under the moniker of Brendan the Bard. Walking in on live music at a random bar is not by any means uncommon in our beautiful city. Had you seen this young man performing you would have noticed the audience, completely encapsulated by one of his own tales, told through an obvious gift of musical storytelling, or performing an eclectic assortment of covers to an adoring crowd.
Sometimes you know in an instant that someone with immense talent is right in front of you. It only took me 30 seconds of listening to Brendan Caldwell sing and play his guitar for me to know I had to dig deeper with this musical poet.
I spoke to Brendan recently about the release of his new single ‘Stars’, the influence of music and poetry throughout his life and so much more.
I notice you had a name change through the week from Brendan the Bard to Bard of Brunswick. Why the change?
“Yes a bit of a re-brand. I was Brendan the Bard for a few years and I started playing with a band and started getting some good shows and people coming along to see us. I didn’t feel right performing under that name. It wasn’t a problem for the band themselves, but I feel like I’m always writing songs for a band anyway, not just a soloist. It felt right to me that they could have more ownership over what we do, instead of it being Brendan the Bard and the Brendan show, it’s Bard of Brunswick. Something we all feel part of.”
The meaning behind ‘the Bard’ must have some significance to you. Is it a Shakespearean term of Bard or like a character reference as in tabletop gaming or something different?
“It’s a bit of everything to be honest. I studied Shakespeare at university when I was doing a creative arts degree but I’m also a huge nerd. (laughs) My first band back in 2014 was called Bard and the Bowman, a reference to ‘The Hobbit.’ Then when the guys moved on I wanted to become a soloist, it just seemed right to take on that archive. I’ve always been a fan of alliteration and Brendan the Bard seemed really nice and Bard of Brunswick just came to me as well. A bit of everything comes into the name.”
You certainly are a modern day Bard. Where does this love of story telling come from? Is it from a love of reading or you mentioned creative arts at Uni? Is that something that’s always been a part of you?
“My dad was a bit of a poet, I always kind of liked his poetry growing up and I really love stories, I love telling them, I loved entertaining my friends at school. I became a musician much, much later. I picked up a violin in 3rd grade and got nowhere with it and thought ‘well that’s it, I don’t have any musical ability.’ Then a while later, I wanted to be a writer, like a play write or some sort of long format writer. I enjoyed developing my written voice with my online gaming in my teenage years, like my English and grammatical skills had to stay up to par for people to take you seriously. But it’s weird. I always had adoration for music. Its something that just seemed like magic to me, I didn’t understand it, how it worked. I just worshipped it like it was this cool thing but I could never do it. Then somewhere in my first or second year of Uni a bunch of people were playing guitar and I remember very specifically, watching two friends play together and I remember it definitely turned something on in my brain. It flicked a switch watching these two guys play and sing together, it was the coolest goddamn thing in the world. And I just wanted to do it. So I was really fortunate to be in a time and a place that I could play and as soon as I started playing, I started writing. It took a few attempts but you know, a couple songs in and people started to kind of dig it and I was definitely digging it as well. So it’s a mix of everything, all humans, we love stories, it’s probably the most important part of our society. So if can throw my hat into somewhere…”
Who are your influences and your inspirations because they can be two different things?
“Yeah that’s a great question. I mean it’s a hard one because I am sort of influenced by everything I listen to past and present. So like, growing up, I think my earliest musical memory is listening to The Travelling Wilbury’s. So right away I think I was really lucky because I was exposed to Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, George Harrison, Roy Orbison, and Jeff Lynne all in the one band. It wasn’t until much later I got into The Beatles. It was like Travelling Wilburys and Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson, early stuff. And when I was a little bit older, we had a Walkman and a cassette tape and that had Bloodhound Gang…”
That’s, very Guardians of the Galaxy…
(Laughs). “Yeah That’s Awesome. I’ve never made that comparison; I’m going to tell people that. Yeah, I had this cassette tape; it was my older brother’s, he’s like 44 this year. And he had a lot of cool 90’s alternative music on there. And then teenage years I was into the pop punk scene, you know, My Chemical Romance and Blink 182 all that stuff and now it’s levelled out with all that Indie folk rock and progressional alternative stuff. But I mean I’ve always enjoyed writing with an acoustic guitar and I’ve always enjoyed acoustic guitars in music. I mean, I really set the anchor for how I want to write, whether it’s a slow kind of ballad or a fast paced thing. I try to write more frantic upbeat thing these days because of the kind of venues we play I want to keep peoples attention.”
Do you find that being vulnerable in your song writing produces and more honest result?
