Jeff Lang

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Page last updated September 7 2011


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This page contains a collection of stories, interviews and comments gathered from music press and the web over the years.

Out of Africa - David Craddock

X-Press Magazine - October 2009

Jeff Lang writes the majority of his material on the road, but with a recording date looming and a young family to look after, the roots raconteur decided to lock himself in the back shed and not let himself out until his latest album Chimeradour was written.

"I had to make myself get to it, so I just said 'ok buck, you're going to write some songs'," Lang tells X-Press from his Melbourne home where he is resting before embarking on a far-reaching Australian tour.

The result was diverse album that sees Lang further evolve, stretch and challenge the limits of his hallmark slide guitar and finger picking. Laced with his familiar folk and roots tales are lashings of African and middle-eastern rock styles. Elsewhere, the crunchy southern rocker, Slow Rooms And Fast-blurred Faces, reveals Lang's love of Crazy Horse-era Neil Young.

"In this case the songs were all written at home in a little short block," Lang says of the appropriately mystically-titled Chimeradour. "It was more of disciplined process … usually when I'm accumulating songs it's during times when my mind can wander. I might have just been driving for two or thee hours on my own and all of a sudden, even if I have the radio on, I might get some lines come into my head. You go 'ooh there's something here' and you pull over and write a song. So it can be a day-dreamy headspace. But if you've got things that are taking up your time, if you've got a young child you've got to be looking after, then you can't be just sitting for three hours looking out the window."

Lang's back shed writing sessions have also revealed a fondness for African desert rock such as that brought to the world by critically-acclaimed Malian and Saharan ex-freedom fighters Tinariwen. Stirring, and highly rhythmical tracks like Home To You show the guitar virtuoso taking traditional melodies and reinterpreting them in a wonderfully fluid ways on his numerous fretless instruments.

"I've been listening to a lot of African guitar bands in the last couple of years like Tinariwen and Terakaft," Lang explains "I really love that sound, and Ali Farka Touré's guitar playing. He's been one of my favourite guitarists for a long time ... being into that kind of stuff it just works its way into the music, mixed in with various other types of music. Turkish music is related to that in a way, and there's also. a hint of Indian music in some things too."

Given Lang's exotic touring schedule this year, it's unsurprising his sound permeates such worldly and eclectic tastes. As well as playing at Japan's esteemed Fuji Rock Festival earlier in the year, Lang has played dates in China, Ireland, Beijing and Reunion Island. Even on his upcoming Australian tour, Lang has managed to slip in an unusual gig at Island Pizza, a restaurant on Queensland's Great Keppel Island.

"Someone got in touch and said the tourist thing there has died, the resorts are all closed but we can put on a gig at this Pizza Shop. It's got a patio and they bring a PA over and make part of the ticket the ferry trip across … it's definitely got a different vibe to it … not your everyday gig."

Interview by David Craddock

Rave Magazine - Heidi Leigh Axton - "GUITAR MAN"

Rave Magazine - October 2009

Jeff Lang definitely isn't the first interviewee I've seen employ the "phone a friend" strategy, when battling to answer a question. However, it was Lang's choice of saviour that amused me. I'd asked if he had any funny stories to share of things that hadn't gone to plan during his career. "What is it they say? You make plans and God laughs," concedes Lang cheerily. "There's any number of things that can go wrong. Unfortunately, l need to get a better stockpile of amusing gags. I always feels stumped when It gets put on me like that …" He pauses, then pleads seriously to someone else in the room: "Alice, any hazardous road stories come to mind, where things didn't work out" I hear a baby trying desperately to gurgle out a response to the query.

"Jeff ...", I interject. "How old is Alice?" "She's almost two", he tells me proudly.

Yes, Lang is a positive thinker - sometimes to the extreme. (As shown by his belief Alice could assist with our interview.) And yet he has a likeable humility. Despite his brilliance as a musician, he shows no jealousy towards the teen idol, with a quarter of his skill who become superstars, whilst he remains, in the shadows. "How much attention does my music merit!" muses Lang. 'I do what l believe in, but surely everyone is doing that. Doesn't matter if it's someone who won Australian Idol or who's scored a record contract at 14. They're doing something they believe in. If it's not connecting with me personally, maybe it's not aimed at me. It doesn't bother me if someone else has success. It's not like they've come to your house and stolen your success. They've got success, and because of that you don't. That's not how it works."

Lang remarkably learnt his craft by ear on an old guitar, with broken tuning pegs picking up more from tapes given to him of early music icons. "I tuned it by ear to an open chord and played like that for a year. Then l remember learning clarinet and talking to my teacher. I said, "This is what I'm doing with this guitar, but I know it's not the way most people tune Instruments. He said: 'You should get someone to show you regular tuning: l went and saw a guy for awhile and he said,'Okay, what you're doing there, on regular guitar, would go like this …" It then quickly descended into making tapes of certain players.'You like Ian Moss? Have you heard Jeff Beck? Have a listen to this.

So what are the differences in technique with slide guitar, as opposed to regular? "Well you're able to subvert the fretboard a bit. You're not dictated to on where you play a note by the fretwire that's there. You can make it sound more like a human voice. You can't do the same things you can do with regular guitar, but it's definitely got an expressiveness to it; that is an advantage."

Interview by Heidi Leigh Axton

Sailing off the Map by Sam Fell

Rhythms - May 2008

With Half Seas Over, Jeff Lang continues to chart his own course as one of this country's most adventurous musicians.

The venerable Jeff Lang has appeared in the pages of Rhythms many times over his almost twenty year career. And not just in mags like this one, but specialist guitar magazines, streetpress magazines, publications covering a variety of different music, because well, Jeff Lang is quite the 'different' musician. Since the early '90s, as a long haired solo player, Lang has inched his way up the roots ladder in this country, if indeed there is such a thing, meeting me needs and wants of audiences of all ages and all musical persuasions, such is his far reaching appeal. His records, of which there have been 15, have evolved each time - (here is no one Jeff Lang sound, and yet in testament to his way with the music, everything he does is quintessentially Jeff Lang. Not many people can pull this off - of course, there aren't many musicians around like Jeff Lang.

His first record was Ravenswood, released back in 1994 when Lang lived in his van, touring the country incessantly; something we've come to associate with this man. "There were definitely a few years where I was literally living in my van for a bunch of years, around the time I made my first record in 1994; I think back on that, and yeah, 1 wasn't even playing in the major cities that much, but doing like three hundred shows a year, all around the country. In fact, there was one year where it actually got above that, in 1998, I look back and I had forty days off," he told me in an interview last year. This was the beginning, and it was raw and powerful, it made you take notice with its passion and virtuosity, its stories and its melodies - indeed this was music that was its own entity, something different and fantastic.

Over the course of all his other records (to name a few: Disturbed Folk in '95, Cedar Grove in '98, the ARIA winning collaboration with Bob Brozman, Rollin' Through This World in '02, the sublime Dislocation Blues with the late Chris Whitley in '05, all summarised in Prepare Me Well, the anthology, released last year), Lang has lost none of the passion or power -in fact, he's only gained more -and his fanbase has extended (0 match this evolutionary musical prowess.

When I get a chance to catch up with him again, he's just come home from a weekend of Bluesfest gigs, preceded by yet another trip to Europe, a place where people are also beginning to realise what Lang is capable of.

"It's getting there you know?" he says of how well it's going in Europe. ''Anyone doing it the way I'm doing it, the independent route, it takes a little more time. You don't have the big major record label splash-of-cash in promotion, but you know, I've got no complaints. There's people out there that like the sort of thing that I do, whatever that is, and it's just a matter of going out and finding them -that's what I've always done. Expanding the touring circle too, going overseas is just a way you can keep on playing."

