Home' Rhythms Magazine : 2018 Mar-Apr Contents 52 Rhythms
As Ben Morrison of The Brothers Comatose picks up the
telephone he takes leave from a task he is getting quite
used to – packing.
Tomorrow the five-piece is heading to China for a series
of shows and workshops. After that it is a three-week east
coast tour of Australia with appearances at both the Port
Fairy Folk Festival and Blue Mountains Folk Festival before
heading back to the US for a series of shows throughout the
“I’m not sure what to pack for China,” Morrison admitted
when recently talking to Rhythms from his home in
Oakland, California. “But packing is only part of the mystery
because we’re not really sure what to expect from China!
This is going to be stepping off into the unknown.
“The State Department runs this program called American
Music Abroad that sends musicians to foreign countries
and we applied for it a couple of times and never got in. But
the third time we applied we got accepted and a couple of
months ago we found out we’re going to China.”
The Brothers Comatose 2016 trip to Australia was a similar
experience with the band not really knowing what to
expect from the audience. Drawing on its inherent sense of
adventure, The Brothers Comatose did a handful of shows
mostly around Sydney and the Hunter Valley.
“The reason we went down there that first time was to
play the Dashville Skyline Festival,” Morrison said. “That
festival was so much fun. It’s an Americana festival and
when we showed up everybody there was dressed like 1970s
cowboys. We were the only American band there and even
though most of the other bands were much better than
us, the crowd gave us a special pass because we had the
authenticity of actually being American.”
The Brothers Comatose’s authenticity extends far beyond
their citizenship. Formed in 2009 by brothers Ben (guitar)
and Alex Morrison (banjo) over the ensuing years the band
has grown to include Gio Benedetti (bass), Philip Brezina
(violin), and Ryan Avellone (Mandolin). With a mother who
performed with folk and bluegrass bands, music was central
within the Morrison household. After starting off playing
rock music, they eventually evolved their own unique
energetic, foot-stopping, string band sound.
Australian singer-songwriter Jenny Biddle, currently
living in Scotland, begins an Australian tour in mid-
Tell us about your first Scottish winter.
It’s a whole different lifestyle – there’s no worry about
bushfires, water shortages or my guitar melting in the car.
I was apprehensive as winter approached. I now know how
to make a fire with wet wood and, when walking on a frozen
lake, the whacky lightsabre sound of the surface beginning
to crack. Everyone goes tobogganing down the slopes
of the local golf course (which, under moonlight, is extra
special). And winter has been made complete by someone
to snuggle up to, mulled wine, a cat, and a cosy fire.
In building a following in Scotland and the north of
England, is being Australian a benefit or a hindrance?
I’ve wondered about this. One issue has been defining
my niche. In Australia, I’m labelled as a folk musician. In
Britain, folk music is about accordions, pipes and aye-
How are you and your audiences going in understanding
I’ve toned down my Aussie twang to help the cause.
Sometimes they still look at me like, “What the?” But
equally I do the same. The Scots have a good sense of
On your upcoming Australian tour, you’re doing a lot of
regional gigs. What’s special about regional audiences?
I love playing in country towns. I find those audiences to be
a very appreciative, listening audience and the connection
is more enriching. It’s not about just doing your job and
going home. It’s a mutual exchange – making memories,
sharing stories, having a cuppa and a meal and often being
a home away from home on tour.
On your new album, Wild & Free, you do some piano
playing. How do your creative and emotional processes
differ between piano and guitar?
I’ve often found guitar more versatile for expression – from
soft and soothing, to dark and haunting, to upbeat and
energising. In the past, with the piano, I’ve run the risk of
songs starting to sound the same... melancholy. But when I
moved to Scotland, I got myself a Nord keyboard, which has
opened up a new world of sounds, including the songs, ‘The
Mildew Blues’ and ‘Believe In Yourself’.
You will be performing in Wandiligong, Victoria,
in April. How have people responded to your song,
I miss Wandi. The community is welcoming and has
embraced my music, although I’m told it’s not the first song
about Wandi! I hope to move back there one day. The Scots
and the English have a good chuckle at the name.
Wild & Free was supported by a Pozible crowdfunding
My Australian tour is celebrating the release of Wild & Free.
And I’ll be delivering the remaining crowdfunding rewards,
including house concerts and guitar, piano and harmonica
Born and refined within the eclectic Bay Area music scene,
the band has now channeled that sound across three albums
and three EPs. Morrison attributes part of the band’s rise to
the area’s inherent appetite for something a little different.
“It’s a really diverse music scene which is cool,” Morrison
said. “I live in Oakland and there is a really great hip hop
scene here. There’s funk and jazz and folk. It’s a really
interesting place musically, but there aren’t too many string
bands doing what we’re doing so we’re something of an
oddity. And that’s good for us because that has helped us
stand out a little bit.”
Then of course there is Hardly Strictly Bluegrass – San
Francisco’s annual homage to Americana music – which has
also exerted its influence in bringing the band to the fore.
“When I first moved down to San Francisco I got a job
working backstage at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass,” Morrison
said. “I was in a rock band at the time and was blown
away by the music and community and how connected
everybody in that scene was. I was really attracted to that.
“That experience played a huge role in me reconnecting
with this kind of music. The rock world is more competitive
and I didn’t really like that. I loved that in folk or bluegrass
music everybody jammed together. It didn’t matter what
band you were in – it was about something bigger."
Having now played Strictly Hardly Bluegrass several times,
The Brothers Comatose have embraced the bigger picture
with heart and soul.
“That festival is so wild,” Morrison said. “As a band we’re
all about audience interconnectedness, so the second
time we played there I bought 700 tambourines and we
handed them out to the audience. We ended up playing to
about 20,000 that day and it was incredible. But I walked
off stage thinking ‘shit man, I should have bought more
The Brothers Comatose play Port Fairy Folk Festival and
Blue Mountains Festival, full dates in the Gig Guide.
BRETT LEIGH DICKS
The Manly Fig is hosting the Good Lovelies (Canada)
in March and you in April. Tell us about your June/July
Greg Wight, whom I made guitars alongside in Melbourne,
has started a guitar workshop in Ontario – Harbour Guitars.
Greg and Roots & Soul Music Promotions have lined up
my first Canadian tour, focusing on New Brunswick and
Ontario. I can’t wait!
What else is coming up for you this year?
Releasing some new videos, recording four new songs and a
performance in Zhongshan, China.
Since your last tour, marriage equality has been
achieved in Australia...
People in the UK were shocked to realise same-sex marriage
hadn’t already been legalised in Australia. I was sad to miss
the buzz of my own home country, as it’s something I’ve
been waiting for. Now it’s done and people can get on with
living and loving. I’ve celebrated by adding a verse to my
coming out song, ‘Hero In Me’, and I’m set to re-record the
song this year. Yes!
Jenny Biddle tours nationally in March, details in the
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