What people have written and said about The Waifs
Nine to Five magazine, Sydney
Up Twice on the Night
by Roghan McKerlie, October 2003
Despite two ARIA wins, tours in the US with Bob Dylan, and their latest album "Up All Night" going platinum, Aussie band The Waifs are still firmly grounded.
Sisters Donna and Vikki Simpson from WA and Josh Cunningham from NSW, met up in Broome in 1992.
Josh was on tour playing bass guitar for an all-bloke rock 'n' roll band.
Donna and Vikki had just bought a campervan and were travelling around Australia. They sang in pubs, resorts, gold and zinc mines, biker bars, beer gardens, markets and fishing towns playing their favourite songs to anyone that chose to listen.
After jamming for 10 minutes Donna asked Josh to join them, and, just like that, The Waifs, were born. For the next three years they toured continuously around the country living out of a van.
"It was a lot of fun travelling arround. We do a lot of flying these days," recalls Vikki, who started playing guitar when she was 14.
"There were little rural towns and pubs, it was the best year of my life, actually."
Four albums, two EPs and 11 years later, The Waifs have become one of Australia's hottest acts, something recognised by the Australian music industry with six ARIA nominations this year including Best Single, Best Album, Best Group, Best New Artist, Best Independent Release and Best Blues and Roots Album, the latter two of which they won. The great Bob Dylan liked the blues and roots contemporary folk style music of The Waifs so much he asked them to join him on his Australian and US tour.
The tour was extremely successful and there were many memorable moments. "We had a gig at the Hammerstein Ballroom, which was a pretty major gig for us in New York City" says Vikki. We walked down to do a sound check and it became apparent power was out in the whole city because there were millions of people all over the streets.
"There was a sense of fear. No one knew what was going on. No one was panicking but there was a sense it coudn't happen... I was the sensible one grabbing 20 bottles of water while Donna was shoving bottles of Bacardi and beer in her face. We walked 34 blocks back up town, went down on the street, pulled out the instruments and had a bit of a jam."
With The Waifs' success growing in leaps and bounds, surely a little bit of extravagance has followed, after all there is nothing like a few Porsches, houses with harbour views and Versace dresses to dispay your new found celebrity status, right?
"The biggest luxury we have afforded ourselves this year was getting our own hotel rooms," Vikki says. "It's the only thing we have gone out on a limb for and said "okay, we can afford to spend this much'."
Not exactly your sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll-like luxuries you often hear about, but for this trio which spends as much as 10 months of the year on the road, it's a real treat.
"It's great after being stuck in a car for five hours to have your own room," she says.
However, a decade on the road does have its downsides. Social life, friends, family and relationships are just a few of the things that suffer.
"Everyone we know is through the band and nowadays we take our social life on the road," Vikki explains.
"We invite our friends on tour, we give them a job just so we can hang out. That's one of the big sacrifices you make being on the road all the time."
In addition to this, Donna, Josh and Vikki are all in relationships. "We bring our partners on the road. My partner absolutely hates it but if he wants to see me he better come along," laughs Vikki.
Waif-like Discography Albums - The Waifs, Shelter Me, Sink or Swim, Up All Night. EPs - London Still and Lighthouse. The band will also release a live compilation in January 2004.
The Daily Telegraph, Sydney (Seven Days section)
By Kathy McCabe - 16 October 2003
The Waifs' Josh Cunningham knew something was going to happen because the ARIA people were insistent he attend their Sydney Opera House nominations function.
Sisters Vikki and Donna Simpson were enjoying a well deserved break overseas after the launch of the band's long US haul with Bob Dylan, so the duty to wave the band's flag fell to Cunningham.
When Chris Thompson picked up the gong for Engineer of the Year and then a few minutes later, for Producer of the Year (with the band), Cunningham thought that was it.
This impression was looking more likely as acts who had scored one, two, three, four and five nominations were announced.
The Waifs' name flashed on the screen with six nominations - the most next to Delta Goodrem's historic haul of 10 mentions.
It was a shock. Since the release of their fourth album, Up all Night, The Waifs have exploded from their word-of-mouth folk fan base to a mainstream audience, courtesy of the heart-wrenchingly beautiful song, London Still.
"We were a touring band and probably considered a little daggy by the kids out there. We've always been daggy," Vikki says.
"The pop and hip hop crowd probably only discovered us thanks to the Triple J connection with London Still."
The ARIAs are voted by an industry panel of musicians, record company execs and other associated types (including yours truly), all of whom obviously and overwhelmingly disagreed with the "daggy" tag.
Up all Night was a beautiful, acoustically-driven collection which relied on the gorgeous harmonies and consummate musicianship of the band members to realise tunes born during the pain of separation from loved ones on the road.
Back home for a national tour and the ARIA awards, the band members admit to feeling the weight of expectations generated by a platinum album.
The day after their Enmore Theatre homecoming gig, they have differing perspectives on whether the audience was into it or not.
But they agree on one point with satisfaction.
"The thing I am most pleased about is that the audience here isn't coming just to hear one song," Cunningham says.
"That's a hard thing to tell sometimes because the people who have been following us for years are always down the front singing along to every song.
Donna adds: "There was someone at the gig the other night who said they had our first-ever tape and they loved it. I would have paid them $100 to get that back."
Like most sisters, the Simpsons have no hesitation in voicing disagreement with each other. "I love that tape. It's just so raw and natural."
The Waifs were formed 11 years ago when the three members met in Broome, where the sisters were playing in a covers outfit and Cunningham was touring with a blokey rock'n'roll band.
They released their debut independent album, The Waifs, in 1996 and hit the road for a year.