And that's what Jeff Lang does - keeps on playing. He's matured as a musician and has found his niche and as such is more relaxed with his approach to his music and how he rates it. "There's a time and place: for living [hat way, and that was definitely that time and that place for me," he says of his early touring days. ''And I still work a lot, it's certainly not like I feel like I'm sitting back and sipping white wine spritzers and watching the sunset too often (he still plays upward of 150 shows a year). But I try and balance it. It's really down to when you have a home life, and you enjoy that. I do still enjoy touring, so you try and balance it. Someone told me once, the theory is, it takes you as much time at home, as you've been away, to actually feel like you've come off the road. So I've probably got a few years off in me, before 1actually feel like I'm home."

This was also imparted last year, and if I remember correctly, was accompanied by a hearty laugh - the laugh of a man who's been there and done it, and is now content with where he's at and what he's done -but more importantly, here in 2008, with where he's going.

The Musician

The question here then, is where is Jeff Lang going? Lang himself doesn't even know, and in truth, this is what puts him on a shelf above most others. There's no warning as to what he'l1 pull out of the bag next, there are no signs that point towards a logical next step, because in this instance, there is no logical next step; the man is on a constant mission to reinvent music, to stretch its boundaries and warp and mould it to his every whim. Of course, Lang is based heavily in 'roars music', there's no denying that. There are elements of the blues in there, musically and vocally, plus if you listen to his lyrics and the stories they tell, you can recognise me folkie in him. And you can spot jazz moves in mere in the way he interacts with other players.

Perhaps the most important lesson to learn here is, don't go telling Lang he's merely a blues player, for chat would be folly indeed. As I mentioned, his sound is wholly rooted in the blues, but then, so is any rock 'n' roll band or hip hop crew; everything came from the blues. Lang is a winter soup of a musician -full of countless ingredients, bits of this and bits of that, all coming together to form something quite unlike anything else, something which is rarely the same me next time you see it, and of course, something that is wholly satisfying.

Lang's unique eclecticism was highlighted to a tee in last year's anthology, Prepare Me Well ("It"s not a Greatest Hits, because I haven't had any!"), which as he also noted at me time, was drawing a line in the sand under everything he'd done so far, but was also setting it up for what was to come. Perhaps this is where we get an answer to me question, 'where is Jeff Lang going?', because this month Lang releases his 15th record the masterful, Half Seas Over.

Half Seas Over

"It's a different sort of record, I mean, there are certain types of songs that work with that stripped-down instrumentation really well," Lang says, referencing the fact that Half Seas Over features just himself and Gram Cummerford on acoustic and upright bass. ""When I came to record, I had a certain amount of material that would have suited a band thing, a real band approach, and not to say that there aren't songs on here that could be played that way, bur I only had about half a record written that would be a band one. And I'd been doing a lot of shows with Grant as a two-piece, and it just seemed this time that there was a whole record mere of songs that would work really well with just the two of us. So that one basically crossed the finish line first. It makes it a lot easier to record as well, because it's just the two of us standing in a room together playing, it's a very natural thing to do.

"And Grant, he's got very good intuition, he's a good conversationalist, musically," Lang goes on about his long-time musical partner. "The music can take off, he's always listening and responding, and that's what it's all about. It's almost like applying the jazz approach to actual songs; it's not just a vehicle for playing, but you have a conversation based on me topic of that song that you're playing. And Grant is always up for going somewhere, the spaceship is always fuelled up and ready to go."

If you were able to see the pair at any of their Bluesfest shows, you'll know what Lang is talking about when he mentions the rocket -he'll be playing through a verse and then grasp an opportunity to go off on a psychedelic-esque tangent, and you see Cummerford follow him straight away; it's almost as if they've rehearsed it all, which of course they haven't, and this comes through mightily on Half Seas Over.

"I had a fairly precise idea of what I wanted to do with this one," Lang reveals. "You've got new songs and are playing a lot of gigs, so there comes a rime when you look at what you've got, material wise, and in this case I could see how I was going to do it, I didn't need any outside objectivity, it was pretty straight forward with this material what would work really effectively for it. We recorded it fairly quickly too, which tends to keep me spontaneity going. And I had a certain approach to some songs like the idea of 'Newman Town', where there's the group chorus, call and response thing - I already had that in mind when I'd written that song."

'Newman Town' features Ali Ferrier on fiddle, as well as a handful of backup vocalists -it's the only track on Half Seas Over that isn't just Jeff and Grant - and so serves to highlight Lang's songwriting vision, as he mentioned, with the thought coming to him before they even entered the studio. A lot of the songs as well, had already been road-tested and were easy choices to add to this selection.

"For a lot of the other songs, I'd been laying 'Southern Highlands Daughter' and 'Five Letters' and 'The House Carpenter' at shows and they were working and there was no real problem with how they were going across," he concurs. "You know, you can tell when you're playing and singing something, that it's quite right for the way I recorded it, but in terms of playing it works for now, but in these song's cases, it was all there. There's an openness to going off on a tangent, even when you're recording, there's a certain point in a lot of the songs where you can improvise a lot then come back, but again, that's kind of reflective of the gigs, I mean in the middle of 'Southern Highlands Daughter', for example, you can't go off into a spiral on that one... it's really all about the story with those songs, you don't want anything to get in the way of getting that story and mood across."

Those are the keys to HaIf Seas Over - the story and the mood, as I mentioned, if you listen to Lang's lyrics, the folkie in him is immediately apparent, his ability to wrap you up in the story he's telling, one of his forces. Songs like the traditional 'The House Carpenter' and My Mother Always Talked To Me' spin tales you can't help bur become a part of, while tracks like 'Night Draws In' paints such a picture, it's as if it"s all happening right in front of you, with this eerily haunting, yet groovin' melody carrying it along. Half Seas Over is a record of deep, dark 'folk tunes, an evolution again from Lang's last record, Dislocation Blues, and evolution is the key, as we all know.

"I guess the evolution of this record is something that someone on the outside could see better than me," he responds honestly. "You tend to evolve with the thing you're doing right now. I tend to look at it from where I am, like, this is where I'm at now, and you're always wanting to write another song and have something new to say, so you know, as far as referencing it to everything else, I don't know. It's just a constant progression, you're moving close to the ground from where I'm at, I'm not looking at it from a distance -you're just on the ground, writing the next song, playing the next show, it's really all about staying interested I think." For Lang then, what we see as him evolving as a musician, is just a natural progression for him, he's certainly not won't to get stuck in a rut, and we're all the better off for it.

"This is kind of a storybook record, that's the feeling I got around it," Lang goes on. "Even the person who designed the cover said, 'you're looking for a real storybook look' -exactly -so that's how this record feels for me as far as how it differs. You know, the instrumentation can sometimes set something apart, but we can do a record with me and Grant and a completely different bunch of songs, and it would be a different record just because of the material itself, it kinda guides you in a lot of ways."

Either way, what we have here is a record that sees Lang at the top of his game -in my humble opinion, this is some of his best work ever. And the capper? It's not a blues record, it's not a folk record, it's not a jazz record, it's not a rock 'n' roll record, it's a Jeff Lang record, which speaks volumes.

The Future

So where to next? Of course, no one, not even Lang himself knows, but its early days and Half Seas Over will no doubt have a long life. But rest assured, there's a band record on the way. He's been writing some songs with local Melbourne chanteuse, Kerri Simpson, which by all accounts are off the charts, plus there's touring, touring, touring. At this point, so soon after the release of this record, and also with a new baby daughter, Lang is content to just sit and be happy with being Jeff Lang. No white wine spritzers and sunsets just yet though ...

Reinventing the Blues by Catherine Gale

The Advocate - June 18 2008

On his new album Half Seas Over, as well as the words to the songs, Jeff Lang has included a little story about their creation and how he tuned and played his guitar for each one in the liner notes.

"I was influenced in that by a record by Bert Jansch, a great Scottish guitarist, it was a record of his called Rosemary Lane and it's got a little sentence in the liner notes about each song.