“Absolutely, you have to. I mean it’s a weird thing. I don’t think you should set out writing a song to relate to people but at the same time if you experience human emotions, people are going to relate to you, whether you want them to or not. There’s a great line that Nick Cave said and its like “if songs aren’t coming from inside you they’re outside trying to get in, you just have to be in the space to receive them.” I always feel something like that. Like there are definitely songs I’ve toiled away at but like, a long time. More often than not its sort of something hits me, and its done in 20 minutes. Maybe it takes a few months tweaking it but the bulk of the song will be done very quickly. I think a lot of songs on my first album were like that. Really I just write songs to kind of address things that I’m feeling. A coping mechanism I guess.”
Music is a work of art. You can produce something quite quickly but then you have to put the finishing touches on it, tweak it a bit until it’s right…
“Absolutely, it’ weird I was never born into being a musician. I was extremely jealous of a kid who was give a guitar when they were 12 or their parents were musicians and they started learning straight away. I think it would have been amazing if I’d had this thing earlier in life but I think it’s what was meant to be I guess, it came when it came but I kinda kicked down the door on being a musician, I kinda forced myself in there, I was like, “I’m going to do this thing. I’m not any good yet but one day I hope I will be”.”
I’ve travelled a lot especially around Australia; Brisbane is a very unique place. We have such an honest, laid back, relaxed lifestyle here do you think where you grew up reflects in your music?
“I’m not sure to be honest. I mean there are references to Brisbane in S.S. Swan and it’s still my most popular song. I’d like to think that if I was living anywhere else, I would probably still be writing music. I mean I love this city and I love doing live music in it. But it’s hard to say if I’d be writing anything different or if it’s impacted my song writing in some way. I mean I look at all the opportunities I’ve been afforded. I’ve always been in this city, I’m very attached to it. The venues, all the musicians. I studied music, it was mostly music history, there was almost no performing aspect of it. I was so grateful for some of the musicians I met because I never had a guitar lesson, I never had a vocal lesson but I had lots of peers and great musicians and great guitarists and great singers who I just got to borrow knowledge from. And I really want to go back and study and its not even really what I would get out of being in the course per say but just being around hungry starry eyed musicians again and people who just love it”
You can read anything on a page but its not until you experience it that it really impacts…
“Yeah, that’s it. A lot of people say, ‘You’re really good live’ but its just how I play, I just threw myself into it, I threw caution to the wind and got in front of people and started singing and playing guitar and to be honest at the time I probably didn’t have much business doing it. I did it anyway.”
So tell me about your new single ‘Stars’.
“I wrote that song about two years ago almost to the day and I had it finished a year ago. I’ve had a bunch of songs that I’ve been sitting on for a long time that are just, done, they’re finished. Stars, I wrote that initially…. The first line in the song which is ‘climbing stairs in the dark’, that came to me when I was literally doing just that. I thought, that would be an interesting metaphor for a song. I was climbing up stairs in the dark and struggling to find my way. I didn’t really think much of it so I just put it in the bowl and said I’ll use that. So when it came time, when I had to sit down and write the song, that line came back and I was trying to branch out with my guitar playing at the time, just a little bit trying different tunings and different chord voicing’s and stuff like that, I had this chord voicing, a very, very rudimentary chord progression and I started playing it and then it kind of came to be and I finished it, I recorded it and I was really happy with it. That was last year. Then I went onto release my first single from the album, She’ll Be Right , in November. And this one I just held onto and I’ve just been listening to it by myself every now and then because I enjoy it a lot. Then it came to where I needed to release it. I need to release a new song and it just seemed like the right time. It’s just a song about getting up and continuing to go. That’s something people can relate to in a whole bunch of situations. It’s about staying the path and continuing to be a musician and overcoming those challenges. But it meant something completely different at the time. I just feel like the right time to release it now. When you sit on something for a year and you look back and think I could have change this and that about it. But largely I’m quite happy with the song.”
I imagine heading toward a full album is your goal at the moment. Do you have a stash of songs that you have waiting to be heard?
“Yeah after this release I have two more songs so it’s not going to be a full album. I released a full album or a long EP I guess you could say, with ‘Bootleg’ and at that stage I had been playing at that point, four years and I had been writing for years and I had a bunch of songs and I wanted to get out there. I was, at the same time being bombarded with the reality of the music industry, PR work and releasing music work and all that, and that was all a great learning curve and I had a reasonable sized fan base at the time for someone who hadn’t released anything. So I thought ‘F**k it, I want to release a body of work, with a bunch of different sounding songs, a bunch of my stories and get that out. I went back into the studio quite quickly to record the other stuff I’d written so I’ve got four songs, so I think what I’ll do next is I’ll either release another single, another EP or I’ll release an EP with the other singles. You never know whether people are going to like it or not. One of my most popular songs on the last EP was just me and my guitar, recorded into one microphone in one take. It’s my second most listened to song on Spotify and the video gets a few views.”