That pattern of recording every two or so years followed by another year of touring has served them well since, with the band building its reputation on its solid live shows.
With the release of the third album Sink or Swim in 2000, the buzz was starting to spread beyond the folk festivals.
"The only thing we were confident about with Up All Night was that the fan base would buy the album." Cunningham says.
What they didn't count on was how deeply London Still would connect and then resonate with a much bigger music audience.
With her partner based overseas, he song still feels as relevant today for Donna as it did when she wrote it.
"I feel really proud of that song." Donna says, a refreshing attitude rarely expressed by musicians who have enjoyed a hit.
"It's something I still feel. It haunts me, really. I still find it really hard being away. You can't choose who you fall in love with."
As for the big awards night at the Sydney Superdome on Tuesday, the band have their own mixed expectations.
"It's nice to be invited to the party," Donna says.
Vikki adds: "But when we went last year, I must say it wasn't really my experience of playing music. It felt foreign to me - we felt very much like we were on the fringes."
The Waifs are no longer on the fringes, no matter how independent they are.
the waifs perform at the aria awards at the sydney superdome on tuesday
The Age, Melbourne
On crest of a Waif or three
By Warwick McFadyen, October 12, 2003
It feels like a dream. Once it was inside them. Two sisters sit around a campfire while their father plays guitar and sings Bob Dylan songs. Stars overheard, lights in their eyes. A teenage boy sees Michael J. Fox play guitar in Back to the Future. He is hooked. He teaches himself the instrument and learns songs, especially those of Dylan. He dreams a life for himself in music.
It still feels like a dream. But now they are inside it. The sisters - Donna and Vikki Simpson - and Josh Cunningham, collectively a group of Waifs, are opening for Bob Dylan on his North American and European tours. They call him Bob. He talks to them about their songs, and about the factors that go into constructing a setlist for a show. He gives them shirts, sort of a country-style, yellow for the sisters, black for Josh. They can stand just metres away for nights in a row watching him perform. Once he called Donna and Vikki on stage to do back-up vocals for Knocking on Heaven's Door. The dream had opened into reality.
To get to this point has not been an overnight success story for The Waifs. It has taken constant touring year in, year out, since they formed in 1992, travelling thousands upon thousands of kilometres in Australia and overseas. Their work will earn recognition this month when they perform at the Australian Recording Industry Awards ceremony in Sydney. The band is nominated in six categories: single of the year (Lighthouse), album of the year (Up All Night), best group, best new artist album, best independent release and best roots and blues album.
Recognition, while a "nice feeling" according to Vikki, and "quite a shock" according to Josh, is not going to change how the three conduct their affairs. It's no surprise that they look to the fierce independence of American Ani Di Franco as an inspiration and "high example" of how a band can pursue a career in music without compromising its ideals. When the band took the great leap across the Pacific, the fear of how huge the North American market was and the logistics of trying to crack it was a daunting prospect. It was Di Franco's model that helped pull them through.
The running of the band, if not kept in the family, is not far removed. They do have a manager now (after eight years of doing it alone), but the sisters' mother is the accountant and handles the group's website; a good friend, Stacey Piggott, is their publicist; another friend sells their merchandise; and they store a lot of gear and sometimes record at the farm of Josh's parents in NSW. It is also the final resting place for the campervan (two engines blown) that took them around the country in the early years.
They have set up a label, Jarrah Records, with another friend - guitarist John Butler, of the John Butler Trio. "I have no interest in getting a record deal in this country," says Vikki. "We're doing well on our own label. For us, it's just taking things at our own pace and having creative control. We're so used to that - making major decisions, how image is portrayed, the marketing. We're so used to having fingers in the pies, I don't think we could ever sign with a company and have other people take on those roles.
"Even our own manager has a hardtime sometimes getting us to trust certain ideas and strategies, because we're all so strong-willed."
For Donna and Vikki, that determination was in evidence from the beginning, in a faraway corner of the continent - Albany, Western Australia, population 30,000, 400 kilometres south-east of Perth and a million miles from the music industry.
In 1992, Donna was 22 and Vikki 18. The world beckoned. They bought a campervan, threw in the guitars and "went up the coast". Six months later, at Broome, fate intervened in the form of a Josh Cunningham, 18, from the NSW south coast. Josh was playing in a rock'n'roll cover band at the same pub as the sisters.
His band was in the back bar, they were in the front bar doing the standard acoustic fare - Billy Joel, Bob Dylan, Indigo Girls, and "always finishing the night with American Pie" ("our last song at every gig for about three years").
Josh had finished high school and had taken a year off before university to travel with the band. But when he saw Donna and Vikki playing, "I thought, that's the kind of sound I want to be part of".
One day, Josh picked up one of their guitars and began playing. "I heard him play the lead break to Wish You Were Here," says Donna. "That was it. We'd been playing that song, but we didn't know how to play the lead break. Suddenly there was this guy playing the whole thing and we thought, 'We could have him'."
"I had been been watching them play and every song they played I knew," says Josh.
To Vikki, it was a similar experience to when she and Donna had first sung together. The sound blended. It all seemed to fit together as if it was meant to be.
A week later, Josh was in the band and in the campervan, thus beginning a relentless touring schedule of the west coast and the Top End for about three years, then around the continent, crisscrossing the Nullarbor; all the time honing their craft.
