Interview: Spinning Some Yarns With Jack Davies And His Coop of Bush Chooks
Updated: Nov 3, 2020
Jack Davies and the Bush Chooks are a merry band of musical miscreants from Perth who spend their days whimsically rolling around town collecting tattered metaphors, spirited folksy chords and a charming sense of witticism. Their fancifully meandering storytelling serves as a clever guise for the inherent power and emotion you are slapped with as they rumble into a venue. The band consists of the man himself as lead and primary songwriter, joined by Elise Hiatt, George Gare, Chet Morgan, Jack Annear and Hector Morlet on accompanying instrumentals.
For reference, this interview was conducted prior to the release of their debut EP Songs For A Long Walk for which they had a lovely release concert at Freo Social on 23 October which incidentally I attended and incidentally accosted Jack at prior to his performance (with the vigour and sloppiness of someone who has had a few too many cheap wines mind you – which incidentally, I had).
So Jack, if you read this I'm very sorry, but feel gratified that my penance was immediately served via the way I embarrassed myself in front of my friends by proceeding to sob during every single song. Well done sir.
Maybe we’re imposters, I’m not sure. These days I just think of us as chickens. Peck peck peck.
So, I’ve always been curious, can you tell me why “bush chooks” is the name your backing band has been lovingly dubbed? Is there a story involved or did it just roll off the tongue nicely?
Ah, well originally I wanted to form a busking band called the bush chooks, it was just a joke name. We jammed once for the busking band, but never really got round to jamming a second time. When we formed my actual band, I mentioned that name and it kinda stuck. I really wasn’t into it at first though and nearly changed it a few different times, but the enthusiastic reception the name seemed to get from strangers made me love it. Some people laughed when I told them the name (bush chooks is a colloquialism for emu, both the animal and the beer), others looked at me strangely… but I liked that. I liked that it was silly. I know there's more of a rowdy connotation to the phrase bush chooks, but considering how introverted, and somewhat awkward we are as people, it’s always been a bit hilarious to me to imagine people's expectations being ambushed when they hear our band name for the first time. Maybe we’re imposters, I’m not sure. These days I just think of us as chickens. Peck peck peck.
Where has been your favourite place/venue to perform?
It’s definitely too hard to pick. I think Nannup Festival and Fairbridge Festival are probably my favourite places to play. But it’s hard to say, sometimes the local pub is just as much fun to play at as an amphitheatre. I have a special love for Clancy’s Fish Pub in Freo.
Love has been described in so many different ways through music but likely never with your certain flair. Has anyone ever objected to being an “old tin roof that's been aged beautifully with rust” or being loved “like mould likes growing in an old cup of tea”?
Thankfully my songs have not been objected to. I know they’re maybe not the most romantic words, but this is me living in a share house as an 18 year old. There’s a lot of mould and rust, a lot of complex emotions, but these complex feelings and smells and sights in the cupboard are just as beautiful in my mind. Let the mould grow and the roofs be rusty! My loved one understands. I hope. Though she didn’t like the line about pushing laundry round with a broom, oops.
Speaking of, you seem to love a good metaphor – do these marvellously dilapidated mental images/things just catch your eye or do you have to actively seek them out?
I really don’t know to be honest, I definitely don’t seek out mouldy cups, they seem to seek me out. However, I do like writing that is a bit silly, and living in a messy share house provides endless inspiration.
Who are your ultimate music idols or artists you aspire to be like?
I love how Courtney Barnett uses sarcasm and humour, I’d love to be able to write like her. Also John Prine, for similar reasons.
I vividly remember driving to uni with my boyfriend one day a few years ago and seeing a charming little ditty called ‘Vegemite Sandwich’ pop up from his Spotify Discover Weekly playlist - we had a bit of a laugh at the title but were then struck silent throughout the entire song. We looked at each other and said “yep that's definitely a keeper” and have been avid fans ever since. How do you feel your music has evolved since that first single? Is your wonderful style of meandering, monologue songwriting something you had to evolve into or has it been this style from the get go?