"... it's more like someone just going 'oh, yeah I played this sort of guitar on this one and I tuned it like this', or whatever thoughts came to mind. It just sort of shows that I'm a bit of a nerd."

Lang explained the "nerd" notes don't tend to appear at his shows, nor do questions from budding guitarists.

"Luckily the audience isn't full of guitar players ... that'd be horrible.

"There'd be no one at the front just a whole bunch of guys standing at the bar at the back going 'I could do that'."

He needn't be worried about getting knocked off his perch. The Melbourne musician's position as one of our country's greatest guitarists is secure. He continues to thrill audiences with playing he's been perfecting since the early '90s, and picks up new fans along the way with each album he produces. To date: 13 solo and nine collaborative recordings.

He's played in Tasmania often, most recently at the Southern Blues and Roots Festival, in Hobart, in March. But it's been longer since he travelled north Oatlands.

"It's been a while since I've played in Launie. I remember gigs at The Vic, it used to be a zoo!" he laughed of the colourful venue that is now home to Irish Murphy's. "I used to do a Friday night there and it was full on."

Lang has come a long way since those early gigs. Hailing from Geelong, he was inspired by his father's record collection brimming with Bob Dylan, Ry Cooder and Leo Kottke. As a teenager he soon found himself playing guitar in a blues band. And Dylan's influence has been a constant.

As he attests: "Dylan was probably the biggest influence on me, not as a guitarist, but just generally speaking".

Along with constant national and world touring, he's played alongside Bob Geldof, Chris Whitley, Ani Difranco, Don Walker and many others (as well as Dylan), and on Half Seas Over, Lang's album number 13, The House Carpenter which also appeared on Dylan's The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961-1991 - became the centrepiece for the record.

"I'd been playing The House Carpenter at gigs. There were certain songs that I'd been writing that maybe would work with a band and there were others that worked sitting alongside that song, so in a way that was like a centrifugal force in making this record," Lang said of the often-covered traditional folk song.

"It definitely provided a flavour for the record for sure. But at the same time if! was just doing it the same way as other people had done it that wouldn't have been so compelling a case to record it."

It's easy to see why there are dozens of versions of the song. Its tale of pursuing a "demon lover" is powerful and poetic.

"I just love that traditional style of story telling in songs and I guess it ends up influencing the way you write as well, because over time if you listen to enough things the influence comes out in what you do."

Lang's musical inspiration is wide and varied. And he can't really be tagged with a "style". He'd been on the scene long before Ben Harper, John Butler and Ash Grunwald heralded a shift in popularity towards the blues-roots singer-songwriter movement, but with Half Seas Over Lang has made a significant move away from what his contemporaries are doing.

"There's a certain connection between anyone who might be in what's known as the roots music scene, (but) at the same time I don't feel like what I'm doing is exactly the same as what might be trendy and very now."

Lang will see another change of direction when an instrumental album he worked on with African kora player Mamadou Diabate is released later this year. He's also being kept busy producing records, including one by The Hall Runners which boasts both his wife and sister.

But Lang prefers an organic approach to collaborations.

"Things tend to crop up in their own way ... I'd rather just admire people's work and if the chance comes up where something happens and it feels natural then it'll happen.

"It's interesting the kind of path you can go down if you let the music lead you blindly in a way rather than steer it in a certain direction. That's what has kept it alive for me staying interested."

Out of the shadows by Dave Curry

Canberra Times - May 29 2008

Canberra Times Interview

Jeff Lang by Paul Busch

FasterLouder.com.au - May 2008

Songwriters approach their craft in many different ways. Some gather bits and pieces of words in journals or on cocktail napkins, while others fiddle or play with their instruments until a melodic idea becomes a song. But the one theme that seems to come across more often then not with these craftspeople is that the really special compositions seem to just materialise when they are in the right state. I am not speaking about Queensland or Texas, by the way.

Jeff Lang, one of Australia"s finest guitarists and a very clever, intriguing songwriter, spoke to me recently about songwriting and his bloody great release, Half Seas Over. Jeff has plugged into the force again and found some beautiful roots music for our pleasure. When we spoke, Jeff explained a bit about his process and where the songs on this release came from.

"The best stuff seems to all arrive at once. I don"t have an instrument in my hand when that is happening. A lot of the times it will be when you are writing words down and you can hear a tune in your head to go with it and it all seems to be arriving on a silver platter. They are fun when they arrive like that, because you almost get to hear it like it"s a new song complete and you"re getting to hear it for the first time.

"These songs come from a whole bunch of different circumstances. There is one [song], Copper Mine, where I had been watching a television programme and it sort of inspired me. This was one that did sort of come directly out of watching something but I didn"t try to write a song about it. I was watching a programme on SBS and it was narrated by this fellow who was a miner in a copper mine in Africa and I just watched it and the way the guy was speaking was very poetic and eloquent.

"So anyway, I took it in and went to bed and woke up in the middle of the night with a bunch of words going through my head and so I got back up and wrote them down. I wouldn"t say they were directly what the guy was saying, but they were falling out in a rhyming fashion and I could hear the accompaniment at the same time. This was a kind of rare experience to come out of something I was watching a few hours earlier."

Most of the songs on the album seem to be linked to English folk in a way, but there is no way you can call this a "folk" release. It is a true roots record with blues, beautiful playing and the smooth vocal style that Jeff has perfected through the years of performing. Jeff spoke a bit about the word and meaning of "folk" when I compared some of the songs to English traditional music. As you may know, many of the so called Americana or roots music we listen to has links back to Scotland and the like. While this is how the songs turned out, it wasn"t necessarily Jeff"s intention.

"That"s sort of just the way they came out," he concedes. "I had been playing the House Carpenter at shows and it took on a life of its own. There was a point to recording it because it was different from other versions that I had heard. Then there were some other songs I wrote that would probably suit more of a band type of recording and there were other ones that sat with that song, without being particularly "folky".

"I guess those words have connotations for people. Take a word like "folky" and you think of something that is nice and un-troubling and that is not my kind of folk music. But there were songs sitting in that kind of pile, and there were more of them, so that was the kind of record that I made. There were enough songs in this vein to record them and have a sort of mood running through the record."

So where does the seafaring title of the CD come from? "There are a couple of different meanings of Half Seas Over" Jeff explains. "It is a nautical term and the connotation of inebriation that is there in some meanings. The meaning that I got from it overall was basically, barely keeping your shit together. That was the meaning I took away from the title and there were a lot of characters in these songs that for various reasons and in various ways were in that boat. So it seemed to click when I came across it and when I was looking for a title to call this collection of songs."

Jeff Lang has a slew of fabulous solo recordings and some grand collaborations with people like Chris Whitley, Chris Finnen and Bob Brozman to name a few. On this record, he shares writing credits with Susannah Espie on The Savannah Way and with his wife Alison Ferrier.

"I wrote that [ The Savannah Way ] with my friend Susannah Espie, who is a great writer and singer. We had written another song together and we felt rather pleased with ourselves, "cause it happened pretty quickly and painlessly. It was the first time we had done so, so we said let"s do something else. She [already] had the first couple of verses of a song and she didn"t really know where to go with it. So I said, "I think I know where we can go with this. Someone must die" Jeff laughs.

"The other song that I wrote with my wife Alison [Night Draws In] was again just really good fun. It can be fun when it is with someone you know, and you respect the way they write. You can just have some pleasure with it and not worry if it is something that either of you is going to sing. It was like that writing with Susannah as well."

Half Seas Over is one of those records, like many Jeff has released, that gets better and better with repeated listens. His phrasing, the lyrics and especially his playing seem to seep into your life and soul. As I said, Jeff is an Australian treasure who, slowly but surely, the rest of the world is picking up on.