The time came, however, when the outback had to meet the city if they wanted to develop their original material. To them, Melbourne was the mecca for original song. Despite fears of trams and the cold, wet weather, they took to the city, living in Collingwood and playing wherever and whenever they could. They would sometimes play two gigs in different pubs on the same night, alternating break times and performing times. It was tough times for a band from outside the city, they now acknowledge, but it strengthened their resolve. It took about four years, "doing any gig we could", they say, to get a name. In 1996, they recorded their first album with the help of Jen Anderson and Mick Thomas from Weddings Parties Anything. A new album has appeared about every two years hence.
The singlemindedness and strength of purpose of this group of three has led to a relentless touring schedule, which one musician friend says is "particularly rugged". Their motivation is also of one: they love what they do, they don't want to be doing anything else.
Says Josh: "Obviously, there's been times that have been tougher than others, but I don't think there's ever been a time when we haven't loved getting on stage and playing music. That's what we do it for.
"For me, there's nothing else I wanted to do but construct my life around it (music) and make a living out of it."
For Donna and Vikki, music is all they have ever known. It's been their life and profession.
On Monday, October 20, they will board a plane in California bound for Australia. The following night, they will be at the ARIA awards. The next morning they return to the US for work on the Thursday. Back on the road again. This is the life of The Waifs.
This story was found at: http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2003/10/11/1065676202415.html
Beat magazine, Melbourne
donna simpson tells sarah Ortenzio why it’s been the best year of her life
the waifs - 25 September 03
The above byline seems self-explanatory. I mean, come on, since their gigs with him earlier this year (New York blackouts notwithstanding) The Waifs are now Bob Dylan’s new favourite band! Even if the world stopped and everybody fell off tomorrow, 2003 would have already been hard to top for this unassuming, fiercely independent group. But now they’ve just received six ARIA nominations for their album Up All Night, while their producer and engineer, Chris Thompson, has already walked away with the technical gongs. But, as Donna Simpson told Beat, that’s just their life now.
Are you looking forward to coming home?
Yeah totally – it’s been too long overseas. It’s going to be a really good Australian tour I feel. It’ll be so nice to come home and play to people we have a history with and speak the same language as us. Melbourne is one of the best crowds in the world for us.
Has the success overseas exceeded expectations?
I think my whole life has exceeded my expectations. All we ever planned to do was go around Australia; we just wanted to travel. This year itself has exceeded all expectations. It started out with The Big Day Out – doing that was one of the biggest things to happen to our band. Then touring with Bob Dylan and Ani DiFranco. Then Bob asking us again and again to tour. It’s been non-stop all year. We’ve had three weeks off now and it’s been almost strange because when you’re in the middle of everything, it’s so surreal; it becomes a bit of a blur. You come off the road and do interviews to talk about it and it’s only then that you really realise all the things you’ve really done.
Has it almost been too much touring?
Yep – I want to cry when I leave Melbourne because I love it so much and it’s the same with WA. You just haven’t got enough time to catch up with your friends. You want to go back to your favourite café’s and your favourite shops and get a feel for the place but you don’t get a chance. I wish I could have a week in every place, but that would cut it down to 52 shows a year. I do get excited about all the frequent flyer points though. I’ll be able to use them one day. One day I’m going to fly everyone to a big party – all my friends and family.
Are you living London Still?
Yeah it does tell my story. I was so homesick when that song came out. I don’t live it like that though. We’re pretty used to it – this is all we know now. We’re pretty much road warriors in that sense; this is what we do and this is what we know. I do start getting itchy feet if I don’t move around a lot.
You’re going straight back to the US after this tour?
We’re actually going back to the States for four shows and then coming back here for the ARIAs for one night and then going back to the States again the next day. Then we’ll be going to the UK and Europe.
Can we expect a new album next year to follow the two-year trend?
[Laughs sarcastically] hmm, no! I haven’t been able to write anything because that comes with space – and I haven’t had a lot of that. I’ve been noodling on the banjo and working a few things out. We’ve got a double live album coming out soon though. I’m pretty excited about that. It’s been really hard to choose songs to put on it though. It can be really vicious and nasty to hear your own voice.
The first song you ever played on the guitar was a Bob Dylan song – what was it like to meet him?
It’s been great – we’ve done 34 shows with him throughout the States.
We sung with Bob in North Carolina the other week – the harmony on Knocking on Heavens Door. That was definitely the highlight. It was a big outdoor concert on a balmy summer night under the stars and he was all dressed up in this gorgeous cowboy/western outfit and he called me and Vikki on stage and we had matching country shirts that he bought for us. We went up there and sang and it can’t get better than that. This is a song we’ve known forever and to then be a part of that is an absolute dream. It was funny though, because we were down a couple flights of stairs in our dressing room and we didn’t know we were going to be called on and Bob must’ve told all the roadies to come and get us. They had dropped all the lights on stage so it was pitch black and no one knew what was going on. The roadies tore us up the stairs and they’re dragging us by the arms on stage and I was still holding a glass of Vodka; it was spilling everywhere but I was trying to drink it before I went on because I was so scared. We both smacked right into these poles and hit out heads and continued to get dragged on and then suddenly the lights were on us. We’re standing there holding our heads all fucked up from the last few minutes and we just sang. It’s really hard to sing the ‘oohs’ with a big grin on your face. You should try it; it’s impossible.
What’s it like to affect people so much with your songs?
They’ve gotta stop crying during London Still! We played it in London the other week and all these people were crying. I’m like ‘guys, guys; it’s only a song, ok? It’s about me, not you.’ [laughs] It’s amazing to touch people – but weird. Being on stage and being such a shy person is very weird. Singing personal stuff is weird. I can’t articulate it very well, but the response we’ve had is amazing and this has definitely been the best year of my life.
The Waifs play The Palais Theatre on Sunday September 28. Tickets on sale now. Up All Night is out now.
