I had the pleasure of interviewing Damian Howard, the third guest artist to grace our stage at Mountain Mumma. Damian has been performing around Australia and internationally for decades as front man of The Ploughboys and more recently, as a solo performer. He has learnt a thing or two about the reality of the music industry. Here is a little bit of his wisdom and experiences as a musician. Enjoy!- Eisten
As the youngest of seven children, Damian Howard said he was born into music. Performing and writing songs is intrinsically linked with his identity.
“We were born into music, it is part of who we are and we do it for the love of music,” he said.
“Our parents brought us up in a musical household where the piano was really the centre of the family. It’s where you would gather to sing and it sounds a bit idealistic but it was just natural to sing in our family,” he said.
His elder siblings, Shane and Marcia, forged careers in the music industry as part of the well-known Australian folk- rock group Goanna. Damian fought to emerge from his brother and sister’s shadow and create his own identity within the Australian music scene.
“There was always that challenge: being the youngest of the three. I’ve had to walk my own road, as my own person and song writer,” he said.
Damian has done just that, first as The Ploughboys frontman and songwriter, and then as a solo artist.
“It’s a funny old fickle business and it seems success is determined by the size of audience.”
Damian has performed in front of tens of thousands at the MCG and at Docklands Stadium but he said he feels more akin to performing to smaller groups.
“Performing for a large audience is fun, but it can be impersonal. I draw off the audience at smaller venues and there is a participation between audience and performer,” he said.
Being in a band gave Damian a certain amount of security. He explained the transition to becoming a solo artist left him exposed on stage.
“I’ve always felt a great deal of camaraderie and even [being] impenetrable with the band around me but you become a little more vulnerable as a solo artist.”
“As a solo artist there is a lot more flexibility and freedom but when you’re in a band you can get locked into song structures.
“It affords me the opportunity to play piano and mandolin, and to try different things and in different ways. There is a nice intimacy too and you can get to develop good rapport with audience when you’re on your own.”
His new album Once in a While was released in April.
“It was labour of love but I’m rapt to be able to play new material,” he said.
“The challenge is rejuvenating yourself and redefining your musical style,’’ he said.
He said the album had been resonating with people and he had received fantastic, positive feedback about his work.
“The ABC picked it up nationally for their play list. It’s the little wins like this along the way, trying to get music out to the masses,” he said.
“I released the new album in April. It was done very quickly and came to fruition in January, where I wrote about eight songs. Then we got on a roll and recorded within two weeks. All my musical friends happened to be around at the right time,” he said.
“This album came so quickly and you think to yourself, did I really write that?”
Damian is well known for his story telling through his original songs.
“I draw inspiration from Australian history and historical figures and I try to weave them into tales. Paul Kelly and artists like that can tell fantastic stories and it might be a quote or an image [that starts you off].”
“It’s a seed or a spark of a song, and I like to sing about things that have a bit of meaning. Real life stories are my catalyst to writing my material. I like to think every song has a story. It’s an important part of folk tradition in Australia- and the country genre- which very much has a story telling aspect. I like to pay homage to that I guess,” he said
Although Damian is living his dream of being a performer, it hasn’t been an easy path and he said it was a matter of juggling his passion with his job as assistant principal.
“In Australia these days, lots of musicians are struggling: A lot of the time people are doing things they don’t want to and our parents didn’t want us to struggle.”
“We all went on to tertiary studies. I did a bachelor of education and I balance that career with the music as well.”
“I’ve been afforded those opportunities to do it, I’m lucky and I am a realist too.”
“[For us]… it’s all about doing it for as long as we can, that was what I was brought up to believe.”
“It takes a lot of time and devotion to make sure you can make ends meet, and it kills me to see musicians washing dishes to survive,’’ he said.
“I’ve seen too many people suffer for their art,’’ he said.
“It’s a long road, but there are so many fantastic opportunities, experiences and adventures and it has taken me to some amazing places around Australia and world.
“I wouldn’t swap it for a dollar,” he said.
Damian Howard will be performing at Mountain Mumma on July 5.