Appearing in the broader public consciousness as the young axe-wielder that joined You Am I before the release of their commercially successful Dress Me Slowly record, Davey Lane has since been a quiet achiever as a solo artist and singer. He released two records as the principal songwriter and frontman of Brit-rock-inspired group The Pictures, penning stadium sized tunes with killer riffs and instantly infectious hooks. But last year Davey Lane spread his wings further with The Good Borne of Bad Tymes, an EP released under his own name. It was followed this year by the release of a second offering, debut album Atonally Young. If it is not one of the best rock albums of 2014, then it is certainly the best Australian rock record of the year. The album proves Lane’s status as a master song craftsman as it takes the listener on a journey through both his musical tastes and his wild imagination. I had the privilege of chatting to Lane last month for a Maitland Mercury feature article. Unfortunately I could not fit all of Lane’s quotes into the story so here on Meadowlake Street I have published the full transcript of our conversation. Amongst the topics of discussion were his songwriting process, meeting his hero Brian May and the upcoming You Am I record. Enjoy.
You released the EP The Good Borne of Bad Tymes last year and your debut record Atonally Young this year. Did you view the EP as an indication for your fans as to what the record might sound like? Or do you view them more separately?
With the EP, up until that point I’d been working on about 15 songs. I obviously had a certain direction in mind. But I sat down with those 15 songs and worked out not only which ones were the strongest but also which ones were maybe a little bit of a left turn in terms of what people would expect from me. As much as I’m proud of a fair whack of what we did with The Pictures I kind of wanted to step away from that guitar-heavy, pop-rock sound. I think the songs from the EP were decided with that in mind.
There was a bunch of songs left over that we didn’t use for the album, but they’re sitting there and still really good songs. There’s another EP there. I always want to keep the ball rolling so I think we’ll put out another EP some time soon. We’ll give the album a chance to do whatever it’s going to do. Hopefully there’s a bit of life in the old girl yet. But I like to keep moving. I’m kind of wanting to make another record now and my long-suffering manager is like, ‘Settle down, just give us a chance to work on this one first.’ I’ve just got a short attention span.
Do you get restless if you’re not writing?
More than ever now. I’ve got a little home recording setup that’s really easy, I can just wake up and if I’ve got an idea I can go downstairs and start working on it straight away. It’s almost become a force of habit for me now. I’m writing a song or two a week.
When choosing what songs would make the cut for Atonally Young, what was your criteria? How did you want the record to sound?
I think, more than anything, because I love a bunch of different styles of music I wanted the record to be stylistically [diverse] – for some people they might see it as being unfocused but to me it’s what keeps me on my toes. I love records that keep me on my toes as a listener. Records where you don’t know what’s coming next are ones that I hold amongst my favourites. Records that sound the same from start to finish I find a little boring. I wanted to keep [Atonally Young] an interesting listen and cover as much ground as possible.
Do you ever make songwriting decisions based upon what you feel the record needs? For example, might you think ‘the record needs a dreamy, epic ballad’ and then go about writing one?
No, because usually I never write in one particular style. Usually the next song I write is at the other end of the spectrum to the song that preceded it. I’ve always got a bunch of different pockets of styles. I’ve always got a couple more punk-pop numbers or your big bombastic, psychedelic tunes. So I’ve got a pool of a bunch of those different songs. [For Atonally Young] it was really just picking the strongest songs.
If I get into one particular artist then I become nerdishly obsessed with them and try to get inside the music and find out what it is about that music that I really love.
Is it fair to say that you’re a real student of music, in the sense that you listen to a diverse range of music and try to absorb different styles?
Very much so. I’m kind of tunnel-visioned in that respect. If I get into one particular artist then I become nerdishly obsessed with them and try to get inside the music and find out what it is about that music that I really love. Not in a plagiaristic sense, but I try to find out what it is that I love about a particular artist and try and apply their songwriting devices to what I do. I’m a student in that regard. But when I was writing this record I switched off from that. Even though there are references [on Atonally Young] – some obvious musical nods there to other things that have gone before – I didn’t want anything to be too overt in influence, so I shut myself off from listening to too much outside music.
Have you had many opportunities to play the record live?
We did a live session for a website a few weeks ago and we played the record from start to finish. I was a little nervous about it because I really put no mind to how we were going to play it live, but going back to learn it – as big as some of it sounds – we resisted the temptation to layer anything [in the studio], so it all came together pretty quickly when we sat down to play it live.
How does the record translate into a live performance? Is it more raw?
There’s a certain rawness. The band I’ve got are really great players. Listening back to the live session we did, I was surprised by how close some of it was to the record. In some songs we’ve stretched out a little. Some are heavily structured songs and it’s hard to divert from that. But there are others where we open up a little more and have a bit more fun with it. But it’s sounding reasonably close to the record [on stage]. It’s the same people playing it.