The Courier Mail, Brisbane
Nominees a lonely bunch
By Rhys Haynes, 16may03
HERE'S a tip for musicians needing some inspiration.
Leave the country and wait a few months. Once homesickness has set in, sit down on your own with a few beers and a guitar and give yourself about 20 minutes to write a song.
That's the apparent formula for one of four Australian songwriters nominated for Song of the Year at the annual APRA Awards next week.
The Waifs' guitarist, singer and songwriter, Donna Simpson, has revealed this was the secret behind London Still, which has been nominated for the top gong.
"I was on a two-week break from a hectic tour schedule," Simpson said from her hotel in North Carolina, where The Waifs are supporting Bob Dylan on a US tour.
"I was sitting alone in my friend's apartment in London having a couple of drinks with my guitar and began writing the song."
The 33-year-old stopped halfway through writing and rang her dad.
As a result of that phone call, the song's lyrics include: I wonder if you can pick up my accent on the phone, when I call across the country, when I call across the world.
"Then I rang some friends and they weren't home, so the song continued," she said.
The Waifs are up against a new breed of young songwriters including Grinspoon with Chemical Heart, and favourites Silverchair, the first band to have two songs nominated - The Greatest View and Without You.
Simpson said she was honoured because the band had been nominated by APRA's 13,000 members who were her songwriting peers.
"I feel really honoured to be recognised as a songwriter in Australia up there with these bands," she said.
Winners have included Alex Lloyd's Amazing, Powderfinger's Happiness and Passenger and the Leonardo's Bride lullaby Even When I'm Sleeping.
The APRA Music Awards will be held in Sydney on Monday.
Lighthouse - The Waifs (Jarrah Records)May 2003
Sweet bluesy rolling folk-rock from the Aussie trio on their own record label. They're a tight melodic acoustic outfit bound to endure for a long time, and have enjoyed very successful tours of America, Canada, Europe and Australian music festivals and gigs.
Lighthouse is a foot tapping poetic little number replete with double-bass, harmonica, acoustic guitar and sweet vocals from sisters Vikki and Donna Simpson, and has a nice soulful edge to it.
Heartbreakin' is a more bluesy number with rolling bass, and a bit of a western feel to lyrics for the broken hearted that are nearly over it but still feeling gritty.
Gillian is a live recording from the (sadly) closed Continental, and builds some gravity with a violin with a touch of Irish folk.
Don't think twice, it's alright was recorded live at the HiFi Bar, and is a nice rolling folk number with harmonica written by the prince of folk, Bob Dylan
Review by Nathan Crawford-Condie
HotstarMon May 5, 2003
The three members of Australian folk group The Waifs clearly had a date with destiny or, to be more precise, with Bob Dylan, whose classic "The Times They Are A-Changin'" was the first song Donna Simpson learned to play on guitar.
Sisters Donna and Vikki Simpson, along with Joshua Cunningham, all learned to play from the Dylan songbook as youngsters. Since then, they've managed to parlay a little luck, a lot of talent, and a knack for excellent timing into being hand-picked by their hero to open selected dates on his current U.S. tour.
"I think he has just been a favorite artist of most kids when they pick up a guitar and started strumming away," Donna told POLLSTAR from a hotel room in Winnipeg, Manitoba. "It was his songs that you could learn to play easily and sort of relate to."
They also picked up a bit of songcraft from the master, too, it seems. The Waifs' latest album, Up All Night, is chock full of songs that are by turn confessional and intimate, humorous and catchy.
All three members are accomplished songwriters (the band tours with an additional guitarist and drummer) and all write separately; you won't find a lot of lyrical collaborations. Each admits to requiring privacy to write, which is not that easy to find on the road. "I know I tend to go out and find an old shack in the bush somewhere, or I went on a house float in Canada this year to do my writing," Donna explained. "I really need to get away from everything." And sometimes that means from the rest of the band.
"We have this favorite saying that if Donna and I weren't sisters, we would have bailed out years ago," Vikki said, with a laugh. "We wouldn't have lasted the distance. It sort of gives a license to kill. "But the 90 minutes we step on stage each night and sing, it's a different level of communication that goes on between us." It's not always easy. Donna confessed to having developed a bit of a writer's block recently on the road. "I used to be able to write on the road but I can't seem to do that at the moment," she said.
Fortunately, Vikki and Joshua have adapted quite well to the art of road poetry. "The second track on [Up All Night] was written in a hotel bathroom," Cunningham said. "There's another song, 'Fourth Floor,' that was written in a park. I was watching a lady up on the fourth floor of an apartment building doing some gardening in a small window box and a song just appeared." It's been about 10 years since Cunningham, who previously was with a band hailing from New South Wales, and the Simpson sisters, from the southern fishing town of Albany, Western Australia, decided to join forces after crossing paths on tour.
"I met the two girls on the road when I was with another band," Cunningham said. "We weren't really looking to get involved in the industry or in the business; we were just three kids bumming around and having a good time and playing music to support that lifestyle."
"We were playing resorts, biker bars, beer gardens, markets and fishing towns," Donna explained.
Fans encouraged them to make a CD of their music, and with the help of Philip Stevens who owns a nightclub and did some local promoting they began producing and selling their own CDs out of the back of a campervan. "We did that, and one thing just led to another and, eventually, we ended up embarking on this overseas career by way of being chosen to perform at the Folk Alliance convention in Vancouver a couple of years ago," Cunningham said.
It's been a gradual climb for The Waifs and for Stevens, too, who became the group's manager after it became obvious the band's popularity had grown to the point that commerce was getting in the way of art.