Tsunami Magazine, Brisbane by Sam Loy

Blues artisan Jeff Lang takes some time out to chat with Tsunami about the darkness in his music and the music he loves.

Ever the professional, singer/songwriter Jeff Lang’s idea of having a month off is writing steadily and mixing a duet album he recently recorded with Chris Whitley.

”Well, I’ve known him for quite awhile, since we played together on the first trip he did out here and we’ve kept in touch since,” Lang tells me from his humble abode in Melbourne. “I did a few shows with him last year over in Alaska, Seattle and Portland and after the first show he said ‘I’m thinking of doing some recording with you’.”

The release of their as yet unnamed collaboration will come hot on the heels of Lang’s latest solo success, You Have To Dig Deep To Bury Daddy, an album he admits doesn’t shy away from darkness.

”I’ve just always been into old folk records, and there’s nothing but doom and gloom all over that stuff. Sometimes it can be a little disconcerting when a song comes to you and you read it back and you go, ‘Hmmm. There’s a lot of trouble going on here’. But I think that’s in everyone – it’s human nature. It’s there in popular culture – deeply embedded. Look at nursery rhymes. Rock A Bye Baby? Dark shit, man.”

But a Jeff Lang album isn’t like reading Edgar Allen Poe beneath a murder of crows, on the contrary an evening with one of Australia’s leading blues musicians is, as John Butler put it, ‘a totally sacred event’.

”I get the same sort of thing from the other side of the fence, when I see someone really great perform. And I think that if I get transported from watching this gig, and if I just try to keep myself match-fit enough, these sort of things can happen at shows where I’m playing. We can all go somewhere through music. I’m trying to be as good a vessel for that music as I can.”

First picking up the guitar at age fourteen, by the time Lang finished school all he wanted to do was play music. He quit a band he was in and started playing solo, developing his style as he carved it up on stage. His evolution began by trying to emulate the music of his idols before realising he could just trust his own abilities and ideas that would flow from him.

”When you’re playing on your own it’s really starkly obvious which songs are cutting it and which songs are sub-par. And the ones that were more effective were always the ones that kind of tumbled out and came out the way they would. It’s got to be about sixteen years ago that I started to trust the flow of things and trust that it’s gonna come out sounding like you if you let it. So I just trust that and go with it.”

Middle-ground Man by Michael Dwyer

While a musician he influenced topped the charts, Jeff Lang is happy to continue on his musical path. By Michael Dwyer.

Jeff Lang's voice is seething with anger. "They go ahead and they publish any old dross," he sings, "but they turn their nose up at me." Amen, brother. But what can a spurned artiste do in a world awash with second-rate commercial garbage?

Well, he picks up this sledgehammer, see. He smuggles it over to the rich end of town and he lets rip. Crunch goes the bonnet of a parked Mercedes. He hoes into Jags and BMWs, steel ringing and glass flying, until outraged bystanders wrestle him to the ground.

That's where he ends up, a bloodied mess in a tangle of steel-capped boots and fists. "It's not supposed to be this way," he rails as the ambulance siren grows louder. End of song.

"It's a story that came out of the newspaper," says Lang, Geelong-born and globally renowned roots artist. "It was about a writer in Tokyo who was depressed about not being able to get published, so he decided to commit suicide by bashing up rich people's cars in the middle of town."

The twist being that the ambulance arrived before the angry mob could complete his cunning plan. Hence the song title: Rejected Novelist Fails Again.

It was only a single paragraph story, Lang says, so he had to do "a bit of imagining" to flesh it out. But given his modest local profile these past 10 years - despite a calibre of songwriting and musicianship with few peers in this country - one suspects that the writer's sense of injustice was one of the easier parts to imagine.
"Look, you can't honestly say you're not envious of certain people," he allows. "I've said it straight to John Butler, I've said, 'Man, I'm envious of some of the things that have happened to you'. I'd like to have a little bit of that, for sure.

"But you'd like to be able to stop it as well. That's the thing about fame. Getting it started is what everyone wants to talk about. It would be nice if you could set a level where it's not out of control." Lang says. "There's actually a decent middle ground I've lived in for most of my career. Sure, I might have been under the radar for most of it, but I haven't got any complaints."

It's late in a long day of interviews for Jeff Lang. With his vintage Bob Dylan T-shirt and a rare, bright-red Supro '61 resonator guitar he just bought on eBay, he's commandeered the boardroom of his record label in South Melbourne to deal with a growing demand for his time.

The reason could be his superb new album, Whatever Makes You Happy. More likely, though, is that Lang has accidentally become fashionable on the coat-tails of the new Australian roots resurgence, of which APRA's songwriter of the year and ARIA's No.1 album holder John Butler is the most visible protagonist.

For anyone who has experienced Lang's prodigious gifts since his first album of '94, Ravenswood - and that includes collaborators such as Don Walker, Bob Brozman and Mick Thomas, as well as a growing grassroots following from here to Texas - this is an amusing twist.

"I saw Jeff Lang," Butler told me in January, "at the Fly By Night Club (in Fremantle) in '97 or '98 and he blew my mind. It was like going to church for three hours. It was just amazing.

"He's one of Australia's most gifted musicians. He really touched me and I had a kind of revelation. That show taught me you can express yourself on guitar, instrumentally, and then sing, and take it all to the next level. For me, it all came from there," he said.

As Butler rapidly worked up to critical mass locally, Lang was mainly absent. He's already spent two months touring America this year. He was there for six months last year and nine in '02, where demand had steadily soared in the wake of half a dozen albums.

The title of his second album, Disturbed Folk, offered a whimsical description of Lang's bluesy storyteller's style. But that's among the records he feels least happy with in retrospect. It was a live album of all-new material that taught him the value of content above and beyond musical virtuosity.

"There was an aspect of what I was doing musically that I discarded after that record," he says. "I was playing a lot of 12-string guitar, a lot of fast fingerpicking stuff, and to me it was really second-rate Leo Kottke. I thought, 'Well, that part of what I'm doing is just annoying me'. So I threw it away."

The "going-off" stuff, Lang says, "was purely superficial. I ended up realising 'That's just bullshit, it's not really talking from who I am'. I'm not into talking shit to people no matter how much they want to hear it." Lang's extraordinary dexterity is certainly an occasional attraction of Whatever Makes You Happy, but that only makes the album's overall restraint and subtlety more powerful.

Like some of his favourite touchstones - Dylan, Richard Thompson and Tom Waits - Lang's tunes find every note in service of the story.

One of the most potent on the new album, By Face, Not Name, is sung from the point of view of a pregnant rape victim. It was written, Lang says, in anger over the aggressive anti-abortion morality of certain American states. Yet its potency comes not from fiery guitar histrionics but from devastating tenderness, an atmosphere deep enough to let listeners mine their own conclusions.

"I like songs that show, don't tell," Lang says simply. "If you're gonna do a song like By Face, Not Name, how incongruous would a big splash of guitar wankery be? It's offensive to think of that kind of song conveying the idea of what a great guitar player you are. That's not music, that's horseshit."

It can be a fine distinction sometimes, especially when the demands of popularity - not least the "going off" imperative - gain momentum behind an artist who is simply trying to be himself. Lang feels fortunate to have had time to find his own voice without that kind of pressure. But if it's not APRA Awards and mega-platinum chart action, what does make him happy?

"Well, a great gig can go a long way," he says. "And the last three we did were right up there."

- The Age, July 30 2004

From Belmont To Wisconsin by Dave - Dave's Diary

"A lone car stopped as I walked home that night I ignored all the warnings a young lady fears." - By Face, Not Name - Jeff Lang.

When Geelong reared guitarist Jeff Lang returned his hire car after a recent two month U.S. tour he was surprised to learn he had traveled 12,000 miles. But it's not the mileage but learning on a journey started in a Belmont High garage band that have fuelled the lauded singer-songwriter's music. Lang frequently turns observations from pit stops and car windows into songs adorning his 10 albums in just 12 years.

