Note: This piece first appeared in Australian Guitar #135. Subscribe to our print edition here!
With three of Australia's most venerable singer-songwriters at its helm, Dyson Stringer Cloher is here to make indie-rock history.
Words by Matt Doria.
Cookies and milk. Sunny days and ice cream. Decent WiFi and your roommate’s Netflix password. Since the dawn of time, it’s been indisputable that certain combinations of awesome things create even more awesome things. The logic seems simple enough, but alas, life just isn’t that simple. Pizza? Awesome. Swimming pools? Awesome. Pizza and swimming pools? A sad, soggy mess. Compatibility is not guaranteed for combinations of awesomeness – and, though we won’t name any examples here (because the combination of Australian Guitar and lawsuits is never awesome), the same goes for rock music supergroups.
One combination you can be assured won’t let you down, of course, is that of blues ’n’ roots ripper Mia Dyson, heart-thumping country queen Liz Stringer and local rock goddess Jen Cloher – together known, creatively enough, as Dyson Stringer Cloher. The trio of Australian indie-shred luminaries recently released their self-titled debut album, a crushingly long six years after first dropping our jaws with a three-track EP (and subsequent 40-date tour). The album fusing elements of each of their uniquely incandescent styles, LP1 for Dyson Stringer Cloher – hopefully the first of many – is mind-blowing at the worst of times.
Before the group embark on what is sure to be a tour for the history books, we caught up with Cloher to dig a little deeper into the backstory behind this once-in-a-lifetime collision of chemistry.
Does this album feel like a long time coming for yourself, or was this always the trajectory you wanted to follow?
I think it was one of things that we didn’t really have any firm plans around, aside from that when and if we were all free, we would consider getting together and making an album. We made a little three-track EP and toured that in 2013, so six years later, we thought we might as well follow up with a proper album. But because it is a project that exists outside of our own solo careers, it just wasn’t going to take precedence until we were all free.
How did the three of you come together and decide to kick this project off in the first place?
We’ve all collaborated in the past. Liz has played in Mia’s touring band, and I’ve had both Liz and Mia play on my albums as guest musicians because they’re both such great guitarists – Liz played banjo, too, and all sorts of strings – and we’ve toured a lot together. I went out on my first ever tour of Australia supporting Mia, which was in 2005. So there’s just a lot of history between us; we’ve spent a good while in each other’s musical worlds.
After a while, I just thought, “We should do something together!” Mia and Liz were both keen, so we got into a studio in 2013 and recorded a few tracks, then went on an epic 40-date tour of Australia – as you do [laughs]. I think we discovered on the road that it was really quite a powerful live experience for people, so that kind of cemented our decision to write and record an album – and of course, we’re touring that in November.
Did you have a goal in mind for the record, or was it just an opportunity to make some good music with some good mates?
I think it was a bit of each. We were all keen to explore co-writing – actually really working on songs from scratch together. I mean, there were a few songs that we all brought to the table that were fairly complete, but the majority of songs were actually co-writes. And none of us had ever really attempted that before in a ‘band’ scenario. I think we were also really keen to explore three-part harmonies and really utilising our voices together – we even have a couple of songs on the album where we each take a verse and then sing together in the chorus. So yeah, we were trying to make it as collaborative as we could.
Did you find that you all bounce off each other in ways that led to ideas none of you would’ve had otherwise?
Well, it’s interesting – I think particularly once you get into the studio, you start to see just how great it is to have two other creative minds working with you. You start to have ideas that another person might not have thought of, or you can really get excited over an idea together and try different things out to make it work.
We were very fortunate to be able to record at Jeff Tweedy and Wilco’s studio in Chicago, Illinois – with Tom Schick, too, who is absolutely at the top of his game. He’s made a few albums with Mavis Staples, and obviously a lot of the Wilco and Tweedy albums – and so being in that space was incredibly inspiring.
Also – and it’s great that I’m speaking with Australian Guitar Magazine for this – the amount of guitars that Jeff Tweedy has in his studio is actually mind-bending. Like, the man has literally hundreds upon hundreds of guitars. And Liz and Mia – they’re probably two of the most accomplished guitarists I’ve ever worked with in the studio, and just seeing them let loose on those guitars and instruments, and just being inspired by that environment, was really fun.
What were some of your highlights from Jeff’s collection?
I mean, you’d be sitting there and go, “Ah, I’d really love to play a Gibson Les Paul,” and then Tom would run off and come back with, like, ten Les Pauls from all different eras. If you wanted to play a vintage Fender Telecaster, well, here’s 50 to pick from!
It was honestly pretty overwhelming; I’m not really a gear nerd – I’m not one to go, “Oh my God, look at all those guitaaaaars!” – but you just can’t help but be that person in that environment, because it’s actually ridiculous. And y’know, Jeff’s a collector. Finding all these beautiful guitars and restoring them, and just having them there – it’s something that I know brings him a lot of joy, so it’s amazing that he shares them with everyone. To go into a studio, and then to be able to use a musician’s prized possessions like that, it feels like a real privilege.
Dyson Stringer Cloher
Friday November 1st - Music On The Hill, Red Hill VIC
Saturday November 2nd - Vibes & Vino, Heathcote VIC
Sunday November 3rd - Lost Lands, Werribee VIC
Thursday November 7th - Lansdowne Hotel, Sydney NSW
Friday November 8th - Lizotte’s, Newcastle NSW
Saturday November 9th - The Zoo, Brisbane QLD
Wednesday November 13th - Howler, Melbourne VIC
Thursday November 14th - Howler, Melbourne VIC
Friday November 15th - Theatre Royal, Castlemaine VIC
Saturday November 16th - Grace Emily Hotel, Adelaide SA