It’s not easy to capture the essence of a person’s personality by way of a 20-minute phone call. And yet, as interviewers we try – sometimes futilely – to unearth some slither of truth that has been lying dormant, undiscussed, or cloaked within the depths of one’s character. One of the most documented songwriters in Australia’s colonial history, Paul Kelly is a challenge to interview.

Asked how the 63-year-old Australiana icon has changed since his twenties, all Kelly notes is that he’s feeling wearier. Although, he always seemed guarded in his interviews whenever talking about himself.

Thankfully, one doesn’t need to tediously pull teeth in order to unveil insights his craft. “Music hits your body and your mind,” says Kelly. “It’s always had this power over me, so I guess I wanted to try and take hold of some of that power myself.”

His new record Nature goes hand-in-hand with its predecessor, 2017’s Life Is Fine, in that it shares an affinity for the environments that surround him. “I love the water. I liked living by the sea. Rain, water, oceans, rivers, seem to crop up in my songs a lot,” says Kelly.

Five of Nature’s songs are home to Kelly’s favoured poems; his practice of merging poetry saw his song-writing approach shift in 2012 while working on a classical collaboration. “The poems speak to me, and the poems I choose, that’s an expression of myself as well.”

The lyrics from his dreamlike ‘Mushrooms’ are lifted from Sylvia Plath’s poem of the same name, originally published in The Colossus three years before her suicide in 1960.

“I love her poetry. She’s really sharp,” explains Kelly. “There are a lot of contained emotions in her poems; there’s a coolness to her poetry. But it’s got this fire beneath. She’s obviously someone that pays attention to the world.”

Watch the clip for ‘A Bastard Like Me’ by Paul Kelly below

When asked about artists that he currently likes and feels goes under-acknowledged, he says, “I don’t really keep track of whether people are getting acknowledged or not. But I really like Laura Jean, Sampa The Great… I really like a woman called Ainslie Wills. The women seem to be taking over.”

He divulges a crackling list: “Angie McMahon, Stella Donnelly, Alex Lahey, Julia Jacklin, Mojo Juju,” – the latter of which plays a stern judge in his film clip for ‘With The One I Love,’ – “I mean, the list goes on and on. It’s just a great time.”

When queried whether there is something within him that drives him to etch the natural world into songs, Kelly takes a moment to think. “Maybe it’s just that I’m becoming more aware of nature. And having feelings that the world is very precious, and the natural world is becoming endangered by humans.”

For Kelly, the most trying aspect of making music often comes down to writing lyrics. “I write a lot more music than I write words,” he says. “Melodies always bubble up.

“I don’t feel I have to keep writing words. I mean, I think all writers end up writing about the same kind of things over and over again so… so maybe it’s time to slow it down.”

As Life Is Fine ended on a song about death, Nature begins with thoughts on loss. ‘Death Shall Have No Dominion’ is plucked from the writings of Welshman, Dylan Thomas; it’s a poem that’s stuck with Kelly since his twenties. “I just always thought that poem, even though I don’t fully understand it, it’s just rich in imagery – it’s always stayed with me,” says Kelly. In his 2012 documentary Stories Of Me, Kelly shared a quote that he identified with, by the Irish poet and playwright, William Butler Yeats: “There are only two things that any intelligent man should be concerned with: sex and death.” And it’s an idea he believes to this day. “You could add to it I guess that I’m interested in time, but death covers that: memory, friendship, love.”

Watch the clip for ‘With The One I Love’ by Paul Kelly below

Paul Kelly is often considered our leading songwriter when it comes to capturing what it means to be an Australian today; I feel as if that credit could become overwhelming, but for him, it’s quite simple. “Well, it’s a form of praise and when you put yourself out as a performer or a writer, I’ll take the praise over the criticism,” he laughs. “I don’t feel under pressure to write about the Australian condition.”

Asked what advice on loving and living he’d give to a 20-year-old Kelly, before he’d put out 37 albums, he says, “I can’t really. I don’t think you can give advice on the future. There’s only one way to learn: it’s to just make mistakes. So, I wouldn’t know how to direct him another way.”

Love has always been one of Kelly’s favoured subjects to ruminate on. “I think I just think it’s an endless subject, love. Romantic love, love between friends, love between families, love between children, brothers and sisters, love when it’s good, love when it’s not working.

“I’m interested in trying to write about good love, you know. I think it’s much harder to do that without being soppy, or sort of arrogant. I think it’s always easier to write about love gone wrong or love unrequited, because there’s more drama in it. But um, ah… love, good love, I’d like to write more songs about love gone right, not love gone wrong. Maybe that’s my next challenge.”

Nature is out October 12.

Paul Kelly’s Making Gravy 2018 tour

Friday, December 14th
Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Melbourne, VIC (All Ages)
With special guests Angus & Julia Stone, Alex Lahey and Mojo Juju
Tickets: Ticketmaster

Saturday, December 15th
The Domain, Sydney, NSW (18+)
With special guests Angus & Julia Stone, Alex Lahey, D.D Dumbo & Angie McMahon
Tickets: Ticketmaster

Friday, December 21st
Riverstage, Brisbane, QLD (All Ages)
With special guests Angus & Julia Stone, Alex Lahey and Mojo Juju
Tickets: Ticketmaster