GUEST MUSICIAN ADAM McGRATH OF THE EASTERN on what drives their new album, The Territory

 |   |  7 min read

The Eastern: The Territory
GUEST MUSICIAN ADAM McGRATH OF THE EASTERN on what drives their new album, The Territory
It'd be good to know exactly where it's at. I mean the what it is, the what it was and what it shall be, are hard enough but the elusive “where it's at” creates all kinds of troubling rumbles in the back of your brain.

It feels like we've been looking for the illusive 'it' since we started this long ramble we call The Eastern. Sometimes it’s even hard to define exactly what The Eastern is

I mean sometimes we show up with three small acoustic instruments and hope to sound like AC/ DC other days we’ll have seven and want to be as quiet as dew forming. Sometimes the dream comes true and we’re the meanest band you’ve seen, sometimes we’re exposed for what we are, a bunch of misfits, chancers, failures, hopers, prayers, dreamers, schemers . . .

Sometimes we're still street singing in theatres, sometimes we think we're stadium sized on the street.

So many kilometers ticked over, a bunch of worn out wheels and engines, enough beer and black coffee to make us old before our time, over 1000 shows, probably about the same in guitar strings broken, nearly as many fiddle players as Spinal Tap had drummers, friends turned enemies, enemies to friends.

We’ve tangled with earthquakes, ministers prime and deputy, we’ve fought drunks and noise limits inside bars and out, we've fought each other. No funding sought, no adverts synched, no suck up. No rockstar shit allowed, no in-ear monitors, no leaving till we’ve thanked the soundperson.

No marketing plan.

No goal setting, just one hand then the other, one song then another. Always with the hope that somehow we might end up where “it's at” and get a handle on what all this life shits meant to be. We're translating the world as we see it, in/through/because of the songs.

Sometimes when the eye gets a little thousand yardish and maybe John Coltrane's in the headphones and maybe the coffee was black and thick enough, or the cold and flu tablets you had to get through the day have brought on a lil’ buzz and your standing in a park in a town you’ve never seen. Sometimes then you figure the it, the at, and the where's out.

You realize you may never find shit and in fact without you even knowing its been all the searching, the looking itself behind bushes, bars, beers and amps and that is in fact the stuff that's helped ease all of the messy unknowingness you were carrying when you started the metaphorical van that morning and kicked off the side of the world and decided to earn your bread, books and rent singing songs for a living.

The at, the it, they’re tigers striped and hidden in this big jungle and like Jerry Jeff said you may in fact be pissing in the wind trying to track or tie 'em down. So yeah it’s the ride.

Jesus I'm sure I could’ve figured that out by reading Deepak Chopra or something of that homily-filled ilk.

Anyways as I mentioned, we translate the thinking I touched on above. That’s our job, we east2got to take the world, shake it up, drink it down, filter it through our experience, beat it on the rocks of our hopes and sadnesses and turn it to song, forge some shape out of it.

We're old fashioned, our tools are well used. I mean it’s not like the fiddle, the banjo, the acoustic guitar, the double bass, the voice haven't bred more than their share of contemptible familiarity, but these are the weapons/brooms we're stuck with.

The issue is that those instruments can mess with your head, they can stalk you and lead you back to their natural habitats so easily. Sometimes you sit down to write a little of your own story, truth whatever and you find yourself singing some song written by a bunch of shaky race politikd, fundamental baptists, from a country far away from yours, written a million years before your birthday.

It sneaks up on you, it's hard to avoid. Sometimes the instruments walk you there sometimes you run. We’ve always tried to run back to the future

I learnt to sing and play better in America but its Paekakariki or Okarito or Dunedin or wherever that I consider the places where me personally may have any kind of chance at seeking the aforementioned 'at' and ‘it'.

So that’s what gets me to the desk most days, shuffling through my notebooks and dreambooks and heartbooks looking for songs. Its places and place and using the work I do as a lens with which to see, to learn, to listen and figure out.

Place is such a loaded term, dynamite laden. Every time you define it, it chimeras its way out of the way, your chasing its tale and your own. I think it’s as bullshit to say one place is just one thing as much as it is to say one person is just one thing. We are plural, the sum of all parts at least until that sum changes the next time you step out your door into the world and all of its mixed up crazy days.

