John Moyle profiles Top End band David Garnham and the Reasons to Live, whose stunning new Americana single ‘Miss the Pain’ is out now, backed by an incredible animated music video.
Australia’s Top End may seem an unlikely place to produce an Americana gem, but with ‘Miss the Pain’, Darwin based singer/songwriter David Garnham and his band the Reasons to Live have done just that.
A 2017 contestant on The Voice Australia, Garnham is also a recipient of the 2019 Arts NT Fellowship, and claims that his band members “look like truckers and sing like angels”.
His track ‘This Town’ is ranked as number seven in the Territory Sounds countdown.
Darwin, and indeed the Northern Territory, has always surprised the rest of the country with its ability to produce bands of such creative power and reach as the Swamp Jockeys, Yothu Yindi, Warumpi Band and the incredible Dr G Yunupingu.
Now the mantle has fallen to David Garnham and the Reasons To Live.
“I’ve had a core group of musicians for about 12 years, with Tony Robinson playing banjo and dobro, and doing the bulk of the backing vocals – and then we find pickup players as we go around the country,” Garnham said.
With their reputation as a formidable live presence, the release of their LP Noise to fill the Void and the single ‘Miss the Pain’, accompanied by its astonishing video, Garnham is now poised for attention outside of his home territory.
Active in the music scene since 2007, when he was in his early 20s, Garnham puts his late start down to: “Being a jock when I was growing up, all I cared about was cricket and footy and then I became a poet, learned a few open chords and played behind people.”
The Territory presents only a few places where bands playing originals can perform, and these gigs are strung out across Darwin and down the thin strip of tarmac called the Stuart Highway that stretches 1,500km from Darwin to Alice Springs.
“We like to play but there are only a small amount of gigs that we can do a couple of times a year, including the Katherine Country Club, Fred’s Pass, the Entertainment Centre and the Darwin Festival,” Garnham said.
“In the last year we have been stuck in the Territory, so we have done a few trips down and back to Alice, and we feel that we are more connected with the Territory than the rest of the country.”
With limited paying gigs available for now, it’s fortunate that Garnham also works as a screen printer and can make sure the band is well supplied with merchandise.
“I definitely make sure that we are well stocked, and right now the big thing is screen printed underwear, which is strange as plenty of people up here don’t wear any,” Garnham said.
Garnham’s journey to Americana came about via Aussie influences including Tim Rogers, Paul Kelly and Kasey Chambers.
“There was a lot of Aussie stuff going on, and in more recent years I have been listening to more American stuff like Hayes Carll and pretty much anything with a good melody and words that I can understand and a singer that can take me somewhere,” Garnham said.
To record ‘Miss the Pain’, Garnham took the core of the band to Shane Nicholson’s Sound Hole Studio on the NSW Central Coast, where for the two weeks of sessions they slept on the studio floor.
Garnham said Nicolson’s studio came with a suite of old microphones and walls of musical instruments, and the band would pick up violinist Gleny Rae (AKA Gleny Rae Virus), who at that time lived nearby in Newcastle.
“We thought pretty similarly in terms of what the songs needed and were definitely on the same page,” Garnham said.
“Afterwards, Shane would sent through mixes and I noticed that he had put in very subtle vocal backing tracks, or would add a bouzouki on a few of the tracks.”
When it came to producing a video for the single Gartham thought only of his friend, Darwin artist Levin Diatschenko, who had gained some local notoriety for his 2019 performance Cocoon of Prayers where he spent a month in a transparent dome performing prayers and eating one vegetarian meal a day.
“Levin is a mate and I just like his quirky sensibility and one of his rules is that if you engage him for a film clip then you have no input into it,” Garnham said.
Shortly after his performance at the Northern Centre for Contemporary Art, Australia went into lockdown and Diatschenko began making music videos on his tablet.
“Dave insisted on paying me a lot and went to get a grant, which he didn’t get, but he ended up paying me more than usual anyway,” Levin Diatschenko, videographer said.
“He trusted me the whole way and I got some photos of him from the internet and made the whole clip with my finger on my iPad.
“I was using my finger until I got RSI, so I finally went out and bought a stylus.”
Listening to the music, which he was familiar with, Diatschenko wanted to depict the emotional devastation of the lyrics.
“I remember seeing a movie where the opening scene is desolation on a battlefield and it is like a surrealistic mirroring of that kind of feeling of when you wake up and you are heartbroken,” Diatschenko said.
“I had the idea of that determination of people single-mindedly rowing towards their destination but they don’t know where they are going.
“Dave’s the elder and they are just following him.”
The mountains in the clip are inspired by the work of the Russian mystic, theosopher and painter Nicolas Roerich.
“I don’t want my videos to be perfectly produced, as I feel the character of the artist is kind of cleaned out of them,” Diatschenko said.
With the combination of a strong and melodic song and an epic and creative video, David Garnham and the Reasons to Live may soon joining the list of Northern Territory greats.
You can purchase and download ‘Miss the Pain’ at https://davidgarnham.bandcamp.com/releases. The album Noise to Fill the Void is also available for streaming in MP3 and FLAC on Spotify, Apple Music and the usual streaming services.
David Garnham – guitar & vocals
Toby Robinson – banjo, dobro, baritone guitar & vocals
Dan Davies – double bass, vocals
Alex Brindell – drums
Gleny Rae Virus – fiddle
Artwork by Rob Brown, layout by Markus Dixon @ M76 Creative
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