Don McGlashan's been busy. The Kiwi music legend, the voice and pen behind some of our most iconic songs, has a new album out — Bright November Morning — recorded with his band The Others. His March tour has now been cancelled, thanks to Omicron, but new dates are being worked on for later this year. His new song is All the Goodbyes in the World, which in true McGlashan form paints a vivid picture of the New Zealand experience. We say hello to the singer-songwriter and ask 10 questions to get a snapshot of his life.
How have the events of the past two years affected your ability to create and perform music?
Well, external conditions don't seem to have much effect on my writing habits. I'm thinking of songs all the time, and every so often I finish one! The performing bit is less predictable, though, as we're just finding out — and that is really hard, not just because musicians, managers, crew and venues are suddenly out of work, but also because performing closes the circle: you see something in the world, you put it into a song, and then you play the song to people, and hope that they'll see that thing you saw. Recorded music is great, but nothing beats that sense of shared humanity that you have in a live gig.
Your new album Bright November Morning is out now — how do you feel it shows your growth as an artist?
Ha! It's not for me to say if I'm growing as an artist; I may well be shrinking, for all I know! Certainly I've stopped worrying about how my songs will be received, and instead I'm working on challenging myself and following ideas to where they want to go. There are a lot of things in this new album that I'm very proud of, and that's enough for me.
How has it been recording with the Others?
It's been an absolute pleasure. James Duncan, Shayne P Carter and Chris O'Connor are fabulous musicians at the top of their game. Knowing that they were on board informed the way I wrote — and once we were in a room together, they threw a lot of great ideas into the mix. Guests Anita Clark, Emily Fairlight and Hollie Smith made a huge contribution too — and when The Beths wandered in from the studio next door to sing backing vocals on John Bryce, that was the icing on the cake.
What advice would you give a young songwriter looking for inspiration?
Listen to everything, and hang out with like-minded people who live and breathe songs. Argue with them a lot, and that'll help you work out what you want to write. Then just get to work!
What's the best thing about the NZ music industry? And the one thing you'd change/fix?
The best thing is that we look after each other. The industry here's not so big that you guard your little successes as if they were state secrets; people happily play on each other's tours and records and generally support each other.
The worst thing is that you can't throw your guitars and drums in a van and drive to a bigger place, just over the border or down the highway. Now that the Auckland City Rail Link is nearly finished — we can start looking at those big long bridges. Australia first, then Chile…
Describe your activities on a perfect bright November morning.
Riding my bike down to the sea and having a swim.
What one great New Zealand song do you wish you'd written and why?
"Chesdale, slices thinly, never crumbles, there's no waste And boy it's got a mighty taste!"
Even though it focuses mainly on the economic benefits of eating processed cheese — with the flavour more or less an afterthought — it's a fine exercise in brevity and catchiness.
And what's your favourite song from your own back catalogue?
It changes every day, but today I like For Your Touch from Lucky Stars. Not particularly short or catchy — but all that longing…
You're curating a post-pandemic festival — who's on the bill, alive or dead?
Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, Nico and Kirsty MacColl, with the great Irish solo singer Wallis Bird to rark up the crowd between sets (Wallis is the only one that's alive).
And finally, what is your greatest hope for 2022? Whether for you, NZ or the world ...
That we all realise that we're not here for very long, and we should focus on what matters.