If you haven't seen Jeff Lang play his rootsy, low-down blues live, then you've almost certainly passed through a town that has. Across over 20 years in the game, Lang is one of the country's most celebrated bluesmen, as well as one of its most prolific. 2017 sees Lang arrive at solo album number 12, entitled Alone in Bad Company. On the line from his home in Melbourne, Lang begins his conversation with Mixdown detailing what drives the album cycle from his own creative perspective.
“For me, it starts with this antsy feeling,” he says. “It's this sense of restlessness that I get when I want to hear a certain type of record that I'm not hearing anywhere. It dawns on me that I should be the one making that record, and that usually coincides with an accumulation of material I've been writing that fits the bill. When I look at everything that I've written since the last record came out, whenever that might have been, there's almost always an album's worth of material on there. Sometimes, there's even more. It's a matter of looking at what groups together well. I come from an era of listening to full albums, so I tend to think of how it works as a start-to-finish piece. I know there's more focus on a song-by-song thing now, with downloading and all, but that's just not the kind of music I make.”
Alone in Bad Company, as the title suggests, is a Jeff Lang solo record in its truest sense. Recorded in part in Lang's own outback shed, the album is written, performed, arranged, produced, recorded and mixed by the man himself. “I wanted to kind of give off the idea of me being in a bunker on this record,” he says. “Usually, what I'll do is assemble a band together, we'd go in and track everything live and then have a block of time after that to mix everything. This time around, I decided it would be fun to record and then mix that song on the day it was recorded. I'd record until I felt a song had reached a conclusive arrangement, and then finish the mixing once I was in the headspace of that particular song. My focus was to play everything on this record. I bent and broke that rule for only one song, which was 'Palmera Lad'. The song had reached a certain point, and I knew that its missing piece was drums. I had to admit to myself that I wasn't good enough on drums to lay down what was required, so I bit the bullet and called up my mate Danny McKenna to help me out.”
It also wouldn't be a Jeff Lang record without an impressive collection of guitars. Lang is a well-experienced and noted player of many different styles, all of which are incorporated into his music. For Alone in Bad Company, Lang was adamant in making sure that his selected instrument fit the bill for the kind of song that he was going for.
“There's all sorts of guitars on this thing,” he says. “There are a few songs on the record that were entirely recorded on an acoustic lapsteel that David Churchill made for me. There's also the old Airline Resonator, that's on the front cover of the album. I played the song ‘Burnside’ on that one. There's a fretless acoustic guitar solo on ‘Drive All Night’, which is played on a guitar that was built by a guy in Melbourne called Tim Cahill. It's got an aluminium neck, so it's got a really different timbre to it and adds a lot to the sound.
“‘Half My Luck’ is done on an old Harmony Mandolin. I picked up a Fender Coronado hollow-body for one of the songs too. That's a lovely instrument from the 60s – really clean and warm sounding. There's also a solid-body electric Gretsch, with a couple of old Fender wide-range humbucking pickups in it. It gets a really good biting sort of sound, which is interesting. You don't always want the same sound – in fact, what might technically sound the best might not be the kind of tone that the song requires.”
Now that Alone in Bad Company is in the can, Lang is intending to celebrate the only way he knows how - touring. Not content with the capital cities alone, Lang tends to tour for months at a time; visiting plenty of remote and regional stops along the way. “It feels like I've done almost every other stretch of road in this country, but I'm sure there's more out there,” he says.
Alone In Bad Company by Jeff Lang is out now through ABC Music.