Piano man - the return of Conway Savage

Conway Savage makes everything sound easy. His forthcoming tour of Ireland came about because he “met some nice people who liked my stuff”; he records at home and distributes on his own label because it’s cheap and he likes “that home sound”; and there is no conflict between his solo work and that of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, with whom he has played piano for the past 15 years - “My stuff’s my stuff and then I’m called in to work with the Bad Seeds.”

It all sounds a little too good to be true, but I get the impression the Aussie is just that laid back. Best known as one of the Bad Seeds, Conway Savage also has a plethora of collaborations and solo releases under his belt, including the critically acclaimed 2004 album Wrong Man’s Hands and 2007’s Quickie For Ducky - although these are only now being made available in Ireland in advance of his October tour.

The last time Conway was in the country, he spent some time recording tracks at Tumbleweed Studios in Dundalk. At least he thinks he did. “I spent a night recording there. It’s been very mysterious. If I can tell you a story - I did four songs, but I ran into a street lamppost in Dundalk before I went in, so it might be quite strange.” So has he any memory of what went on that night? “Well it was a very hard lamppost,” he drawls.

Mishaps aside, Conway says the new album, due for release early next year, will sound “a bit more poppy”. Is this Bad Seed mellowing out? “I don’t know what’s going on in my old age. I think I’m moving in reverse. The last album had a bit more of a swing to it,” he says.

In addition to recording most of his material in his home studio, all of Conway’s albums are released on his own label Beheaded Communications. “Nearly all of my stuff has been done in my home studio. I actually have the best of both worlds. I like the immediacy of home recording, I’m still a sucker for that home sound. I can do a record very cheaply and put it out very cheaply,” he says.

So that’s the solo part sorted. When it comes to his work with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Conway says that he comes in quite late in the process and that his job is simply “just to play things as I think they should go”. or example, for the Bad Seeds’ latest album Dig Lazarus Dig, Nick, Martin, and Warren, who Conway says make up “the core of the band”, put the songs together. “They kept this cool thing between the four of them, and I added stuff later.”

He seems perfectly at ease to be known as the guy from the Bad Seeds. “Well it doesn’t hurt my solo career. It’s fine by me. I love working with the guys,” he says. “Everyone knows we have other stuff we do outside the band. Nick is very prolific these days and Grinderman [Nick’s new band] are doing quite a few gigs. It’s wonderful meeting up and catching each other’s stuff.”

The story goes that Conway began his foray into music by playing piano in his parents’ pub in Victoria, Australia. “I wasn’t performing for nickels and dimes or anything. The piano was in the dining room, not in the pub - a piano can age 60 years in one night in an Australian pub. I’d sneak in down the back and practice - I was a shy child,” he explains.

And at what point did he realise that his future lay in music? “I was lucky. I knew immediately as a shining great light formed around me and the piano lit up, there were flames. Nah - people just love music and I am lucky to be able to make a life of it.”

When asked about the decision a few years ago to put some of the poetry of Irish poets James Joyce and James Stephens to music on Wrong Man’s Hands, Conway is blunt. “I wouldn’t call it experimenting, I’d call it pilfering. I’ve apologised and I’ll never do it again. I’m in the process of burning all the records in the back yard. I had the music together and the lyrics fell into my lap.”

Does the music always come before the lyrics for Conway? “If I get words I like, I work separately and join the two up later on. It is preferable if you have the words first, but I always work the other way. I always have bits and pieces of music hanging around.”

Thankfully Conway has no plans to hang up either his solo or his Bad Seeds boots just yet. “There is plenty of time for both to co-exist and I cannot possibly compete with the Bad Seeds’ success. It helps fund my music and I can tour a lot and make connections. Good Lord willing, this will carry on for some time.”

Conway Savage performs at The Stables, Mullingar on Thursday October 16. For more information see www.stableslive.com

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