Interview: Bernard Fanning on songwriting and the youth of today

“I would hope that it appeals to everybody, the approach that I’ve always taken is that it doesn’t matter whether you're ten or ninety... if it’s a good song, it’s a good song,” explains Bernard Fanning. The singer-songwriter is back with his third solo album Civil Dusk and ready to hit the road for another Australian tour.

He's one of those musos that doesn’t seem to age, the shoulder length hair is back and the 47-year-old still sports a flanny as he did fronting Powderfinger in the ‘90s/early 2000s. For Fanning age is just a number, as long as the song resonates with the listener that’s all that matters.

“Some people do target their audience in that pop world, but for me writing is about chasing an idea and trying to communicate an idea in a pretty regulated type of format.”

Born and bred in Toowong, Fanning had aspirations of forging a career in the media. He enrolled in a journalism degree at the University of Queensland, but at 19 dropped out to follow his other passion: music and song-writing.

Instead of becoming an objective journalist, he’s used the freedom of song-writing to belt out tracks that have highlighted political issues more than headlines ever could: ‘Like a Dog’ was a direct response to the immigration policy while John Howard was in power and 'Black Tears' about black deaths in custody.

Today Australia’s political system still treats outsiders like a dog (worse even) and on Civil Dusk he’s taken the opportunity to slam the standard of leadership in this country and the political coverage that we’re fed everyday in the media with ‘Belly of the Beast’.

Fanning is a firm believer in creating change through music, as he poetically puts it: “just chasing a particular thing and trying to pull the thread that makes all of the parts of the song come together… I don’t think that changes for listeners of any age.” He continues, this time talking about the accessibility of music today.

“You might be a huge Drake fan, but it doesn’t mean you can’t be a Led Zeppelin fan. I think that you guys (the people that are 18 to 24 these days) the advantage that you have over when I was that age is that you have access to really everything made and that is an awesome opportunity.”

But, he understands how overwhelming this open access to any music can be. “I think part of the thing that I missed with the web, is that people skip from artist to artist, from song to song rather than listening to whole records. I think that’s an important thing people of your generation do love and do appreciate, but don’t get exposed to it as much as they possibly could.”

Fanning isn’t 19 anymore, but he has strong opinions about unfair labels given to younger Australians.

“There’s all these accusations that get thrown at the youth of today, that they don’t have a long enough attention span and they’re just on their phone taking selfies. There’s a certain element of truth in that, but at the same time you guys are products of your environment and what you’re exposed to is the thing that ends up determining what you’re like.”

Fanning just released his third solo album, his solo career now spans 10 years and I get the impression that he won’t be resting those vocals anytime soon. Like 2013’s Departures, part of his latest work was written in Spain.

“I actually wrote most of Departures in Spain, but this time I was in the basement. So there were no windows, nothing, so I could’ve been in… you know Glenelg,” he laughs. “When I came upstairs I was in Spain.”

Despite writing the album in the basement, did Spain have any influence on the flavour of Civil Dusk?

“Not really,” he answers. “I think it’s probably more the fact that you speak a different language and your exposed to a different language and a different cultural thing as well. It wasn’t a really conscious thing of going ‘oh I’ve heard this great piece of Flamenco that I’m going to incorporate into my music.'

“It’s not Bernado Ferninco,” he laughs.

Civil Dusk is part one of a series of two albums: Fanning is still working on the second instalment Brutal Dawn which will be available early next year.

“I’m still working on Brutal Dawn, in a way I’d like to respond to the way this one’s been received. I think that’ll be more covert, than overt I’d imagine.”

Maybe after that a flamenco album could be on the cards? We think Berno could pull it off.

Until then, you can pick up Civil Dusk from any good record store, or stream it online here. You can also catch Bernard Fanning at Norwood Concert Hall on the 26th of October.