Darren Hanlon, who hails from Gympie in Queensland, has had a long and storied musical career. He embarked on his first tour of Australia as the guitarist for art-pop outfit The Simpletons, and by the time the band called it quits, Hanlon had cultivated a smattering of songs of his very own. His introspective banjo fuelled track, Falling Aeroplanes, was picked up by triple j over a decade ago, and the rest, as they say, is history. The talented singer-songwriter’s music is raw, honest, and narrative-driven – and he’s just released his first studio album in five years, Where Did You Come From, and took time out from his busy touring schedule to chat with us and share his Savvy Seven insights…
1. The best live music venues in my area are…
I don’t really have an area – I don’t really live anywhere! (laughs) That’s a tough question. I can tell you the ones I like best in Australia?
Mojo’s in Fremantle is one of my favourite venues. It’s hard to say what makes a venue really good, whether it’s the architecture of the room or whatever – but it’s one of those rooms that’s kinda small and cosy, and everyone can see the stage. It’s kind of in an L-shape, where the crowd sits. It always seems to have a good atmosphere. I love playing at Pomona – that’s probably one of the best venues in my ‘area’, The Majestic Theatre in Pomona. Especially how it used to be, before it was renovated. It was just this old hall that had acted as a silent movie theatre for years, and I got to see lots of movies there, and had the pleasure of recording an album there. Since then, I’ve had many shows (at that venue).
And what makes that venue so special?
I think for me, just the history of the place. My grandmother did her school dance there and she used to go to movies there all the time, she used to take me to movies there as a kid too. But even without that family connection – it’s just got an atmosphere to it. An old world charm to it.
2. The music scene in your hometown, Gympie, is…
Oh, I wouldn’t have a clue! Let’s just say Melbourne for argument’s sake.
No worries, what’s the music scene in Melbourne like?
The music scene in Melbourne is multi-layered. It’s not one thing, it’s many things. It’s tough for me to put my finger on it, but there’s great scenes that are springing up, there’s separate scenes in different parts of town. For some reason, it’s just always been one of those cities that’s been cheap enough for artists to live and create art and create music. That tradition just continues, more so than other cities.
Is there a sense of camaraderie, or is it more that everyone’s out for themselves?
The scenes cross over a lot – I don’t know if I’m involved in any scene, as such, but a lot of my band members are in groups of bands that often play together. Dolewave, for want of a better term, you know, those kinds of bands – that’s a scene that sprung up specifically in Melbourne, and consists of a lot of bands that help each other out. Lots of those bands helped me out as well, even though I’m not exactly in their circles.
3. My top tip for artists who self-manage is…
Try to manage your stress levels! Don’t get too caught up in social media. At the end of the day, it’s all about the songs. People get too focused on all the promotion these days cos there’s so many platforms to promote (with), but I think at the end of the day the songs will find their own way. That’s where most of the energy should be focused. I think the internet can become a distraction at times – use it to your advantage, not to your detriment.
4. In my opinion, the most important issue facing the music industry is… (and what do you think would be a good solution?)
I would just say all the debates that are happening about downloading vs. this and that, and the debates about the internet, again – all that kind of stuff. It just makes me feel a bit numb. I just think you’ve gotta get back to the grass roots of where music comes from, and that’s just the songs. You’ve gotta try to write good music, good songs, keep a purity there, and not worry. That’s another thing for bands, too, is to try not to worry what other people are doing. You worry that you’re not getting the same attention, (but) there’s room for everyone. If you just focus on your craft, you’ll shine through.
So just less focus on worrying about how people get to your music, and more focus on just making good music.
Yeah! You said it better than me. (laughs)
5. When on the road, my favourite pit stops are…
There’s a lot of op shops that we always have to visit, along the road, in various country towns. I love Uncle Tom’s Pies outside of Mullumbimby, that’s always a pit stop. (I) always stop along that coast for a swim – Ballina and Byron, that kind of area. Lismore, for the Goanna Cafe, I love that one. There’s a fish and chip shop in Taree that I always try and visit, I think it’s called Chips Ahoy, or it used to be. (Ed: we found a Chips Ahoy in Coffs Harbour – but chime in in the comments if you know the one Darren’s talking about!)
6. My biggest career mistake has been…
I’m making them every day! I’m probably making it right now and I don’t even know it. I’d say – I played to really big audiences in America way back when I first went over there on a really big tour, and then I never went back to follow it up. It took like four years to get back there. That was probably a mistake.
Losing out on that potential following?
Yeah. I sold hundreds and hundreds of CDs, so all those people must be somewhere, but by the time I went back, people have moved on. People move on pretty quick.
7. My best advice for emerging artists is…
Just DIY. Don’t trust anyone else to do it, just do it yourself. If anyone puts a contract in front of you, just make sure you know what you’re doing. But I think, at the end of the day, no one’s ever going to do the job how you want it done. That’s how you learn about the industry as well, just put shows on, put your own CDs out. Don’t wait for this “big break” moment, this fictitious kind of thing – it happens to some people, I guess – where someone’s gonna come along and you’re gonna be an instant success or whatever. Just do it yourself and learn from that. And – just enjoy the ride. Don’t be looking forward to this magical moment that’s gonna happen, just enjoy the process. That’s my main advice.
Listen to the lead single from Where Did You Come From, called When You Go – and be sure to catch Darren on his album launch tour.