Andy Golledge on the two personas on his debut album: “One is drunk and the other is trying to take care of himself more”

The alt-country singer-songwriter talks genre hair-splitting and capturing the “danger” of his live band on his first full-length, ‘Strength of a Queen’

Andy Golledge is in an interesting position as an artist. He’s frequently categorised as an alt-country musician – which, depending on who you ask, is either the most authentic sub-genre out there or absolute bullshit.

“Don’t lie to me!” said veteran promoter and publicist Stuart Coupe when the notion of alt-country was put to him in the recent ABC docuseries Going Country. “There was a Nirvana phase, wasn’t there? You played in punk bands and then you wanted simplicity. You love country music, you love the tradition of country music, so what exactly are you an alternative to?”

Golledge can’t help but laugh when NME relays the quote to him. “I was definitely a big punk fan in the late ’90s – I loved Blink-182 and I loved Frenzal Rhomb, especially ‘Meet the Family’,” he recalls. “In terms of my own music, though, that influence never really lasted long – once I got into Joni Mitchell, I found more folk music, which inevitably led to country.

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“It really is its own vast universe until itself – there’s so many different variations, from cosmic country to funky country to soul country. Genre is a funny thing – you’ve gotta put a category on everything nowadays.”

So, is Golledge OK with the term? “From my perspective, alt-country sounds better than Americana,” he laughs. “I don’t even know what that means. You have to find some way to stand out, too – there’s stuff that gets called ‘country’ in Australia that’s just crappy pop music with an accent on it.”

If there’s one thing Golledge has never had to worry about, though, it’s standing out. Even though his forthcoming album ‘Strength of a Queen’ is his first, anyone who’s spent more than a little time at gigs in Sydney’s inner-west would be well across Golledge. Whether packing out the Lansdowne or taking to a festival stage, Golledge is a striking presence – tall, chrome-dome bald, sporting a bristling handlebar moustache and wielding an acoustic guitar like a weapon in the spirit of Johnny Cash.

Golledge’s reputation as a live artist has made fans out of veterans like Kasey Chambers and The Whitlams’ Tim Freedman – so it’s not surprising that he decided to record ‘Strength of a Queen’ live in the studio with his band. “When the band and I get on stage, there’s a real sense of danger and intuitiveness,” Golledge reasons. “It was something my producers, John Vella and Ryan Muller, really wanted to capture. We genuinely tried to go into the studio and do it all separately, but I just couldn’t handle it. After a while, John came up to me at a show and just said to me, ‘You’re ready, man.’”

Transported from the stage to the studio, Golledge and his band found new, exciting ways into the music. “At the start of ‘Rescue Me’, you can hear [banjo player] Caitlin [Harnett] saying that we should all come in at the same time. We’d never done that before,” Golledge reveals. “Normally, I’d just start playing the chords and everyone else would shuffle in. We went for it – you can hear me doing the palm-mute guitar at the start, and I didn’t know when Piltzy [drummer Josh Piltz] was going to stop playing. It just happened. That happened to be the first take, and the take we used for the record.”

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‘Rescue Me’ is far from the only fly on the wall moment on ‘Strength of a Queen’. Calling out song titles, counting in the band, expressing excitement over a take – it’s all been left in there, and by design as well. “We wanted to express our friendships, and our on-stage relationships,” Golledge says. “When you go and watch a band, and they have this really crazy energy, there’s that element of danger. It’s super hard to capture that on a record, so we left little bits and pieces in to bring people into the record, so to speak.”

“There’s stuff that gets called ‘country’ in Australia that’s just crappy pop music with an accent on it”

All types of listeners can find a way into ‘Strength of a Queen’ through its sprawling songs, which range from rambling road journeys (‘Love Like This’) to working-class pleas for love (‘Baby Mumma’). Stylistically, the album also encompasses both rambunctious, rock-driven throwdowns and more stripped-back, contemplative balladry.

“You’re really getting two Andy Golledges on this album,” he says.

“The first is on those songs I wrote when I was younger, with more of a rock and a blues feel to them. They’re the kind of songs you write when you have a lot more energy. The second is on the more vulnerable songs, where I’m a lot more in touch with my emotions. Put it this way: One is drunk, and the other is trying to take care of himself a little bit more.”

The two Golledges, as the man puts it, may seem like an odd pairing at first – the howling, barroom-ready ‘New Stamp’ certainly makes for strange bedfellows with the tender, road-weary ‘Dreamin’ of a Highway’. What unifies them however, is the sense of place and belonging you get when listening to ‘Strength of a Queen’. Whether it’s a night in the city or a scorching afternoon headed across borders and state lines, Golledge’s protagonist constantly finds ways to draw you back in.

“That’s actually something I’ve really been hoping people will pick up on,” Golledge says of the album’s recurring motifs. “One thing that I love about listening to music is picturing a place when you hear a piece of music. I’ve always liked to write my songs from that sense of place, because it gives them imagery without actually painting too much of a picture. It alludes to something; it lets the listener create their own meaning, in a sense. That’s really important, I think.”

Andy Golledge album Strength of a Queen interview
Credit: Andy Wall

‘Strength of a Queen’’s linchpin is its title track, which by phrase alone elicits a myriad of images for different listeners, from Joan Of Arc to a single mother. For Golledge, who could easily be miscast as a “blokey bloke” by the wrong crowd, embracing the divine feminine was key to unlocking the album’s emotional core. “I wasn’t sold on the song when I first wrote it,” he reveals.

“It was only when Ollie [Thorpe, guitarist] started adding melodies over the top of it and accentuated what I was doing that it really started to come together. It was actually my management who suggested we call the album that, and I think it’s a really apt name. Every single song on the record is about love, or somebody I’ve loved.”

For Golledge, ‘Strength of a Queen’ is ultimately a journey. “It’s a search for somebody that loves you for who you are, and who you want to be, and ultimately sharing that journey together. It’s about finding the strength of a queen within you and within another.”

Andy Golledge’s ‘Strength of a Queen’ is out this Friday. Golledge embarks on a national tour next week – find tickets and more info here

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