In a candid and insightful Q&A session, John Busby, a founding member of the Brisbane-based band Halfway, opened up about his musical journey and the band’s upcoming co-headlining tour with Melbourne’s The Wreckery. With a deep connection to Queensland’s stories and landscapes, Busby shares how other music legends inspired him to weave tales of his own through music. He also sheds light on the band’s collaborative experiences with some industry icons. It’s a conversation that delves deep into the heart of Halfway‘s musical ethos, promising an exciting and unmissable tour ahead.
Halfway’s music often explores themes and stories from Queensland. How has your connection to the region influenced your songwriting and the overall identity of the band?
J: I do try to include stories about Queensland in my writing. I have lived in Queensland for a long time, though I live in the Northern Territory now. When I was younger, I heard the great Grant McLennan do it so beautifully in songs like Cattle and Cane. He gave me the courage to try to do it myself. I think it is important for a band like us to have a sense of place. To try and represent something / somewhere.
Halfway has collaborated with renowned musicians and producers like Robert Forster and Rob Younger. How do these collaborations impact your creative process and the evolution of your sound?
J: The reason we wanted to work with people like Robert Forster and Rob Younger is pretty simple. Same as with any craft, it’s a good idea to try and get close to the source. To find out how they do things / make records and try to apply that to your work. We were lucky, we just asked those guys early on, and they were happy to help us out. I still think of their processes when I make a record now. Just simple things, say with Robert Forster, it’s always about one guitar & one voice. His thinking was that if it doesn’t work as two simple things, it’s not a song. It is pretty sound advice, particularly in a seven-piece band like ours.
With albums spanning across 20 years, which would you say is the most pivotal album for Halfway and how did it shape your musical journey?
J: Naturally, all of our records are important to me, but I would say the one that people seemed to notice the most was probably ‘Any Old Love’ from 2014. It is a record that follows a couple breaking up in the 1970’s in Barcaldine, Central Queensland. I guess it is our most Queensland record. Quite a dusty, boozy, country record in parts. Produced by Robert Forster, it was a fun record to make. But all of the records have had their own different lives, wins and losses. Though I will say that releasing a record in 2014 is much easier than releasing one in 2023. Music and records just had more value then.
Halfway have been nominated for AIR, APRA, QMA, and ARIA Awards, and have taken home quite a few wins too, which are all a significant recognition from the Australian music industry. How does such recognition affect your approach to music?
J: The awards & recognition have been good. It isn’t something you can count on because those things are out of your control but I think everyone probably enjoys some kind of recognition for their work. Even if you pretend you don’t. I will also say that I wouldn’t put too much weight in any of it though or you are setting yourself up for a fall….What is the Nick Cave / MTV awards reply? “My muse is not a horse in a race” …I think about that every time we get nominated or win something.
Collaborating with another iconic Australian band, The Wreckery, for a tour is exciting news. What are your expectations and aspirations for this tour, and how did this collaboration come about?
J: The co headlining tour with The Wreckery came about mainly through our friendship with Nick Barker. We have played a lot of shows with Nick over the years. He’s a great guy and a great Australian Songwriter. My friends and I followed The Wreckery when they were playing in the 80’s. We were always fans. They were always a pretty legendary band, through their own records and shows and through their connection to The Bad Seeds. So it is nice when a show works out like this, it is exactly what I would have hoped for and that is a rare thing in music.
Halfway is known for engaging live performances. How do you prepare for your shows, and what can fans expect from your upcoming tour with Melbourne’s The Wreckery?
J: The Halfway set at the moment has songs on it from all of our records. We try to represent each one if we can. I guess if you have the key couple of songs from each of seven records you soon get a set together. Preparation has been happening over the past couple of weeks at our rehearsal room (The Halfway House in Lutwyche). It’s a pretty simple process. We just rehearse the set in order to see what works, with say four or five extra songs so that we can mix it up if we want to. Some of the songs are played as per the record & others we have changed the attack to make them more interesting in a live setting.
As a band with a strong local identity, how do you balance appealing to both Australian and international audiences with your music and live shows?
J: We try not to think about what other people will like when we make records because we are trying to make them for us first. If we like it we make it.….As for overseas shows, we don’t play them that often. Only a handful in the states and UK. From my experience playing live, it is generally a good idea to take the crowd and environment into consideration. Sometimes we will change the setlist depending on the crowd and the room. I can’t remember what our setlist was like in Nashville but I would assume it was mostly pretty up tempo stuff as we were mainly playing the bars / small clubs around town (The 5 Spot / The Basement etc). If you are playing a noisy bar, more rock songs to kill the bar chat & general noise can be a good idea….in a theatre setting maybe play more ballads as people are usually there to listen. These upcoming shows will be a mix. The Old Museum in Brisbane for instance is a beautiful room. People are there to listen & watch. My first concern would be mainly just making sure we are playing well. Secondly playing songs people are keen to hear. Recently we we put up a song request thread on social media to get a gauge of what people wanted to hear. We are usually pretty open to suggestions.
Halfway has persevered through the challenges faced by independent artists. What advice would you offer to emerging local musicians looking to establish themselves in the industry?
J: As you say we have persevered through the years. We decided early on we wanted to do this for a long time and we have been fortunate that it has worked out that way. Most of that is due to the fact that the band members are very committed. Not just to music but to each other. I would say from our point of view we have ignored the music industry and just concentrated on doing our work. Halfway is pretty much a music appreciation society, we love listening to it and making it so when all else fails we go back to our default setting which is just make the next record. So I guess the advice from a band like us would be to would be try and ignore the noise & keep working at your craft and keep trying to get better. Music is enormous. You can never work it all out. Even Bob Dylan is learning new stuff every day.
Join us and delve into the songwriting brilliance that has solidified Halfway’s place as legends of the Australian music industry when they co-headline with fellow icons The Wreckery on their East Coast Tour:
Sat 17 Feb 2024 – The Great Club, Marrickville, Sydney – Tickets
Sat 24 Feb 2024 – Northcote Social Club, Melbourne – Tickets
Sat 2 Mar 2024 – The Old Museum, Brisbane – Tickets
The Wreckery also play Theatre Royal in Castlemaine, Friday February 23 with support from Dead Rodeo – TICKETS
Thanks to Dave Laing Publicity