The Waifs have been humming slowly and strongly for the past 25 years. One of the country’s hidden treasures and at one time one of the most celebrated; here is a band whose integrity and commitment to their music and their community has seen them hold court for a quarter of a century. Now, come 2019 they are still going strong.
Josh Cunningham celebrates The Waifs for the family that the band has managed to create, both for themselves and for their fanbase whose numbers have grown since parents have been slotting cassettes into cars and introducing their kids to their stories.
I was introduced to The Waifs in a similar fashion. One of my earliest childhood memories is feeling the rush of excitement as my mum threw on their 2003 record Up All Night before any dinner party or barbeque. The CD sat alongside that of Kasey Chambers, Paul Kelly, TracyChapman and Harry Manx, The Waifs have remained a sound which I associate with home, with youth, holidays and my family.
Even to me now nearly twenty years on, here is a band who will never age, a sentiment which was quickly confirmed by Cunningham who chuckled as he revealed, “We get grandchildren now and third generation Waifs people because they were raised with it.”
I was full of questions when we began and had to actively try and steer clear of my own burning personal queries and stick to their upcoming shows at Woodford, The Twilight at Taronga series and their most recent record Ironbark.
For Josh Cunningham, Vikki Thorn and Donna Simpson their beginnings as independent music lovers and collaborative musos transitioned into a band whose common vision has lead them to have nurtured a 25-year long career. And counting. Plenty of marriages don’t last this long, so how do The Waifs keep the spark?
Josh paused with the question before starting slowly, “It’s maybe from not trying to
make it work? There’s a pretty natural chemistry musically and personally for us when we got together 25 years ago.
“It’s always felt natural, we like making music together, we like spending time together. That’s the hardest thing is not keeping together, it’s that we are apart for so long.”
The band has moved apart since their beginnings in Albany in Western Australia and are now scattered across the world, coming together to tour and record. Their most recent release, Ironbark, is significant not only because it is their 25th Anniversary record but also because the process of the album coming together was an homage to their beginnings.
As Cunningham lamented “It marks the occasion of our 25th anniversary and I’m quite proud of hanging together for that long, it’s a significant thing.”
The conversation steered towards their unique recording process for Ironbark and he gushed eagerly, “Typically you book a studio and you go in there and you have a couple of weeks to do it and the dollars are ticking over and it’s not a cheap thing to do. It can feel a bit forced and unnatural.
“In this instance we all came to my place, it’s not finished” Josh chuckled “But it was finished to the point where we could set up all of our gear and invite our friend and bring his recording equipment and set it up around us and really just hung out for a couple of weeks, played music and pressed record. It was really natural and organic…
“We didn’t come in with a plan of what we wanted to record and which songs, we didn’t know what each other had. But we just started playing each other our songs and there was a real kind of atmosphere to it… There was a joy of getting back to a simpler way of life,” Cunningham added, recalling the process as a throwback to the band’s early days.
The Waifs now stand as one of Australia’s most celebrated groups, and yet they have not
bent to the power of the political. Ever staying true to the small things, to their own stories and the simple moments in life it is this lack of indulgence that makes them so wonderful to
There’s no agenda, no one is saving the whales here and it’s refreshing.
“None of us is trying to write political songs to change the world or push an agenda. We’re just writing simple songs about our lives…I look out at the world, a lot of stuff going on seems very fearful, that’s the kind of fodder that sells news, it’s sensational and will elicit a response.
“I feel really manipulated when I’m absorbing a lot of that stuff and that energy,” Cunningham explained.
“Sometimes the best way to come against that is to not feed into it…. Even amidst
all the doom and gloom stuff, there is still so much that is amazing… there’s a lot to be optimistic and happy about in the world.”
I was sad to end our chat but in wrapping up our conversation Cunningham reflected warmly, “Being here 25 years later and be still doing it and it being more fulfilling and more enjoyable than I’ve ever felt it was before. That’s the highlight for me.
I was one of those kids at school and I was discouraged away from it because it’s not a reliable career. You need to do something responsible and something to fall back on when music inevitably fails.
“We never had any grand plans of ‘let’s go and be in a band, record or even write our own music’. It evolved in a very natural way and the fact that we can all have the life that we have and that it’s afforded us a livelihood as well.
“We get to do something really amazing for a living and I think that’s a real privilege,” he concluded.
The Waifs are a band who have toured with Bob Dylan and took out the ARIAS and have pulled through a quarter century of trends and waves in Australian music, and come out stronger and more significant than ever.
I continue to listen to their music after decades have passed and they will be one of the first bands I show my kids. The show will go on.
The Waifs – Twilight at Taronga 2019
February 14, Taronga Zoo, Sydney NSW
February 16, Taronga Zoo, Sydney NSW