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Sam Carmody

Darwin based songwriter  Sam Carmody is a double-threat wordsmith. The NT Song of the Year finalist is also a highly acclaimed novelist – but it’s his musical stylings that will be celebrated this month when he joins the line-up for Live on Fridays.

Carmody spoke to Off The Leash about how he stokes both literary fires. 

 By Liz Trevaskis

Can you tell us a bit about the  style of music you play?
To be dramatic about it, which I’m prone to, music for me occupies a kind of emotional flood plain. 
I tend to write about everything that I’m overwhelmed by, the things I fret about, the things that can’t easily be intellectualised or contained by neat sentences, or even really by words themselves.

I don’t tend to write music when I’m clear-headed and have something coherent to say, I go to my guitar when I’m literally lost for words. So I guess it’s a pretty emotive style of folk music. Yearning. Looking for answers. Trying to make sense of things. 

Who are the musicians you grew up listening to? Have they had an influence on your musical journey?
In our house there was a lot of folk music – Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell. All were certainly huge influences on me. Then Mum and Dad went through that classical phase in the 90s that a lot of boomers did, listening to Pavarotti. I became obsessed with these big, operatic arias that were all about love as matters of life and death. ‘Nessun Dorma’ was my favourite tune – which probably explains a lot about why my songs are as emotional as they are. 

When you’re not writing songs, you’re writing critically acclaimed novels. The Windy Season won the 2017 Readings Prize for new literature, judged by Australian author Christos Tsiolkas. What’s it been like to have such a wonderful reception to your work?
I was elated by the response from Tsiolkas because he is a hero of mine. But I’ve also tried my best not to get too attached to praise or criticism, as hard as that is – both can be fatal. The worst thing is for a writer to write towards praise, or to write in an attempt to avoid criticism.

I think an artist’s obligations are primarily to truth – being true to themselves and to how they experience the world, without fear about how that will be received by others.

Do you have a first love when it comes to writing? Song writing or writing fiction? And how do you make sure you tend to both of these creative outlets? 
When I was younger, I always wanted to be a painter. I think music does something very similar. Its language is more emotional than intellectual. It detects light and shadow and colour. I think I’m more emotional than logical by nature, which makes music come more easily. 

When something tragic happens, our instinct isn’t to rush to analyse how the situation arose, but first to emotionally respond to it. To cry or rage – which is music, I think. And when we are truly at our limits, emotionally speaking, it can be impossible to digest words on a page. Sometimes the only thing we can understand in that kind of moment is a song.

As for tending to both writing and song writing, that happens at very different times of the day. I write first thing in the morning when my mind is clear and empty. And I’ll pick up the guitar towards the end of the day, when the brain and heart is heavy and overfilled and when the banks have burst again. 


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