Note: This piece first appeared in Australian Guitar #135. Subscribe to our print edition here!
Busby Marou continue to make Australia swoon with their spellbinding blend of heart-on-sleeve storytelling and ear-tickling blues jams.
Words by Sarah Comey.
Few bands have captured the hearts of Australia quite the way Busby Marou have. With their emphatic fusion of heart-on-sleeve storytelling and destructively moreish musical prowess – the individual quirks of Tom Busby and Jeremy Marou intertwining to form a truly spellbinding sound – the duo have soared from two best mates making lowkey pop songs for fun, into one of the country’s biggest and most beloved musical cornerstones.
With their fourth album, The Great Divide, the pair tap even deeper into their sonically enchanting, thematically liberal mythos. Over 12 crisp, career-defining tracks running just shy of 40 minutes, they explore themes of love, loss, mental health, the importance of optimism and the beauty of cultural diversity. It’s an album they needed to make three other records first to accomplish; the end result of a decade spent learning and yearning to enrich their skills – and, at the end of the day, themselves.
As the duo dive headfirst into what will surely amount to their biggest album cycle yet, we caught up for a solid chat with Busby to riff on why LP4 is his and Marou’s most important, and definitively their best-sounding.
Where does The Great Divide place Busby Marou from a narrative standpoint?
It’s definitely our most grown-up record, without a doubt. With the lyrics and the stories and the inspiration behind the songs, a lot of it is real life stuff that we’re going through. The last record was very much about reflection, but this time we’re looking at the here and now. There’s all these people out there struggling with mental health, and we wanted to acknowledge that in the present. We’ve had great friends in and outside of the industry that haven’t made it through their tough times, so we talk about that; but we also talk about the positivity around that as well – that there is hope.
It’s a very culturally rich album as well, hey?
I suppose we’ve always had a little bit of influence from Jeremy’s culture as a Torres Strait Islander – I mean, there’s obviously a lot of it in his harmonies and the way he plays the guitar, all intwined with and surrounding our music. But with this record, we went one step further; I’ve been hanging around Jeremy for over 20 years now and I know his family in and out – I’m really close with his mum and I’ve heard all of the stories about his dad and where he grew up – and so we actually went to the islands.
We took five planes to get there and we hung out with all of his family, sung around the beach together, and we wrote this song called “Naba Norem”, or “The Reef Song”. At the end of the day, it’s a story about a son missing his father, but it goes into a lot of detail about the the journey and the story of leaving the Torres Straits, hitting the mainland of Australia and setting your kids up with a really heavy cultural background, and teaching them those lessons. It was just such an incredible experience, and I’m still really attached. Jeremy’s family treat me as one of their own – as my parents treat Jeremy – and I think you can hear that and you can feel that in the music.
So would you say The Great Divide is your most personal album to date?
Definitely, yeah. And as far as our progression goes, we use all of our albums as an opportunity to learn. With our first album [Busby Marou], we did it on our own and we had no idea what we were doing. Then we did Farewell Fitzroy in Nashville, and we did what everyone does – you go to Nashville, full of bright lights, and you record with these unreal musos that take you on a life-changing journey. And with [Postcards From The Shell House], we were willing to listen and be pushed, in a way, to cross over between styles.
So with this album, we were like, “Okay, we know what we want to sound like, and we don’t need to be told what to do.” We wanted to be able to write and create music that we like as fans of music ourselves – if other people like it, great – and if they don’t, that’s fine too. But y’know, it was time that we actually stepped up. And that is the main reason we’re attached to music – because we love it. We love everything about it.
And we were able to use our favourite musicians, who are also great mates – from drummers to pedal steel players to keyboardists – to make this album fantastic. Y’know, the guitar playing on it is ridiculous; we’ve got the best lap steel and pedal steel player in the world, Michelle Rose, playing all over it. And then the combination of Jeremy and Oscar [Dawson, producer]... It’s just all class, y’know? There’s no huge solos or anything like that, but it’s just stunning.
If it’s a great part, the simplest little noodle can cut through the mix harder than any solo ever could.
I agree! Oscar is the master of textures and sonic layers, y’know? And particularly mixing – like, he could mix all those guitar sounds up and make it into a completely different song. If you’re not a guitar nerd like we all are, you’d listen to some of his work without even realising there’s guitars in there – you’d just think it’s a song. But it’s all those ear-ticklers that actually make you love the song.
That’s the way Oscar mixes it, and the way [he and Marou] play. And y’know, the pedal steel on this album is just gorgeous – it’s a real country instrument that we’ve managed to capture Michelle Rose playing, but giving it a real... Almost like an atmospheric rock sound, which is really cool. It’s always the way I love hearing pedal steel.
Friday October 25th - Tivoli Theatre, Brisbane QLD
Saturday October 26th - Venue 114, Sunshine Coast QLD
Sunday October 27th - Home Of The Arts, Gold Coast QLD
Thursday October 31st - Lion Arts Factory, Adelaide SA
Friday November 1st - Freo Social, Fremantle WA
Saturday November 2nd - The River, Margaret River WA
Friday November 8th - Palais Theatre, Melbourne VIC
Saturday November 9th - Corner Hotel, Melbourne VIC
Thursday November 14th - Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle NSW
Friday November 15th - Factory Theatre, Sydney NSW
Saturday November 16th - Ettamogah Hotel, Kellyville NSW
Friday November 22nd - The Jack, Cairns QLD
Saturday November 23rd - Kirwan Hotel, Townsville QLD
Saturday November 30th - Armatree Hotel, Armatree NSW