The Re-Mains Courage... And Shuffle the Cards

The Re-Mains Courage... And Shuffle the Cards
Billed as Australia's best country rock band, the Re-Mains are clearly committed to conquering Canada too. They're now touring here for the third time and this compilation is designed to accompany their Western tour. It features six tracks recorded a couple of years ago, rounded out by six songs recorded live Down Under from 2004 to 2006. The band's line-up has changed significantly since then, but their leader (singer/songwriter/guitarist Mick Daley) has remained a constant. He's a genuine talent, impressing both as a lyricist and vocalist. He isn't afraid to stretch things out (three songs are in the six- to eight-minute range), yet never overreaches. "Black Aspirin" has a Drive-By Truckers-like energy and "Pumulwuy" tackles a dark episode in Australian history (the killing of the titular Aboriginal warrior) with eloquence, while raucous closer "Hot Blood" shows they must deliver high-octane shows. Roots-oriented Australian artists (think Weddings Parties Anything, Paul Kelly, the Waifs) seem incapable of artifice or pretension, and the Re-Mains clearly belong in that camp. Call these Cards a winning hand.

The Re-Mains and Canada seem to have a mutual love affair going.
Daley: Yes, Canadians seem to really like our stuff; it strikes a chord and people tell us we have a pretty authentic Canadian country-rock sound. That's not something we planned to do, so I guess that is fortunate serendipity. The last album we did, The Inland Sea, in 2009, actually had a couple of songs on it that I wrote in Canada about Canada, and they dug that as well. We first came over because we wanted to do some travelling, but we had some great success from the first festival. We got on really well with Canadians and coming here has become a really important part of our thing now.

Think your journalistic background has had an impact on your songwriting?
For sure. In terms of travel, I worked for TNT magazine in London for nine years as a travel, news and music journalist, so I was constantly travelling in Europe. I think my songs are universal as well as personal. I sent myself to events like the G8 in Genoa, where there were demonstrations and one guy got shot in the head. That kind of stuff was set against what was going on in my personal life. I think part of the songwriter's craft is to bring the universal down to the personal and make it relevant to himself and other people, and give it emotional context.

Found any Canadian bands you really like?
Fred Eaglesmith was great, the Deep Dark Woods and the Beauties; we're always seeing terrific bands here. One of the things I love about Canada is the cultural depth. We go to festivals like the North Country Fair and Ness Creek, and you sit around a campfire and everyone can play an instrument and they all know a bunch of folk songs. They take it for granted, but you don't get that in Australia. Canada is tremendously rich in music, and we love The Trailer Park Boys!

How is the tour going?
It has been terrific. Pretty full on. We actually missed a gig last night. We were meant to play in Grande Prairie, but were held up on the road. We had a really good closing show at ArtsWells festival, but a bad accident held us up and there was roadwork everywhere, so we didn't make it.

With the Courage album, are those studio songs on The Inland Sea as well?
That was a recording session where we recorded a whole bunch of songs. We used some on the first Canadian album, then some on the Australian, then some on this one, along with the live tracks we had. Because Leigh Ivin, who was an original member of the band and plays steel and pedal steel, wasn't on those sessions, but is on tour with us now, we thought we'd include live stuff that he is on to show his playing.

Is the current line-up settled?
Probably not, actually [laughs]. We live all over the country, as far apart as if you had a band with members in Vancouver, Toronto, Saskatoon and Montreal. So it's always pretty fluid.

As you were putting the band together, were you ever inspired by Australians like Paul Kelly and Weddings Parties Anything?
Definitely. Those two were very strong influences, and Bob Dylan, Green On Red were very important. The Stones stuff like "Dead Flowers," even the Who. The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Drive-By Truckers, Wilco ― Australia doesn't have that big of an alt-country tradition. In Melbourne, there is a sub-culture.

There are strong Australian themes in some of your songs. Think that's important?
Yes it is important, but it's not something I've really had to think about. I think it is directly attributable to my Bob Dylan upbringing. Bob would name-check places he'd travelled through. To me, it was natural to do that with an Australian context.

I found "Pumulwuy" fascinating.
Well, Australia had this historical claim, or a fiction, that basically there was no one here, so the English could claim it as its own. When I went to school, we were taught that there was no invasion; it was basically a peaceful occupation and that the aborigines were hopeless primitives. They were basically whitewashed out of the picture. You start to learn more as you get older. I found a novel based on his story, a guy that led an organized resistance against the English for 15 years. We were never taught that, so it was a revelation, for me, that our history is a pack of lies.

Do you still work as a journalist too?
I'm actually at university at the moment studying. Did Honours in media last year and I'm doing a Masters in environmental advocacy this year, so I'm re-training. It's tough when you use different parts of the brain. I haven't written a song in over a year; I find when I'm studying the side of the brain that has more abstract thoughts doesn't get used as much. But being on this tour that is coming back, I'll probably fail uni now!

I hope you get to play Toronto on your next tour.
Toronto is one of my favourite cities in the world. Talking of great Canadian bands, last time in Toronto, we played at The Dakota. We did a really good set. The crowd loved us, so we were feeling pretty chuffed with ourselves, then this band called the Beauties came onstage. They blew us away with how good they were. They're one of my favourite Canadian bands. (Country Rock n Roll)