Gypsy fiddle and Flamenco, The Beatles and The Kinks, quality and quantity, Civil Duskdecision and consequence; Bernard Fanning takes us through the making of his new album, Civil Dusk.

The first thing you hear on Bernard Fanning’s new album sounds like a harmonium. At the beginning of opener Emerald Flame, it slides in and expands like a bellows, and then it follows Fanning’s voice, floating warmly and weirdly like heavy smoke in reverse. But it’s not a harmonium – it’s a guitar, filtered through a pedal, and played by Powderfinger guitarist Ian Haug – and it’s not the only thing that isn’t as it seems across the dynamic, rollicking instrumentation on Civil Dusk.

Are those castanets in the second verse of belter What A Man Wants? “That’s Dec – he’s playing spoons,” Fanning smiles, intimating percussionist Declan Kelly. Is that you and Dec in the syncopated clap breakdown on single Wasting Time? Nope, it’s Bernard’s Flamenco singer and dancer mates, who came in to his Byron Bay studio to contribute. (I guess when your wife is Spanish you get to have Flamenco dancer friends?) “It was f-cking awesome! ‘Cause there’s a real skill to it: the shape of your hand, the velocity and everything, there’s this and that, up here, middle-palm, the fat part of your hand,” Fanning says, holding his own dukes out to demonstrate the manoeuvres.

(“I’m not very good at playing real subtleties with my hands – that’s why I’ve never been a very good guitar player or piano player,” he insists. “I can keep the groove really well, I can play them functionally and can write, but I’m absolutely a jack of all trades.”)

And on standout L.O.L.A., the wheeling solo of an instrument your brain wants to tell you is electric guitar reveals itself as a fantastically emotive violin, searing across the song’s chords with abandon. “The thing I love about it is the note that starts it,” Fanning enthuses. “It sounds like it’s going to be a shredding guitar but then it’s a gypsy fiddle. That’s Sally-Anna Campbell, who is in my band now.” Fanning takes a moment to praise Campbell’s style of musical comprehension and application: “It’s so great having people like that to work with, that have that commitment and ability as well. That combination is really important: the diligence to work really hard but also the ability to come up with great ideas.”

Despite these details, which Fanning adores explaining and exploring, the fundamental simplicity to the man’s writing – which we heard throughout his previous solo records, Tea and Sympathy (2005) and Departures (2013) – is so important. It’s essential all the way down to the wire of formulating the structural spine for this album and its companion, Brutal Dawn, which is due out February 2017.

“Nick [DiDia, Fanning’s producer and long-time buddy] and I [believe] there’re so many records now that are just overdone,” Fanning explains. “There’s too much information. There’s not enough editing that goes on in terms of the way that people should look through their own material and go, ‘This is absolutely the best that I have to present.’ So that was our idea: We said ten [tracks] or less, rather than ten or more.” However (“and it’s not a terrible problem”), the songs kept spilling out, and after discussion with Fanning’s manager and label honcho they decided to go with two records. But it wasn’t about grouping the tracks by style: “We were thinking, should we go for a folky side and a rock side? But it worked better to… almost have a lyrical thread.”

Thematically, the two records ended up following a parable of decision and consequence – and it wasn’t intentional, in the beginning. “These were just the things that were starting to come up,” says Fanning. “Generally, most things I’ve written about throughout my life have happened to me, personally. But with these [new tracks], I’ve used the same voice – the same vehicle – but they’re not necessarily things that’ve happened to me personally. They’re more things that I’ve witnessed. The initial idea was of being in my forties now, and looking back at decisions I’ve made maybe as a teenager, then in my 20s, and how they’ve impacted me down the years. Some of them were big decisions that had very little impact, and there were others that were small decisions that had massive impacts. It’s how those things manifest themselves,” he says. “Your everyday life, your internal life – it’s both. It’s all mixed up in a big spaghetti. But that’s kind of the way life is.”

That’s the subtle pasta puzzle of Civil Dusk: that there are unexpected connections between songs and within songs (and there’ll likely be plenty more to discover with the release of Brutal Dawn), and it’s more rewarding the more you listen. Fanning speaks about track four, Restless, and the line that’s most important to him – “Can you explain?” – rather than the most obvious lyrical hook, “How could you be so reckless?” He feels the most pertinent lyric is the protagonist’s need to hear the antagonist explain the reasoning behind their behaviour, rather than just rhetorically castigating the action. “When you write something and you put it out there, you think that there’s a key thing in there that is actually the thing that unlocks the whole story, right. I think the secret to writing records where you can keep getting value out of them as a listener over time, is that maybe what someone hears the first time… well, after the hundredth time, or hopefully the thousandth time maybe, [something else] will manifest itself as the important line,” he says.

“That happens for me with Beatles songs. A lot of the time when you know a song so well, like Strawberry Fields Forever, you don’t even listen to the words, you’re just singing along wishing you were John Lennon. But then something pops out at you. That’s one of the fantastic things about The Beatles; it’s kind of like the golf of music, you can never get to the end of it. You’ll never beat it. Like ‘Oh, I’m finished now – Beatles are done. I’ll move on to The Kinks.’ You’ll never have ‘done’ The Beatles.”

Civil Dusk is out August 8 via Dew Process/Universal. 

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