In conversation with Ryan Downey

In the lead up to Ryan Downey’s performance in late October, our very own Suzie Wyllie caught up with the artist to chat about the ways and wonders of the man behind these unforgettable tunes.

Suzie: Before releasing ‘Running’ you released a mini EP of a cappella songs, did the experience of working that intimately with your voice inform the making of ‘Running’ in ways that surprised you?

Ryan: It did in a couple of different ways. I learnt a lot about my voice due to the fact that I was bending it in all sorts of directions I never had before and my voice became stronger in the process. And then, because the mini-LP had been so vocal-centric, I made the decision to keep backing vocals to an absolute minimum on Running to create a nice contrast between the projects and to keep things interesting for me. That decision also suited the character of all the songs on Running; they're very much about a single voice singing for connection.

Suzie: Your voice makes me think of resting my head on a lover’s chest, which is why I wasn’t surprised to read that ‘love’ is a central theme within this album. How did you go about avoiding the common clichés associated with love in song writing?

Ryan: I guess, like any song, I only carry on writing something if I feel I've got a fresh, or at least personal angle on the concept. So when writing about love I think it's important to identify what love (or the aspect of love you're exploring) means to you at that time. And then, never say anything in a song you wouldn't say to a person you love. If it'd be cliche to say it then don't sing it. That's if I'm trying to write a sincere love song. If I'm writing something more playful, then cliches can be great things to play off.

Suzie: It seems there is an elongation of time through the delivery of each of your songs. Is this a quality that you see in yourself and in how you move through life?

Ryan: Ha! I wish. No, life seems to slip by a lot faster. I do like playing with time in my songs, through tension holding and releasing. That's why I love music so much, it's one of the only means I've found to be able to do that and control that feeling of temporal suspension.

Suzie: Your film clips seem to balance a cinematic depth with playful romanticism, which compliments your lyrical style perfectly.  Can you tell us a little about your collaboration with director Alex Badham?

Ryan: Thankyou. Alex is a wonderful filmmaker and friend. I love working with him because though he usually comes up with his own concepts for people's videos, he's happy for me to bring ideas for clips to him and collaborate on them - It's the only chance I get to explore my love of cinema so I embrace the opportunity. He's very relaxed to work with and is always able to come up with easy, practical ways to capture things that seem difficult (or expensive) to capture. He's also got a great sense of visual pacing which I think is essential in creating a video that helps showcase the song itself.

Suzie: As you might not know, New Hall, where you will be playing for us in late October is a few streets away from the ocean. What five words come to mind when you think of the sea?

Ryan: I don't see it enough.

Making music and catching waves with Seagull, McKisko and Jessie. L. Warren

In the lead up to our mid-winter gig with these incredible artists, the man behind Little Lake Records, Nick Huggins caught up with Chris (Seagull), Helen (McKisko) and Jessie to chat all things music making and the surf of Point Lonsdale...

Helen, when we recorded the McKisko song ‘Mount Nebo’ (which is a mountain in Brisbane) we left the door of New Hall open to let the bird sounds in. How do the birds of Mount Nebo sound different to the birds in Point Lonsdale? 

My friend Phil lives on Nebo and grew up in Sale in Victoria. She could hear the difference in the birds immediately. The Point Lonsdale birds sound busier, chattier, seem to have more to say. The mountain birds sound more solitary, like they're just singing for themselves.

All three of you have made music with watery / oceanic themes, including collaborations with each other. Do you have ocean memories or inspired water moments that you would like to share?

The ocean features pretty heavily in my dreams, large bodies of water, waves. It supposedly indicates the emotional status. I also have this memory of being a child on a tourist boat from Lady Musgrave Island with my family. We had to leave the island early because a huge storm was coming. The waves were enormous and I was crying. The captain came over and assured me that there was nothing to worry about and that they only became concerned when the fire extinguisher fell off the wall. The fire extinguisher then fell off the wall. We made it, but I was sure it was the end of my tiny, seven year old life that day. I like the ocean. I am a little intimidated by the power of the deep deep.

I once worked out of the Byron Bay Lighthouse for a summer, counting dolphins and monitoring their behaviours. We'd set up at 6AM most mornings and just watch the ocean all day. I wrote a lot of songs about dolphins that year. 

One of my earliest memories of Pt Lonsdale is getting dumped by a wave on the back beach for the first time. I swirled around and swallowed some salt water. It was the first of many wipe outs. I think one thousand megalitres of water has crashed on my head at that beautiful beach.

Would you like to share a memory of being in Point Lonsdale?

I remember sitting on the rocks above Buckley's cave and watching the cool change come in.

Riding bikes along the beach path with Nick at high tide in stops and starts so as not to get washed away by the waves. And night riding up to the lighthouse under a gibbous moon. There were a couple of magical sunsets at the back beach too.

Spontaneously going surfing during the mastering session with Nick Huggins. I had not been on a board for eighteen years, it showed. I still can't lift my arms.  

Is there something about your work that people never ask you about, that you’d like people to know? 

JESSIE: People: "If you could collaborate with any musical collective in the world (dead or alive) who would it be?"
Me: "A pod of humpback whales."

CHRIS: I often write the initial guitar ideas while I'm watching TV. 

I don't really think about this, I guess that I'm always working on things. A quiet and slow chipping away.