A plethora of pro-life road signs in Mid-West states Minnesota and Wisconsin inspired a gender change on his ABC Music debut Whatever Makes You Happy. Lang wrote By Face, Not Name from the view of a rape victim who falls pregnant to her attacker and must make a decision on an abortion. "I saw all these pro-life billboards, it ticked me off because it was very preachy," Lang told Nu Country on the eve of his multi band CD launch at The Corner Hotel, Richmond, on Friday July 30.

"I imagined all these ugly blokes, Fred Nile types, who like to tell women what to do and can't do. What year is this? Whatever decision women make is not easy. We don't know anything about what it's like to carry a child and make those decisions about their bodies. I wrote it from the female perspective. I figure that unless you have a womb you are not in that argument in the definitive sense. You have your opinions. There's no point telling people what to think. I don't like preachy type songs, I don't generally write things that are political but this is. It puts the story out there and you make up your own opinion."

Melbourne country trio Git add authenticity by delivering the victim's tale with Lang. Lang's prolific album output is an accurate barometer of his productivity. "I'm pumping them out like trailer park kids," says Lang who moved to Geelong when he was 12.

"I was at primary school in Box Hill and started playing guitar in Geelong. In my garage band I was playing rock. I'm a songwriter and whatever comes out comes out. I got a chance when I was 17 to play in a blues band, Latrobe Terrace. I went through my dad's records, Dylan, Ry Cooder, Leo Kottke, artists like that. I spent every spare dollar buying records. My dad was in insurance."

DEATH IN FITZROY

Death has long been a staple of the best roots music - a local tragedy inspired You Should Have Waited. "I did a show at the Royal Derby the night this musician accidentally overdosed," Lang revealed, "we were standing outside when he went past in his car. The character telling the story is a friend of mine who played in bands with him. I then played at a benefit for him. It was an extraordinary night."

But a local newspaper story on an attempted Japanese suicide inspired Rejected Novelist Fails Again. "The writer was frustrated at not getting published and got his hands on a Suicide Manual that gives you creative means," Lang explained. "He chose to go into town with a sledge hammer and belt shit out of all these working people's cars. The idea was that would beat the shit out of him and kill him but he was in the centre of town and there were police and ambulances nearby."

Lang wrote The Save, using an Indian Pacific metaphor, when he was living in the west Sydney suburb of Summer Hill. "It was as song of hope, futile or otherwise," says Lang.

TAILEM BEND

A musician friend inspired The Road Is Not On Your Only Friend - set in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, with a Tailem Bend tentacle. "I like to draw a big line around the world," Lang says, "I travel all over the place. The idea came from Skip Sales - a scholar of rural blues. He played me Hobart Smith, an influence on Dylan. I wrote it on a four string banjo and adapted it to a National guitar." Fleshed out by Lang's mandolin and fiddle Greg O'Leary on fiddle, it has a radio friendly accessibility. Slip Away was inspired by Melbourne blues act C W Stoneking. "I was watching his gig at the Old Bar and realised how authentic it was," says Lang. "It was like transporting you through a portal to 1925, back to Son House."

Lang tours Australia and returns to the U.S. and Europe to promote his 15-track disc. He has won wide exposure on Americana stations and prestige live public radio shows such as Prairie Home Companion and Mountain Stage One of his favourite cities is Texas love music mecca Austin. "Austin reminds me of Melbourne but I like Melbourne better," says Lang, "I've been to so many free shows in Melbourne recently. For a punter it's extraordinary. I caught two Susannah Espie and Sarah Carroll playing in separate bands.

Whatever Makes You Happy has been released in Australia and New Zealand and may inspire a bunch of covers by other artists. "There was even a Jeff Lang tribute disc by electronica artists," Lang revealed on the eve of his launch.

- 28 July 2004
A Lang Way To The Top by Brett Ladhams

Melbourne singer-songwriter Jeff Lang hits town this weekend with a new album in tow, playing the Fly By Night on Saturday, July 24. reports.

You know you’re comfortable with your trade when success and contentment comes with going against what’s considered the correct move. In a time when solo singer/songwriters rule the earth and headline festivals, Jeff Lang has decided to add individuals and elements to his legendary stripped back sound then lay it all down for posterity on the aptly titled Whatever Makes You Happy LP, a move he believed needed to happen. Calling from Sydney, the Victorian-based Lang seemed relaxed and stoked with how the CD and the new live format have been received in Australia.

“This is a different type of show for me, I’m used to playing solo or just me and Angus Diggs on drums, so doing this with the full band plus all the guests, it’s quite a packed stage… the set starts off with seven of us up there,’ enthuses Lang. “On this [tour] with it being something different for me and with the record reflecting that, it is still really exciting to tour even after 15 years of all this. It’s still me though, I haven’t done any radical left turn in musical style but having other musicians’ input is a real buzz and having new songs is always something that keeps the fires burning.

“I’ve ended up with a core band of myself, Angus Diggs my regular cohort on drums and Grant Cummerford on bass, who also played on my Cedar Grove album. Then there are the guests; Tim Hall and Chris Wilson on backing vocals, Matt Walker on harmonica, Bruce Haymes on piano… you know, just looking and thinking ‘well what does this song need?’ is what led to this approach. A lot of the songs I’d been playing solo for a long time, and others not so long, but I definitely had played more of these songs at gigs in the past so I was very comfortable with them.”

With solos artists, and especially given acts like The John Butler Trio, who is the definition of stripped back performer, there’s only so far one can simplify the process of recording. Lang was conscious of this when stepping into the studio to record Whatever Makes You Happy and it was a case of either get the paint stripper out again or go buy some new paint and lather it on thick.

“I’d been refining a certain process through a few records which had culminated in a sound which was very stripped back and minimal. I felt like I’d been working toward that sound over the course of a few records, so once I’d arrived at that point, and that I’d nailed that approach, well, you don’t want to do the same album over and over again. Obviously I could’ve stripped it back further and just done me on my own and at some point when something dictates that approach to be the best one I probably will. In the case of the song Sleeping, I’d been playing that song simply with guitar and vocals and we [along with co-producer Tim Hall] tried recording it that way but for some reason I couldn’t get it how I wanted it, so we ended up getting Bruce Haymes to learn the guitar part on the piano and that’s what worked best… you know, we just thought ‘what does this song need? Tim and I had a great creative partnership; we actually worked on his solo album together a couple of years back and really enjoyed the process so I had him work on mine.”

So for someone who’s been at this solo singer/songwriting game for longer than most, what does Jeff Lang think of the current explosion of artists picking up an acoustic guitar and penning a camp-fire tune? “Well there’s been two guys who have become popular really quickly and that’s Ben Harper and John Butler and they don’t sound anything like each other. There are a lot of people who have come through subsequent to them who sound a lot like them and so for me being someone who has been at it for a lot longer you just sit back and it all seems like an obvious thing. When someone becomes really popular there’s always going to be people who crop up in the aftermath that seem to be swimming in their wake and that’s how I see it. But I think John stands apart from all of that because he’s been pursuing his own thing and I really respect what he’s done. He handled his fame very graciously and his records are just getting better and better.

“So we’ll be in Perth on Saturday for the first time since August last year and I’m bringing the extravaganza along also. I’ve got the band that played on the record, then there are the special guests all coming across; Git (consisting of Sarah Caroll, Trish Anderson and Suzannah Espie on backing vocals) and Matt Walker will both be coming across as well as Perth’s own national treasure Lucky Oceans will be joining us on pedal steel. The show will be done differently this time around, there will be no support acts just the main act and at certain times in the night those guys coming across will get feature spots to do their own songs… about a three-hour show all up.”

