Now To Noakesy, with The News
We catch up with the Naarm/Melbourne-based singer-songwriter and his new EP, 'Yesterday's Paper'
Any gigging musician worth their salt knows the ins and outs of the pub circuit.
A meagre stage, a dinky sound system, a bustling bar, and an audience comprised of regulars. If you’re lucky, you might even get a smattering of fans who came along to listen to the music. It’s in this world that Noakesy, the Melbourne-based singer-songwriter, has made his name, and in this tradition that he’s debuted with a new EP, Yesterday's Paper.
“When I was in Perth at Uni, I had a residency at a piano bar for like two and a half years in Fremantle,” says Noakesy of one such stint. “Something that I know particularly well is doing pub gigs when you're not really the focus of people's attention.” It’s a familiarity that underpins his new EP, Yesterday’s Paper. “I went, well, I think I could probably set it in a pub where nobody really wants to listen to this kid who's playing,” he explains, “and then gradually as the gig goes on, people kind of listen to them a little bit more.”
The result is a five-track concept that makes light of audience indifference, name mispronunciations, belligerent drunks, and the ever-daunting spectre of Billy Joel. “The worst thing is when it's half past seven, you've just started the gig, and someone comes in and goes, ‘Oh, play Piano Man,’” says Noakesy, speaking to one of the record’s skits. That’s not to say Noakesy has an issue with Joel. He channels the pub-ready piano-rock of forebears like Joel and Elton John, incorporating his own love for ‘90s British rock: “I always wanted to be a member of Oasis, so that's where the loud guitars kind of come from.” He’s not light with the keys, and the songs flame out in cathartic infernos.
Opening track Gone (I Want You) kickstarts the record with impassioned vocals and staccato keys, an anthem about dissipating trust in a dissolving relationship. Caught in attempts to “even up the score,” mired in “a haze of rum and red wine,” Noakesy rides the high-energy arrangement to a mighty AOR crescendo featuring a singalong-ready hook and a searing saxophone outro. It’s a triumph immediately at odds with his next task: announcing the upcoming draw of the pub’s meat raffle.
That muted response was devised by Noaskey and his producer, Ben Provest, no strangers to such a reception. “The thing that we were really keen on doing was having that really weird, awkward disconnect between how loud the music is and… the relatively quiet applause from people at the pub,” he explains, that deafening silence testament to artists giving their all for very little. “I've seen it all the time.”
It doesn’t dissuade the artist on Learn to Dance, a tale of romantic redemption originally intended for a since-scrapped project. “Gone and Learn to Dance were initially written as singles to a separate EP that I was going to work on,” he says, explaining the inexplicable fade out at the end of the ‘live’ performance. “How do you reckon they did that fade out,” asks a confused punter, moments before stepping out to talk about “the guy who thinks he’s Elton John.”'
The EP doesn’t get any more downtempo than She, a bouncy relationship retrospective that still soars to an electric bridge. The title track, Yesterday’s Paper, trades relationship breakdowns to societal rifts, speaking on the grim climate that swamps and stifles. “A lot of the lyrics for Yesterday's Paper came from this idea that our generation constantly complain about how bad the world is,” says Noakesy. “Someone online somewhere said to the Boomer iteration who accused our generation of complaining all the time, that maybe we wouldn't have to complain all the time if you lot didn't fuck everything up so bad!” The result is a life-affirming exploration of the constant doom-and-gloom, with the titular refrain — “I read in yesterday’s paper, that tomorrow we’re all gonna die” — leading to a kind of liberating nihilism, with Noakesy finding commonality in our desperate attempts to right our own ships. “Happy to be a delinquent that’s gone astray,” he’s leaning into our sad state of affairs with gusto.
That’s where closer All My Friends comes in, the key to wading through this strange life. Good company splits the darkness and hoists a light, even for the pessimist in Noakesy, “born on a ship capsizing.” The silver lining of friendship helps us weather the storm, providing a refuge as faith is rocked and conviction tested. In the words of Noakesy, “all your mistakes, your wrongs and your fears, will disappear in time like rain dissolves your tears.” The moment is here and now, but the bonds we form stretch far beyond the things that trouble us.
The camaraderie of friendship finally breaks through with the audience, who count themselves among Noakesy’s delinquent peers as they cheerily sing along. Yesterday’s Paper is a testament to the power of art to bring us together hinting at a triumph over the powers of cynicism and resignation both in message and medium. The crowd in the dinky bar are won over by Noakesy’s message of community, hardship, and perseverance, and though despair runs through his lyrics, there’s an overwhelming feeling that, in spite of it all, things might just be alright in the end.