Catgut Mary: Ahoy Matey – Will Swan Interview (Oct ’07)
CATGUT MARY: The greatest band to come outta Australia since some guy in a schoolboy uniform strapped on a Gibson SG. Brighid from Celtic lounge sets the questions
Far away in Australia, the Goodship Catgut Mary has set sail. Onboard are Commodore Jason Block on drums, lead vocalist “Fighting” Tim Bradtke, Warren “The Admiral” Fraser on twelve-string guitar, mandolin and electric guitar player Jules “Mad Dog” McMullen, accordion player Captain Will Swan, Owen “Bacchus Aquinas” Thomas on bass, and “Blackjack “ Dave Mackenzie on whistle. Since befriending them on MySpace (www.myspace.com/catgutmary), I have spent copious amounts of time playing through the list of songs on their profile. They are loud, energetic, and fun and you should be listening to them, too. To persuade you, I interviewed with Captain Will Swan about being part of this amazing crew. Keep a weathered eye out for Catgut Mary weighing anchor in the US!!
Brighid: Okay…let’s start with the background. How did you come up with the name Catgut Mary?
Will: I came up with it one night on a roadtrip with a mate, watching a Zydeco rock band in a country town pub.
B: Where are you from?
W: The bulk of the band is comprised of Melbourne boys. Melbourne is considered Australia’s ‘second city’ in some ways, after Sydney which is slightly bigger and is well-known for it’s harbour and beaches and all. Melbourne is a grid city that is overwhelmingly Victorian in its design. It was built on the back of a mid-19th Century gold rush. I’m from Sydney and ‘The Admiral’ (12-string guitar) is originally from Northern Ireland.
B: How did the band form?
W: I came to Melbourne for its extremely vigorous live music scene after mucking around in various bands in Sydney. Melbourne has long held the crown for pub rock in this country. I placed various ads in music shops and tattooists but eventually found the original members through a musicians’ classifieds site. How we found our drummer Block I honestly do not know … I was living in a blur at that time. But now I can’t imagine life before him. We found our singer Tim Bradtke a few weeks before we played a really big St Patrick’s Day event here in Melbourne.
B: How long have you been together?
W: This incarnation of the band is eight months old. Catgut Mary first came together about a year before that. We didn’t start taking it seriously until early this year.
B: What are the major influences on your music?
W: The major influences on this band are the ballad tradition and the punk ethos of do-it-yourself. The Pogues are a lifelong influence for many of us. And of course we love the Dropkick Murphys and loads of bands doing so-called Celtic Punk. The thing about almost all of these bands, as I see it, is that they would all be doing their thing regardless of each other but also really dig each other. Those of us who grew up on British, Irish and Australian folk music have that in us and everyone in this band has ingrained rock’n’roll spirit anyway so it’s natural that we play what we do. I don’t see what we’re doing as fusion music at all. I just see it as amping up what could just as easily be played with one acoustic guitar and a tin whistle or whatever. We’re into high energy music and story songs. Our drummer Block will kick back with Sepultura for instance and our guitarist/mandolinist Jules has a background in bluesy Australian pubrock, AC/DC and Rose Tattoo, among other things. I’ve always thought that there is a bit of a hillbilly influence going on in Catgut as well. I’m into songwriters who have a story and setting going on in their stuff and I’ve always been really inspired by the positive ‘one in, all in’ sound and ethos of bands like Rancid and the Dropkick Murphys.
B: What are some of your favorite bands (that you haven’t played with) that have influenced you?
W: The Pogues showed the world what can be done by going somewhere really high-powered with the innate energy and emotion of Irish music. I’d grown up on The Dubliners so what MacGowan and The Pogues were doing was the most exciting thing I’d ever come across. I never saw it as novelty at all.
The great Australian band Weddings, Parties, Anything are an influence as well. They had a very rootsy sound and cranked it out around the country all the time. Colonial folk music meets country meets pub rock with legendary atmospheric songs.
B: Do you think your Australian roots influence your music?
