music random

Happiness is a chemical

Exciting news, peeps – one of the best singer-songwriters you’ll ever hear is about to release a new album. Yep, Darren Hanlon‘s got a new record, called I Will Love You At All, coming out in Australia on July 16. Recorded in Portland by Adam Selzer, whose credits include indie royalty The Decemberists and M Ward, from what I can see the album includes a few tracks that indulge Daz’s penchant for female vocals. Case in point is the lead single, which is actually a duet. Film-maker Natalie van den Dungen, who’s collaborated with Darren on his last few videos, has made this one for the new single “All These Things”, and it’s almost tooth-achingly cute:

Around Daz there revolves a vague galaxy of devoted fans, most of whom have had a memorable encounter with him at a show. The cool thing about him is that when someone goes up to him after a gig and says they met him in Wollongong in 1998, he will legitimately remember them and the conversations they had. His memory is amazing.

My sister and I met Darren on new year’s eve in 2005, when we were pulling beers in a bogan pub in the George. She’d just finished school, I was on holidays from uni, and the pub in question was generally half-full of “characters” with hearts of gold and questionable dental work. There was an old jukebox that seemed to play only country classics – I think I still know all the words to “Seven Spanish Angels” – so our curiosity was piqued when three out-of-towners entered the bar and managed to ply the jukebox with dollar coins to play songs we actually wanted to hear.

We all got talking and it turned out Daz, Cheersy and Poogs had driven down from Gympie to see the New Year’s fireworks at nearby Nindigully. The Gully is ostensibly a town but really just a pub in the middle of nowhere, that comes alive a couple of times a year for B&S balls and motorcross racing. Anyway, we arranged to meet these exotic strangers that night at the Gully, where Poogs ended up kissing a bearded truckdriver who fell in love with her, and at 12.50pm I told Daz to wait with my Mum while I tried to find a new years pash. That mission was unsuccessful, but later as we talked about music and Daz talked about touring overseas I finally thought to ask his surname. When I realised I had one of his albums (Little Chills, still my favourite) in my car I felt rather bad for the whole leaving-him-with-my-mum thing, but he was pretty cool about it, and besides Mum was rather taken with Cheersy anyway.

Anyway, that would have been that if I wasn’t such an opportunist and accosted Daz at a gig in Sydney, when I was interning at the office where I now work. Hospitable chap that he is, he let me stay at his place for a couple of weeks while he was away on tour; I woke up each day marvelling at his collection of records and instruments and op-shop fashions. But that’s the kind of guy he is – he’s so often lived by the kindness of strangers that he in turn is very kind to strangers. Part of it I think is his curiosity about the world, this lovely belief he has that every person and every place has a story. And as is so often the case, when you believe in something you make it true. Daz has written dozens of songs and they’re all packed with stories – songs about squash and service station epiphanies and share houses and public transport and the guy who invented the kickstand…

It’s the wit of his observations and his nimble turn of phrase that really make his songs. That’s not to say the instrumentation isn’t great – he can do a ukelele solo like nobody’s business – but he just has a way with words. I have too many favourite lines to recount here in what’s already a sprawling post, but one gem is from his last album Fingertips & Mountaintops, nestled within the RSL-lounge-singer ballad “Manila NSW”. Describing the timelessness of the town he paints a picture of the main street:

Where old men sit
And lick tobacco papers
They look like a harmonica band

Maybe one of the best Daz stories was recently made into a little documentary. Years ago he wrote a song about Eli Wallach, an actor now in his mid-90s (“I’ve only known you for 10 minutes / but I’d prefer you didn’t die just yet … One of them’s good / The other one’s bad / And you’re no oil painting...”). Anyway, Daz eventually got in touch with Wallach and together they ended up filming a new clip for one of Darren’s classic songs, “I Wish That I Was Beautiful For You”:

Something you may not know about Daz, even he seems a little suprised about it, is that he is recognised internationally as Australia’s number one pinball player. The pinball obsession is pretty much textbook Daz – fetishising the anachronistic leisure activities of a bygone era, collecting a mental marauder’s map of machines hidden away in milkbars and pubs around the world. Anyway, the quality’s not amazing but this interview is really fun:

Catch Daz on tour in August (tickets etc here):
6th Pomona – Majestic Theatre
7th Brisbane – Globe Theatre
8th Bangalow – A and I Hall

11th Armidale – The Armidale Club
12th Newcastle – Galipoli Legions Club
13th Sydney – Factory Theatre
14th Canberra – Tilley’s Divine Cafe
15th Katoomba – Clarendon Guest House

18th Bulli – The Heritage Hotel
19th – Hobart – Republic
20th – Melbourne – Thornbury Theatre
21st – Fremantle – Fly By Night
22nd – Adelaide – Jive

And here’s looking forward to I Will Love You At All, which in Daz’s own words is ‘a bit of a nostalgic timepiece of the last few years of my ramblings here and there. It feels like a brick from a house where your Grandfather once lived. It feels like a cup of tea. One where your friend asks, “So what have you been up to these last two years? And what have you been thinking about?” and then I open my mouth and my new album comes out for the next 40 minutes.’

*PS Shout-out to my fabulous friend Pip who took the photo of Daz atop this post, on a sweltering night in Lismore in January…

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