Sometimes we're a folk band sometimes we’re a rock'n'roll band sometimes we're country singers sometimes we're punk as fuck sometimes we're turgid singer-songwriter pap, sometimes we ain't nothing at all and that's all right by us.

And yet just because we can be parts of all of those things it doesn’t mean that now and again we can't focus down the tangle and try and get to the heart of who we are what we’re trying to be and what we're trying to say.

Making a record offers you an hour or so opportunity whenever you get a chance to make one.

east3We’re lucky we’re on to number four and we're also lucky that each of the previous three have found there way into thousands (not millions, not hundreds of thousands, not tens of thousand, just enough to keep us alive until the next one and that’s grand and more than we could’ve ever hoped!) of hands, homes, stereos, headphones, laptops, underneath car seats.

We're sure even a bunch of those hands have even taken the time to listen to the damn things!

We refuse to take that as anything other than a gift to us and we take the responsibility of that exchange seriously. Seriously enough to say that even though we’d be more than satisfied making records and records full of easy country, blues, folk songs, happy as hell to sing down the great canon of American songs, dress up in the hats and coats and wares of the good looking icons of the past and sell that to you as much as we would be able, even though that' d be just fine and fun, super fun in fact, we just think that if you’re gonna take the time [and now and again money] to dance around with us, then we owe you something more, something closer, something hopefully deeper.

Something that comes from places other than our record collection.

So song after song, record after record we've been trying, working, grinding, lifting above our limited talents and basic abilities to sing our own stories as best we’re able to.

I'll be the first to admit there’s been up and down moments where we haven’t been good enough to get to where we want to be, but man that’s what that ride stuff I was chatting about earlier means. It gives you the opportunity to try, to push, to breakdown, rebuild and get better and if not better then at least hopefully truer, deeper. So we keep digging and getting on with the heavy lifting as best as we are able. I look at my peers, my friends, my mentors and wonder how easy it appears to them and then I get back to the digging and dig some more ever trying ever riding.

Again it’s the ride.

In a couple of years I'm gonna say this again and realize how far away we are today, but I feel like today we're getting closer than ever trying to figure our own stuff out and give it out as best we can.

And that' s where we are with this record, our fourth called The Territory.

east1The Territory being here, these isles on which I write this, this long southern island below the northern one, this eastern coast, this flat and bruised city, this one bed cinder block refuge I sit in, this old desk my feet fit under, this machine which gets the words down and this body, heart and mind which has to figure out the songs and listen to my copilot Jess Shanks figure out her ones also.

These songs put their fists up and wanna get down in the dirt with place, we wanna arm wrestle the here and now, we want to explore the things we've seen and done and make songs out of ’em, we don't want to give in to the sirens call of the tropes and hopes of our heroes music any more than they showed us what to do and now we have to get our there and do it on our own, we’re taking our well worn tools and trying to raise high the beams of our own house.

We're drawing a line right here and saying this is who we are, what we do, this is as good as we could make it, we tried to speak truthfully, we tried to find magic, we tried to build the heart stuff and we take our relationships with you dear friends and listeners seriously so we wanna lay our cards across your table and say we did our best for you and for us.

So this is The Territory and the things in it we're trying to figure out, we're glad to have you with us and it doesn't matter whether the road heads nowhere, to ruin, to salvation wherever we're just happy to be on it, thanks for riding shotgun.

Adam McGrath is the chief singer-songwriter in The Eastern whose albums have always found favour at Elsewhere. Their previous album Hope and Wire was in Elsewhere's top albums of 2012 and Adam McGrath previously answered our Famous Elsewhere Questionnaire here. The new album The Territory is out now on CD, iTunes etc and will be on vinyl soon (with a download code). See here.

Other Voices Other Rooms is an opportunity for Elsewhere readers to contribute their ideas, passions, interests and opinions about whatever takes their fancy. Elsewhere welcomes travel stories, think pieces, essays about readers' research or hobbies etc etc. Nail it in 1000 words or fewer and contact graham.reid@elsewhere.co.nz.

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