- XPress, July 25, 2004

Interview by Michael Hunter - Greenman.com

Who is Jeff Lang? Take your pick -- he's a masterful guitarist, one of the few who can easily handle a song as intricate as Richard Thompson's "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" and make it sound effortless yet still exciting. A great songwriter -- his most recent CD Whatever Makes You Happy contains many examples of his skill in that area, and the varied inspiration for his material. For example, the song "Rejected Novelist Fails Again" was taken from an article found in the newspaper, telling the story of a Japanese writer who was tired of rejections and so decided to commit suicide by smashing expensive cars in the centre of Tokyo, hoping their owners would kill him! (It didn't work.) Lang is also a singer with an unaffected Australian accent, but not least, he is ultimately a friendly, down to earth person who is happy with his place in the world.

The Melbourne-based artist plays the music-biz game by his own rules, and the last few years have seen extensive international touring, playing solo and supporting artists of the caliber of Bob Dylan, Ani DiFranco and Dr. John. His new recording is the first to be distributed by the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, equivalent of the BBC), but Lang is adamant this will not affect the way he works. The following interview took place to promote the new album and a national tour.

MH: I've played the new CD a couple of times -- it must be a good thing, but I reckon it will take more than a couple of listens to absorb it all, musically & lyrically.

JL: Yeah, you'd like to think that with a good record, it can take you on a bit of a journey and that if you do want to delve in deeper with each listen then there's something there for you. There's a lot of wallpaper music around but I don't want to make it. It's funny, you hear some of that sort of stuff and you think, at least two guys have sat in a room giving each other the thumbs up over this! This rocks! (laughs)

That's always going to be there but there's always real music too.

Of course there is. Even in the darkest dark days of the 80s and so forth, right in the middle of that, Tom Waits put out Raindog, so what the hell. Good stuff is there for people who care to look for it.

Nowadays, unless you lease something to the ABC for example, you do have to search for the music, it's not necessarily in the shops.

No and it can be hard to know if you do go in - have you ever found that experience when you go looking for a record to listen to but you don't know what. You go in and you almost can't find anything 'cause there's so much stuff and they're all just names. It's kind of overwhelming, whereas I find if I go in with a few things specifically in mind, then I usually end up about buying five others as well. But you need to have something to look for. The funny thing about online music you know, like yeah the Web's open to everyone but they've actually got to look for you. It cuts both ways.

You still own the copyright for the recording and you've just leased it to the ABC?

Yeah.

That's a very sensible way of doing it.

Well, I made the record the same way I always do, which is I make the decisions about who I want to work with and pay for everything and we took it to them. We did a deal with them for a few records so it's a different story from here in but they've signed me for who I am, so it's not like they're going to say "OK, now it's time to talk to our hair consultant" or something like that. They really got what I do, so that's why we're here.

Reading all the positive quotes that people like Bela Fleck have given you, is it tricky to keep your feet on the ground?

Well, you have that kind of backdrop of people who are looking over your shoulder. The people that first really inspired me to do what I do, all your inspirations and influences like Dylan and Tom Waits and people like that, Blind Willie Johnson and Skip James, you know, it's all pretty towering stuff to you and you never actually measure up to the esteem you hold other people in. You never actually live up to that for yourself and that's a good thing. You have to get over that, in a way, to not just actually give up sometimes. You hear things and you think, "I'm sorry, that's just too good!"

A bit of self-deprecation helps, you think?

You've got to be down to earth about it. The Indian guys, they talk about the music being the power and they're just the vessel. That's the way to look at it really. The music is what you're trying to serve and you're just a servant to the music and if you look at it that way, then you can't help but be humble because what you're actually channelling and the energy that comes through it is the greater power in the equation. Without meaning to sound all hippy, I actually believe that to be true. I've felt things at gigs that you can't really explain just in terms of the audience and the energy that they bring to it, and everything where you go, "Wow, we're all just riding a big wave of energy here."

The fact that I'm sitting on the stage and they're sitting at a table or standing at the front, there's really no separation there in terms of the act of what's going down. In those moments where everything sort of distills to its essence and you really go somewhere with the sound, you know that's not my doing. That's not them sitting there and passively watching me do something incredible. That's all of us experiencing something amazing and the music is the vehicle for that. It's like me turning up on stage is like a catalyst for it, really. Sort of like the spark.

The new CD was recorded at Mixmasters here in Adelaide, I notice.

Great studio. They have a really great facility up there. The fact that you're staying upstairs at the studio keeps the focus there. They've got such great gear and great sounding rooms. They approach it like artists in a way, they really try and get everything to where it's conducive to you actually channelling this stuff, you know. Very can-do people. I've got a lot of respect for them and it's always a pleasure to work there.

It comes through that way.

Cool. I must say we did certain things that really worked off that, too, like the instrumental excerpts that come between some of the songs were recorded as big free form twenty minute long jam sessions with the idea that we'd maybe get these little excerpts we can use, 'cause by that stage we'd recorded a lot of things and there was a lot of different textures and different colour on various songs. So we thought it would be good to get things that could work as a palate cleanser in between certain songs, so that's what we did.

Palate cleanser. I like the idea!

It can do that, you know. If you've got something where you finish one song and the next song is quite a big change, it can be effective to have that jarring change butt up against each other and that really works in the course of the record, or you can do this type of thing where something else picks you up at the end of one song and carries you across to the other, you know? That way, on radio obviously, people usually play one song from a record and they've all got to work in that context but then looking at the thing as an overall album, I tend to look at it almost as how they used to do things -- not a concept, but great records from the seventies like Sticky Fingers or London Calling, they'd take you on a real journey through the course of the record.

Do you have to channel lyrics as well? There's a few interesting stories, or hints at stories, there.

Yeah, it definitely is something that I try to let the lyrics that I'm writing lead me to the story, rather than sitting down and going, "OK, today George W. Bush is in my face and I want to write a song about that." It doesn't tend to be the best stuff that I do. As much as you'd like to be able to phrase that really effectively! I do those occasionally, it's almost like exercising the muscles in your brain that channel this stuff, you can make yourself write songs but they're not generally the best ones.

The ones that tend to be the more interesting things are things like "By Face Not Name" -- I know where the inspiration maybe came from, which was driving around in the midwest and seeing all these pro-life billboards everywhere, but it's not a song that sort of goes, "You people who stick up pro-life billboards are fucked, why don't you leave women alone?" That would be a really dull song. This song just came out the way it came out and I read it back and went, "shit!" (laughs) It's an amazing thing when it happens. Wish it would happen more!

The new CD is a good rootsy album; it shows there is a great deal of diversity within that genre.

Roots music is pretty broad, it incorporates a lot of different things. I feel there's a lot of different elements that comprise my sound, I've gleaned a lot of inspiration from many areas. You shouldn't really try and box that in, you shouldn't necessarily also try and cover all of them if you're doing it just in a willful manner. It's not like you want to flit like a moth on a lightbulb, you've got to make sure it actually is expressing what you're genuinely trying to say in the material. I feel like you take people who listen to the whole record on a bit of a trip through all the various facets -- probably more so than any one record I've made, particularly with there being certain songs that are electric guitar, and then other songs that are more quiet acoustic performances, and then there's ones that are quite raucous acoustic performances. There's even one that the main body of the song is just someone else playing piano and me singing without guitar being part of it, so it's a more varied trip on this one for sure.

Is it possible to define the attraction of the guitar to you, as opposed to other instruments?

I think a lot of it for me came from what I listened to. There was a lot of guitar in what I listened to, although since then to get inspired by different things, you end up seeking out other instruments because it's a little one-dimensional just listening to guitar players and playing guitar. A lot of influence for me comes from instruments like the sitar or instruments like the uillean pipes, things like that. It can be really great fodder for playing lap slide guitar; I've got a lot of melodic and ornamental ideas from uillean pipe players from Ireland. That sort of thing is what you go through later but in terms of the initial attraction, I think it was a big part of a lot of the music I was into, like Dylan and the Stones, Ry Cooder and things like that.