NICK: Is there anything you think would be interesting or helpful to know for someone who hasn’t heard your music before? 

People sometimes cry. Sometimes I cry. I'm working on that.

It's best listened to in a dim room, better on a long train ride (Sydney to Newcastle would be ideal), but a bit too intense to listen to while in the bath. 

Trailing Reflections: Bellarine Arts Trail, New Hall

What a weekend. 

New Hall opened its doors to a diverse body of work presented by Lighthouse Arts Collective, to a community generous in their presence and engagement. For the Collective, this was the first time we had come together to share our work, in our new home.

Until this weekend, we had been working together to present work by individual members of the Collective, or artists we greatly admire – but this was the first time we were able to share our work, side by side, as a Collective. 

Each of us are embedded in diverse practices, working predominantly as independent artists, yet our works spoke to, and complimented, each other in ways surprising and fulfilling, adding intricate and interconnected layers to the concepts at play. 

One uniting feature was the way the sites, themes and colours of the place we call home came into the work in obvious and more subtle, nuanced ways. While place played a role in the work so too did the space. 

New Hall continues to transform, hosting diverse artistic experiences. A cinema one week, a live music venue the next and over the weekend sharing its glory in the light of day as an exhibition space, a space that keeps on giving. 

To the work held within New Hall: on entering the space, audiences were met with sound artist Ben Talbot-Dunn’s sonic installation, seamlessly transporting the viewer from the outside world and into the world of the exhibition. I enjoyed watching many linger here before being carried into the hall to meet the rest of the work. Talbot-Dunn created a moving atmosphere that gently enabled the viewer to move into a contemplative space with nuanced and layered sound. 

Once inside the hall viewers met the paintings and sculptural works of Suzie Wyllie. Wyllie moves effortlessly between forms to bring attention to fine details and the repetition of symbols featured in both paint and clay, calling to each other across the space. Wyllie interrogates themes of time, movement and mapping within motherhood in contrasting textures and concepts, delicate and weighted. There is literal and metaphorical room for interpretation within the work, seen within individual pieces and the body of work as a whole. Wyllie’s work will continue to interrogate these themes working towards a larger exhibition in collaboration with my own work early next year at New Hall. 

My work similarly (and dissimilarly) explored themes within early motherhood, grief and death. Working within literal and conceptual forms which are very new for me, the work explored impermanence, grief and resilience, placing process at the forefront of the work. 

Again, inside the main space, sound enabled the viewer to linger with the work and concepts at play. Nick Huggins played live within the space creating a dynamic that was both stirring and poignant. Drawing from the same body of work ‘No Wind Behind the Hill’ the sound and paintings spoke to one another in a language unique to the artist. Many people spent a significant amount of time here, floating upon the sound to other work in the space. The palette and depth of Huggins’ paintings ask you to look and look again, sharing something new in each viewing. 

And there you all were, looking and looking again. We were so moved by the generosity and presence of the community who engaged with our work across the weekend. How wonderful to witness an audience open and attentive, generous in both their presence and feedback. 

To those who lingered and visited again, who asked questions and shared their response to the work with words, stillness, tears, smiles and eyes exchanging experiences unspoken but felt – we thank you. For it is you, the audience who is the final and crucial ingredient in bringing our work to life. 

What a joy to open the doors of New Hall to share our work and have the community receive it in this way. Bravo Point Lonsdale and the Bellarine Peninsula, we look forward to sharing with you again very soon. 

If these walls could talk

“What we seek, at the deepest level, is inwardly to resemble, rather than physically to possess, the objects and places that touch us through their beauty” 

Alain De Botton, The Architecture Of Happiness

Is it possible that buildings and objects carry their experiences within the form and architecture of their being? If only walls could talk, to tell us of all they have seen. In our experience if you spend enough time in a space you start to hear and feel it’s history and learn also of it’s present desires. The Lighthouse Arts Collective heard such whispers on a quiet back street in Point Lonsdale. It’s requests were few but telling; a dusting down, a new coat of paint, unobstructed windows to let the light in and people. On Sunday evening we stood in New Hall, admiring its simple yet beautiful form, contemplating all it has seen and it’s desire to hold space for gathering and for communion; through music, poetry, art and performance, through conversation with one another. We feel and see the building joyous in being full of music, community and life. We were met with so many smiling faces coming through the doors and how inspiring that the front row consisted of the youngest members of our community. Chaotic and joyous they remind us there is no fourth wall and what a revelation it is to knock it down! As the night was in full swing we embody an overwhelming YES, from the building’s walls, from the vintage theatre lights, from the bodies young and old saying hello to each other and the possibilities of this space, to dance together. Lighthouse Arts Collective and New Hall are quite taken with the beginning of this new chapter and the exciting experiences to be added to the architecture of this humble space, oh what these walls might whisper now! 

Poetry In Place

Lighthouse Arts Collective Artists Sally Lewry and Suzie Wyllie are collaborating on a new project that places poetry in public space. The project takes words from the page and place them in unexpected sites to engage public, to offer pause, contemplation and inspiration as they go about their day. The poetry may draw the viewer’s attention to natural elements, political or social issues and internal landscapes. The artists are exploring various mediums and forms which are ephemeral and of the site including sand, chalk and water based ink. 

Lights on

The lights are coming on at our house as we put the final touches to the winter program. 

The Transformation

From little things...

Big things grow.