Candelo’s Heath Cullen recorded his third album, Outsiders, with members of Elvis Costello’s band The Imposters (drummer Pete Thomas, bass player Davey Faragher and keyboard player Steve Nieve) over a couple of days in Melbourne at Sing Sing studios with Adelaide’s Mick Wordley engineering.
Heath is now hitting the road in solo mode to present Outsiders to fans around the country and BSide Magazine was curious to know how it came about that he recorded with The Imposters.
“Elvis was touring here last year with The Imposters and they happened to have a few days off so we booked Sing Sing and off we went.
“And the first person I’m going to call when I have a recording project coming up – in this country as least – is always going to be Mick Wordley,” Heath then says of Adelaide’s award winning producer who runs Mixmasters in the lower Adelaide Hills.
“So I gave Mick a bell and he flew over from Adelaide and we spent two days at Sing Sing doing the album,” Heath says.
Did Mick take over a bag of tricks?
“He did, yeah – Mick had a couple of good mics with him and maybe some Gaffa tape and his Swiss Army knife – but he didn’t really need to because Sing Sing has a great microphone cabinet and has a big vintage Neve desk in the room we were recording in,” Heath says. “It’s one of the best studios in the country in that respect.”
Heath had furnished the band with some rough demos prior to recording.
“But all the arrangements were done live on the floor,” he says. “We only had two days booked so had to work fast so that was why I had sent the band some demos – really rough demos, mind you, with just me singing into a mic and playing my guitar – so they had some idea of how all the songs went.
“But, as always, I like to work by trusting the collective instincts into following each song,” he says. “So nothing was overworked and most of the songs were recorded live in one or two takes.
“And that’s because everything was working so well,” Heath adds with a laugh. “And I like to try and catch that moment without really thinking about it too much which, hopefully, comes through on the record.”
Steve Nieve add some great keyboards whether it be the flourish of his organ or his honky tonk piano style on Two Left Feet.
“Steve is just such a natural player,” Heath enthuses. “He’s very inspired and is a particular kind of musical genius. So he took the songs into all sorts of wonderful places.”
There’s no hint on Outsiders that the musicians involved were merely just doing yet another ‘session’.
“And that’s all about creating a certain environment in the studio where everyone feels they are contributing equally,” Heath considers. “Everyone is having fun and everyone is having a creative voice. So everyone feels they can throw up ideas.”
Outsiders, which is to eventually be issued on vinyl, closes with Robyn Hitchcock’s reflective Flanagan’s Song.
“It’s a song from Robyn’s beautiful Spooks album that Dave Rawlings produced,” Heath says. “And it’s a song I’ve been carrying around for a long time now and still occasionally play at shows.
“And, for me, having not ever recorded a cover version before, I really wanted to stay true to the song and pay respect to it,” he says. “And Steve played this very sparse piano that sounds like bells ringing in the distance and I reckon we’ve come up with a good version.
“And what’s on the record was the first and only take,” Heath adds. “We did it, had a listen to it in the control room and all went, ‘Yep, that’s the one’. We all agreed we couldn’t get a better version.”
Heath lives in the south eastern NSW township of Candelo which is home to a number of prominent musicians including Lucie Thorne.
“Candelo has a very good arts community which is great to be part of,” Heath says. “There are lots of songwriters, visual artists and poets living here. David Ross Macdonald from The Waifs is here, as is Mike Martin.”
Isn’t singer songwriter Melanie Horsnell slowly but surely building a house in Candelo out of recycled material?
“Yeah, Mel’s about three quarters of the way from completing it,” Heath reveals with a chuckle. “In fact, she’s just a couple of doors down from David. They are both building houses on the same street.”
Heath, who will be also be doing a private house concert while in Adelaide, will be hitting the road with a very special guest.
“Yeah, it’s a guy called Micheal Menager who is a really, really great folk singer from America,” he says. “He actually lives in Australia now although he dips back to the US quite often.
“And Michael, who lives just down from me in Candelo, is a really interesting guy who writes amazing songs but, until recently, had never actually recorded anything,” Heath continues.
“And he’s getting on – Michael must be about 69 or 70 now – so we did an album called Clean Exit in my shed which I produced and played some guitar on.
“And Michael writes songs faster than I can record them so we already have more than enough for his second album,” Heath says with a laugh. “And his songs are golden – they are just such perfectly written songs.”
Candelo’s Heath Cullen will launch his new album, Outsiders, at the Wheatsheaf Hotel, 39 George St, Thebarton, on Friday 16 October with special guest Michael Menager.