It's a really immediately rewarding instrument, I think is the other reason why it ends up connecting with you when you're young. I mean, guitar sounds good falling on the ground, you know? You strum a chord and it sits against your body and it feels good to play and it sounds good straight away. Something like the violin, you could spend a year trying to make it sound remotely in tune, it's not as immediately rewarding. I don't know, maybe there's something psycho-sexual in it as well 'cause it's very womanly. (laughs)

And phallic.

I guess, yeah. I was thinking it looks more womanly than phallic. Depends who's playing it, whether they're a dick or not!

I asked Richard Thompson the same question and he also mentioned the portability of it.

That's true too, you can't be carrying your grand piano in your back pocket. And it is very versatile, I mean look at how many different types of music it is. I've got records from Africa, records from Hawaii, records from everywhere and guitar crops up on all of them. You can pretty much go anywhere with the thing. You sit down with one guitar and hand it to me and it sounds like me. You hand it to Bob Brozman and it sounds like Bob Brozman. It's a really personable instrument, too.

- June 30, 2004

Home Sweet Home by Julian Porter - Time Off Magazine

An oh-so-familiar screech comes down the line as Jeff Lang begins to explain what he’s been up to lately. An electric drill is tearing into fibro somewhere nearby, hinting at the answer. After calmly suggesting the unnamed DIY protagonist close the door, the Australian roots-guitar journeyman confirms the unthinkable.
“Sorry, there’s just a bit of home renovation going on. My wife and I bought a place here in Melbourne and literally moved in just before we last went on the road. When we got back there was loads of stuff to do on the house.”

That explains the rare month-long break Lang took in June after a comprehensive Australian summer tour and two months playing North American dates from Oklahoma to Orlando. But why the change of attitude from a man who’s proudly lived out of a suitcase for nearly 12 years now?

“We had all of this stuff of ours in storage for a couple of years now and it just started to feel a little bit too long of a transient haul. When you get back from some of those long trips overseas it’s nice to actually come back to your own place instead of feeling like you’re still in transit.”

Not that this development will necessarily mean less shows for Lang. After all, when you can pull an audience just about anywhere in Australia or North America, the temptation to tour will always exist.

“There’ll always be time spent overseas touring but you’ve just got to try and balance it, I guess. I always feel a little bit torn when I have to go for a longer spin. Hopefully this year will be more indicative, where I’ll just go over for a couple of months at a time. As much as I like the excitement of going and playing in new places and getting that sort of thing happening, it always makes me realise that I do like being in Australia and working here too.”

And while Lang has never been short of an audience at home, all indications are that new album Whatever Makes You Happy could be the one to bring his tunes to a wider demographic.

“Certainly, in Australia in the last few years, things have changed a lot in terms of the visibility of the type of music I play. For this new record I’m actually getting airplay on Triple J, which is a first for me. I dare say the success of people like The Waifs and John Butler has definitely opened up some avenues there. John Butler is not shy of telling people that he got a lot of inspiration to pursue what he does from me. People come along to gigs to see me and tell me that they went to his gig and he sent them my way. It’s great [and] that’s the way music should work!”

- July 2004
Acoustic Guitar Can Pack A Wallop by Kevin Ransom

JEFF (not Jonny) LANG SHOWS ACOUSTIC GUITAR CAN PACK A WALLOP
Versatile guitarist-songwriter performs at The Ark Saturday Friday, November 21, 2003

You don't need to spend much time listening to the Australian guitarist Jeff Lang before it's clear that he's studied at the feet of the masters.

Lang's bluesy, mournful slide guitar channels Mississippi Fred McDowell by way of Leo Kottke and Ry Cooder. At times, his intricate and delicate picking reveals a debt to the Brit-folk school of players like Richard Thompson and Bert Jansch. And he often sounds like he knows a thing or two about the world-music tonalities explored by Ali Farka Toure and David Lindley.
"Oh, yeah, all those guys meant a lot to me when I first began playing the guitar," says Lang, who comes to The Ark on Saturday.
"I liked the guys who were exciting, the guys who, you don't know where they're going to go, or if they're even going to get there. It's not much fun listening to someone if you get the feeling that the only imperfection would be if someone jumped on the cable and made it crackle."

But Lang - who is not to be confused with the young blues-guitar slinger Jonny Lang - is not just a fleet-fingered fretboard whiz. He's also a fine songwriter who crafts striking, vivid imagery.
"Three of the records I 'borrowed' from my my dad's collection were Kottke's '6 and 12 String Guitar,' Cooder's 'Chicken Skin Music' and Bob Dylan's 'Highway 61 Revisited.' "I think Dylan was probably the biggest influence on me, not as a guitarist, but just generally speaking," Lang says by phone from his car as he cruises down an Ohio highway. "Also, Thompson and Tom Waits - artists who have a really distinct and individual songwriting voice. Like, with Dylan, no matter what kind of music he was playing, even though he had all sorts of musical threads and styles running through his music, it always sounds like him. I just was inspired by those artists who had a strong character and personality."

Stylistically, Lang's music is a rootsy mix of dusty blues, folk, country and acoustic rock. And when Lang takes the stage at The Ark, he'll be surrounded by three guitars - an acoustic, a National Steel and a lap steel - but no humans. He likes to fly solo, using only his guitars and voice to express whatever sound he hears in his head. That is often a mighty big sound, like when he uses his stomp box to overdrive the sound of his acoustic guitar, producing a gnarly, crackling attack that rivals an electric guitar for both sonic and visceral power. "Some people, when they hear me do that on records, think it's an electric guitar," says Lang in his distinct Aussie accent. "It's really fun doing that, and the acoustic guitar responds differently than an electric. It's actually wilder, and it sounds like the guitar is going to fly to pieces with all the vibrating."

When he started out in the clubs around Melbourne, he had a band, but not the right band, at least not for him. "So about 12 years ago, I just made the lifestyle choice that I was going to just drive around by myself and perform by myself," says Lang. "I just love the way the solo acoustic guitar wraps around the human voice. It doesn't compete with the vocals the way an electric guitar does. And there's a really rich expressiveness you get with the acoustic - it almost feels like the audience is inside the guitar."

Lang released several albums in Australia in the early to mid-1990s, starting with "Ravenswood," his '93 debut. Then in '95 came a live disc, the amusingly but fittingly titled "Disturbed Folk." His '96 release, "Native Dog Creek," was named Best Australian Blues Album in a Rhythms Magazine readers poll. "Cedar Grove" followed in '98, and the following year, that disc became his first U.S. release. His current disc is another live collection, "No Point Slowing Down (Live in the USA)."

In concert, Lang likes to work without a set list: "I like to choose songs as I go, sort of feeding off of whatever energy is in the room," he says. "That's good for me to do. If I'm having a hard time getting inspired, I don't have a rhythm section to kick me in the ass and lift me. But in a club, with just me and a guitar, the connection with the audience is so strong that they can do that for me. "Like, if I've just driven 15 hours, and I got five hours of sleep the night before, and four hours the night before that, and I feel like I could fall asleep in the toilet at a Denny's, I get on stage, the audience lifts me up, and I have a great time."

- November 2003
He Likes It Loud by Pamela Murray Winters

When he first comes on stage, Jeff Lang seems to be in danger of being overwhelmed by his equipment. There are three guitars a hollownecked lap guitar, a "normal" acoustic, and a Nationalstyle steel guitar the usual mikes and amps, and then there's this little black platform he steps onto. He's not that vertically challenged, but still you might have an unsettling idea, for just a moment, that this is some kind of booster step. But it's a stomp pad, and soon he's pounding out a rhythm with his foot while whipping off blues slides on the steel guitar, strumming the strings on the neck above the slide, crooning all over creation, and even, when the song calls for it, pounding his fist to his heart in counterpoint to the music. And the flash of light ricocheting off the guitar is a noteworthy effect in itself.

