When Cold Chisel were first kicking off in the late 70s, its members were invested in the band itself and only the band. In 2019, however, it's a different matter entirely.
Vocalist Jimmy Barnes just came off a tour in support of his album My Criminal Record, while guitarist Ian Moss is still on the road at the time of print to commemorate the 30th anniversary of his Matchbook LP. Throw in pianist Don Walker maintaining a prolific solo career and drummer Charley Drayton maintaining stateside session work, it's a miracle Chisel are able to get anything done.
“It's all about creating windows,” says Walker. “We set one aside for recording, and another for touring. The one for recording is generally much easier, because typically we only need three weeks maximum to get one done.
“In fact, I think we were able to get it done in a lot less time for this album. That's in contrast to the time we need to set aside to go out on tour – we're normally booking some 12 to 18 months in advance, most of the time.”
Moss also notes the gratitude he has for the position Cold Chisel find themselves in.
“It's not like it was back when we started – none of us exactly have day jobs to worry about anymore,” he says. “We always make sure we have plenty of time together, but to make it all coincide with our lives outside the band can make it a little tricky.
“You have to keep the cycles as separate as possible, too – when we were touring in support of [previous album, 2015's] The Perfect Crime, the idea of writing a new record couldn't have been further from our minds. It's only after the dust settles you can really start to think about what's next.”
With this, we arrive at Blood Moon, Chisel's ninth LP. Like 2012's No Plans and The Perfect Crime before it, there's a rumble of the band's pub-rock past in amidst the slicker production – a feeling that the Cold Chisel experience is one that's very much lived-in, as opposed to attempting to cheaply imitate their glory days. One can narrow this down to the songwriting expertise at work within the fold of the band – particularly that of Walker, who wrote a lot of what you hear on Blood Moon.
“We all really know one another's space, and the way we each approach singing and songwriting,” he says. “Most of this album was the product of co-writing between a combination of two of us within the band. The songs were brought to the band pretty much complete, but there's room within each sketch for individual self-expression.
“Songs are written with the knowledge of how the other members will react to it, and it's when we get that exactly right we're able to create something with the signature sound of the band,” Moss explains. “We're not about putting anyone in a straitjacket.”
When queried on his own songwriting dynamic with Walker, Moss notes there's an unspoken understanding of how the other operates that allows for the two of them to create something that plays to their strengths – be it a hard-hitting rocker or a pensive ballad.
“Take a song like 'Out of the Fire,' for instance,” he says, alluding to a single from Matchbook. “I'd been working all night on it, and I knew I needed to stop working after I saw the sun coming up. When Don came in, he was able to give it a really strong twist – particularly in the lyrics and in the middle-eight. He came to the rescue! That's the way we've always worked – if you have something that inspires you, a thread to pull upon, Don will be the one to really get the best out of it.”
Blood Moon was tracked at Studios 301, located in Sydney's inner-west. For Walker, being the band's piano player is a role he takes very seriously – and, in the case of the studio, literally.
“I'll do demos on a keyboard, but never in the studio,” he says. “We have two pianos set up – there's a grand piano, which belongs to the studio, and there's a $700 saloon piano that I bought and got set up. As massive as the studio grand is, I never touch it. My piano is remarkable – I've been using it since The Perfect Crime, and I also tracked it on the last Tex, Don & Charlie album. For me, there's nothing quite like strings and hammers on a real piano.”
As for Moss, he's been playing guitar long enough to know exactly what he wants to get out of his set-up.
“I've only got a few guitars – I've never been the type to go all out for a collection,” he says. “I've got a couple of Gretsch guitars, a couple of Strats and a couple of homemade ones that were made by Greg Fryer. The pickups on those are made by a guy called Rob McQueen – he's not even a guitar player, but he makes these fantastic pickups.
“ I run those through either one of my Marshalls or one of my Hiwatts. It all depends on the tonal variations, or what tuning I'll be in. Whether you can pick any of that just from listening to the record, though... I have no idea.”