"I'd already been managing the John Butler Trio," Stevens told POLLSTAR from his home in Australia. "And they were growing in popularity and touring through Australia and North America. I think the girls and Josh saw what we were all able to do together." What they've also been able to do, in addition to building a worldwide fan base, is remain independent. They have their own label, Jarrah, and they have creative control of their work.
Since being tapped as a hot newcomer at both Folk Alliance and Newport festivals last year, record labels have come calling. "I think there's been a few companies that have been interested, but basically our experience of being an independent band from Australia, we just cherish that control," Cunningham said.
The labels weren't the only ones who came calling. Festival directors booked them at such prestigious showcases as the Kerrville and Newport folk fests, where they wowed fans.
The Waifs, by their own account, have been used to spending about half the year in North America and the other half downunder. But with their current North American tour already extended once with the Bob Dylan opening slot and likely expand further, the times certainly are a-changin' for The Waifs.
20.01.03, p 51, CD Reviews
CD OF THE WEEK
Up All Night - The Waifs (Jarrah/MGM)
Review by Craig New
It's interesting to note that whilst The Waifs have been touring strong for just over ten years now, Up All Night is only their fourth record. Nonetheless it has the confidence and ease of a band releasing their fortieth - something I can only gather arises from their supreme relationships within the band, forged from such a long, hard slog on the touring circuit. There's a much more evident grittiness on this record, not in production but in feel, a worn in experience that coats the songs like icing on a cake. The American influence is certainly in there, with a more blues and roots base than their previous albums, but still retaining that indefinable Australn quality that has endeared The Waifs to audiences around the country.
Fisherman's Daughter is as locally heart tugging as the single London Still, Flesh and Blood is a beautifully dark, rolling tale of misconception and Three Down a light hearted look at a touring lifestyle. It may have been a surprise for The Waifs to achieve a mainstream acceptance, but now they look set to do the impossilbe - build upon it on their own terms.
January 21 2003, Pg 64, CD Reviews
The Waifs, Up All Night, Jarrah
Review by Michael Smith
There's bound to be a lot more interest in this album within the wider record-buying community that The Waifs' pop-flavoured folk/roots ditties have long deserved thanks to the crossover radio hit that gained them a couple of ARIA nominations, London Still. What these new listeners will discover is a collection of songs by a group at the peak of their creative powers, strong, powerful, subtle and superbly crafted.
They'll also find there's a lot more blues in The Waifs than the perception of their folk roots might imply. Cunningham's Flesh and Blood is pure swamp blues in the Tony Joe White/Dr John mode, while Donna Simpson autobiographical (?) Fisherman's Daughter even has a John Lee Hooker moment.
It's their melodic pop sensibilities however that will keep those new listeners tuned in, even on the most typical (traditional?) of "folk" songs, Since I've Been Around, which could have come off anything from a Michael Thomas to a Pat Drummond album. Cunningham's unashamedly Australian drawl stamps it perfectly.
The Waifs might be making incredible inroads into the American psyche, and half this album was recorded in Los Angeles, but they haven't compromides their identities to achieve it. There's nothing embarrassingly jingoistic here. It's just something of that quiet sense of space and self that made the music of The Triffids shimmer. That said, there is one token "American road song", pure country, Three Down, the natural homesick counterpoint perhaps to Donna's London Still, this time from Vikki, complete with Kasey twang. Might be the perfect next single in the current climate.
There might be a rhythm section these days but The Waifs are still all about acoustic guitars, wistful hamonica lines and those peerless harmonies, never overdone, sitting seamlessly as sibling voices do. Then the contrasting colour of Josh Cunningham's voice, on the aforementioned Since I've Been Around, and the perfectly worldweary closer and title track, Up All Night, dilutes the richness of this musical confection perfectly. It's all delivered with the warmth and intimacy for which The Waifs are known, and production that belies its indie status.
2003 - New Releases Show - Triple J Radio, ABC Australia
Interview with Richard Kingsmill
Richard: What was the development of the group with this new album?
Vikki: I remember years ago Donna used to come out with these songs that had like 10 verses and we'd be like "Yeah, it'sn nice but it's a little bit long, maybe we could cut out..., and she's like "No, no, no, they all have to be there."" You used to write a lot of songs like that.
Vikki: Dylanesque ballads.
Richard: Did you perform them?
D : No. No, they never let me. Now they're all cut down to four minutes for radio and stuff.
R : Does that still happen any more?
D : Yeah, that annoys me actually having to, when you put out a radio song, you've got this song and they say "That could be the next single but cut out the verse and a chorus and half the solo and we can do it". [as i type this, "nothing new" comes on www.abc.net.au/dig - sg]
R : And I guess workshopping them on stage which essentially is how you make records, kind of tour them for a couple of years, you play in front of audiences, and gauge what sort of response you're gonna get back. Is that how it works?
V : Yeah, with this record it did. The previous records a lot of the songs we hadn't really workshopped them live like on Sink or Swim there was a couple of brand new songs on that but this new record we were playing all the songs on the album throughout the States for the last seven or eight months and it bcame obvious what we wanted to go on the record because, not how people were responding to the songs but how we felt playing them. They felt good to play live, they felt good to sing so... that's how we kind of chose the album.
Because we recorded like 18 songs.
R : Which isn't too bad - a lot of bands go into a new album with 30 or 40 songs.
V : We've never had more material than we intended recording and that's the first time we've actually had something to choose from.
R : Is that right?
D : Yeah.
R : Even though there's three songwriters in the band
V + D : Yeah.
R : Is that because as soon as you've got an album's worth...
... more to come...
