Now, nobody is saying that the Wise children are robots. I mean, it would be ridiculous to suspect thatLucy Wise, middle child of the outlandishly talented family troupe, is actually an automaton assembled from cast-off pieces of various instruments and sheet music, held together by folk magic passed down from generation to generation… wouldn’t it? Voodoo notwithstanding, Wise is a natural storyteller, infusing songs with a sense of place so strong you can almost feel the dusty earth crunch beneath your feet as she sings. Little wonder for an artist whose musical odyssey began so early.
“Both our parents wrote music and Dad is an instrument maker, so we grew up with a lot of instruments around the house. From an early age we were performing and being exposed to all these different kinds of performers and instruments at festivals like Port Fairy, Woodford, the National. It made music seem like it wasn’t an irresponsible thing to do.
“A lot of parents would encourage you to go off and learn science or something,” Wise laughs, “but we were encouraged to do whatever we wanted.”
While music remains her full-time passion, somewhere between the demands of touring, writing and recording Wise was also able to sneak in an entire arts degree. Her studies in anthropology are perhaps unsurprising given the context of her creative life; unravelling the lives of strangers, bringing to life locations and words scattered across the sweep of Australia.
“Anthropology helped me develop great skills for thinking reflectively. You really start valuing diversity and understanding that we all think differently. Asking questions of why people do the things they do. That curiosity has really fuelled my songwriting. I’m always keeping a record of things that stand out to me in everyday life. I have a journal, and even if it’s just listing things like conversations I’ve heard, places we’ll visit on tour, I’ll get a sense of someone’s story and try to tell it. Once I have some clear ideas of key images, I’ll start adding musical ideas. Then music and words start to merge. But I do think songwriting and anthropology flow into each other very naturally.”
Most recently, Wise embarked on a rather unique approach to composition, expanding on many of the narrative techniques she has spent these many years developing. A Painting Of The Universe is an EP fuelled by the writing of Australia’s young poets. Sifting through 100 submissions, five poems eventually emerged as inspiration.
“I don’t think there was a set criteria in mind,” she recalls. “It ended up being the five poets who could really clearly paint a picture and tell a story that felt heartfelt and genuine, not presumptuous in any way. Just very… honest. From there I got a piece of paper and drew a curve that would suggest what the story was to us. So pictorially we tried to represent the story, and also to suggest a musical shape. It was like drawing a narrative.
“Then I went away and wrote. Sometimes I lifted exact phrases out of the poems, because they were just perfect as they were. Sometimes I felt that in order to feel really true, I put myself in that poet or character’s shoes and communicated it the way I would have as a child. If I can really situate myself in the place of the story, I think it helps people connect and also reflect on their own special places. It allows them to access these stories and ideas, and maybe relate them back to their own experiences.”
Lucy Wise Trio play theNational Folk Festival 2015atExhibition Park, Canberra,Thursday April 2 – Monday April 6.A Painting Of The Universe is released now independently.