Perth Singer/songwriter Nici Ward has worked through a few musical aliases and band names in her time, but her latest venture as Lonesome Dove seems more than a little suited – in name at least – to this isolated era.
“To be honest, we are doing okay,” Ward notes of a life lived well in terms of family and creativity… and iso. “We live up in the hills and for once living away from everything is serving us really well. Our kids (Ward and her husband Ben have two young boys) have a lot of space to run around and that makes things a bit easier.
“I had a major freak-out after the first two weeks, really missing my friends and all the normal things everyone is missing and I hadn’t fallen into a rhythm yet, but things seem to have become a new kind of normal and that’s okay. Just taking each day at a time.”
While having two boys in a row a couple of years apart understandably took Ward away from the creative focus she had known in the preceding years, she felt its return as they’ve both grown older. For some time Ward shared songs she had written as posts to her Instagram account, but that soon proved not to be enough to match her true productivity.
“I started to feel like the material was building into something more and my brain just started going into overdrive with the whole concept of what it could be. I had that name for a long time, it’s actually a mini-movie series from the late ‘80s I remember watching as a kid. Although the name hints to a country vibe, it’s not at all. It’s my ‘90s pop baby (laughs).
“I took a trip to Los Angeles last year and it cracked open a whole creative place in my brain; it really helped me to push myself and realise not to worry about what other people thought about what I was doing and to just make it my own. It’s so cliché, I know, but it was a really pivotal experience for me, personally.”
Though it’s primarily a solo project Lonesome Dove sees Ward collaborating with husband Ben (guitar/bass – Rinehearts, ex-Screwtop Detonators) and his bandmate Ross DiBlasio (drums, piano). Al Smith from Bergerk! brought his mobile studio for recordings to be made at the Ward residence. “I want to use Lonesome Dove as a platform to do things how I want,” she says, “but also to collaborate with other artists.”
Ward has just issued Lonesome Dove’s second single release, Parallel Life, a poppy number that draws aural images ranging from Julianna Hatfield or The Bangles to Gabriela Cilmi (to these ears, at least).
“It’s is basically about the hope that there’s someone out there living your perfect version of life and the hope that you’re going to find them to live that together,” Ward says. “Pining over someone through your phone and having an idea of what it’d be like to be with that person but it’s all caught up in your head. It’s not about the reality of it.
“I like to make up characters a lot when I’m writing, it’s not always about personal experience, but I guess I did tap into that teenage notion of romance and what that meant compared to what was probably the reality of the situation. I guess the girl in the story is kind of sad in a way, she’s lonely and fragile. But she’s also sassy and has a lot to give.”
The accompanying video clip is simple and so very effectively direct. Shot on phone camera at her home, and featuring cameos from her cat and dog (‘my pets are in everything. I’m obsessed with them, I think they just added to the charm of it. Also, they’re cute’.) it was an afternoon well spent.
“I wanted people to see the character in that video,” Ward explains. “To feel what’s going on in her head. It’s a bit manic, I had about an hour where the kids were watching a movie and Ben was away working, so I shut my bedroom door and just got stuck in. I wanted to use the same angle and get as much out of that as I could which I think gives it a bit of a claustrophobic feel. Not to mention I really like the DIY aspect of the project and it’s just me doing everything. So I just set my phone up on a tripod and ran the song a bunch of times and tried to just relay to the camera what I was trying to get across.
“I wanted to show her different personalities and emotions. And the process of her thinking, which is where it goes from ‘fun, happy girl’ to ‘I’m a crying mess’ pretty quickly. I think my boys were pretty confused when I emerged from my room with a face covered in smeared make up, I looked like The Joker!”
Growing up in a musical household herself, it was possibly a full circle moment for Ward. The daughter of Perth singer/songwriter/musicians Boyd Wilson and Denise DeMarchi, as well as the niece of Baby Animals singer/guitarist, Suze DeMarchi, she witnessed both the glam and grim of music life from an early age.
“Music was everything,” she recalls. “My upbringing was bright, colourful and transient. I was an only child up until the age of about 14, so I was around adults a lot. I think I went to a dozen different schools which luckily suited my personality as I’m pretty adaptable. I learnt to be very independent. I liked making new friends. I had very strong female role models.
