Australian artist Dustin Tebbutt is on the forefront of the acoustic folk scene. His new album, Home, reverberates with winter-esque vocals that invoke the soft sort of nostalgia mirrored in Bon Iver and Sufjan Stevens' work. We caught up with Tebbutt to chat about his newest projects and recent Scandinavian adventures. Check out the interview below.
Congrats on your mini-album “Home”. Does this album mark your return home to Australia (from Sweden)? Are you trying to achieve something in particular with the release of this album?
In a way, yes. It’s more of a marking in a chapter. Lifewise, just being back here and assimilating that experience of being overseas. Having been away for so long, subconsciously, I didn’t really realize it, but I was looking at this concept of what home was and what that meant to me, and what it represented. And also, the first couple of EPs… I felt like most of my time was spent really learning how to record things, learning how to sing and playing all the beats. It took quite a while to put together because I just didn’t really have the skills when I started. I knew I wanted to make some music but I wasn’t quite too sure how I would go about doing that. So that was quite foreign to me in developing a project in that sense, sort of developing a process and this is the first time I’ve had those skills and then just been able to create music with it without constantly going every step of the way like oh I just have to Google this thing or maybe I have to listen to this stuff a bunch to see how these people are writing lyrics, so I kind of felt a lot freer with this one.
Where do you hone the skills to eventually produce your own music and write your own music and sing your songs? Was it all self taught or did you have friends in other bands who helped you out throughout the way?
It was mostly self taught. I had a couple of role models in Sweden and one guy back [in Australia] that is like a producer and an engineer as well who's done all the drum playing on the record so far. We always kind of go to his studio and he helps me pull the drum sounds and track those. I’ve known him for years and any time I have any questions about music or gear stuff, he’s the first person I call. His name is Josh Schuberth and he’s been really helpful. And then there was like a bunch of songwriters that I fell into a bit of a clique with in Sweden while I was there and just hanging out with them and seeing how they worked, they were just quite prolific collectively.It was a lot of songs being made and shared and watching that process unfold. I learned a lot from those people as well.
Were you in Stockholm or further north? I ask because your tracks for the new album include titles like "Waiting For Wolves", "Winter Sun", and "Harvest". Your whole tracklist seems to have a Scandinavian vibe to it.
Yeah definitely. I was living in Stockholm for most of the time and then in a little summer town for three months when I first got there, and we did a couple of little trips up north to way on top of the Baltic Sea. Those trips were just a couple of weeks so it wasn’t really living up there so much, but I found that really inspiring -- the really long winters and how dark it was and also just how dramatic it was. I guess part of that was I felt like my whole chapter overseas was in a way, not in a dark way, kind of like winter in a bigger sense, and coming back to Australia was kind of a summer. So I guess when I got back i was reflecting on that and just looking at that transition between the societal differences and between what life was like living over there and being back here. I guess that’s why the content is related to that thing still or looking back trying to piece it together a little bit.
So you recently posted a collaboration track with your buddy Danny, Kite String Tangle correct?
How did that come about? Did you make that collaboration track when you were in Sweden or back in Australia and are you up for collaborations in the future or are you more of a solo artist doing your own thing but when it comes to good friends with a good sound you want to collaborate?
Well that one, I was back in Australia and I was touring at the time and just happened to pass through Brisbane. I didn’t actually know Danny before that at all, we were both kind of on each other’s radars musically just because his stuff was around a lot the previous year and we had kind of crossed paths realistically like once or twice. He was playing at a festival I was at and I think I went to one of his shows where I met him briefly afterwards, but we really didn’t know each other and I think we just kind of had, it was more of a musical thing, I really liked was he was doing and I think he felt the same way so we said well maybe we’ll just try writing something and spent a day just in Brisbane, when I was up there. That track kind of came together really effortlessly and we were both really shocked. We were like, “well that was pretty easy, I didn’t expect that to happen.” We kind of turned it into a EP thing and a tour. So when it comes to collaborating it’s more just if it feels right I’m happy to do it. I really enjoy the process and I really enjoy getting other people’s creative input and having that sound board to bounce off -- just being pushed and challenged as well, using different sounds, working in different ways. But I think it’s one of those things now as well where it can define you. A lot of people do it and a lot of people feature and a lot of people do reworks and a lot of people join up because there is a benefit from the marketing side. I don’t ever really want to be one of those artists that's making those decisions because it’s more like if you meet someone and you love what they’re doing and you get along really well and it happens to be a good thing then of course like I’d love to do heaps more of it, but collaboration is not something I constantly think about.
How did you choose to end up in Sweden? Why did you choose Scandinavia of all places? I mean it fits with your music style but you didn’t have your EP’s when you were back in Australia, you released Bones and The Breach EP’s in Sweden, correct?
Well they were kind of written and put together there and as I got back, we kind of put them out but they’d already been done. They were the product of the time I spent there. I think the reason they sound like that is because when I got there, I was there for two years, so everything rubbed off a fair bit on me. So yeah, the sound kind of seems to fit. Before I could have gone, I wouldn't have been able to make that music. It’s more a product of being there. I don’t know, it’s weird that I ended up there because I remember going to the travel agent and booking the ticket and getting home and being like “where is Sweden?” I didn’t even know where it was. So I had to download Google Maps and actually Google 'Stockholm' and find out where in the world it was. I knew where Scandinavia was but I didn't know what country it was so it was kind of funny.
