FREMANTLE singer-songwriter Dave Johnson had enough of writing broken-hearted love songs and “narcissistic fluff”, so he turned his attention to inequality, tackling everything from Banksia Detention Centre to Nauru on his new album Inequality Boulevard.
Johnson is well-placed to write about inequality as he’s been on the frontline for decades – running a music program at Banksia Juvenile Detention Centre for some of the most troubled and traumatised kids in the state, and for the past 15 years leading the Starlight Hotel Choir at St Pat’s homeless shelter on Queen Victoria Street in Fremantle.
This is no wealthy rock star commentating on inequality from his poolside in Beverly Hills – Johnson’s been there, done it and bought the t-shirt on a daily basis.
“Through these experiences, my third album [Inequality Boulevard] has kinda been writing itself,” he says.
“The song that is most influenced from my experience at Banksia would be the title track – a bare and confronting switch between a story of everyday tragedy and the structurally protected amorality that surrounds wealth and power.
“Let the Anger Go is a song with similar beginnings and is a conversation, an observation, and a counsel around a young teenager who is in pain and lost.
“Nauru, which was nominated for WAM song of the year, is a critique on the harsh immigration policies held by the governments over the last 20 yrs (and still has), yet still manages to find that blend between the issue and the personal story. Other songs explore how disconnected from reality we can become, especially when it comes to living sustainably and climate change.”
Recorded at Sundown Studios in O’Connor, Inequality Boulevard has a beautiful warm sound with acoustic guitar, piano and strings effortlessly blending into a mellow folk-rock soup.
There’s a wistful melancholy to the songs with a big nod to artists like Paul Kelly and Woody Guthrie.
Johnson’s vocals sound like a cross between Elvis Costello and Mark Knopfler.
He has a tender, slightly nasally delivery with a bit of world-weariness thrown in.
Johnson assembled a stellar cast for the album including Tony Bourke (The Waifs/Eskimo Joe) on piano, Ben Franz (The Waifs/Mick Thomas) on upright bass, Luke Dux (The Kill Devil Hills/ThornBird) on electric guitar, Ian Simpson (Paul Kelly/Slim Dusty) on banjo, Phoebe Corke (Tijuana Cartel/Hussy Hicks) on violin, and Elliot Smith (Dave Brewer/The Waifs) on drums.
Johnson pulls off the difficult task of combining virtuous lyrics with catchy melodies, so you can hum along or dig deep into the meanings behind the songs.
“The main hope, goal, question in this album is – can we do better? Can we tame the self centred beast that is at the very core of inequality?” he says.
“Can we have conflicting ideologies yet work together to solve our future challengers?
“Rents are skyrocketing, people are sleeping in cars, shop entrances and it seems our political conversations are about tax cuts that benefit the wealthy but no mention of increasing the social safety net or properly funding the organisations and programs that do support our brothers, sisters, mothers, children who are in crisis.
“Even our priorities of worth are out of whack – you get a higher hourly rate pouring a beer than caring for our frail and aged in our aged care system.”
Johnson will have an album launch gig for Inequality Boulevard at Freo Social on December 1 with support from Lois Olney and Helen Townsend/Shannon Smith.
Tix at moshtix.com.au/v2/event/dave-johnson-album-launch-inequality-boulevard/144509.
Some of the ticket proceeds will go towards the Centre for Asylum Seekers Refugees and Detainees, which provides emergency and financial relief for people seeking asylum who have been denied government support or the right to work.
by STEPHEN POLLOCK