With a well-received debut EP, Holiday Dream, and a new single release, Three, both released in 2019, singer/songwriter Clay Western finds himself in a confident position staring into a brand new decade.
Western was pre-disposed to a musical existence. Whether it be listening to Elton John on an old tape player in his mother’s car as they drove around Denmark, or hearing his musician father’s predilection for the singer/songwriterly stuff of Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, and an Aussie rock diet led by Paul Kelly, the embrace and escape of playing music was soon to be his.
“I started singing when I was about 15 and I also played trombone,” Western recalls of his high school years. “I realised that trying to sing and play trombone was a bit much to ask, and I was listening to a lot of folk so guitar seemed the natural choice.”
Western’s voice was ‘discovered’ at high school, when, as a member of a choir ensemble he was repeatedly asked to perform solo pieces. Soon gaining confidence as a featured vocalist, and inspired by the folk-stylings of Sunshine Coast singer/songwriter, Ziggy Alberts, he was soon compelled to write and perform his own songs.
“I always put little twists on other people’s songs when I first started learning them and realised that you can make a song the way you want to make it,” he says of his early leaning towards songwriting. “I just started writing songs from that, it just seemed a natural thing that as a musician you wrote your own songs.
“I realised how rewarding it was to write your own stuff and the feeling that you get when you write a song then perform it and people react to the song that you’ve written. It’s hard to beat that feeling.”
Western, at that point yet to finish school, was soon busking around Denmark and picking up venue gigs whenever possible. It was a wonderful place to begin and grow as a musical artist.
“It’s an incredibly supportive and creative community,” he says fondly of Denmark. “Because you know so many people they’re always asking how your music is going and they’ll come along to your gigs or say hello when you’re busking or whatever. Then you start collaborating with other artists out there and jamming. It was a very supportive culture around music.”
He was motivated and driven from the get-go, embarking on a solo path. “Stuff comes together if you just back yourself,” Western notes, and indeed it’s since been proven. At the age of 16 he supported indie-surf-gypsies Caravãna Sun in Denmark, striking up a friendship with guitarist/vocalist, Luke Carra, which eventually led Western to record a debut EP in Sydney in the months after he graduated from high school.
With Carra producing and Ian Pritchett (The Beautiful Girls/Angus & Julia Stone) engineering, that EP, Holiday Dream, was released in January, 2019, and set Western on a path forward marked by both commitment and learning.
“It feels like a long time ago,” he says of recording the EP and its subsequent release. “I feel like, ‘those songs are out there, what next?’ For the first time in a studio with a set of songs, I’m pretty stoked with how they turned out. I went in the studio totally green and have learnt so much since.”
Keen to utilise those lessons, Western recently released a new single, Three. Fittingly, Three considers moving forward with a mindful grasp of the past. It’s not so much about regrets, as reflection…
“It’s about learning from your mistakes but not seeing them as mistakes,” Western explains, “more as fond memories from which you should appreciate for what you’ve learnt from them. I feel that shows, lyrically and stylistically, through the various elements of the song.”
“I think Three is definitely more a step in the direction that I want to take,” he says. “You’re always progressing as a writer, as an artist and as a musician in general, so you’re never quite certain what the next step is gonna be, but I’m pretty stoked with how this came out in comparison to the first songs on the Holiday Dream EP.”
Indeed, the growing confidence does shine through, the track being something of a bridge towards new songs that will be unveiled in 2020 exploring mellow and dreamier climes.
“I’m always into the next thing,” Western says with a laugh. “I’m very in the moment at the moment.”
Fittingly, it’s 2020 vision from here. There’s been a lot of experience earned already and much more yet to taste.
“Since moving from Denmark to Fremantle last year I’ve been doing a lot of groundwork in making friends, going out to gigs and feeling a part of the scene,” he notes.
“I feel like it’s been a nice way to end the decade – sort of establishing myself in Perth and feeling like I can continue to grow into the start of a new decade, while keeping in touch with Denmark and my old friends. I feel I’m getting to where I want to be and looking back on the last year I feel I’ve come a long way as a person and as an artist.”
Clay Western performs at Mojos on Wednesday, February 26, with support from Jackson Carroll and Paige Valentine – https://www.facebook.com/events/1444355379048306/ …and at Nannup Music Festival, February 28-March 2, full details at www.nannupfestival.org.