On Sunday April 23rd, 2017, 6pm, TLSQ will be performing a set of all Australian Works at the Hawthorn Arts Centre. Included in the programme is old wounds by Wally Gunn, from his string quartet work, Blood. Wally has had an interesting journey in music; from being a singer/songwriter pop star to a sought after composer of theatre, film and concert works. Wally lives in Queens, New York but still maintains strong ties to the Melbourne music scene. Read on for an insight into this man of the world. Check out Wally's own website HERE and then book tickets for our Hawthorn Arts Centre show HERE.
When did you know that you wanted to be a musician?
In 1984, when I was 12 years old, the ABC broadcast an original Australian drama series called ‘Sweet and Sour,’ about a rock band trying to make it big in Sydney. It starred Tracy Mann with a shock of punky, asymmetrical hair as the singer and songwriter Carol, who led the band The Takeaways. Deborah Conway provided Carol’s vocals on the soundtrack. Before that series, I had sung along in harmony to Linda Ronstadt LPs, and danced by myself to the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, and started to wonder how music was put together after listening to The Human League’s incredible album ‘Dare.’ But I hadn’t thought about being a musician. All that changed when I saw Carol on ‘Sweet and Sour.’ I wanted to be a rock star just like her.
What was your first instrument?
All throughout my childhood I made up ‘pieces’ on the family piano, but never took lessons. Neither did I have singing lessons, but I taught myself to harmonize and yodel. The first formal music lessons I had were for clarinet from the age of 11. I was a poor student who never practiced. The first time I really dedicated myself to an instrument was when I picked up a guitar at 16.
What is the strangest music gig/job that you’ve done?
My stint playing keyboards in nothing but underpants in a raucous queer new-wave punk disco band was probably the strangest music job I’ve done, and it was also the most fun.
What is the strangest non-music job you’ve ever done?
For a year I was a waiter and llama feeder at the café of a lavender farm in the Goldfields District of Western Victoria.
You have worked across many different styles of music, what was your first love as a listener and how did it lead to where you are now?
My first and lasting love is for 80s New Wave music, of which The Human League’s album ‘Dare,’ I would argue, is the apotheosis. The album is magnificent in its plastic affectation, all shimmering synthesizers and punchy drum machines. I think I was forever changed by its robotic, brutalist rhythms, its angular melodies and harmonies, and its graceless vocalizing, and I think that to this day, I still assess the merits of my own new musical ideas by these criteria. If it’s robotic, brutalist, angular, and graceless, I’m on the right track!
Tell us about the music you have composed for TLSQ:
TLSQ’s Biddy Connor is one of my favorite composers. Her approach to harmony is unique, or at least it would be if her admirers—myself included—refrained from borrowing her ideas! Biddy and I share a musical history in the Melbourne indie rock scene of the 1990s. In hindsight, it seems to me that throughout those years, Biddy and I, together with our peers, developed a shared musical language which we have carried with us throughout our writing careers. Sometimes when I write these days, I decide to write in the Biddy Method, a method that is wholly imagined by me, but produces music that I secretly think sounds a bit like Biddy’s. It’s kind of like trying on someone else’s hat; it makes each wearer look quite different, and can even make the hat look different too. I wrote ‘Blood’ for TLSQ in 2015. It was written partly in the Biddy Method and partly in the Wally Method, and, appropriately, the harmony seems to hearken back to the explorations we were making together in our rock and roll days.
You are now living in New York, tell us what led you there and how the music scene differs/is similar to the Australian music scene?
I moved to New York to study composition with the incredible composer Julia Wolfe at the Manhattan School of Music, and after two years working with her, I stayed on. New music here seems to be performed all over the place. It is in concert halls and churches. There are small new music venues appearing and disappearing all the time. And new music also finds its way into cabarets, bars, and clubs.
What is the next project that you are working on?
I’m about to embark on a large-scale multimedia music and theater work about the 19th-century Australian bushranger Captain Moonlite and his lover James Nesbitt.
What music are you enjoying listening to right now?
Since 2013, my constant companion has been Laura Mvula’s album ‘Sing To The Moon.’ But more recently, my husband has been doing a good job of convincing me that Christine and the Queens will be my new favorite band.
What is your favourite podcast?
My favorite podcast is ‘Criminal’ by Phoebe Judge.
If you were not a musician or performing artist, what would be your ideal occupation?
I would give anything to be a botanist.