CultureMad Lifestyle Magazine – Tim Wheatley Interview 2016

Tim Wheatley

Off the back of his Top 10 ARIA album, 2015’s Cast of Yesterday, alternative folk/rock troubadour Tim Wheatley has announced his third single off the release, 78 Benz, and an accompanying film clip that’s steeped in nostalgia. To celebrate the release, Wheatley will be in Australia for an exclusive performance at The Grace Darling Melbourne on June 10.

While talking to Tim it is not hard to feel relaxed. He has the ability to make you feel like you’re a friend, which made me wonder, where is that toughness that is needed to survive in such an industry. Well Tim has that toughness, but it comes from the hard work and many years of experience. Here Mark Moray explores a snapshot Tim’s journey from the beginning to where he his now.

Mark Moray is a writer and photographer for Wicked Rock Photography.

Mark Moray – Tim, with music in the family, (Glenn Wheatley was a Bass player for the Masters Apprentices) as a child growing up, did you ever see yourself becoming a musician?

Tim Wheatley – I never saw myself becoming a musician, but I continually saw myself being a part of it. Growing up wasn’t necessarily watching people perform wise; it wasn’t particularly the music that grabbed me. It was the people that my family surrounded themselves with, the artists, the people within the industry, the creative types, it was a family, and a family I wanted to be a part of whether playing music or not. I don’t think I really made up my mind, but I knew I wanted to be with these people for a long time to come and to seek out for their approval in a way.

MM – So then what were your music influences when growing up, was it Australian bands and artists, or was it, artists from the UK and USA?

TW – You can trace it back to Aussie music in the 80’s, The (John) Farnham revival, Aussie Crawl, and (Cold) Chisel, INXS, you know all these people that I grew up listening to in the house. I guess that what it was. I never wanted my music to stray too far away from those guys either.

MM – You were young when you became a member of the bands called ‘The Sparrows’, and ‘Rushcutter’. Did you feel that being part of these bands gave you the grounding experience that you needed in order to understand the music industry as a recording and touring artist of today?

TW – One hundred percent! We were pushed through the traps with those two bands. With The Sparrows we spent a lot of time in London and had residency at the Barfly in Camden, and then with Rushcutter, we were focusing primarily on AustraliaBoth bands recorded two very good albums that never saw the light of day and that was due to internal label politics, band politics. As for Rushcutter, there were too many cooks in the kitchen, so you do pick up those things as you go. I think I learnt the most when I was touring for three or four years as ‘Crooked Saint’ and going solo. So the name wasn’t out there yet. It was just me on my lonesome, being on the road as the front man, and that was the biggest change for me. I learnt a lot more from a lot of bad gigs, especially when I was trying to figure out, what worked and what didn’t. That period for me was certainly the most trying. 

MM – You then made the move to L.A. Why L.A?

TW – There are a number of things, my band the Crooked Saints performed at the Levi’s parade in Melbourne, for the Melbourne Fashion Week. My agent asked if I was interested, and I said we were. When we got there, I was doing a sound check and a woman who was conducting the parade, came out and asked if I would like to open the show for Levi’s? Then a modelling agent in Melbourne picked me up, and even a scout from Los Angeles representing ‘NEXT’ (one of the biggest modelling agencies in the world) came out to view me for their modelling books, and then flew me over there. I never modelled before then. Whilst I never saw myself as a model or pursuing it as a career, I used it as an excuse to go over to L.A, and roll the dice at music. That’s when I dropped ‘Crooked Saint’ and became Tim Wheatley, because the name didn’t get in the way over there. There is a great community of musicians in L.A as you can imagine, and I sort of fell in love with the place. The plan wasn’t for me to stay there for this long. I am in love with the people that I work with over there, and it has a different vibe to what I am used to in Melbourne. I was used to people crawling over one another for gigs, and it also wasn’t a great thing being out of work or looking for work in Melbourne, where as over in L.A, it is embraced somewhat as romantic to be out of work, and having to do the hard yards, as well as being self deprecating which I like. (slight giggle). Also It is 23 degrees and sunny, my good man (laughing).

