AFTER more than a decade living in the dusty deserts of Utah, The Waifs’ Vikki Thorn is back in WA with her debut solo album ThornBird.
The record is a schizophrenic affair, at times conjuring up the wide open spaces of Utah with haunting pedal steel guitar and bitter-sweet lyrics, and at others reflecting the claustrophobia and anxiety of lockdown.
Thorn says she intentionally didn’t make an acoustic or folk album, with producer Dan Carroll encouraging her to move further and further away from The Waifs sound.
“Initially I had an album of songs about living in rural Utah,” Thorn says.
“Surprisingly they didn’t all make it on the record – that would have been a very country record. Half the songs were written here in Albany during the covid shutdown – I was facing new, unforeseen challenges and so the album became something quite different to what I had expected. Less about cowboys, more about getting back on your horse.”
Thorn is so no stranger to travel and adventure – on her last day of school aged 16 she jumped in a decrepit Kombi bought by big sister Donna and left Albany to travel around Australia.
They earned their musical stripes playing as a duo in rural bars across WA, before meeting Josh Cunningham in Broome in 1992 and forming The Waifs.
After years of touring, the band enjoyed mainstream success with the 2003 album Up All Night and went on to support Bob Dylan on his Australian and North American tours.
In 2008 Thorn made the life changing decision to settle in Utah with her husband Matt.
“The people and experiences I had there had a profound impact on me,” she says.
“I found my strength as a songwriter, and as a woman and mother during that time. I learned to be creatively free.
“My songs are inspired by the endless space and solitude I found myself in – literally living in isolated places and metaphorically being the only woman in a household of males.”
But after a decade living in the US, the travelling back and forth to Australia became a grind.
“We came back because I became anxious about having to fly across the world to go to work,” Thorn says.
“It made much more sense when my career was in Australia. West Australia has all that desert which we need to feel at home.
“There is strong history and connection here and that’s important to me and my family. I don’t view it as full circle as much as new beginning.”
Thorn is about to embark on a WA tour that stretches from Margaret River to Port Hedland, with a gig at the Freo Social in Fremantle on Friday (August 20).
She has fond memories of Freo including playing a regular Sunday gig at the Market Bar in her early days.
But it wasn’t all plain sailing in the port city – once The Waifs cancelled a sold-out concert at the Fremantle Arts Centre because of afternoon thunderstorms and were nearly lynched by disappointed fans.
“By 6pm the sky had cleared and it was a perfect night for a concert,” Thorn says.
“3000 people rocked up and were told there was no performance.
“We then made the stupid mistake of going out for dinner in town, where the streets were teaming with disappointed Waifs fans.
“Lots of people were very upset with us. We seperated thinking we wouldn’t be recognised in a group and skulked back to the hotel!“
Tix for Thorn’s Freo Social gig at http://www.facebook.com/VikkiThornMusic
By STEPHEN POLLOCK