Transparency and the revelation’s of one’s past are sometimes where artists find themselves and inspiration. After sometime creating their art and showing the world their feelings, thoughts and observations, they can more often than not tread a path revealing many inner truths of what brought them to where they are today.
Jimmy Barnes and his brand new 17th solo Album “My Criminal Record” sits comfortably within this notion. Jimmy is a household name and rock icon of Australia, with a blistering and iconic sound that is so uniquely his own.
Music that defines and highlights the many facets of Australian life. Be it the darker and unsavoury elements of our society or the more hopeful, prideful and love-filled moments of living a simple life in the lucky country.
My Criminal Record released earlier this year gives the listener a chance to feel and hear an artist that has gone through the disclosure of the most profound kind, and in turn, gives us an album of irrefutable honesty and emotion.
We were fortunate enough to find time with the man himself and discuss the Album, and its creative processes ahead of his national tour.
Your 17th solo studio Album has recently been released; it’s a great feat by any standard. Did the creative and productive process for this Album differ from the rest we have seen and heard?
Not a huge deal no. The most significant difference I think is that it has and holds a lot more honesty about who Jimmy Barnes is and his background. The title is obviously “My Criminal Record”, and with it, I am baring a lot of emotion around the past, my demons and how I then come to term with that today. The Album is very in your face, and I didn’t want it to hold back either. It’s raw and hard-hitting with its content and themes, or as much of my music has done in the past, but there’s just more honesty with this one.
Can you let us in on what the creative process looks like for you for the inception of a song and coming up with lyrics?
It can vary from song to song, but more than often it’s an easy process. I get inspiration for lyrics from everywhere. Things I hear, thoughts that I have. Even just sat having a cup of tea. Many a time I have woken up in the middle of the night, gotten up and written something down that I have dreamed about or has come to mind. I carry a notebook with me most places these days, or I just jump on my phone where I write these thoughts or feelings down. I’ll be sat alone in an airport somewhere hunched over my phone looking like I’m absorbed in something or writing a message, but there I am writing down lyrics. After that, I work with Don (walker) and the band; it usually comes together relatively easy.
A greater part of this Album was written whilst there was a big focus on your two recent memoirs Working Class Boy and Working Class Man, does the Album share the sentiment of these two books?
Without a doubt. What writing the books did as well as the documentary gave me an incredible feeling of freedom. I had come out about the kind of childhood I had witnessed with the excessive drinking, domestic violence and the turbulent upbringing that came with that. Luckily one of the things that my trauma, as a child, made me was hyper-vigilant. I used to be hyper-vigilant and defensive and guarded; now I’m vigilant about those demons.
The Songs Stolen Car pt. 1 and pt. 2 help define that feeling, actually writing the songs often gave me a feeling of being like a stolen car that is being driven crazily and out of control, something that was commonplace in my early career. Belvedere and cigarettes is another where I explore that theme of escapism through alcohol, cigarettes and perhaps even drug use; most people have that desire to lose themselves in differing substances and to all differing levels.
The Album is fairly raw and honest, was there ever a consideration that this style of Jimmy Barnes wouldn’t be received well?
Most of my music is either one or the other or sometimes both. To answer the question though, no not really. When I made this Album it was from a place of openness and enjoyment and as long as you really believe in what you are doing, love what you do and do it from the heart, then the success is merely the icing on the cake.
The track Shutting down our town comes across as the most heartfelt on the Album, and comes across as a darker and grittier version of working-class man would you agree?
Yeah, without a doubt. That was and is the sentiment behind the song, and it is about Elizabeth in Adelaide, where I grew up. The closing down of the Holden factory there was a major contributing factor to that song coming together, but I think the track speaks about a lot of towns similar to Elizabeth where there was a crisis or work ran out, and there was a real struggle. ‘It’s the darker side of Australia that we sometimes forget or unfortunately choose to ignore.
The closing song for the Album is a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Tougher than the rest”, what does this song mean to you and why is it there?
It means a great deal to me. It’s a really heartfelt song about being flawed, and how someone can still love you through that, you know? It actually was released around the time that Jane and I were struggling the most with my behaviour we’d be having parties, or people would be around, and every time, I’d turn it up and sing along with it. I’d sing it to Jane – “If you’re rough enough for love, baby, I’m tougher than the rest” – don’t give up on me now. I’m flawed, but I’m here was what I was saying. I saw Bruce performing this at a live show with his wife a few years back now, and the whole performance was just something else.
Your upcoming tour “Shutting down your town” has you performing at some major venues for the very first time as well as a return to the Hordern Pavilion in Sydney for the first time as a solo artist since 1989. What can we expect?
I love performing. The band and myself are just going to go and smash it out at each venue, with plenty of energy and simply belt it out and give people a great performance! I’m careful to mix in my new music with the obvious old favourites, I think it’s a shame when artists fully focus on their new music at performances, so the favourites will definitely be in there too. I’m particularly looking forward to performing at HOTA on the Gold Coast I’ve heard it’s a smaller more intimate venue, I like those style of venues as you can almost make eye contact with everyone there. There’s something cool about being able to ‘look em in the eye’ as a performer!
This article originally appeared in the 51st Issue of gcmag
Photography: Jesse Lizotte