MM – L.A did give birth to some of the most iconic bands and musicians of the 60’s & 70’s such as The Eagles, The Beach Boys, and Joni Mitchell, just to name a few, so how hard is it for you to make it and survive in L.A as a musician?

TW – Borderline, impossible, that is why I keep coming back here to Australia. Look, it’s cut throat. There are a lot of places to go and perform in, and there are a lot of people to play for. I did a residency at a piano bar and a hotel café. At the start of those residencies there would be only three or four people in those rooms, but the interesting part about Los Angeles is that anything can happen. At the first gig I did, a woman came up to me at the end, (I was pretty much convinced that she turned her ears towards me when I was finishing), and asked what the last song I played was called. I told her it was called ‘Burning The Midnight Oil’. Suddenly that song was placed in a major motion picture. 

The movie was called ‘The Road Within’ directed by Gren Wells, with Dev Patel, Robert Sheehan and Zoe Kravitz.

That’s the difference isn’t it? You have no idea who is going to be in that room; whereas the odds of that happening in Melbourne would probably be pretty slim. 

MM – Since it was very tough for you to earn a living as a musician in LA, did you ever consider going back to modelling, so that it could give you the financial freedom you needed to help you to continue your music career? 

TW – It certainly granted me my time there while I sorted out my music, and it did keep me busy. I’m certainly not making a living off it, and I am certainly not making a living off acting either, but it is undeniably helping me hone in my craft in other aspects. Probably in the live perspective I do feel that by putting yourself up to such criticism and out of your comfort zone, that when someone throws you that curve ball on stage you are prepared.

MM – Your debut album as a solo artist called “Cast Of Yesterday” a top 10 ARIA album was produced by Paul Mckercher, who also produced “The Sparrows” self titled EP in 2006. Was it any different working with Paul now than it was back then, and how did you get him to work on your album? 

TW – Paul Mckercher (You am I, Pete Murray & Eskimoe Joe) is a dear friend of mine. There aren’t many opinions, or men that I hold in higher regard, and that stems from those early days with ‘The Sparrows.’ When Paul came in to do that EP with ‘The Sparrows’, SONY weren’t overly impressed with some of the stuff we had done, as it didn’t quite resonate with them, and so we thought we needed to bring in a big gun. So at the time when we met Paul, we were quite defensive and thinking to ourselves, “We don’t need this big producer to come in and do this”. We were kids and were maybe cocky and a little bit arrogant, but within two hours of pre production with Paul, you could see that he was hearing things that none of us had heard of, and this is after the fact we were playing these songs for three years. His strength in my mind is that he gets the sounds right from the word go. He doesn’t do it in post; he doesn’t do any of that. He does it in analogue and keeps the lights off when he is mixing. He is a purist in every sense of the word, but I think his real skill is getting the most out of the band, and he got the most out of my band ‘Crooked Saint’. It wasn’t a solo record. He saw it as a band record; I saw it as a band record. We all went in there thinking, “Here is the four of us playing as a foursome”. Things sort of changed. I kept that album travelling around with me. Eventually while working together with Paul, the album started to developed into a solo record, so we decided to bring in my friend Nico Bolos (Neil Young, Johnny Cash, Warren Zevon) for mixing, who said that we had to turn it into a solo record. After a remix on a few things we started to focus on the singer and the writer.

MM – I guess then you must have had so much trust in your producer Paul, for him to have a vision for your music, which would enable him to set the direction that you may have needed?

TW – I put my faith in Paul because I didn’t think I even knew exactly where I was even going with this album when I started it two and a half years ago. It was up to Paul to pave the way for us, and he did a brilliant job.

MM – 78’ Benz is one of the songs off the album “Cast Of Yesterday”. Why did you choose this song as the third single to be released? (Valerie, & The Heathen being the other two).

TW – I would have chosen it as the first. (laughing) 

MM – Then why did you release Valerie and The Heathen as the first two singles from the album?

