Originally published in the print version of X-Press Magazine.
To Sur, With Love
Upon Ayr is Australian-born musician Fletcher’s first solo album after years with Bluebottle Kiss, his own band The Devoted Few and a couple of years playing in the backing band for his good friend Sarah Blasko. Signed in the UK to Mike Batt’s Dramatico label, Fletcher speaks to SABIAN WILDE for it’s Australian release.
In Jack Kerouac’s novel Big Sur, the writer is in seclusion in the majestic forests of Big Sur, seeking isolation and time to reflect after the madness following On The Road‘s publication. For Fletcher, the book had a special resonance as he wrote his album, alone amid the forest of people that is London.
“Big Sur is such an intense novel and it really spoke to me,” Fletcher says. “I felt I understood it because it really makes you question what you’re doing; what friends and family mean. A big thing for me on this album is, ‘what is home?’.
“London is amazing if you have contacts, but otherwise it’s just a cold, dark place. I mean, obviously it’s cold, but their music industry can be very cold too, stand-offish,” he says.
“They just don’t have much time for anyone — especially if you’re an Australian singer. It doesn’t matter how big you are back home — they’re like, ‘We’ve got seven of you’.”
Upon Ayr was written and recorded as part of a demoing process, started using using stolen time and facilities in a university dorm that his friend had kept a keycard for after completing his studies.
“There were a couple of hairy moments of sneaking around, hiding from security guards,” Fletcher laughs, “but in retrospect, they probably wouldn’t have cared or known as long as we had the keycard. It was just a funny way of starting to make this record.
“A lot of what you hear on the album is from those three or four nights — just relaxed, first-take vibes. The album as a whole just came about over a year as I kept building on those demos before making a ‘proper’ album.
“I toured with Paul Kelly last year and he kind of blew my mind when he told me he never demos. He writes the song on a piece of paper, takes it into the studio and records the song. He doesn’t go through the act of demoing, which makes sense now, but blew my mind at the time. My brother always demoed before recording, so that’s just how I thought it was done,” he laughs ruefully.
“I always loved my original demos more than the finished products, just a little bit,” he admits. “I didn’t think of Upon Ayr as recording a record so much as just making demos until Sarah Blasko told me, ‘This is totally fine. This is done’.“
In addition to playing in her band, Fletcher says Blasko is one of his best friends, and that the two of them communicated regularly while writing their albums; he in London, she in the UK seaside city of Brighton.
“It’s a cold, dark place there as well,” he laughs. “It’s hardly a beach, it’s horrible, and it has the saddest seagulls anywhere. But it was good to get Sarah in for my record, in particular on this duet called The Simple Life.
“We both moved over to the UK about three years ago and it was kind of a tumultuous time for both of us. You spend a lot of time either touring or head down writing and then you look up and wonder, ‘What am I doing with my life?’
“She was in Brighton and I was in London, so there were a lot of texts back and forth where we were both wondering… Maybe I should just become a teacher? Surely it would be nice to have a simple life? A house? Kids? Suburbs?
“I think artists throughout the ages have both loved and loathed that situation, which is kind of how I played it in the song, casting Sarah and I as a sort of suburban Bonnie and Clyde. I was really glad I was able to sing it with her on this record.”
Fletcher admits that his circle of musical friends and the social aspects of touring provide a form of friends and family, “but only to a point”.
Here, Fletcher moves to another literary giant, author of You Can’t Go Home Again (1940), Thomas Wolfe – not to be confused with Tom Wolfe (Bonfire of the Vanities, Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test).
“There’s a song called Open Up which is influenced by You Can’t Go Home Again,” Fletcher says. I really felt like I was becoming the book’s main character, Eugene Gant, who was essentially Wolfe. Especially when I come back to Australia and realise people are moving on with their lives. Things happen in your absence and it’s not the same.
“The death of relationships always freaks me out,” he considers. “Friends of mine had been dating for twenty years and then one day, the guy wakes up and says he feels like he’s sleeping next to a stranger. That sounds like a horror movie to me.”
True to it’s story-telling form, Upon Ayr features a song titled Strangers Sleeping in the Same Bed.
“The death throes of relationships, even though we all go through it and we all come out the other end; when you’re in it you can’t believe it’s happening, you feel like you’re on another planet. But there’s a great feeling when you realise you can never really run out of love.
“It’s a very romantic notion to think that your heart has been broken into pieces, but I think there’s an inextinguishable light, that never goes out — until obviously you die,” he laughs. “But even when you’re heartbroken, [love] doesn’t run out. It’s not a battery, and that’s kind of nice, I suppose.”
At this point, we return to the loving/loathing of deceptively simple concepts such as the heart and home. Fletcher agrees that artists sort of add to this contradiction by writing songs of isolation and loneliness that inexplicably comfort the listener, reminding them that loneliness is itself a shared part of the human experience.
“That’s definitely how I feel, but it’s hard to explain to your mum or your sister who think that you’re going crazy and want to kill yourself,” he laughs. “Leonard Cohen has some of the most deeply troubling and depressing themes, but obviously, we love it. That is some hardcore shit.
“Robert Smith is always ‘woe is me’ and black eyeliner and shit, and I loved that too… I always used to tell people I was the only ginger goth in Bondi. Then I realised that even goths hate gingers,” he laughs warmly.
And there it is again; that recognition that even in the home he sometimes longs for, he began as an outsider.
“It’s a mystery to us… the simple life,” he says happily. “Something that pulls us towards it even though we feel we can never have it. London could be my Big Sur. Kerouac was mostly homesick for alcohol and parties, missing all the things that were killing him, so I guess you can be homesick for different things and different reasons, but it feels the same.”
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