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Following the international releases and touring for Husky’s debut album, Forever So, the band returned home and began feverishly writing. The result is Ruckers Hill, the sophomore album from the Aussie based band, Husky.
While some songs developed naturally, there were times when Gawenda had to search for inspiration - often in the most unlikely places. He would walk around his neighbourhood in Melbourne’s Collingwood and down to the Merri Creek, recording snippets of ideas, poems and word plays on his phone. He even borrowed a 1970’s Hermes portable typewriter from his father, the renowned Melbourne journalist Michael Gawenda, to try and make the ideas come.
At one point Gawenda would drop into a Smith Street café every morning for coffee and while there he would read Leonard Cohen’s 1966 novel Beautiful Losers in tiny fragments. The café had it in its bookshelf; he would take it out, read a page or two and put it back for the next morning.
“I was [writing] alone some of the time, but a lot of the time I had Gideon (keys and co-producer) working with me, testing, re-arranging, and being brutally honest about what he thought worked and what didn’t.’’
Husky (vocals, guitar), his cousin Gideon Preiss (keyboards) worked on the songs, refining and deepening their sound and their resonance. The feel of Ruckers Hill came from playing live so often and always wanting the show to be bigger and better and bolder. “We wanted songs that would take the show to another level.”
So how does it sound? Ruckers Hill is a sophisticated record that is both delicate and tender – as we have come to expect – but also has an endearing simplicity and keen sense of fun. At a base level, it is great to sing along with. At a critical level it is a record that advances Husky’s songwriting and the band’s musicianship, with their lyrics detailing the microcosms of life, but also the universal wonders of the everyday.. But even with the refreshed sound of Ruckers Hill, the bones of Forever So, the adored, breakthrough debut album of 2012, remain clear.
And so we have songs like the title track and album opener named for a spot in Northcote where Gawenda used to live and where he remembers the city looking pretty in the distance with a particular girl on his arm. It’s a song about memory and identity, like much of the album.
Or try the psychedelic Heartbeat, name checking Johanna Beach on Victoria’s ruggedest coast, where a road trip’s journey toward the unknown becomes a meditation on the traveller’s inner landscape. Fats Domino takes the listener right into the detail of a writer’s wonderings, into his days and nights. And then Saint Joan which is a search for the redemptive power of love.
Deep Sky Diver – so warm in tone as to mirror Nick Drake – was written about a close friend who was troubled. “We are always in the end, alone,” he says, “trying to reach each other.” Gawenda wrote the song after Gideon played him Love Me Tender by Elvis. “I’d heard it a hundred times obviously, but I’d never really listened. So beautiful, so simple, so perfect.”
Ruckers Hill was produced by Gawenda and bandmate (and cousin) Gideon Preiss and co-produced over many sessions with storied Sydney producer Wayne Connolly.
Phil Ek took the reigns on mixing (Fleet Foxes, The Shins, Band of Horses), with Peter Katis (The National) mixing I’m Not Coming Back.
Recording was done in several Melbourne and Sydney studios but also at Gawenda’s home in Collingwood and at a place called Echidna Studios on Melbourne’s semi-rural fringe.
“It was a simple studio, in a beautiful spot in the hills overlooking the Yarra Valley, with Fella the dog and two goats roaming around the garden. We dreamed the record into life out there’’ Gawenda said.