If country music strives to be about all things genuine, then this self titled debut from Small Town Romance delivers in spades. A collaboration between song writers Jim Arneman (Indian Pacific, Anne Kirkpatric, Slim Dusty Family Band) and Flora Smith (Flash Company), Small Town Romance are a Melbourne country band who wear their influences proudly. We caught up to have a chat about their ‘love letter to country music’ and started by asking about the inspiration for creating the eponymously named album Small Town Romance.
Flora Smith (FS): I think we strove to write a record that pays tribute to the various kinds of country and folk music that we love, but that also reflects the world around us. That doesn’t mean it has to be some kind of heart on your sleeve, tell all confessional. I write from my own experiences, but I also write from anecdotes or maybe a turn of phrase I hear on a train, and then I craft things together from that. For me, creating something that sounds and feels authentic isn’t necessarily about it being like a journal entry.
Mia Sinclair (MS): That’s interesting, because a lot of country music I hear is really confessional and draws heavily on themes of heartbreak and loss, which can be so cathartic to listen to, but I found your album really refreshing for it’s lack of that.
FS: I guess the flip side of that is that I haven’t led an interesting enough life to be able to write a truly confessional, tell all album!
MS: I love that it doesn’t weigh too heavily. It’s an album that definitely has a prosaic effect on my mood.
FS: That’s good to hear, because the thing about country music is that first and foremost it’s about entertainment. Country music was pop music and it was dance music. So to me it should be entertaining. I love the old classic honky tonk stuff, because fundamentally, most of that is dance music. But I also like really cheesy mainstream country, which is pure entertainment.
Jim Arneman (JA): It works along similar lines to pop music, in the sense that it’s a craft. It’s not all positive, a lot of it’s about heart break, but its very concise and it gets you to a particular state of emotion very quickly.
FS: The other thing about country music is that it’s familiar. it’s not technically complex music a lot of the time. There’s something about that sense of familiarity and predictability that people really love about it. Three chords and the truth!
MS: It’s comforting.
FS: Like smooth FM?
MS: Not exactly! But I do love that it embraces elements of cheese.
FS: Oh yeah, that’s all me. Jim’s a little more poetic and earnest in his writing, I’m like full cheese!
MS: I think Jim’s voice definitely embodies some kind of cowboy essence.
JA: That’s a new one!
MS: There’s something really steady and grounded in your voice where as Flora brings a lighter touch.
JA: Yeah, she offsets the intense earnestness.
FS: That basically sums up our relationship. I’m constantly trying to offset the furrowed brow!
MS: So, your grandfather Slim Dusty is a truly iconic figure in Australian country music. Would you say he’s your biggest influence?
JA: I mean the record doesn’t sound like it, but yes. Mainly the style of story telling. The lyricism is ingrained. So when you mentioned that I sound like a cowboy or whatever, I wasn’t thinking about a cowboy in the sense of someone who’s grounded, but more about that archetype of the wanderer. Someone who’s wandering and discovering, untethered to anything and drifting. Lyrically, that’s something I write about a lot. Not that I do all that much wandering anymore. I’m not that untethered these days.
FS: Locked down! Signed a contract!
JA: (Laughs) In terms of craft, sometimes I’ll write about someone we’ve met, or a memory or a snippet of conversation that takes you somewhere. That’s a way of writing that I’ve strongly inherited from my family. Their bread and butter are truck songs, train songs, rambling songs. Early Slim Dusty is all about that. The idea of this free, untethered person. It’s a very post war thing I guess. Songs like ‘Rambler’ and ‘Done in by The Pace of It All’ are me channelling that.
MS: ‘Done in by The Pace of It All’ is one of my favourite moments on the album.
JA: It’s a bit of an outlier on the record musically. It’s not really a country song. I wrote a song about a feeling that I remembered having and then I put it into a different character and setting. It’s about that sense you have when you’re young, of being on the cusp of something but not quite being there yet. That sense of wanting to get on with it and hurry it up.
MS: When I first heard that song I was in peak hour traffic and just trying to get home after a hectic work day, so the idea of feeling ‘done in by the pace of it all’ had a totally different meaning for me. It’s funny how you write with a certain intention but then someone can take something entirely different from the song. I find if I can relate to just one line in a song, I can pretty much superimpose the rest.
FS: I think Jim’s writing is far more ambiguous and open to interpretation than mine. I’m pretty literal.
JA: That’s great. I love the fact that you can get something completely different.
MS: I also wanted to ask you guys about Jim’s grandmother Joy McKean, because that sense of musical partnership she had with Slim is another thread of similarity that runs between your careers.
FS: Joy was an incredible musician and writer and wrote a lot of Slim’s greatest hits. She also had an uncanny ability to talk to people and then turn their experience into a song. What was so great about their partnership, was that she could do that and then Slim could perform it in a way that people really related to.
JA: His delivery was the key. People found him authentic.
FS: We’ve done some shows around Australia with Jim’s mum (Anne Kirkpatrick) and a lot of the audience are die hard Slim Dusty fans. The main thing they comment on with regard to Slim’s shows, is how for many of them, it was the first time they’d seen somebody come and sing stories that they could relate to and that validated their experience. It was an era before television really, and the fact that somebody would come out there and put on a high quality show and perform songs that reflected their own lives, was pretty amazing.
Pretty amazing indeed. And in a time that seems light years away from the pre-television era of Slim Dusty, it’s still the strong, honest delivery and timeless themes that have audiences falling in love with Small Town Romance for all the same reasons.
‘Small Town Romance’ was released on 14th October. The album launch will be this Friday, Oct 21, at Bella Union in Carlton.