It wouldn’t be fair to say that The Greencards were about to hit the panic button, but after five albums and two Grammy nominations, the Austin-based band were starting to get a little concerned when writing for their latest album just wasn’t flowing like it normally did.
“It was a battle, but I think it’s something worth fighting for,” said co-founder Kym Warner. “It certainly wasn’t coming for a while there. We just started writing and we said we’re not going to force it. The last thing we’re going to do it force songs and put together a sub-par album and put that out there, because that’s the worst thing you can do. We’d rather not do a record than do that. But eventually, we had a brain wave, and Carol had the genesis to come up with “Black, Black Water” and that just paved the way for the rest of the record.”
That record, Sweetheart of the Sun, doesn’t sound like a band struggling to find material. In fact, it’s one of the strongest collections of the band’s career, and like Warner pointed out, the smashing of the writer’s block came from his co-founder (and fellow Australian) Carol Young.
“‘Black, Black Water’ was a response to an older album of ours, (2005’s) Weather and Water,” said Warner. “We wrote that song and just started throwing the idea around. Carol said can we do a themed record; can we base the whole record, and not just one song, around water and travel, motion, things that are so close and dear to us? And it’s really satisfying to sit back now and think, wow, we were able to put a record together as a collection written, designed, performed, and to be listened to as a whole. So we’re really quite satisfied that we were able to go from struggling to get songs together to having a whole collection of music.”
Thursday night, the band touch down in New York City for a gig at The Cutting Room, another stop on a tour that will take them through April of next year. And when it comes to the response to the new album, it’s been unanimous.
“It’s been really positive and we’ve got a great response,” said Warner. “Radio’s gone well and the new songs have been going over great live, which is always a good feeling. We worked really hard on getting these songs together and putting this album out, and then to go out and play songs that people are enjoying live, that’s been really good.”
In the midst of their second decade, the rise of The Greencards has been an unlikely one, if you consider where they came from and where they eventually made their mark. Let’s face it, you don’t hear of too many bluegrass bands coming out of Australia, though to be fair, the band’s sound is far from traditional. And when it comes down to it, the fact that they weren’t placed in the traditional bluegrass box may have helped them gain a wider following faster.
“When we first started playing in Austin, I thought, how are these people gonna take this?” he laughs. “We’re a bunch of foreigners and we were playing straight-up American bluegrass or old-school country folk. We were a cover band back then because we had no original songs, but they really took to us, and then I think it helped us not being pigeonholed into any strict traditional genre because of where we come from. And it’s helped that the music isn’t straight-up one avenue either.”
In a lot of ways, this could have only happened here, at least in the early stages of the band’s career, because there simply wasn’t the structure set up in Australia for a group like this. Warner says that the scene is growing a bit these days though, and that’s a hopeful sign for roots music fans Down Under, even if a true explosion is still on the horizon.
“I’m not sure the population is there, and I’m not sure the market’s there for roots music to have a career as sustainable as the one that we’ve been able to forge for ourselves here,” he said. “There’s just not that many places to play. It’s getting better, and there are younger bands that I know and friends that are playing, and they’re pushing a bit of a new wave of acoustic music and that’s a good thing. But I don’t know the extent to which we would have been able to tour and the way we would be able to tour in Australia. We wanted to be playing more music on our terms than what we were back home, but there’s a better chance right now than there certainly was when we came over here 12 years ago.”
In March, the triumphant heroes will return home to play in Australia, an opportunity that will undoubtedly be another highlight in a career gaining more and more of them with each passing year. On Thursday, it’s the Big Apple, and The Greencards can’t wait.
“It’s always an exciting time,” Warner said of playing here. “There’s an extra anticipation when you’re playing New York and you’ve got to be on your game.”
The Greencards play The Cutting Room on Thursday, October 24. For tickets, click here