Bernard Fanning has fresh eyes on Australia. Relaxed and interesting, Fanning talks spiritedly about ‘Departures’, the follow-up solo album to 2005’s ‘Tea & Sympathy’. Rhythmic and buoyant, ‘Departures’ weaves Fanning’s talent for songwriting with his refocused state of mind.
"It's definitely way more energetic, and that was very much front of mind for me during the writing process. I wanted to write things that were a lot more upbeat and felt more like fun. The last time I wrote an album by myself, I was at the end of a 13 year relationship and that was fucking horrible.”
Spending time in Spain seems to have deepened Fanning’s interest in his craft, but he’s adamant the album developed carefully and wasn’t heavily influenced by one place.
"It's really hard to nail down exact inspirations. I'm somebody who writes by trial and error and persistence. Some people have those bolts of inspiration — that's happened to me like three times in my whole life.”
‘Departures’ took shape in a tiny apartment in Madrid, punctuated by an adventurous transition point in his life and delving back into the crowd.
“I went and listened and watched a lot of flamenco. Purely on a fan basis, going to gigs, being a punter, I loved it. It's blues, essentially. Latin blues. But it's got more technique. It's got all the rawness of blues but all this technique and structure to it.”
After soaking in Spain, Fanning headed solo to Los Angeles where ‘Departures’ came together with the aid of session artists.
“A session musician is by definition a muso-to-rent,” he says. “They're recording professionals and they bring this whole different bag of influences with them.”
‘Departures’ feels free and the use of the synth creates a wonderful momentum.
"Part of the reason I went on my own was to play with people I hadn't met before,” Fanning says. “If you're in a band there are certain things people will and won't do and you become used to that. And they become kind of parameters around your work. If you're with people you don't know, you can ask anything of them.”
There are times when his new material showcases a soaring falsetto, which he denies is new.
“Because I've been making records for a long time some people think of 'My Happiness' and 'On My Mind' and that's what they think Powderfinger is or was, but there was a lot that came before that.”
Fanning and his family have since returned to Australia for his upcoming national tour, which already has several sold out shows, as well as this year’s Splendour In The Grass. His popularity definitely hasn’t waned in his absence and he seems animated and enthusiastic to share his music again. Without the bells and whistles of the Powderfinger extravaganza, Fanning plans to bring the music to a more intimate crowd.
"I haven't looked this forward to touring in a really, really long time. With Powderfinger, from about ‘Odyssey 5’ onwards, it just got bigger and bigger and turned into this massive machine,” he says.
Having enjoyed the rollercoaster ride that was Powderfinger, Fanning now talks easily about the power music can have for delivering a message.
"I don't see any reason not to have a song solely about politics or a political film that's trying to say something about the nature of society, because isn't that what most art is trying to say anyway?”
But he’s a musician first and foremost, and when it comes to song selection, he prefers to be democratic — if a song doesn’t match up musically, it won’t make it to the album.
"I don't have any one message or agenda. In the past, especially in the Powderfinger context, I wrote songs that occasionally had a kind of political bent on them, or political message. Those songs surfaced and became known because they were songs that were good enough to get on to the record.”
The energy is palpable on ‘Departures’ and Fanning has created a work highlighting his shift in circumstance and outlook. At the base of it, Fanning hopes listeners can see the transition for what it is and not be put off by the seemingly abrupt change in direction.
"Friends of mine when they first listened were a little bit confronted by it,” he says. “I think they were looking for the mid-slow tempo depressing stuff that people probably associate with me. And that is the exact reason I didn't want to do that. I don't want to have just one stamp on me. I want to be able to try and explore and try and have an adventurous, creative life.”
‘Departures’ is out now. Bernard Fanning plays Nambour Civic Centre July 14, Empire Theatre, Toowoomba, July 16 and The Tivoli July 18 & 20 and The Arts Centre Gold Coast July 19 plus Splendour In The Grass July 26-28.