Tim Wheatley: On his new album and fifteen-year career

Posted by Aphra Magazine on 17/9/15.

Tim Wheatley is a folk rock singer from Melbourne. He has most recently been electrifying the alt-rock scene with a national tour celebrating his new album,Cast of Yesterday, and single, ‘Valerie’. Both contain his personal Australian twist—developed throughout his fifteen-year journey as a musician—with a signature country twang. The new album was recorded at Sing Sing Studios in Melbourne, and showcases Tim’s smooth vocals and beautiful lyricism. Aphra had a chat to Tim about the ideas and writing process behind Cast of Yesterday and ‘Valerie’, his long and sometimes arduous career, and about what makes him tick.

Growing up in a musical family, Tim was inspired from a young age by the instruments all around his house. ‘I really got serious when I was about fourteen or fifteen and started a band called Avenue,’ he says. ‘We eventually turned into the Sparrows, and then ended up with Sony. We moved to the UK for about a year and then recorded an album in the United States over there.’ The album, however, didn’t get the recognition it deserved. ‘It sort of got shelved by Sony there for a little while and the band disintegrated. You all sit around going, “well, where did we go wrong? Is the album not good?”’

However, the band eventually acknowledged that it was nobody’s fault, and things changed when they evolved from a pop rock sound to blues, and then started up a new band called Rushcutter. He then left Rushcutter in order to embark on his own solo journey, and acknowledges that only now is he telling everybody about these bands for the first time. ‘My bass player put it very well, he said “Tim Wheatley is celebrating fifteen years of pain for play”,’ Tim laughs. ‘Now I’ve ended up back with Sony; we’ve mended bridges and started a new path together.’

If Tim could describe Cast of Yesterday in one word, he would use ‘nostalgic’. ‘It’s looking back and looking over my shoulder at the people that helped me along my fifteen year path here,’ he says. ‘Most of the songs were written directly after I quit Rushcutter… The song “Cast of Yesterday” was written about me travelling immediately afterwards, so I took some heated advice and took the advance I got from Universal and spent it before they asked for it back.’

Tim’s favourite song on the album is ‘Cast of Yesterday’. He clarifies, ‘It only became my favourite song honestly about two weeks ago, when we were listening back to the entire record. I was sitting there with Niko [producer Niko Bolas] who was mixing it and he just looked over his shoulder at me and said “This is the song”.’ Tim had never really acknowledged it until that moment, since it was one of his old songs that he had forgotten about for a while. ‘I released “Cast of Yesterday” about three years ago to very very very little fan fare, so I just thought that it was probably dead in the water, but it’s about getting it heard really and we really hope we get the chance to get these songs heard this time around.’

‘Cast of Yesterday’ was inspired by Tim’s encounter with a man in a bar in Barcelona. ‘It was a cheap and cheerful touristy bar on the Rumbas, and I asked this gentleman what he was doing here and he said, “I’m literally just travelling by myself” and I said, “I’m doing the same thing”.’ He continues, ‘We both agreed that it’s the best way to meet new people, and then I said, “where are you going next?” and he said, “somewhere sunny, I’m just happy with the sun on my shoulders” and I just went ‘oh’ and then I wrote it down.’ One of the lyrics in the song, ‘the real stars don’t hit, they ricochet’ refers to the idea that there’s people that we all tend to hold up on a pedestal. According to Tim, ‘these are great people and influences that literally just bounce in and out, they don’t stick around long enough to annoy you or piss you off.’

‘Valerie’ is Tim’s first single, and was inspired by a book he had read called,Delinquent Angel. ‘It’s an incredibly endearing and sad story about the Melbourne poet Shelton Lea, which is why I’m playing this song at the Grace Darling, as it is right around the corner from one of Shelton’s bookstores on Gertrude Street. So I thought that it was quite fitting to take it back to the heart of the street that really did love him, he became quite a well known character around.’

Tim wrote a rough idea of the song in the middle of the night, in Melbourne at the time, next to the heater with his guitar and his dog. It had only taken him half an hour and he then recorded it onto his phone, but then forgot about it until a few years later when backing up files onto a hard drive. ‘We took it to the band and the band played it instantly, less is more was the motto and we tried to apply the same thing to the video; we emphasised on the simplicity.’ For the video Tim lauds the work of director Tahena, and his good friend Jessica MacNamee, who features as the protagonist. ‘There was a lot of pressure on her as well and she had to get the whole story across with just certain looks. I think she did such an amazing job.’

Tim’s biggest musical influences are The Band and Bruce Springsteen. He was fortunate enough to see Springsteen live in Melbourne two years ago. He had listened to him for ten years before that as well, and he’s always felt enlightened by Springsteen. ‘I see that he wants to play, he has a thirst to perform, and I think he feels as though he owes it to his fans who have given him so much. He just gives so much back that it’s just inspiring, like seeing that is like, you must breathe a different air.’

Among Tim’s other idols is Jackson Browne, who he describes as the ‘icon of my youth, the soundtrack to my life’. Tim was lucky enough to meet Browne at The Blues Festival several years ago, as he excitedly recounts: ‘Jackson Browne was on the side of the stage and I came off and he shook my hand and said, “that was really impressive, you guys can play”. Then he said, “Do you want to come stand on the side of stage and watch me tonight?” and I said, “My God, I’d be honoured”, and then afterwards he walked off stage and asked, “What did you think Tim?” He remembered my name and I swear to God I nearly broke down.’

Browne even asked Tim what he should play. ‘Me and my mother were standing there, and we said “well you play the ‘Load Out and Stay’ don’t you?” and he just turned around to David Lindley and they both walked out and played the “Load Out and Stay” and that was one of the greatest moments.’

One of Tim’s quirks is that everything has to be in multiples of four in his life. ‘It’s like a mild case of OCD that I have not been able to shake. It made life easier for the bass player doing four by four timing, it made recording seventy-eight bends on this record as a waltz in 3/4 timing, almost impossible.’

‘I’ve got to bang my shoulder four times against this wall because I banged it against that one,’ he continues. He also has a routine with his guitar case while he’s performing onstage. ‘My buckles have to all be done up and I’ve got to start them from left to right. If they’re not done up that certain way or if I’m on stage and I think there’s a buckle undone, my theory is that the gig is going to go to shit. I have to run off and check my case.’

He really wants to tour America next year, as he believes that his music is quite suitable to their market and there’s a broader audience there too. He’d also love to go to Paris: ‘I’d do an album in Paris and live that cliché writer’s dream, a few months in there of cafes and what not.’

Tim leaves his fans with some words of inspiration: ‘I always say that if playing music is what you want to do, be it whatever it is you want to do, get out there and do it because the more time you spend doing it, the more chances you have of lightning striking. It’s being in the right place long enough for you to be there at the right time.’


Tim Wheatley – Cast of Yesterday is out now. 


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