WEEKEND NOTES: Ian Moss – Interview

Ian Moss, Alice Springs’ best known musical export, is returning to Adelaide later this month with a seven piece band and new self-titled album in tow. There’s a real sense of excitement in Ian’s voice when he talks about his new songs, but he hasn’t forgotten where it all began.

Born in the Red Centre in the 1950’s, Ian says that he always liked the idea of performance. “I often would do this little kids thing of performance at the family shows. My parents would be sitting out in the garden on a hot evening, with a beer or a gin and tonic. My sister would hide behind one of the chairs and announce ‘Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the stage, Ian Moss’, and I’d step out and sing a song. The thrill of performance was there at that early age.”

The thrill never left him. Moving to Adelaide in the early 70’s, Ian soon found himself a founding member of Cold Chisel, who by the turn of the decade were the biggest band on Australian soil. After their 1983 split, Moss kicked off a solo career five years later with Matchbook. A string of other albums followed, including three with Chisel through their sporadic reformations. Heavily driven by songs from pianist Don Walker’s keys and screamed vocals from Jimmy Barnes, Cold Chisel would surely have been a lesser force without Moss’ distinctive guitar and soulful voice. Famous as Barnes is, Moss’ voice has a quality that lifts his and Walker’s songs to a higher plane. And on the guitar front, a NewsCorp poll from a few years ago saw his peers rank him as our country’s greatest player.

So, it’s surprising to hear Moss admit that confidence was an issue in getting his new album to see the light of day. When I asked Moss what the impetus for the new album was, he replied frankly “the same impetus as it’s been for decades. It was for Ian Moss to get off his backside and get the confidence up and put out an album where he’s written the lion’s share of the music. Ideally I’d like to have written the whole lot, but I’ll settle for the lion’s share.”

He began writing and recording with Adelaide-born Sam Hawksley “who really got me instigated and up and running”. They met around the turn of the century and when Cold Chisel began their ‘No Plans’ project, Moss began some early demos in Hawksley’s studio. He listened to some of what Moss was “messing around with”, and confided that he had some ideas for them. “He took this song and then ‘bang’ – apart from the lyrics – he took this thing home. I thought ‘I’m definitely going to work more with this guy’.”

A few years ago Moss and Hawksley got in touch again and the latter revealed that he’d moved to Nashville. “He said ‘Why don’t you come over here – the place is a mecca now for songwriters. I’ve got so many contacts – we can write with so many people. Bring all your good ideas and every day we can go write with someone different’. I was a bit sceptical but then thought what the hell. By this stage I was starting to think I’m just not a songwriter and I’ll just continue on with my acoustic career. So, I went over, every time I walked into a songwriting session, tough as it was, in the beginning you think ‘this is too hard, this isn’t going to work, this isn’t going to happen’ but as long as I walked into a writing session with an idea, six hours later I came out with something really solid. It was a great experience.”

Through the interview, Moss speaks a lot about the challenge of getting his songs over the finish line. Recording the album followed the same path. He began recording in Nashville but a short while in, Ian decided that he wanted to pause and bring them home. The songs were great “but arrangements are king. You can live and die by arrangement of songs. You might have a great song, but you can absolutely kill it if the arrangements aren’t right.”

Bringing the songs back to Australia, he considered who might produce the best results for the songs he had. “I thought of Peter Walker, who produced the first Cold Chisel album. I think I made a great choice. I don’t know how we would have gone without him to be honest. His arrangement ideas particularly are just phenomenal.”

One listen to the Ian Moss album has you in agreement. After a number of acoustic albums of Chisel, solo and cover songs, this album is classic Mossy, songs backed with a full band that allow him to stretch those soulful vocal chords, and to play his guitar as beautifully as we’ve known him to for years.

Moss’ touring band is a selection of musical masters. Peter Walker (rhythm guitar and musical director) will be joined by Adelaide boy Clayton Doley on keyboards (“a fabulous Hammond player”), Jonathon Zion on bass, and Kerry Jacobsen, originally from Dragon, on drums. Joining them will be backing singers Lana Sayah and Michael Duchesne.

This tour follows a journey through Europe earlier this year, which Moss reports went really went. “Such wonderful enthusiasm, and not just expats! I hadn’t been to Germany since way back in ’92. Some of the people who rolled up had travelled from other cities and had just been hanging out for me to get back there for years. Just a great vibe. London was really good and strong. I’m talking to a record label there who want to do something next year with this album, give it a good launch and get over for the European summer and do a few festivals.”

With the current tour continuing through regional New South Wales and Victoria for most of the remainder of 2018, Moss has learned the importance of keeping in shape. “Absolutely, it’s a must. I’ve got a little bit of a problem with one of my vertebrae at the moment. I’m glad I got stuck into Pilates, that’s such a good thing.”

He reports that the Thebarton concert will see a good mixture of his solo material interspersed with some Chisel songs. “I’ve worked very carefully on the arrangements for whatever Chisel songs I do. There’ll be plenty from the new album, plenty from Matchbook. Of course, Bow River and Tucker’s Daughter are no-brainers.”

And is there any new Cold Chisel material on the horizon? “It’s definitely on the cards, but there’s a bit of work to do yet. A couple of months ago Don sent us an email and said let’s seriously start thinking about some writing, and if anyone’s got some songs ready, as soon as we’ve got some time off, let’s start recording. I’ve got some time off late September and October, so that might sow the seeds of a new Cold Chisel album. Tour wise, I can’t imagine anything before the end of 2019. The vibe is definitely ‘will’, but don’t know yet.”

We’ve heard Moss as a part of our soundscape for four decades now, but in his words “I’d like to think that there’s a lot more in the old dog yet”. This is a good thing, Adelaide – get along to Thebarton Theatre on July 20.

Article written by Bernhard Sayer and published by Weekend Notes.