I was in a band in Melbourne at the time and the drummer, he grew up in Stockholm and his visa was up here so he was dating one of the girls so she decided she wanted to go back with him, and we were kind of half way through another record and since none of us (the other guys in the band too) had traveled overseas, we just decided to go with him.
Impromptu decision but it worked out.
I’m always curious with musicians that I listen to frequently, if there is one song or one album that you just have had on repeat this month that you just cannot get out of your head?
I've been listening a lot to Tycho, because it's on Spotify I’m embarrassed to say I don’t know the name of the album but I’ll find out which one I've been listening to right now.
I’m pretty sure its Dive, I have been listening a little bit to Awake, but there are a couple of tracks on Dive that are just beautiful
When you were in Scandinavia, were you able to play any festivals in the area? I've been a big fan of Iceland Airwaves lineups in the past. Have you played there before
I haven't. When I was over there, I just bunkered down and was was in the studio at home just working on stuff -- I didn't really do festivals. I think I did one gig in Sweden, and it was an open-mic night. Really early on. It was probably the first gig I had ever done as a singer. I was so nervous, it was really weird. I have been playing guitar for years, and I'd play in bands before but never had to be a vocalist. It freaked me out so much having to talk in-between. So yeah, when I was over there I spent most of the time recording and working on the new material.
The festival scene over there is awesome. We went to Way Out West, and they always have a great lineup. I went to a festival in Stockholm, I can't remember the name, it was a Swedish name. Remember the project Fever Ray? The solo project from the North? When that record first came out, that was the first show that they did and it was incredible.
I know you've toured in the States, correct?
Yeah, we did one trip at the start of last year. Just hit a couple shows in New York and Philadelphia and L.A.
Do you have plans of returning in the near future?
Yeah, I'd love to come back. Absolutely. When we went over the first time, it was pretty early on and I just went solo and just kind of wanted to see what it's like over there. I was really surprised at how big that place is. Just in the sense of how big the cultural environment is. There are so many bands. It's really inspiring but it's also quite daunting because you kind of go like 'wow you guys really don't need me'. In a sense, to contribute, there's so much going on. So, I think you really have to earn your place there which is super challenging and really exciting. So, yeah, I'm looking forward to getting back there. We don't have dates at the moment but we'll see how this release goes.
Is there any city in particular that you hope to visit? As a performer, but also, just to experience.
I'd love to get up to the Northwest. I know it's probably a little bit of a cliche but there's something about Portland that I'd really love to check out. I've been impressed with everywhere, really. But I think the Northwestern states and all the wilderness that's up there, I'd just love to go to some of the national parks up there.
It's beautiful. You've got to get a day, or two days, off your tour and go to Mount Rainier, and the surrounding national forests and parks.
Maybe a week, or a month.
Or a year... Here's a headline... "Tebbutt briefly returns home to Australia after a couple years in Scandinavia, now quickly packing his bags and moving to the Northwest".
Probably do me some good. *laughs*.
Have you heard of Sin Fang?
I've heard the name but I don't think I know the music.
He’s an Icelandic artist I would recommend. As well as this band called Woodpigeon. Have you heard of Woodpigeon?
Nah man, hit me up with some tunes. I've been under a little rock.
Who are some artists that you've been listening to that you don't think What The Sound's followers know?
Mhmmm. There's a band called Gang Of Youths, who are doing some stuff in Australia at the moment. They're kind of like Arcade Fire, The National, they're awesome.
There is a woman who's from Colorado originally. Her name is Laura Viers. I don't know when her last record went out, but I've been listening to her music for years. It never gets old. They're beautiful records. She's one of my favorite artists of all them, and I'm always surprised that no one really knows who she is because she's just so great.
There's a band called Richmond Fontaine. Which are kind of, almost like a spoken-word-ish, kind of folksy. He's just one of those storytellers that is not telling any stories, he's just talking about his life because he's had a really interesting one. And his perspective on things. They're very pedestrian in a way. They're not about grand things, they're about very small moments. He just has a beautiful way of creating images with them.
There's one more that just came to mind. There's a woman who I just heard a track from on triple j, she's pretty new, her name is Cloves. It's just this piano and vocal thing. It's really stripped back and quite different to everything going on here at the moment which seems to be going quite electronic. It just stopped me. I was doing some building work with my Dad, I heard it and had to stop, had to tell him that I'd be back in a bit. It's one of those songs that was just really haunting.
Is Sydney home for you right now? Are you there or are you elsewhere?
I'm in Sydney but I don't know if this is quite home. I'm living here and then my studio is up the coast a couple of hours, at my folks place. So I'm kind of in-between here and there quite a bit. And yeah, I don't know how long I'll be here. I've been here for a little while now and I just don't feel set. I might move back down to Melbourne, I think.
Was "Home", your new album recorded at your folks place, where your studio is or elsewhere?
Yeah, that was there. They just moved there, a few months ago. So now they're living in this town called Armidale. It's where I grew up. It's a like a little country town, about 8 hours northwest of Sydney, in the hills. So that's where most of the "Home" stuff came together.
So are you planning on staying for a little bit? "Home" isn't permanent at the moment, is it?
No, I don't feel like it is. I'm not sure, I'm pretty happy in Australia but I'd also love to get overseas again. I don't have that travel bug right now but I'd love to check out Canada. I'd love to spend some time up there and see some more of the States. I think, Europe and the UK at the moment, I don't have an urge to go and be there because I feel like I've spent some time up there. There's something about the States and Canada that has me -- there's so much energy there, people are so positive, and the environment is so vast. I reckon it may be a nice destination for the next chapter, so we'll see.