Comedian Maria Bamford has a great line about her mental health struggles: “I'm not depressed, I'm paralysed by hope.”
Adelaide-based musician Nick Vulture and his debut solo album Dust Off The Trails is like a musical distillation of this concept – at times it gets pretty sombre, ruminating on feelings of disconnectedness and helplessness, but always with an eye to when things will be okay again.
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“I wrote a few of those songs when I was living in Melbourne, and especially during the lockdown period,” Vulture says. “I had my own things going on and then the lockdown on top of that as well, so it was a pretty rugged time. And then I came back home to Adelaide and wrote more. Where you can hear some of the emerging hope in some of the lyrics was probably when I was back home in Adelaide starting to thaw out from the whole Melbourne 2020 experience.”
Dust Off The Trails is a musical departure from The Molting Vultures, Nick’s garage punk band. He hesitates to describe the album as folk, but there are definite folk elements there, with everything anchored to the simple ideal of an acoustic guitar and a voice.
“I come from a garage punk background and so these songs are just so different. With the acoustic guitar, I can sit there and take my time with them and re-edit and think about the songs lyrically a lot more than what I used to. My garage punk stuff is very much surf-related punk with a hint of Radio Birdman, but this is completely different. I think if I’m gonna get up in front of people with just an acoustic guitar, I need to have something to say.”
Vulture’s acoustic brand of choice is Tasman Guitars. “The main one I use is the TA150O-E, and how that came about was that I was shopping around for a better acoustic when I came back home from Melbourne. I was starting to play more shows and I thought ‘I need a better guitar, but I’m not the best guitarist in the world so I don’t wanna spend a fortune either’. So I went into Derringer’s here in Adelaide and explained what I was thinking and looking for. I had seen the Tasman on their website and I was interested in that because it sounded good – as in, it read well. So they brought that out to me and for the price and the sound, well, to me the sound was as good as anything that was twice the price.”
The TA150O-E is a mid-sized, OE body shape with a solid mahogany soundboard and mahogany back and sides. It has a classic look, with vintage-styled Grover V97-18NA open tuners, understated small dot inlays, and elegant black and white multi-ply binding, but with a couple of tests in the form of an abalone rosette and an almost art deco geometric carve to the wings of the rosewood bridge. Amplification is afforded by a Fishman Presys II system with bass and treble controls, a phase switch and an easy-to-read tuner.
“It’s got a rich deep tone, is how I would describe it,” Vulture says. “There’s nothing tinny or light about it. That’s what got me straight away, even in the shop. And plugged in it’s just good. I am amazed by how many people have come up to me – it happens almost every single gig – and said, ‘What the hell is that you are playing? That sounds amazing’. They hadn’t seen the name before. And so I explain it and that’s what I told the guys at Tasman. I said, ‘You would be amazed at how many people come up to me and ask what this is’. They wanna know more about it. So I feel like now as an ambassador, I’m in a position where I can support that and get that word out a little bit more and start to direct people to this guitar’.”
Vulture also plays a Tasman TA100M-E Mini, a small-bodied GS shape with a shorter scale length, solid spruce top, and ovangkol back and sides. “I use that more at the moment. I haven’t had that for very long. I use that more around the house for rehearsals. But I do travel a fair bit for work and for gigs and stuff as well, so I’m thinking I’ll take that one on the road more. But the 150O is my go-to.”
The Tasman is the sonic centrepiece of Dust Off The Trails but it’s definitely not a ‘one voice and one guitar’ album. There’s plenty of augmentation, extra layers, and flourishes that lift the songs up to a more nuanced level.
“When I play live, I sometimes have a whole band, and other times I don’t. And it’s generally dictated by the size of the venue and the experience. So for some of the bigger shows I will bring an extra guitar in, a violin, maybe some brush drums, some harmony vocals, piano etc. And if it’s a small cafe, I’ll just do it on my own. So I feel like for the recording, I tried to layer it as much as I could and then occasionally pared that back. So not everyone who recorded every single song got on the final version.
“For me, acoustic guitar is the opportunity to tell a story,” Vulture continues. “I’m not a technically and overly proficient guitarist. I come from a garage punk background where I was a rhythm guitarist. And so what I do isn’t overly complicated or technical. But for me it’s more about the storytelling. And I think you can tell a story way better with acoustic guitar than with any other form of guitar. Like if I hear some of the influences that I listen to a lot at the moment like Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers and John Prime and people like that, I’m much more taken in when I’m watching them just playing acoustic because I can hear what they’re singing about and it’s got a nicer storytelling feel.”