It was when Riley Catherall found his musical home that everything changed.
A talented teen musician from the Yass Valley in NSW, seemingly set on the path of jazz or classical performance, he had been chipping away, “just throwing punches underwater at different things, different styles”, in the small Canberra music scene.
Then, after a trip to the USA to play and write and absorb, he moved to Melbourne and saw the light.
“There was this really cool scene down here that really took to that not quite country, not quite roots or rock ‘n’ roll, not quite folk sort of thing, which was really encouraging,” Riley says. “It made me really focus on songwriting before anything else: stripping everything down from playing all the notes, to playing the whole three chords and the truth mindset. Having that three or four minutes to tell a good story was a real attraction to me.”
This wasn’t just a discovery; it was an education. Riley remembers spending “18 months of walking around town, watching bands, trying to figure out how it happens“, having gone from a big fish in a small pond to “a nobody” who looked for work in other people’s bands and on other people’s records.
It was humbling, but as well as teaching him humility it taught him who he really was musically. As he says today, “People say you need to write an upbeat song, you need to write a pop song, you need to write catchy songs, but the idea is to write something that I’m proud of, that satisfies me, that can also be translated to other people.”
And that’s how we find him now, a gentle-voiced storyteller in the mould of Jason Isbell, who has fashioned a rootsy blend of his father’s record collection (“lots of James Taylor and Neil Young, and at the other end of the spectrum a lot of Slim Dusty”) and idiosyncratic modern influences like Kasey Chambers and Ryan Adams, into songs of quiet intimacy where perfection is less important than connection.
“I was lucky enough that when I first stepped into the country world, I was doing a little bit of writing and playing with Kasey Chambers, and she is the epitome of not necessarily trying to sound like the winner of Australian Idol. It’s that raw, rough, broken vocal that really serves the song,” says Riley.
“I think albums like Ryan Adams’ ‘Heartbreaker’ were great for that: listening to someone who had written these songs alone in his bedroom and said that’s the state I wrote it in, that’s the state that it needs to be represented on the record and every time you step on stage.”
The result is his debut album, ‘When I Go’, whose songs mostly come from an intensely productive three-year period which included a “pretty toxic relationship, then the aftermath of that, then the aftermath of the aftermath”, as well as that deep dive into a new world.
“I spent a lot of time looking for somewhere to call my home and I think there’s been this constant theme of always uprooting, having things ripped out from underneath you, not really been able to settle down,” Riley says looking at the songs on ‘When I Go’. “I think that’s been a theme not only in my songwriting but in life the last few years.”
An album divided between personal “songs for me, that definitely helped me get through parts of the last three or four years”, and songs that explore the lives of others and the world around him, this is a debut whose simplicity and closeness is all about clearing away barriers inside us and between us.
“My job is to make people feel things, I think that’s the whole point of writing and storytelling,” says Riley. “I hope that the rise and fall of everything, the quiet parts and the building up to loud parts, does the same and makes you feel something.”
When I Go Tour Dates
Sunday 1st August – Americana Festival – Wangaratta – VIC
Saturday 7th August – Curious Rabbit – Wagga Wagga – NSW
Sunday 8th August – Church St Hotel – Wodonga – VIC
Friday 13th August – Finding Fillmores – Kiama – NSW
Saturday 14th August – House Concert – Bundanoon – NSW
Sunday 15th August – House Concert – Nowra – NSW
Sunday 22nd August – Geelong Cement Bowls Club – Geelong – VIC
Thursday 9th September – Little Alberts Room – The Vic – Bathurst – NSW
Friday 10th September – The Old Bank – Dubbo – NSW
Friday 17th September – The Wheatsheaf – Adelaide – SA
Sunday 19th September – The Curtain – Melbourne – VIC
Thursday 23rd September – Petersham Bowling Club – Sydney – NSW
Friday 24th September – The Stag and Hunter – Newcastle – NSW
Sunday 26th September – The Canberra Irish Club – Canberra – ACT
Thursday 7th October – Oodies Cafe – Bundaberg – QLD
Friday 8th October – The Junk Bar – Brisbane – QLD
Saturday 9th October – Bar Wunder – Toowoomba – QLD
Sunday 17th October – Tumut River Brewing Co – Tumut – NSW
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With thanks to Wildheart Publicity