TW – Well ‘Valerie’ was finished and mixed and we needed to get the single out quickly to get the ball rolling, even before we finished the album. We were still completing mixes, while we were pre selling the album and it was a little bit nerve racking, but the only song that was finished was ‘Valerie’. Besides that, it meant a lot to me as a song as it’s a Melbourne song, and I still think of it as one of my favourite songs. It is a very good description and insight into what people can come to expect from Tim Wheatley I think. It is an honest lyrical song. I wanted to emulate my idols like Jackson Brown and The Eagles and whether I got there or not, it was how I wanted it. Then we released ‘The Heathen’ over the summer when I was coming back to do a tour. I like ‘The Heathen’, I think it is a cool song and I think it has good direction and idea as to where I am going to now. It’s one of the songs that developed later.

MM – Do you own a 78’ Benz?

TW – Yes I did. As soon as we got to Los Angeles, we were cruising around in an old pickup truck, we sort of got rid of that, and went on to Craigslist and bought this 78’ Benz that looked absolutely amazing in the photos. We went out there and were surprised that it was only $3000. We went to pick it up and soon realised why it was $3000. It had no roof; it barely had breaks, no radio and no air-conditioning where in Los Angeles, that can be a nightmare. I developed a lot of songs in my head driving around there, so that sort of helped in a way. It was a beautiful machine. It looked fantastic and it did not miss a beat. Whilst the song isn’t directly about this Benz, it was about when the time I was having castings and auditions that I just knew the lyric centred on “you and I are going to speed away in a 78’ Benz”. It was me looking forward to driving away from this audition as fast as I could in what I felt was a pretty good car and that there was light at the end of the tunnel.

MM – Was the crooked number plate also reminiscent of the Benz?

TW – Yes it certainly was, and the lack of one on the back was the bane of my existence, as I got pulled over every couple of hours in Los Angeles. It was a nightmare, but most people saw the funny side of it. One thing it didn’t lack was charm.

MM – You will be performing in Melbourne on Friday 10th June with special guests ‘Little Georgia’. What will you be looking forward too the most when performing at The Grace Darling Hotel?

TW – I will be looking forward to getting home and seeing my family in Melbourne. I chose ‘The Grace Darling Hotel’ because my parents live near that venue, and my grandparents can come as well. They get their little table to the stage left, which they have done so every time I have played there. Also it is one of those things where I have spent so much time driving around solo, and after playing a gig in the middle of nowhere or I hit the road by myself for a few hours, it can be a lonely experience. So its great to actually get to play a show in Melbourne. I guess this is where I have my friends and my family based, so it’s exciting being a hometown show. It’s my only one. I’ll enjoy seeing my old school friends as those people have sort of seen the evolution of me not coming in for the first time, but in increments. They notice it, and I love getting their feedback. It’s a different show, the hometown ones.

MM – Finally Tim, when do you head off back to L.A, and what projects have you got lined up next?

TW – The reality of living in Los Angles is that you don’t know what is around the corner. I have always got my fingers crossed that I will pick up some more work. I will be in L.A for only a day before I head off to London. I have a show at the Borderline and it will be the first time I will have played in London for nearly eight years, so I am glad to get back to the old watering hole, the Mother country. Then I will be just continuing with my writing and taking a week off over there. I have been sort of chipping away at the second album over the last couple of months, and that’s what’s keeping me busy, and I am excited about it because, it feels like it’s me recording it in steps as I go, and very reminiscent of echoing the lifestyle I actually have at the moment. It’s like a little scrapbook of my travels so I am excited to see how this one pans out.

In light of the release, Wheatley will be returning to home soil in June to play two intimate shows in Sydney and Melbourne. Excited about the upcoming trip, Tim enthuses, “I can’t wait to get back to Australia, and for people to hear this song. In fact, I wish I was staying in Australia longer!”

Listen: 78 Benz
View video: 78 Benz
Purchase: Cast of Yesterday

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