With over a decade of experience behind their belt, indie-folk band Tinpan Orange is said to be one of Melbourne’s darlings. On the back of a recent German tour, RSOM chat to founding member and front-woman Emily Lubitz about life on the road, the importance of family and a vocal session that went viral.
J: Just to begin, would you be able to tell RSOM readers a bit about how Tinpan Orange formed as a band?
E: Well, it was over a decade ago. The band is comprised of me, and my older brother Jesse, and we’d been playing together for a long time- since we were teenagers. It was more just like campfire songs and playing with our friends.
We were at the Woodland Folk Festival in Queensland and we met this guy, Alex Burkov, who was playing the violin. It was the middle of the night and there was a whole bunch of us camped together and we hear this violin jamming out at the camp next door to us. It woke us all up and we were like ‘oh man, that’s so annoying!’ because we were about to get woken up by the festival, and there’s those few precious hours where you can actually sleep. It was kind of bittersweet, which was awesome. We ended up meeting him this next day and we’ve been playing together ever since.
We’ve really grown up together in the band, we started out busking a lot, especially during the dry season in Darwin. We were terrible, and everything was terrible! But we had a lot of fun. We definitely cut our teeth, you’ve gotta do the terrible gigs.
J: And so having released your first album the same year you formed, did you commence writing music straight away?
E: There were a lot of songs that I had already written, and songs that I was writing when I was 18 or 19, and we put them down on this home recording. For better or worse! They’ll be around somewhere, but they’re hard to find!
J: Being in a band with two other people, where three of you obviously have different ideas, what is the songwriting process like?
E: It’s been a process for the band, for sure. It used to be myself who did pretty much all of the writing, and then Jesse would write one or two songs here or there. For the last record, we really opened it up. My brother wrote a couple, my husband wrote a couple and we wrote a couple all three of us. I then wrote the rest. I really loved that, not having the emotional burden of every song coming from some part of my psyche. I never realised how much I loved singing other people’s songs, because there’s just not as much as baggage.
J: You’ve released five albums as a band over 12 years so far. How has the writing and recording process changed over these years?
E: I think maybe when I was younger, the songs were more directly autobiographical, and they were about the dramas in my life. Now, I’ve got two kids and I’m married, so whilst there’s definitely drama, it’s not as easy to romanticise. When you’re in your early twenties, you can just get yourself into trouble and it’s silly and it’s fun! It’s all self-important. At the time, I thought they were song worthy.
I feel like my songs now aren’t all about my life. They may be based on someone else’s story, or something I’ve heard or seen, even a movie. I think there’s still an emotional integrity, because I’m drawing on my own emotional reaction to it based on the life I’ve lived. There’s a slight distance between me and my songs, but I think it’s good because honestly, my life isn’t that interesting.
J: What influence now does your family have on your music career?
E: Sometimes they get in the way! But sometimes they motivate me. My husband is incredibly supportive, and he plays in my band sometimes. He’s also helped produce our records. We’ve gone on tour with his band (The Cat Empire), and we’ve spent a lot of our music lives together, which is wonderful. The kids come on the road with us, we haven’t let having kids slow us down, because we can’t I guess. It’s the job we chose- we have to keep going. Being a mum definitely gives me certain insights that I value as an artist.
J: You’ve recently just released your new single, ‘Wanderers’. Are you able to give RSOM an insight into the inspiration behind that?
E: My husband and I wrote that together, he actually wrote most of it. We just loved it, so the band took it to the studio and kind of made it ours. It’s based on a lot of things.
We had a miscarriage earlier on this year. As a family, we went to a sad place, and I think the song came out of that. There are definitely lyrics that refer to it.
It was sad for a time, but in the end, it kind of just was what happened. I put it out there into the world, because people are very private about it, but I didn’t really understand why because I think it’s a time where you need support. I wanted to talk about it.
J: You’ve recently come back from a tour leg in Europe. How does playing in Europe compare to playing shows in Australia?
E: It’s different, we’re sort of starting out there. We started out supporting The Cat Empire in October last year, and we were playing to 2000 people every night, so it was massive. We then got a label over there and was able to go on tour, so now we play to 70-100 people. I don’t mind it at all, I love those gigs. We play in these small venues and it’s like a really captive audience.
The German crowd are very attentive and respectful. Even if they’ve never heard of you, and they’re just there at the bar, they’ll give you their full attention which is amazing. We’re sleeping in people’s houses over there, Jesse and I had to share a bed at one point in one of the hotels, so it’s kind of like going back to when we were young. It keeps it fresh.
J: What can fans that are attending your Australian shows expect from them?
E: It’s gonna be great. We have a bunch of new songs that we’ve been playing overseas. We have wonderful support acts, and it’s going to be a bunch of intimate gigs.
J: With the new songs that you’re playing on tour, are you guys in the process of recording another album?
E: Well, we’re not sure. We have a whole bunch of songs that we’ve recorded, and we don’t know what to do with them. We’re definitely going to be releasing singles over time, but we’re not sure what they’re going to accumulate to be. Maybe an album, maybe an EP.
J: What was it like being a part of the Dumb Ways to Die campaign?
E: It was bizarre! I just sang the vocals, for my friend who wrote it and produced it. He called me and was like “Can you come down and sing on an ad I’m doing tomorrow?” and I was like “OK!” I didn’t think too much of it, I mean I thought it was funny. And then a couple of weeks later he was like “Oh, you remember that session you did for me? Yeah, it’s gone viral.” And I looked at it, it was getting two million views every 12 hours or something. It was good for the band, and my career in a strange way, like we got some publishing opportunities for it. It was definitely a weird experience, but I also definitely don’t take credit for its success!
Tinpan Orange are currently touring Australia, with shows held in Victoria this weekend. You can get tickets to their October 21 show at the Toff in Town here.
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