In a setup like this, with technology encroaching on every side, you've got to be a damn fine musician or risk being pegged as a novelty act. Lang's only vaudeville trick is that he shows up looking like some sorcerer's apprentice in the lab for the first time and, within minutes of beginning his first number, reveals himself a sorcerer.

On stage, he travels familiar territory: blues, Celtic tunes, covers of Tom Waits and Richard Thompson songs, as well as originals that evoke the same treachery and heartbreak. His music is dark, atmospheric, often delivered at dangerous speeds. But between songs, and offstage, he reveals himself to be a sunny character, with the boyish good looks of actor Giovanni Ribisi and an unpretentious attitude. This is a guy who, in the grand foyer of the stately Kennedy Center for the performing Arts, uttered the sentence: "If anyone out there is trying to tune a guitar made out of sardine cans, it actually helps to clench your buttocks." And then demonstrated.

The guitar's not really made of sardine cans, and he didn't get an endorsement from a tuna company to play it, as he sometimes jokes. All three of his most often used instruments were made in his native Australia: the lap guitar and the cutaway acoustic by David Churchill, and the steel guitar by Greg Becton. "Mat one' made like the old tricone National guitars from the 1920s," Lang said. "That [guitar) really projects a long way. I picked up that guitar and twanged I just before our sound check, picked it up and played it in that long big hall at the Kennedy Center ... You almost didn't need a PA for that guitar!"

Lang knows a thing or two about being loud. At his Kennedy Center show, a 70something woman in the second row had her fingers in her ears by the second number. But she stayed through the whole set.

Lang laughed when he heard this story, then explained thoughtfully: "I have the idea that when you go to a show, because you're on your own, and you're with an acoustic guitar, diem's a sort of automatic assumption that it's gonna be one quarter the volume of a band, and one quarter the power ... Without a certain level that you can bring it up to, your dynamics are severely limited. I like being able to take it up them and bring it down to where you're just touching the guitar, barely touching it, and one can hear everything you're doing. 'Cause if you've got the sound level really quiet, you can't really play that softly. No one will hear it. You might hear it in your hands, just quietly on the stage, but it's not reaching anyone.

"Quite often, my problem with the sort of folk approach to acoustic guitar sound is that it's kept within a certain threshold. It doesn't go lower than a certain point, and it doesn't go any higher. Without that dynamics, a lot of what I do just doesn't live and breathe fully."

Lang appreciates having a good sound engineer when he can get one, but as a musician who's on the road more often than he's at home, he's learned to be in charge of his own sound. "I could do virtually any size show doing sound for myself. It's actually not difficult to get it sounding the way I like it. The only difficulty is convincing someone that their idea of what acoustic guitar should sound like and mine are not the same thing and that I' in actually the person who's playing, so maybe things should err on my side!

"Once you've heard people like Leo Kottke, Richard Thompson, Ani DiFranco, David Lindley - you hear the sorts of sounds that they get live and you go, 'Man, that's where it's at.' Janis Ian she has a huge sound live. This is how I'd like to sound:'

Lang hails from Melbourne, Australia, but his sound is from a world of sources, distilled through his own inventiveness. Asked to label his own music, he struggled. "I guess the broadest term is 'roots music':' he said, but even that wasn't a satisfactory label, so he elaborated. "You can't ignore the fact that the British Isles heritage of Scottish music, Irish music, English music its all part of the fabric of Australia. And, I mean, it's a young country. We get a lot of influence from America there's a lot of people in Australia who definitely do play very down the line Americana forms; you get bands that play zydeco and things like that. Whereas me, I just write songs, and if it comes out a certain way, so be it.

"I guess when I first started writing songs, I was into early forms of blues music. I was trying to write those sorts of songs. And it just didn't work. I'm not sitting on a porch overlooking the Mississippi Delta in 1925. So no matter what you try and do, that tyranny of distance always means you end up getting it wrong. And I think that's part of Australian music as well, that sound of thinking that you're ping after a certain thing and getting it wrong. I think that's how anyone really develops their style, isn't it? Listen to who you like, and copy bits and pieces, and mess them up, and that ends up being you."

Lang's first recording was a five track cassette in 1990. In 1994, he released his first full-length CD, Ravenswood. More live and studio albums followed: Disturbed Folk (1995; live), Native Dog Creek (1996; studio), A Crowd in Every Face (1997; live). The full band studio recording Cedar Grove (1998), released in the States by Wind River, brought him some welcome attention in North America; Canadian trade magazine Chart called him "the new Slide Guitar King of the World." But most Lang fans probably caught one of his many live performances or happened upon him by mistake.

One of my companions at the Kennedy Center show swore, before the show, that she'd seen Lang "on Entertainment Tonight." Further discussion made it clear that she'd confused him with electric blues prodigy Jonny Lang.

"That little fuck!" Lang deadpanned, upon hearing this anecdote. "Copies my time, steals my thunder....

"It's funny," he continued, more seriously. "I quite often get thought of in a blues category, and that's okay with me, it's definitely part of what I do, but if you think of Jonny Lang as a new blues act and you thought of me in the same breath, you're not really listening you know what I mean? It's not the same sort of thing at all. I don't really pay much attention to that electric blues sort of world, really, so I don't really know what's happening out there:'

After hearing the real Lang, my friend left the Kennedy Center with newly purchased copies of both Cedar Grove and the latest live release, Disturbed Folk Vol. 2. Another one mesmerized by the sound of the sorcerer.

- Dirty Linen, Feb/Mar 2001

Why do I Love Jeff Lang? by Stuart Coupe, The Drum

Why do I love Jeff Lang so much? Those of you who don't even recognise the name may wonder too. You might say "who the fuck is Jeff Lang"? Those of you who've heard his six albums will most likely be true believers. I wasn't one of them until a few weeks ago. Let's cut to the chase here. I've known Jeff for a few years now. Seen him jamming onstage at the Byron Bay Blues And Roots Music Festival, where he blew away everyone who saw him, as I worked out over the weekend. Jeff and I became friends via his manager at the time, John Sinclair, who's been trying to get me to see Jeff play solo for a year of two. I'd always begged myself out of the gigs. It was always a case of thinking; hey, the CD's are pretty cool but I'm not that keen to come out on Sunday night and hang around in a tatty pub watching some guy you think is great. Here I was, with his manager sleeping on a mattress on my living room floor, and during the days making calls to Ireland, New Zealand and America about Jeff's up and coming tours.

With Sinclair chain smoking and hovering around my place I finally realised that I had no choice. It was a mid-week night and I had a lot to do the next day but I suddenly found myself in a cab heading towards Bar Broadway in inner-city Sydney. I was tired after a trip to Chicago and then down to Adelaide. I said to the manager that he and Jeff shouldn't be offended if I only stayed for a half hour. He said that was fine, Just see the guy. Well I'm going on record as saying that on this night at Bar Broadway I saw one of the most astonishing live performances of my life, and I've seen the best..... Springsteen, Dylan, Reed...you name it.

But here I was standing in a bar in Sydney, dog tired, watching someone who lifted my spirits to a high I couldn't have imagined, someone whose performance floored me in a way that no live gig has in years. Watching the show I was reminded of Jon Landau, then America's most influential rock critic, turning 27 and seeing Bruce Springsteen at Harvard University then coming home and writing a lengthy, heart-felt piece about feeling old and reflecting on all the great soul, blues, R&B and rock'n'roll future and it's name is Bruce Springsteen".

A few days ago Sinclair called after returning from Jeff's tour of Ireland. He read me a quote from the Castlebar Blues Festival. It went like this: "Rory Gallagher said that one day a new voice will come from the blues. Jeff Lang is that voice" Couldn't have put it better myself.

- June 1998