“My mum is an excellent singer and she and my Dad were always playing and writing and touring. We moved to Sydney when I was about six. We lived in a flat in Bondi. It was very buzzy. We had beautiful friends as family there, all the kids growing up with parents in the industry. One kids parents were touring, the others were the catering for Michael Jackson, another doing makeup for the next big thing. I remember my Aunty Suze picking me up from school with Deni Hines, it was the ‘90s and the song L-O-V-E Love was a big deal at the time (laughs). I learnt a lot from people around me, not just about the industry, but about the value of relationships.
“But also it was a different time, you really saw how much it took and how hard people had to work to get where they wanted. I saw the sweat. Without sounding old, things just didn’t happen at the pace they do now, and it wasn’t expected to. You were expected to work. I think that set me up for having pretty real expectations of myself.”
Unsurprisingly, Ward was compelled towards, if not a music career, then a musical life. She followed in a certain amount of footsteps but was clearly intent on making her own.
“As a late teen I did a lot of commercial/pop work, working with other writers, my Dad, Boyd Wilson, Nuno Bettencourt (Extreme) and tried for a few publishing companies. I was also getting put forward for auditions for TV soap kinda stuff. I loved it all. I played a few solo shows and did some fill-ins for existing bands.”
It was fun and all, but as Ward puts it, a degree of teenage rebellion kicked in and she wanted to make her own moves. Welcome to the stage, Nici Blue Eyes…
“Nici Blue Eyes was something I started in about 2001,” she explains. “I went to Melbourne and played for a long time there in a band where I was writing the material. It was country, I loved Wanda Jackson and Dolly Parton and it was heavily influenced by that vibe. It was a lot of fun and I learnt so much. Just constantly playing so much teaches you a lot. And I had a lot of great opportunities playing up in Sydney, Big Day Out, supporting some great bands… The Super Suckers, Six Ft Hick, Graveyard Train and more.
“I loved that in Melbourne if you played country you’d still get put on the same bill as punk and rock’n’roll bands, it’s very inclusive there that way and I made some lifelong friends because of it. The band evolved with different members but I just got to the point where I wanted to do new things, change of scenery, whether that meant musically or otherwise I wasn’t sure at the time.”
Ward and Ben packed everything they hadn’t sold off into their ute and drove around Australia for six months, eventually making a return to Perth.
“After a few years of working out where we wanted to be and deciding to have a baby I was feeling pretty lost,” she reflects. “I think a lot of mums go through it, having a baby is such a sacrifice mentally and physically, and you end up just being this other person that you have to get to know. I knew I wanted to be playing again but I didn’t know how to go about it, really.
“I contacted Joe Bludge from The Painkillers who I’d known for years and we sat down and went through a bunch of songs I’d written. I love Joe as a songwriter, he’s very clever. We formed Petticoat Junkyard which was Joe, myself, his wife Sarah Norton playing bass and Adem K (Turnstyle) on drums. It was a cool little unit and I was just so grateful to be creating again. We put out an album and played some shows and then…. I had another baby (laughs). I took a long time out after my second child.”
Now, several years on, Ward says that home life is a balancing act. “The main goal always is that everyone is happy. Ben is a carpenter and runs his own business. I’m studying personal training at the moment and we have two kids in primary school. So, music for us is our joy, it’s our hobby and it’s something we are both passionate about.
“Only recently have we collaborated together and it’s been very interesting seeing how each other works in that way. I love that it’s constant learning. Being able to put your personal feelings aside and just learn from other people, creatively, is the best. I think we are both learning a lot from our kids too. Our youngest is music-obsessed and that’s been hilarious and incredible to watch, just letting him find his way and find the joy in it, and our oldest is a total mystery, he might end up being a zoo keeper or owning a pet shop he says (laughs) which is great! But there’s always music playing or being played.”
As for Lonesome Dove the future looks bright. Ward has several new songs in readiness for an EP release, including a track co-written with Ben Protasiewicz from Perth indie punk rockers, Pat Chow. The fulfillment that comes from playing and creating music is much its own reward when the world, in general, still faces unsteady times.
“I’m hoping Lonesome Dove ends up just being a constant vehicle for me to put music out and keep working with other people,” Ward reflects. “And as far as everything else goes it’s just day-by-day at the moment. We are so lucky where we live and it’s all about just working hard for what we love and enjoying it I think. So yeah, I think that’s it. Like us all I’m hanging to get back to live gigs! But it’s cool, it’ll all happen when it’s supposed to.”