The Drum Media 15/1/02
THE WAIFS/OH SUSANNAMETRO 11/01/02
REVEIW BY ROSS CLELLAND
The Waifs (have) been playing festivals in paddocks across the world, and know how to project. And since most outside have now herded in leaving the bar to those who didn't want to see Ukiyo-E, it's pretty much a preach to the converted.
They've gone beyond the acoustic guitar strum and angst that many in the folk idiom think is the way. With drummer Dave McDonald, and new ('we needed someone with dreads') bassist Ben Franz rounding out the noise, they can put some genuine bounce into what they do. It's like a less blokey Weddings Parties Anything, in spirit and style. There are nice little remembrance of place songs-stories like 'I'm in London Still', or the trapped in Bondi working as a casual while the music languishes as in'Waitress'.
Vikki's and Donna's voices take turns at songs, and if one's emoting the other is bounding about, soaking in the feeling of the tunes. You'd reckon the budget these days could extend to a second tambo, to save panicked runs across the stage to grab the one that's at someone else's feet at exactly the wrong moment. And in the middle, Josh plays the sometimes gentle, sometimes energetic guitar, and gets a big cheer when he actually does get to sing.
The crowd already knows the intros to most of the songs, and cheers at references to Albany (band's original hometown), Byron Bay and herb (I think there's a link there). But songs like Donna's mixed emotions of 'Without You' are affecting, even I you aren't familiar with them.
The Waifs have become an international indie success and good on 'em. You kind of hope a major label doesn't find them and offer them truckloads of money, make them get a stylist and try to turn them into Texas or The Corrs, coz that bit of dirt under the fingernails is part of what makes them what they are. Which is a band just having a good time with each other and their audience."
"The Sydney City Hub" pg11. 29 June 2000
The Waifs Putting the sex back into folk
by Kate Hamilton
Donna Simpson, newly shorn and shod in red, is pissed off. She strums her guitar hard and, with trademark huskiness, bemoans the latest bastard to break her heart, but with a feisty smirk and something of a shimmy. The audience loves it. This girl is pure sass.
The song, Haircut, tells the story of the ubiquitous post break up chop; a woman wronged, but fists-up fighting, getting back to herself. A real Donna number and a brand new one for the Waifs. The other members of the band, Donna's sister Vikki and her boyfriend, Josh, put down their guitars and step back from the light. Donna croons: "I got my hands in my pants, in my Calvin Kleins... I don't need you no more, I can come every time". Roars from the crowd. Vikki raises an eyebrow and grins.
The Waifs have been playing together for more than eight years. Their third album, Sink or Swim, was released last week and the band are currently in Western Australia, where they are kicking off a national tour, which will see them doing several NSW shows before heading to London for their first international dates.
The album marks a shift in style for the band, away from the raw, acoustic folk of their first two albums (tambourine, harmonica and those sweet sisterly harmonies), towards a somewhat slicker pop-flavoured melange of styles, that includes at times, a hint of jazz, blues and the twang of good 'ole country. "It's a mixed bag of lollies," says Donna. "I guess I'd call it folk pop.... Someone once called us wholemeal - which could mean daggy I guess, but I quite like it. There's something honest about wholemeal." The long locks may be gone (Donna was the last of The Waifs to go the chop) and the old jeans swapped for city slick but these are country kids at heart. "What do you reckon about Josh's suit?" Vikki asks the fans, never one to resist a piss-take on estage. "He scrubs up all right hey?" (He blushes).
Donna and Vikki grew up in Albany, an old whaling town on the southern coast of Western Australia. They arrived back there last week with 24 pieces of luggage between them - guitars, CDs, clothes, and Donna's Razor scooter. "It's the only one in Albany, so I'm feeling pretty cool," she says. "There's just no such thing as travelling light any more. I stuffed my guitar full of knickers and t-shirts, but I had to bring both pairs of boots."
Despite the new look - even the album cover is more blueberry bagel than wholemeal toast - Donna insists there is no engineered style or sound to The Waifs. "What you see is what you get," she says. "Our last album was two years ago - your whole life changes in that time. I think we're the least image conscious band in Australia.
"We're so not rockstars," she says. "We're fisherman's daughters. We spent four of five months of the year camping, and dinner every night was a barbecue - so there were lots of guitars; lots of songs around the campfire. Dad had loads of friends who where musos and they'd come around and jam at our place. Mum and Dad were always throwing parties. I had my own ukelele and set of bongoes for as long as I can remember."
Dad's guitar was the antidote to bored teenagerdom and by the time Vikki had finished school they had a big following playing Bob Dylan and Cat Stevens covers in the local pub. So they bought a van and hit the pub gig circuit, "hangin' out on beaches, singin' songs, fishing, camping - the cruisy life," says Donna, with a trace of wistfulness. "We were just playing music to travel."
Josh Cunningham ran into them in 1992 in the north coast resort town of Broome. He played them a quick rendition of Wish You Were Here, so the legend goes, and Donna asked him along for the ride. The three scruffy musos turned up back in Albany, a year later, in need of a good feed and a place to write some songs. So began The Waifs.
Eight years and three albums later, The Waifs are playing sellout shows around the country. They even have diehard fans who chat Waifs goss on the Internet, but they remain proudly independent. "It's a hard slog, doing it all on your own," says Donna, days before the tour is due to kick off. "No one running around, organising stuff for you."
Being home is "wet and busy", she says. "But it'll be OK. Once we start the tour, everything's done - then we get to the good stuff". The Edinburgh Festival gig, teed up for August has just fallen through after the Australian promoter who booked them pulled out due to family illness, and Donna is disappointed, but there are shows in London to do. Heading overseas is a big, but logical, next step for a band who are already selling records in Canada and Japan - places they've never been.