Is that The Way It Goes?
“That is The Way It Goes. People really responded to that and that was really cool because it was just kind of like a nursery rhyme for adults.”
I love The Debt personally.
“That’s cool, I’ve had other people really love The Debt as well but its what I kinda find really humbling and what I enjoy about that album and some of my music, everyone’s got a favourite. You know its not like by and large people are ‘this songs the best’ its like some people will like The debt and some people love The Way it Goes, and some people really enjoyed The People that really stood out for me, some people love Absentee so its all really bizarre which ones people like but I try to cast a pretty large net, I guess when I write songs. I don’t really try to dig my heels into any genre. So the next EP is very much the same. Like, She’ll be Right was very pub rocky, just simple piano, harmonica, electric guitar, drums just super simple. But Stars is very.….. I struggle to describe it, it’s a building kind of song, I guess its got this really cool ethereal sounding electric guitar comes into the song in the first chorus then sort of sticks around and builds to a crescendo, so is kind of a heavier song maybe but not really because its also really sweet, quite a delicate story taking place and it does kick up a notch at the end. It’s a really hard song to describe. It isn’t complicated or anything like that, our songs are pretty simple. I look at someone like Kurt Cobain right, you can write amazing songs and they don’t have to be complicated. I’m not saying I’ve mastered that yet and that all my songs are amazing, but its certainly something I want to build toward. I think that was always going to be the key. If a song’s accessible and it’s catchy and it’s got authentic meaningful lyrics in a way, I don’t know how to achieve that but you just give it your best attempt. People have to resonate with it.”
Your music, to me, draws a wide spectrum, it has a wide fan base in terms of not appealing to one age demographic…
“Yeah, that’s it. I’m only 27 but I don’t like going out to venues and there’s really loud bands. They probably kick arse but I can’t stand there and listen for too long. I think that’s why people stick around. We are a band that’s just loud enough. There’s energy and there’s drums and everything but we’re not trying to overpower everyone, we all play to each other quite well, we know where we sit in a song. People can stand around and watch us and not feel deafened.”
A friend of mine described you as an Australian version of an Irish storyteller. The Irish always told their stories through their music.
“That’s so cool. (laughs) I love that. I always had a certain affinity for Ireland. I am not too far removed from my Irish heritage on my Mums side of the family. I’ve always loved the sound of Irish music. My first doorway into that was Dropkick Murphy’s, listening to that and a bunch of other Irish jigs and things like that. I did play and Irish wedding last year where they had me learn Galway Girl. (Steve Earle) It was funny I’d never heard that some before and a day later when I was playing an Irish girl came up to me and said ‘do you know how to play Galway Girl’ and I was like as a matter of fact I do. That’s why I love Irish music, I don’t try to drench my lyrics deep in metaphor a lot. There are loads of songs I kind of enjoy, that just tell a story and I think that Irish music definitely has that pretty much down. I’ve always like that on the nose song writing. I’m not trying to sound like Wordsworth or Edgar Allan Poe. I adore poetry and it’s good to have it in mind when writing but I don’t try to sound like a wordsmith or some poetic genius when I write a song, I just try to write the truth.”
Here’s a fun question. What is your ultimate festival line up be?
“Ok first of all, I always said the next festival I go to I’d be playing at it. (laughs) So first of all I’d do a sideshow at 12.30 in the day so I could go to the rest of it. Do they have to be alive?”
No it can be whoever.
“I’d have to say Neil Young, Conor Oberst or Bright Eyes, Johnny Cash, Holograms, Blink 182, Weezer, The Pixies, Paul Kelly, Mumford and Sons, playing album 1 and 2. I need a dark horse in there….. Throw The Killers in there for sure. The Travelling Willburys and put the Fooies (The Foo Fighters) in there. Dave Grohl is just the Grand daddy of rock n roll. He’s just coolest guy.”
He IS the coolest guy.
“He’s the rock n roll dad of the world. So f**king cool… This is getting to be a very expensive festival (laughs) Eddie Vedder. I never got much into Pearl Jam but I love his solo stuff. I love his voice. ”
It sounds like a great festival. I’ll definitely be going!
Bard of Brunswick launched their new single Stars on Sunday 16th of June at Rics Backyard in The Valley. Brendan, Callum John Craig (Piano), Conor O’Brien (Drums) and Thomas Davies III (Bass, Master Builder) were joined by Mister Sister, L.A. Moon and The Bonnie Doons. Keep your eyes peeled for a review coming soon!
I highly recommend you catch Bard of Brunswick play live when you can, so you too can find what so many local music lovers have already discovered, the magic of storytelling through music, Brisbane style.