“I think I’d look very decrepit on a skateboard. I’m too old and tragic. I’d embarrass myself and everybody else.” It’s a frank, though not startling, admission from Ron Peno. Peno is the one-time frontman of Australian alternative rock illuminati Died Pretty, and today he’s referring to the demands of keeping up with his teenage son.
Skating about the streets of Melbourne is a world away from the kind of music that Peno makes with Kim Salmon (Scientists, Beasts of Bourbon). The two first collaborated as alt-country duo The Darling Downs in 2003, when Peno was a new arrival in Melbourne. A year later they released their debut album How Can I Forget This Heart Of Mine, recorded at Dave Graney’s Ponderosa Studios.
“We’d talked about recording together for a while,” Peno says, “and when I got down here it seemed natural. We live a bit of a distance from each other, so I catch the train out to Faulkner sometimes to see him. We’re quite different in how we work because Kim’s probably a bit looser than I am. I like to not be panicking whenever possible,” Peno laughs.
Sophomore album From One To Another, which was also recorded at Ponderosa, was released in 2007 on Carrot Top Records. It garnered them a swag of critical praise, and furthered their Appalachian vision through Peno’s yelping vocals and Salmon’s custom Cole Clark acoustic guitar.
It’s since been followed by this year’s In The Days When The World Was Wide, which takes its name from the title of one of Peno’s favourite Henry Lawson poems. The album is a little thicker in terms of personnel and instrumentation, featuring the skills of Mike Stranger and Julitha Ryan.
“We’ve got two new players on banjo and drums,” Peno says. “I think having them on board has given the album a warmer sound, and recording things in a different studio changed it again.”
The creative partnership between Peno and Salmon remains the defining aspect of The Darling Downs. “It’s all very pal-y and lovely when we work together,” Peno says. “We know that our music is not to change the world, which means we can just sit around a table and collaborate and get on with it.”
The album was funded in part by benefactor Barry Williams, as well as being crowd-sourced through pledgemusic.com. The benefits for those who pledged including the usual array of signed albums and merchandise, as well as some distinctly different offers. Guitar lessons with Salmon, having a drink with Ron (he got to pick the wine) and acoustic performances at the pledger’s house were on offer. Some people even went so far as to combine the pledge rewards. “I went to one fellow’s house for his birthday and it was a really good time. At the same time I have to laugh – how the mighty have fallen! Here I am, prostituting myself for glasses of wine,” Peno laughs.
“We’ve been around for a while, and we somehow still haven’t made our fortunes,” he continues. “Not that I think either of us really cares. I don’t even have a computer anymore. I got rid of it because I hated getting emails. I don’t have a mobile either. I choose not to because it’s such a waste of time. I will resist, for how long I don’t know, but I will resist as long as I can.”
Despite not making his fortune yet, Peno is happy with how things are evolving. “I don’t expect fame or anything like that, but sometimes I’m with my son and people recognise me on the street. I think it’s helped him realise I’m still cool.”
BY BENJAMIN COOPER
In The Days When The World Was Wide out now through FUSE.