After hitchhiking and gigging all over the nation, Small Town Romance have just released their self-titled debut album, a love letter to country music.
Jim Arneman and Flora Smith have pooled their influences into a textured collaborative effort anchored around gorgeous harmonies, drawing influences from the likes of Slim Dusty – Jim’s own grandfather, incidentally.
“As this is out first record, we wanted to throw it all at the wall and see what would stick,” Flora explains. “We didn’t want to limit ourselves stylistically so we just wrote the songs that came naturally and didn’t worry about whether or not they sounded homogenous.”
The duo have gone into greater detail on the album below, and are set to launch the album on Oct 21st at Melbourne’s Bella Union.
Timber & Stone
One thing we like to do in our live shows is to re-imagine country songs as duets that previously weren’t. Flora and I love trading verses and having different characters perspectives within a song. When it came to writing one of our own it came together quickly and the band as really cooking on this cut.
The lyric hints at something having happened in the past between these two characters, and although you’re never really quite sure what is was, it was clearly significant. We wanted to leave a bit to the imagination and allow a lot of space for the instrumentation and atmosphere of the song to do paint the picture. We are really pumped that we ended up with pedal steel and telecaster guitarmonies on this one – look out Steely Dan.
We also made a video for this song that I directed. It’s a very atmospheric song, so we wanted to embrace that with the video, strike a melancholy tone but at the same time undermine it. I’ve directed narrative style videos with characters before and they have a tendency to come off as pretty earnest. This time I was keen to try some different tactics to get the audience invested in the two main characters, make them as three dimensional as possible in 4 minutes. We wanted to be playful, put that gritty rural Australian drama aesthetic up against some more tongue-in-cheek stuff, do away with the moral compass and throw the audience off balance.
The lyric in this is a little more acerbic than the rest of the record, so we brought a meaner sound to match. Jamie brought his outlaw guitar tone and Daniel brought that half time ride cymbal that sits back in the pocket really nicely.
The lyric itself is a gender reversal on that classic outlaw sentiment about having to be a ‘free living man’ who needs to move on and the lady just has to accept it. This time the bloke is left behind and has become pretty bitter about it.
Halfway up the Hume
Long distance driving is something I’ve done plenty of because my family travels so much. This song started exactly where the title suggests, in a truckstop at Tarcutta halfway up the Hume Highway before they bypassed it a couple of years back.
We worked together on the lyric and the melody from my initial scribblings and Flora really shaped some stream of consciousness stuff into something that rises and falls like a song.
This was a song that I wrote just before we went into the studio. I’m thinking about how there is no sadder place in the wake of a break up, than the home you once shared with your partner. And having a dog that is a jerk just adds insult to injury. Most of the track was captured in the first take including the wandering lyricism of Jamie Argent- Jones’ guitar which I love.
For the vocal on this track, we went for a really understated performance. I am not an understated person so this was something of a challenge for me but it suits the mundane sadness of the song perfectly. Add in the crying steel from Shane Reilly and this track reached a whole new level of abject tragedy!
Hitched some rides through Western Queensland and the Northern Territory on the way to Darwin a couple of years back. As a hitchhiker it’s your responsibility to provide an attentive audience to the drivers stories or else entertain them with your own. I was more a listener during this journey and I patched this song together from stories I heard along the way.
I’ve always loved the genre of song-as-travelogue, especially when they are localised to Australian places. Dropping these sorts of geographical markers into songs is something my family has done plenty of over the years from travelling and writing from their experiences. I’m actually writing this track by track whilst sitting out the back of a donga in Camoweal on the border of QLD and NT. Flora and I played a show here at a Drovers festival last night with my mother Anne Kirkpatrick. It was a show of mainly Slim songs, rather than our stuff, but talking to people after these sorts of shows make me think that one of the main things that Slim’s audience connected with was that they saw their own lives reflected back at them in his songs.
I don’t have any airs about myself as a man of the bush, I grew up in suburban Sydney, but singing songs that reflect the varied experiences of people in Australia is something that I hope to do more of as a writer.
This is a classic country love triangle song. Girl loves boy but boy is in love with someone else. I wrote this song after watching a couple of friends not get it together time and time again. So it’s basically the same song as Taylor Swifts You Belong with Me except not as good.
The sound we were going for on this track was something akin to a 60s slick classic country sound with big BVs and interplay between the low tele and the dreamy steel. This track also has my favourite solo from Jamie on the record. I asked for a hot, low tele part and that’s what I got!
I had this song kicking around for a while but I just sound utterly unconvincing singing it so I asked Jim to have a crack at it. Lyrically, it’s a cheesy as hell song about love and horseracing. Our drummer Daniel Brates brought the tropical feel to this one which I love. Jim refers to this as my Jimmy Buffet number, and I chose to take that as a compliment.
Jimmy Buffet has made a lot of drunk middle aged people happy over the years. This is also the track on the record where I get to throw in some tex-mex accordion playing which is a sound that’s very dear to my heart and I’m stoked that we managed to find a song that it works with.
Done In By The Pace Of It all
I found myself writing about a character on the cusp of adulthood, working high on a mountain range away from everything that was going on in the world. Every teenager is in a rush to grow up and experience whatever rites of passage you’re expecting as an adult. This is the feeling I was trying to tap into with the song.Basically this a song about FOMO.
Musically it’s an outlier on the record with the drums a little heavier and driving with the big organ sound floating over it. We were trying to channel some Paul Kelly & The Coloured Girls on this one, fingers crossed we managed to pull it off. I think it’s a welcome contrast to the rest of the record.
Over The Line
I broke a writing drought by rattling off an early version of this, it felt throwaway at the time and I didn’t think twice about it for a while after. I played the husk I had to Flora in the lead up to the recording process and she saw some potential and crafted it into something more, coming up with the chorus melody and improving a couple of the verses. I also drew on some conversations I’ve had with my grandmother Joy McKean about songwriting. Her songwriting craft is something I admire very much, Joy has very strong ideas about how melodies should endure and stay the same even when you’re doing your own rendition. So she can be a truly terrifying audience member.
I also had a long argument with Flora about whether I could use the word ‘climax’ without it sounding too smutty, which I won. And let’s be honest, this album could use a bit of extra smut, but maybe I should have left it out of the song that is also about my grandmother.