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INTERVIEW – DON WALKER, Cold Chisel – June 2015

| 27 June 2015 | Reply

INTERVIEW – DON WALKER, Cold Chisel – June 2015
By Shane Pinnegar

With a new album on the way and a national run of One Night Stand shows through October, November and December, Cold Chisel are back from the cold. SHANE PINNEGAR got keys player Don Walker on the phone for a relaxed Monday morning chat.

Cold Chisel - Don Walker 01

Tales of Cold Chisel’s volatility during their initial tenure together are legendary, but in addition to saying that the band have at long last learnt to work together without antagonising each other, Walker says the prospect of working together again actually excites him.

“It does. The last time we toured, which was in 2011, we had a great time. As I’ve said before, that isn’t necessarily the default experience of a Cold Chisel tour. We still have our moments, but I think everybody is a lot wiser about how to… I know how I can aggravate the other guys and I avoid it. The other guys do the same, [whereas] once upon a time I would deliberately do that.”

We’ve all heard the stories of various band members throwing punches around cars and things like that.

“I was never involved in punches myself,” Walker says wryly.

Cold Chisel 2015

Cold Chisel 2015

After forty years of playing these songs, how do Chisel keep it interesting for themselves?

“It’s really come down to… well there would be no interest in it at all if it wasn’t for the intensity of when we play together that happens,” Walker explains.

One thing that isn’t a pressure for Walker is the legacy of the band. Despite Chisel meaning so much to so many – especially in this country – the man often labelled ‘Australia’s greatest living songwriter’ doesn’t find the bands reputation daunting to live up to.

“No. Most of the work that we do is in the rehearsals before we play the first show,” he says. “Those rehearsals are very hard and very demanding as we turn ourselves into the band that we expect ourselves to be and in turn our performance is lifted to the level and the intensity that we expect. It’s not so much what people expect. That level of intensity is a little bit like a drug. We want to work ourselves up so we get our hit.

“It’s easier for, say, Jim, who is out there playing all the time,” Walker says of the hard work involved with getting themselves, as a collective, to the standard they expect of themselves. “Ian is out there playing all the time [too]. Still, they have to adjust what they do because a Cold Chisel show is different. Me, I wouldn’t play piano from one month to the next if there’s not a Cold Chisel thing happening because Cold Chisel is the only time that I really play piano. Leading into some Cold Chisel work, I have to first do a bit of work to get myself up to speed as a piano player just to go into the first rehearsal. What happens then is like a gym workout for a couple of weeks as I get myself up to the level that I need to be to play a Cold Chisel show.”

Cold Chisel: Ian Moss & Jimmy Barnes

Cold Chisel: Ian Moss & Jimmy Barnes

Walker goes on to explain that their approach to work with their own bands is different to a Cold Chisel show, though he’s reluctant to talk for any of his bandmates.

“You’d have to ask them. I don’t see Jim or Ian solo that much – it’s been a couple of years since I saw an Ian solo show. It’s very impressive. I saw one of Jim’s solo shows at the Enmore last year. Each of them does Cold Chisel songs in their set, [but] you’d have to ask them whether they approach it differently than when playing with Cold Chisel. With me, I don’t play the piano when I’m playing live, or I play a little bit of piano at the beginning. What I do with Cold Chisel is utterly different to what I do live. I don’t do any Cold Chisel songs. I’ve got my own albums and I do songs from that.”

Recalling the point in his youth when he started writing music and lyrics, Walker says, in typically down to earth fashion, “I had done a little bit of songwriting before Cold Chisel got together in 1973. Not much. When we did get together in 1973, myself and one or two of the others wanted to do original music. I set about trying to learn how to write.”

Had he written prose at all before that, or did he just go straight into the deep end, ‘let’s write a song!’?

“Yeah, I’m glad you put it that way,” he chuckles. “Most prose writers wouldn’t see it that way around. No, no… just into the deep end. If you’re a fan of some songwriters, you just try and figure out how to do [what they do].”

What sort of influences was Walker feeling at the time, when he first started putting pen to paper and writing his own songs?

“I and the other guys had such a diverse range of listening,” he says passionately. “We were into everything… I was listening to Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, The MC5, Led Zeppelin. When you’re that age, you love all this stuff equally. Then you’re trying to write songs for your band that has bits and pieces of this stuff in it. It can be a miss, and our songs were a miss for awhile as we tried to synthesize something that was us.

“I think there is a point where you cut yourself loose from your influences. If you take AC/DC, I know that Malcolm and all those guys are deeply into the real stuff, Chicago blues, all the old stuff. When you listen to AC/DC, you’re not listening to rehashed Chicago blues. You’re listening to a new thing. They went through their fan stages, they love all that stuff. It informs everything they’ll do all their lives, but they dreamt up something of their own which is AC/DC. They cut themselves loose from their influences and dreamt up a new thing. That’s what you’ve got to do. At that point, and there is a certain point in Cold Chisel’s development where you do the same thing: we’re not writing from our record collection anymore. At that point what you do starts to become viable.

“There’s many bands out there that never reach that point,” he adds. “You can listen and you can map their record collection.”

Cold Chisel - Don Walker 03

With solo projects and families and lives to eat away their time, I wonder how far in advance the Cold Chisel machine needs to get working so as not to interfere with everyone’s schedules.

“That’s hard,” admits Walker. “Some guys are busier than others. Jim clearly has a pretty packed schedule. In any month of any year, he just does a lot. It’s less so with me – I have a more relaxed life. Ian will be somewhere in between. That means to plan time together we have to plan very, very much well out ahead. Yeah, it could take a year really to get far enough in advance that you can say we’re going to do some Cold Chisel stuff in this year, set aside some time. Pick these months, don’t book them in. We had two months at the beginning of this year, February and March, that were set aside. There’s pretty much three and a half months at the end of this year that are set aside for Cold Chisel. The rest of the time is our own.”

Walker may enjoy a “relaxed life’, but he’s far from idle.

“This year I’m just getting together everything that I’ve ever done with my solo stuff and with the Catfish albums and putting it out on vinyl,” he explains. “The artwork for all six albums was finished last Friday. I’ve got all the albums mastered for vinyl except for one, which I’m waiting for the one-inch tape machine to be shipped back from Sterling Sound in New York so that we can master We’re All Gonna Die for vinyl.”

As mentioned earlier, there’s also a new Cold Chisel album ready for release.

“Yes. We finished off recording an album in March,” he elaborates. “That’s been mixed through April and May. At the moment, we’re just trying to figure out a track listing. We’ve got eighteen songs, and we want to make it a twelve track album. Between the four of us we have to figure out which songs are going on. As we speak, we’ve got eleven songs on that album. The four of us are trying to figure out which of three songs is going to go into the last slot.”

In that situation what happens to those other four or five songs?

“They get put on the shelf,” says Walker. “They’re all mixed and mastered and they sound good. We’ve got a few on the shelf from recording in 2011. I don’t know… they’re sitting there. Sooner or later things always come out.”

Cold Chisel - Don Walker 02

Walker is confident that Chisel fans will be happy with the new material.

“It’s going to be a good one – what else am I going to say! I’m being honest with you,” he asserts. “Yes, it will be out before the tour, and we will be doing songs from that album live. It’s a rock and roll album – very conducive to live work.”

Category: Interviews

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