Words by Keane Fletcher
For many musicians, the idea of busking can seem like a nightmare. With little to no production to hide behind, a direct (and sometimes interactive) line with your audience, and the fact that it can start raining at the drop of a hat (thanks La Niña), busking can be one of the most terrifying gigs out there. But is it any wonder then that some of the world's biggest artists got their start on the streets? Passenger, Ed Sheeran, Tones & I. It seems the pressure can make diamonds. Just ask Murwillumbah-based singer-songwriter Ollie Twohill, who credits his busking experience with helping him become the songwriter he is today:
It takes a lot of courage to get out there and give it a go, it teaches [...] you to be thick skinned, as well as helps you hone in on your craft, develop a set list and get used to the feeling of people watching you perform. The best part is that if you’re good enough you might just make some money.
With his latest track 'Boots' -- a rollicking, pop-rock banger that's equal parts John Butler as it is Mumford & Sons -- raking in the streams, and a whole hoard of new singles on the way, we sat down with Twohill to talk all things music, inspo, and how the songwriting process works for him. Check it out below!
1- First of all, where are you currently based?
I’m based in the NSW Northern Rivers town of Murwillumbah which is located between Byron Bay and the Gold Coast. It’s becoming quite a central hub for creatives.
2- How did you first get started in music?
My Dad has an extensive collection of music where he introduced AC/DC, Jet, Nirvana, Black Keys, Dandy Warhols, John Butler etc to me. Got inspired seeing John Butler live and attended a number of festivals from a young age.
I started getting guitar lessons at 7 and instantly fell in love with it. By the time I was 14, I started to realise that if I wanted to become a fulltime musician, it’d be a good idea for me to learn how to sing. As a teenager I’d busk around the Northern Rivers and southern Gold Coast. I landed my first gig when I was 15. Over time I kept performing, songwriting and practicing daily.
3- How would you describe your sound? Who are your musical influences?
My sound can be described as singer songwriter who plays melodic guitar based acoustic heavy pop/rock. Maybe you could check my 4 released singles to judge for yourself.
As a kid, I was always so infatuated with Rock and Metal music. I always loved the sound of the huge guitars, the pounding drums, the powerful voices and the fat bass lines all working in cohesion to give a massive wall of sound. Over time I have realized there is so much more wonderful music in electronic music, blues, folk, rap, jazz etc.
As a songwriter, I listen to lots of different music to give me inspiration as well as help me develop my style/approach to music. I’d say some of my biggest influences would be John Butler, Nirvana, Earth, Wind and Fire, Jet etc.
4- Can you tell us a bit about your latest release ‘Boots’? How did the idea come about? Is there a specific story that inspired it?
‘Boots’ was one of those songs that kind of just fell into my lap. It came out of an online songwriting workshop called ‘I Heart Songwriting Club’ based out of Brisbane. Over a 10-week period we were given a theme and topic to write to. In this case it was about turning up when you don’t really feel like doing something at the time like work for instance. Doing the daily grind I guess.
So the topic for this particular week funnily enough happened to be ‘Boots’. As I was reading the song brief, I was instantly inspired and already compiled the words for the chorus. Once I had the idea down, I was going through my voice memos on my phone to try and find a riff that I had recorded previously. I stumbled across a chord progression that I had recorded a few months prior and instantly felt inspired. So I tuned up my guitar, relearnt the progression and got stuck into writing. It only took me about an hour to write Boots.
5- Many successful artists got their start busking (Passenger, Ed Sheeran, Tones & I just to name a few). How do you think your experience busking has prepared you for the music industry?
Busking is such a unique style of performance. It takes a lot of courage to get out there and give it a go, it teaches patience needed to be able to accept that not everyone is gonna like what you do. It helps teach you to be thick skinned, as well as helps you hone in on your craft, develop a set list and get used to the feeling of people watching you perform. The best part is that if you’re good enough you might just make some money. Busking certainly helped me forge my song craft.
6- Talk to us about your songwriting process: how does it work for you? Do you have a routine when it comes to writing and recording, or does inspiration take you by surprise?
I’m a massive fan of experimentation in every single aspect of my music. I generally write and arrange all my music in my bedroom as it seems to work for me. Sometimes I’ll be playing guitar and I’ll come up with a riff then write words after, or sometimes it’s the other way round. I usually write the guitar parts first since that’s how I started writing music, but I’ve definitely written songs in the past using different methods and techniques.
I generally have the songs written, composed and road tested live for several months before I go into the studio.I generally record three singles in one batch to optimize my time in the studio with my team of Producer / Mix Engineer Dylan J Smith and siblings Lawson (Bass) and Blair Hamilton (Drums) who are all based on the Gold Coast
7- Obviously the last two years have been pretty precarious for artists. How has the pandemic affected your creativity? And how have you managed to keep yourself sane?
I personally believe that no one is fully sane, some people just like to hide it more than others. The past 2 years have been very strange to me as a writer. I lost every single gig that I had originally scheduled, and when things looked like clearing up we’d all get hit with another snap lockdown. It was super un-motivating and super frustrating for me. That being said, I tried to make the most of my free time and try to write as much as I could. I had some success, but also had a lot of failure. They say that you need to write 10 songs to get 1 song that’s useable, and that's most certainly the case with me. In addition I have tried learn more about the business side of things like digital marketing assist my music career.
8- And finally, what’s next for you?
That’s a good question. At this stage, I’ve got another 2 songs up my sleeve and ready to go for 2022. 'Silk Dress' and 'Neverland' will be released in Feb and April respectively. In the New Year I’ll be gearing up to head back to the studio to record some more songs, I’m constantly trying to work on writing new songs as often as I can, as well as get back into gigging as much as humanly possible particularly SE Qld which I haven’t been able to play due to the border closure.
Thanks for stopping by Hipland!