W: Yeah, big time. Most of us know the Australian traditional ballad catalogue, on one hand. Pioneer songs, convict songs, all that sort of thing. On another level, Australia has a very proud rock and punk history and we’re definitely coming out of that. Traditionally, there hasn’t been much room for poncing about in Australian rock. The bands that have really made their mark were no-nonsense, sweaty, hard-rocking outlaws who came out of the cities, suburban beer barns and country towns and just lived for live music. Melbourne is absolutely crammed with live venues. Sydney used to be, too.
B: Which of your songs stands out to you the most, and why?
W: At this stage, two live (original) favourites seem to be ‘Jacky Butler’ and ‘Melbourne Tram Song’. Jacky Butler is an historical song about an English migrant who flees to Sydney after being involved in some sort of killing, it’s all pretty shady. He lies low and remains a defiant hard man, albeit a romantic one. Although a violent man, he finds some sort of redemption by refusing to get involved in the Boer War. It’s a song about flying the finger but keeping to yourself in a world that will kill you if it can. I suppose people like it for the chorus. Melbourne Tram Song is basically a love song I wrote for the city. It blurs the line between the love for a person and the love for a place.
B: What do you try to accomplish with your lyrics?
W: Without trying to, I’ve found myself writing using traditional ballad cliches. Jacky Butler has a basic introduction line early on in the song; “Well me name is Jacky Butler …”. That’s just an old folk thing, you present a character and they tell their story. Like the Paul Simon song ‘Duncan’; “Lincoln Duncan is my name and here’s my song …”. Likewise, Melbourne Tram Song starts off with “As I roved into the city …”, another textbook folk intro. When I look at old black and white and sepia photos I am fascinated by the fact that people from 1895 or whenever are the same as us, that they had more or less the same concerns and weaknesses and delights. And so with our thing, the music can accompany stories or imagery from the past – even a fantastical, stylized sort of past – or we can draw on old idioms and incorporate them into present day songs.
We’ve got a song we’ve just recorded called ‘Bourbon and Black Porter’ which is about the cycle of drunken madness and alcohol withdrawal and the final decision to give it all away. I quit drinking a year ago and I wrote this one on Christmas Day after being clean for two months. The thing is, I’ve always REALLY loved full-tilt drinking songs so I wanted to do a ‘farewell to booze’ thing that wasn’t some forlorn, self-pitying thing like that Nine Inch Nails song ‘Hurt’. I’ve always been bored to tears by the sight of a pack of drunkards singing the bloody ‘Wild Rover’ … “no nay never, no more” and all that. You either get straight or you don’t, you don’t bloody TALK about it. So this was written as a reaction to that, and from the point of transition as opposed to just talking crap. And I wanted it loud and brash and energetic, so Tim is the perfect voice for this song.
B: So, you guys are touring right now, how’s it going so far?
W: First time we’ve been out and about together and it’s been wicked. We’ve gone through a lot together so it’s been really bloody good to knock the dust off the sails and get her out there. B: You’ve played with a lot of well-known bands – any favorites?
W: It was great to play with Mutiny who are an institution down here in Melbourne and that was really nice of them to ask us along for some shows.
B: If you could play with any one band or artist, who would it be and why?
W: Personally, I would love this band to one day share a stage with The Real McKenzies because they are pure energy. And my old man is a piper.
B: What do you like most about gigs?
W: Other than playing, which is what we live for (clichéd as that might sound) I love getting to talk music with people and make new friends. And it provides us with a chance to try new interestingly scented but masculine deodorant spray cans. I can’t believe how many of those things I go through.
B: When you’re playing, how do you cater to the crowd?
W: We ‘channel’ the songs, not just ‘recite’ them. And I consider that it’s our job to put music under the feet of those who want to dance. Tim’s a natural showman so he’s the man for the banter.
B: Any interesting anecdote about touring, or a show in particular? Maybe your first, or one where somebody ended up in the hospital, or one with an amazing crowd?
W: All of the above. There was one show when one band member was in M.I.A in some hospital somewhere and where I took out Block’s drumkit but that’s all in the messy amateurish past and we don’t talk about it anmore. The fact that I’ve even mentioned it will have earned me six lashes.
So … the latest story here is that we had a member of Rose Tattoo at one of our recent shows; Rock’n’Roll Royalty, so we got a kick out of that.
B: Thanks very much! Slainte!
W: You are very welcome, Brighid, me hearty!