With merchandise and marketing, songwriting and organising tours, on their plates (not to mention, like all good artists, a fair share of waitressing), Donna admits the workload can get tough at times. The business to muic ratio? "About 50/50 (she laughs). Or maybe 60/40." There have been a few offers from record labels but at the moment the benefits of being independent outweigh the hard slog.
"Yeah, it's a lot of hard work, there are lots of brick walls trying to get our albums into record shops that only carry major labels... trying to get airplay. But it's fantastic having so much control over our lives - artistic control, financial control. We're really proud of what we've done. Too many bands just sit around waiting to get signed."
The Waifs clearly just aren't the sitting around types. Wanderlust aficionados, they spend months of the year gigging all over the country. "Being on the road; getting out and playing to people, just feels productive - that's what live music is all about," says Donna. And live music is definitely The Waifs' thang. There is an energy about their shows that doesn't survive the recording process.
"Something people have been saying about The Waifs for years, is that there's a vibe to our shows that's different from our recordings," says Donna. "It's there even before we get on stage. It's about the audience - they're wicked. I look out there sometimes and think 'wow, what a cool crowd'. With Haircut, for example, the audience has so much input into that song and I'm up there, making eye contact, smirking; there's a relationship going on. You can't capture that in the studio."
On stage, there is a stripped back honesty to The Waifs, that informs everything about the band, from their songs to their stage presence. "We write about real life, the things that are happening to us," says Donna. "In that way it's very revealing - the audience responds to that honesty."
Donna and Vikki do the sibling thing with humour and obvious affection. They finish each other's sentences, talk over the top of one another and crack up at each other's jokes. The intimacy of the threesome is bread from "blood, sweat and tears", says Donna. "That's what it takes to be in a band - it's a marriage. Being sisters makes it easier in a way. It's a much more forgiving kind of relationship."
The Waifs' stage roles are clearly defined - Donna-do-ya-wanna, the good time girl, and Vikki, the more sensible younger sister. Josh plays sensative new age boy with fingers nimble enought to bring tears to your eyes. Donna insists there is no facade. "It just happens. The only set thing is where we're going to stand, even the song list gets totally changed," she says. Sink or Swim features a more melancholy version of Donna's crowd-pleaser, Haircut, back to back with Love Serenade - a duet espousing the joys of domestic bliss, rocking chairs and all, by Vikki and Josh.
"Story of my life," says Donna, "I can't say I like it, but I've got some good songs out of it." There are other benefits. The bastart to which Haircut is bequeathed, thief of the girl's Kerouac books and her old guitar (the nerve!), heard it first on the radio. Sweet revenge, says Donna. "The trick is to find a way of making it entertaining. You can sing about a break-up but you've got to make it quirky."
Beneath the showoffy exterior, Donna admits she finds the fame thing hard to handle. She can sing about masturbation no probs, but being caught with her hands down those infamous Calvins offstage, is another matter. "It's such a weird feeling, to know you're being watched when you're not on stage," she says, describing a recent late night jaunt to a cafe in the Cross. "Some friends of ours were passing a joint around and the waitress came up to me later and said 'I know who you are and I won't say anything'. It was just too weird."
There may be a hell of a lot more weirdness on the horizon for this band; sexing up the staid image of folk with their ever evolving hitlist of ballads and blues riffs. Not to mention the occasional slap of a tambourine on the bum.
Dolly Magazine, pg 31 June 2000
Doing it for themselves
The Waifs started when singing and guitar-playing sisters Donna and Vikki left their home of Albany, WA, to travel around Australia. They took off in a campervan the day Vikki left school, and eventually met Josh up in Broome, who "taught them how to play real music." All three play guitars, and there's sometimes mandolin, violin or harmonica too.
They travelled for three years, busking - anything to get to the next town. Then they settled in Melbourne, wrote songs and made their first, self-titled CD. A second, Shelter me followed, and they started touring with huge bands who fell in love with their beautiful acoustic pop songs.
"our songs make us different," Donna says. "We have three writers. Most bands have one or two and they clash, but we all write, so there's a lot of different styles. Of course, there is lots of argument about whose songs get played and whose don't!"
We've got a system going - we've always got two against one," laughs Josh.
What makes The Waifs unique is that they've always recorded and released their own albums independently, without waiting for a record deal, or ever having to chase one. They tour to raise the money, then do it themselves, exactly how they want it.
"It wasn't a conscious decision to do it that way, just that we wanted to make an album and we had the money, so we didn't even approach a record company," says Vikki. "That's important for young bands to realise - if you've got good rrowds you can get enough money to make your own album, rather than waiting for a big label."
"We've actaully never sent a demo tape to a record company, as we've always been able to pay for our own albums," Donna says. "Which means you've got complete artistic control over what you do. And you can make more money - if it works out."
It's a lot of work though - you have to do everything which eats into creative time.
They warn that if you're after fame and fortune it's not the best way to go, but if you love music and want to be able to make it your life and career, it's possible.
"Festivals have been important to us in gaining crowds and exposure," says Vikki. "It's a really good thing for young bands to get tinto, as you've got an immediate audience there to hear new bands."
They've just finished a new CD, which is available from their website, at gigs and some stores. Then they'll get back in the van and tour again, this time OS as well.
"The whole lifestyle is a high point," says Donna. "Vikki hasn't worked a normal job in her life. She went straight out of school into a band. It's not 9 to 5. It's beautiful."
"You get to do what you like," Josh adds. "But it's hard work. We're always on planes, checking in and out of hotels, looking at menus - you just want to cook! And sleep."
