Shane Nicholson is happy to out himself as a fan, and a foolish man, in his new single, Harvest On Vinyl, the first release from his upcoming album.
Woven into its country rock lope and classic guitar sound is the story of a 13-year-old boy who discovers Neil Young’s seminal 1972 album, Harvest, plays the vinyl to death so that he knows every part of it, from the “crackle in Out On The Weekend to the scratch in Heart Of Gold”, only to get rid of it later as he sets out on life.
A fool! A tragedy! But wait, this one has a happy ending. Never able to shake that first love completely while he grows older and clears space for the kids, he heads back to a record store knowing he needs those formative records back in his life, even if it means now paying “almost 50 bucks to buy the damn thing back”. After all, what price happiness?
“It is part of my thing now: I shop around looking for old records I’ve bought before,” Nicholson says, admitting this song’s a true story, with a ring of familiarity for any of us who gave away favourite records or CDs, when time and technology moved on.
Technically, Nicholson, an in-demand producer and ARIA and Golden Guitar Award-winning singer/songwriter whose career began with his Triple J Unearthed-winning rock group, Pretty Violet Stain, didn’t actually sell off his records. Instead he moved out of home in the mid ‘90s, leaving the collection behind, and most of them were sold on after he left. But in any case, they were gone. Or so he thought.
Writing this song prompted a call to his parents and that’s when he found that Harvest was one of the few records they had kept because they knew how much it had meant to him. So he now has the original “which is scratched to buggery”, his more expensive new version, and maybe a new way to write songs.
“I certainly couldn’t have written that song 15 years ago. But I’m breaking my own silly moulds these days,” Nicholson says, explaining that the mould broken here wasn’t just a happy ending (“It hasn’t really been my go-to, being optimistic,” he chuckles) but the writing itself for a songwriter who in recent years has taken himself off to isolated parts of Australia to focus on creating a batch of new material.
Harvest On Vinyl was the fruit of a trans-Pacific songwriting club set up by Nashville-based Australian Sam Hawksley, where every Thursday each writer had to contribute a new song, freshly recorded, by midnight.
“As is my way, I usually found myself Thursday night sitting down and writing a song at 10.30pm, and I was thinking about all the records I’ve had in my life and it pretty much came to life,” says Nicholson of Harvest On Vinyl.
Up to four songs on the new album came the same way, the rest written on the road prior to the music industry shutdown, or while he was producing other artists’ albums, and not thinking about his own work. “It’s been a slow creeper of a record that really formed without me planning it too much. It was done as a record before I even knew it.”
And like Harvest On Vinyl, it worked.
“It was kind of fun having a song that I had to write in 30 minutes, record it and upload it before the deadline,” says Nicholson. “I think it needed to be what it was so I just left it the way it happened in that half-hour.”
Neil Young, a man who hates to overthink and overdo, would approve.