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Steve interviews Grant McLennan Print E-mail
Tuesday, 01 January 1991

A cool interview sees Steve asking the questions of Grant McLennan, his partner in Jack Frost.

Unknown Australian source
1991

[Page 1 of a 2-page (?) interview. Page 2 is missing.]

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G.W. McLENNAN
Watershed

By Steve Kilbey

G.W. McLennan is better known as Grant McLennan, formerly of the Go-Betweens, the greatest Australian band never to have become more than cult heroes. Steve Kilbey is of The Church, a band that has achieved larger than cult status throughout the world. Late last year the two musicians collaborated on the Jack Frost project, an album of refreshingly diverse, yet somehow seamless music that reflected the melding of two very different styles. So, we thought, why not ask Kilbey to ask McLennan about his first solo album, Watershed? And, armed with tape recorder and a list of questions, that’s exactly what Steve did.

STEVE KILBEY: I’ve never interviewed anyone before and in researching this one I’ve realised the need to ask questions that probably sound cliched. But you have to ask them before you can get things going. So the first thing is, why is the album called Watershed?

G.W. McLENNAN: I’m obsessed by titles and phrases and lines because they can have a life of their own. Watershed came to me because I like the word “water” and I like the word “shed”. It didn’t dawn on me until a few minutes later that it could be seen as a reaction to 12 years of the Go-Betweens . . . the way I see a Watershed is more like a physical block of water maintained in a structure.

Why did you change your name from Grant McLennan to G.W. McLennan?

Because that’s my name. It is G.W. McLennan.

No, no, your name is Grant; G.W. are your two initials. What I’m asking is, why have you shifted the emphasis, from Grant to G.W.?

I guess I wanted to -- it sounds very American -- but in some way present a new identity that was still me.

Fair enough. Many of your songs are about ghosts and a song like Haunted House is no exception. I was wondering, I know your father died when you were young . . . I know you feel his presence and I wonder if you are trying to express this in music?

I do feel the presence of my father a lot and I did write about it in Dusty off Before Hollywood a long time ago. But ghosts, that’s very interesting because I’ve never been aware of doing that. Paul Kelly has picked up on me using the word “moon” a lot and I didn’t even know that.

Some words did occur to me as I listened to this record and I’d just like some kind of reaction --

Brilliant? Great? Wonderful? Fantastic?

Are you ready for my list? I’d like you to react to these words: Wistful.

I’m not sure about that. I don’t think wistful is there, but I must say that some people find my vocals occasionally wistful.

Pastoral.

I’ve tried to keep that in check a little bit, because you know I have been called the Thomas Hardy of pop. But I am interested in placing some of my music within a landscape so maybe pastoral is fair.

Honest . . . the whole record feels very honest.

Well I’m glad that you got that.

Another three words started occurring to me as I listened to the album. Mathematical, tight, and circular. After a while the music was becoming very geometric, as opposed to some of the more rambling things that the Go-Betweens did, which were anything but tight, especially Robert’s (Forster) songs.

Well Dave Dobbyn was my producer so there was a lot of his input into it. But when I did pre-production, I set out to make things as direct as possible; I didn’t want any superfluous stuff, I just wanted it to be clean and the emotion, the feeling, the honesty, the POV, to be unadulterated and right in your face.

I’d like you to comment on the theory that you and Robert have both moved to your logical extremes, like Robert has got this dark and messy album (Danger In The Past) and you’ve got this clean, bright album. Do you agree with that?

Yeah . . . part of what you’re saying is true. But the links are still strong as well. I value his opinion very, very much on things that I write, whether it be in that band I’m in with Kilbey, or whether it be my stuff. I sent him the demos of about eight songs before I made my album, seeking his opinion on them, and he gave it to me . . . and he sent me an unmixed tape of his album recorded with (producer) Mick (Harvey) in Berlin and I rang him up and gave him my opinion.

But it was now no longer the opinion of a collaborator but the opinion of a friend . . . that’s a really different thing.

Yes

What do you think is the most important song on the album?

I think that’s up for other people to decide . . . they all do something for me, they all still kick in when I listen to the record . . .

But is there one that’s somehow special for you?

I feel very close to Word Gets Around and Dream About Tomorrow. Word Gets Around is a song I guess I’ve been leading up to for a while. I’ve always wanted to mix spoken word with an uplifting chorus. And I hit on it with Word Gets Around. And to me -- I know this is arrogant but -- just as Like A Rolling Stone, and Born To Run were pivotal songs in those people’s careers, I feel Word Gets Around is a similar sort of watershed for me.

Is there a theme? Or is it a collection of songs?

It’s my favourite record, apart from the Jack Frost one and a couple of Go-Between’s records. It’s a very personal record, but it’s open, and as for theme and stuff, there is an overriding sense -- I never realised that until I listened to the songs together -- but it is about a certain situation I was in for most of 1990.

But even with the sad songs, it’s very optimistic. It’s not like lying in a Berlin garret . . .

(Laughs) Yeah, I used to do that. It was great -- but really I’m glad you got that, because....

[end of page 1; page 2 missing]

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Transcribed by Mike Fulmer

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