Another unique thing about The Waifs is that not only are Donna and Vikki sisters, but Josh is Vikki's boyfriend. "Being sisters is a bonus, 'cos when you fight you know you're stuck with each other forever!" says Donna. "you know you'll stay together, and get over it, no matter how bad it is."
"I just try to dodge the bullets," Josh grins. "Although I'm involved too, as I'm in a relationship with Vikki, so there's a bit of crossfire coming from every direction!"
The Drum Media (Sydney) sometime around July 2000
CD Review - Sink or Swim
Review by Matt Buchanan
If wry, witty, acoustic toestapping country rock and folk replete with strong and affecting harmonies are your bag then this, the third Waifs album, should prove irresistible. But there's a lot more to it than sweet and sad singalongs.
While the whole album has a polished feel, there's a magnificent bitterness here that makes songs The Haircut and Service Fee feel as if they were siphoned directly from the bile duct, especially The Haircut, a heartbreak song that manages to be sarcastic, funny and terribly wounded all at once. (That takes skill, and once you hear it you know you're in good hands.)
True, there's the standard travellin' hokum: the ramblin' bury-me-with-me-boots fell of When I Die will have some wishing that day comes sooner rather than later. But the first five tracks are superlative. Donna and Vikki Simpson sing, Josh Cunningham stretches the strings (mandolin and electric guitar) and Dave MacDonald drums.
Keep and eye out for their Metro gig, where they'll be supported by fellow WA muso, the finger pickin' whiz John Butler.
Sydney Morning Herald, Good Times section, some time during February 2000
Not Drowning, Waifing
Dancing to the beat of a different tambourine, Heather Wiseman gets the skinny on Western Australia's intimate pop/folk trio.
During a recent show, the Waifs brought their audience at the Basement to life with an understated lyric about how Sydneysiders say hello. "Everyone I meet don't want to know my name," Donna Simpson sang. "They want to know what I do for a living."
Simpson, who finds it difficult to dance without a tambourine in her hand, is one-third of the Waifs' wit and talent. She shares the stage with her younger sister, Vikki, and Vikki's partner of seven years, Josh Cunningham. All three self taught musicians write lyrics, play guitar and sing, creating a bunch of distinctive harmonies that blend pop and contemporary folk.
Vikki says much of the band's success is due to their deeply personal lyrics. "Pepole love our stories about our lives and relationships," She says. "They're very simple songs, simple stories and simple lyrics, and the reaction of our audiences has been instant."
Donna and Vikki started winning fans eight years ago when they invested in a campervan and drove north from their hometown of Albany in Western Australia. Vikki had only just left school. "We'd never driven throgh traffic lights, ever," Donna says. "The van used to have yellow psychedelic fluff throughout the whole roof and walls, which sort of used to catch on fire when you cooked."
In Broome, they met one very unhappy guitarist. At 18 Cunningham was touring with a "bunch of middle-aged alcoholics" and slowly going broke. Within 15 minutes of a spontaneous jam, he had secured a seat in the van.
Cunningham enjoys recalling his family's shock when he finally returned home, thin and dishevelled, scruffy girlfriend in tow. "My grandmother, when she saw me for the first time, remarked in horror, 'Josh, you're a waif!'"
Although the Waifs now fill venues including the Basement and Harbourside Brasserie, they're still a reasonably well-kept secret tin Sydney. It's another story in Perth, where they recently pulled a crowd of 1,200 to a Monday-night gig. A record-company deal could push their profile across the country, but they are determinedly independent. They're about to record their self financed third album and Cunningham wants the publicity machine limited to word-of-mouth.
"We've gained a loyal following from being an independent band, rather than just being the next sensation that the record comapny pulls through the media and all over the radio," he says. "We've spent seven years building a following of people and they'll always keep coming back."
Drum Media 17 July 1999
Last Waifs Till Britain
Joining the Waifs for their last East Coast tour before they head overseas is violinist and producer Jen Anderson, which should make for an extra treat for Waifs fans who won't be seeing the band for a good three months after their final NSW show at the Clarendon up in Katoomba Sunday 22. Now, we're told that those of you who have followed the peripatetic* career of The Waifs over their seven years of touring, initially from home base Perth and more recently from new home in Sydney will have noticed a bit of a change. According to one observer, it goes something along the lines on "no beards and no long hair can be found, just an endless supply of labels and hair-gel." The urban ferals are sprucing up, and why not? They're off to the UK in October for a ten week tour followed, in December, by an all but confirmed trip to Canada. Which means this next lot of gigs are your last chance for at least three months to catch them in action, and that may extend since they're also going into the studio to cut the next album. So, The Waifs play Wollongong Uni Wednesday 18, Tilley's in Canberra two nights Thursday 19 and Friday 20, then the Big One, Goldman's Newtown RSL and finally The Clarendon in Katoomba.
* "1. walking or travelling about; itinerant 2.someone who travels about" Macquarie Dictionary
The article is accompanied by a pretty spiffy looking colour shot of the trio gorging on fruit, frankfurts and pavlova on a cliff top somewhere.
Drum Media, sometime in 1999
Fresh from their national tour supporting Weddings Parties Anything, WA's freshest folk/pop trio The Waifs are heading back to Sydney for a night at Bar Broadway, Saturday 19, after kicking up their heels at the Thirroul Rex Friday 18 down Wollongong way. This'll be your last chance for a few months to catch Donna, Vikki and Josh, who will be heading up to Queensland for the Woodford Festival then heading home to take time out to write material and record their third independent and what looks like a more "electric" album.