I think getting into poetry as a teen kinda spurred it on. It’s definitely evolved over time, but the desire to write lyrically focused songs has been there since the start. Not that I was very good at writing lyrics, I just wanted to be. I used to be quite rigid in my writing, I think I’m a lot more loose now. In the future I want to ramble more and more.
I come from quite a privileged Euro-Australian background, so I don’t really have any authority to speak over anyone else, but with that privilege does come a responsibility to do what I can to amplify marginalised voices, and help contribute to change.
A lot of your songs are quite personal and reflective. Do you feel a bit vulnerable releasing these sorts of tracks into the world or performing them openly to a crowd?
Yeah I guess so. I love playing emotionally charged songs live, I get to thrash my guitar a bit and let out some energy. Sometimes my hands get cut up when I strum too hard and it gets emotional. But I get quite anxious and introverted about recordings, they’re a lot more permanent. I definitely have a few songs I play live that I don’t think I’ll record. Australian music seems to have a wonderful culture where loads of bands and artists are friends and so supportive – who would you name as your favourites in the Aussie music scene?
Ah, everyone is indeed so supportive and friendly. Especially in Perth, it’s so small that everyone pretty much knows each other, and everyone wants each other to do well. Superego gave us and other crew heaps of advice before BIGSOUND last year which was so cool of them, I think a lot of younger crew look up to them in Perth, and all the other bands playing were so supportive of each other. Around WA bands like Butter, Spacey Jane, Siobhan Cotchin, Noah Dillon and too many to name are all out there looking out for one another.
Some of your tracks have quite a frustrated political leaning (ie. Prime Minister, Vegemite Sandwich). Was this more for your own catharsis or something else?
Well it just makes me deeply uncomfortable living in somewhere like Australia that is literally built on injustice, genocide and theft of land. With a government that still acts like assholes about it, with no real commitment to making things better. I come from quite a privileged Euro-Australian background, so I don’t really have any authority to speak over anyone else, but with that privilege does come a responsibility to do what I can to amplify marginalised voices, and help contribute to change. I don’t feel that I’m doing enough of that yet, but it’s something I’m actively working on. Donating, protesting and sharing content. The crossover between that activism and the process of songwriting can be difficult though. Personally some of those old frustrated songs have just been about myself getting pissed off at people like Peter Dutton and Tony Abbott. But I didn’t really know what to do about it other than writing. So it was more cathartic I guess, but I want to be able to use songs in the future for a greater impact.
If you could create your ideal festival, and it's the last live gig you could ever attend, who would you pick to be headliners? They can be alive or dead, but maybe limit it to just a few.
For the festival I’d just pick artists that I’d love to see live, a wild mix but... maybe Etta James, Otis Redding, Santana, a young BB King, and to throw in some contemporaries… Tedeschi Trucks Band, Hayley Hendrix and Tropical Fuck Storm. A wild mix but I would die to seem em all on a lineup. What a dream.
What is your favourite song to cover live?
I love playing a minor version of 'You Are My Sunshine'. It can sound rather bluesy and dark when we play it as a band, we just learned it to add to the repertoire for longer regional shows but it quickly became a favourite.
Do you have any themes or ideas you would love to tackle in your songwriting that you haven’t quite fleshed out or got around to yet?
I would love to be able to share more positive messages, both political and personal. Sometimes I worry my songs are too dark and introspective rather than positive and extrospective.
Was there a particular song or even just a line you've written that you were particularly proud of or hold quite close?
I think 'Rosemary Mushrooms' and 'Some Things Don’t Last a Very Long Time' are two songs that I am proud of. The lyrics just feel more natural and honest to me, and have a good dose of humour wrapped around all the darker bits. Jokes make darkness easier to manage and I like how it works in those songs. “It could be your ice-cream in the afternoon sun, it could be your cornflakes losing their crunch”.
And the quintessential final interview question – what’s next for you and the bush chooks?
It’s a bit of a tricky time to say, we had two national tours canceled this year so we’re really just keen to hit the east coast again as soon as we can. In the meantime we’ll be working on getting some vinyl done, recording new music, and trying to stay happy!
Thank you so much for your time Jack! Can’t wait to have a geez at your new stuff!
Thank you very much for having us!