Vocally I’ve always been self-conscious, but I’ve got this crazy little pedal now that can pretty much replicate all the spacey vocal sounds I’ve got on the album. I’ve been enjoying singing a lot more from using that. It’s nice to hear those effects coming back at you while you’re singing them on stage.
Do you feel like you pushed yourself vocally more on this new album then you had in the past?
I think so. I think more than anything I know my limitations as a singer, I don’t have a natural gift for it so I probably have to concentrate a little more on it [than other singers]. But I think I’m a lot more confident as a singer now than I was back in the days of The Pictures. I’m getting to know my range and, it’s taken a bit of practice, but I’ve got more control of my voice. Back in The Pictures days I didn’t have control over my voice and I would just try and sing as loud as possible. I thought if I sing really loud I’ll get this gruffness out of my voice that’s really good. But I’d do that and then two thirds of the way through the show my voice would just crap out. It was not enjoyable for me and I’m sure it was not enjoyable for anybody watching. I’ve learned how to side step that now.
The first single off the record is ‘Komarov’, an ode to the Soviet test pilot Vladimir Komarov who plummeted to his death. How did you come to write about Komarov and are there any recurring lyrical themes on the record?
I know this is pretty broad and pretty vague, but mortality [is a theme]. While I was writing this record I lost a family member and one of my dear friends as well, so in both cases there are particular songs that are about those people. Apart from that there’s no real recurring theme. Obviously ‘Komarov’ is about the cosmonaut. That was one of the fascinations I had as a kid. [Komarov’s] is a tragic story. And I also found that Russian side of things – that Cold War-era Russian space programme was always so fascinating because there was such mystery behind it.
Lyrically, I sit down and let my mind go and write, and it’s only when I look back on it and make sense of it that I realise what it’s about. I write lyrics best when I switch off the conscious frame and just let my mind take me where it wants to go.
Do you already have the music of the song written at that stage?
Pretty much. If I don’t have the melody, I’ll at least have a riff or a chord progression. More often that not I stumble upon a chord progression I like and from there work out a melody, and then phonetically what sounds good and then try and wedge that into something that makes sense.
You recently met one of your heroes, Queen guitarist Brian May, and you got to show him the replica you built of the classic handmade electric guitar that May famously created for himself. What did he think of your replica?
He picked it up and kind of looked at it and saw that on the back of the guitar the lacquer had been worn away from my belt buckle and he said, ‘Wow, that’s great, that’s just like mine.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I’ve seen pictures of yours and I know that’s the case.’ And he picked it up and noodled with it for five minutes and… it was close to an out of body experience. I’m suddenly watching Brian May play the Brian May guitar that I built. It was surreal. But he was lovely. We talked about music for a little bit, and obviously about the guitar. He’s an animal rights activist, and he had tweeted a picture of a magpie and said, ‘This is a lovely bird, what’s this?’ So I got him a book of Australian wildlife and he really loved that, so we talked about animals for a bit. He was lovely. I spent about 10 minutes with him and I said, ‘Thanks for your time, Brian, but we’ll get out of your hair now.’ He said, ‘Oh, don’t go, stay, would you like a glass of wine?’ And I said, ‘Yes please, Brian May. Thank you, Brian May.’ So we stayed for maybe another 10 or 15 minutes. After a few minutes talking with him, he was so affable that I sort of forgot that I was talking to one of my – if not my biggest – heroes. He was lovely.
I was interviewing Tim Rogers a few months back and he indicated that there is a new You Am I record that has been written and is just waiting to be recorded. Is that the case?
Yeah, we’ve got a bunch of songs there. Tim’s been writing a bunch. And for the first time Tim and I have been writing a bunch together as well. I think probably some time early in the new year we’ll sit down and start making sense of it all, and map out when to do it. It’s something that will definitely happen in the new year  and we do have a fair whack of material, maybe not completely ready, but we do have songs there. There’s a bunch of songs that I’ve shown to [Tim] that he really likes. I haven’t bothered to write any lyrics – if you’ve got Tim fucking Rogers there, then he may as well be writing the lyrics (chuckles).
Tim suggested that he was taking a bit of a step back from the songwriting of the next You Am I record – will we hear more of your tastes creep into the sound of the band?
I’m not sure… I think it will definitely be more of a collaborative thing but it will still be recognisably You Am I. A lot of the songs I’ve written probably hark back to the earlier records. Some power pop stylings in there. We’ll see how it goes. It might turn out completely different to that. At this point that’s where we stand. And Tim’s got a bunch of crackin’ songs that I’ve heard. That’s something to look forward to in the new year.
Atonally Young is out now.