David Ross MacDonald – Musician and Geologist
Hi Dave, how are you?
Life is good, thanks!
We met when you dropped into the store; admittedly we were a little star-struck, as you’re one of the members of iconic Australia folk band, The Waifs. Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do.
Dave: It was a fun hang at your warehouse!
Well, music is my life. The last 25 years have been spent learning, performing, sharing and touring songs. Can you believe that? I can’t, it was a dream and somehow that’s my life as well. And when the gigs aren’t rolling in, I spend time seeing as many friends and family as geography allows and also building a studio home in southeast NSW with my partner Raechelle.
I read that you were a geologist before joining the Waifs. How did you make the transitions from geology to music, and what are the similarities between music & geology?
Dave: When I look back at it, music has been with me from the very beginning, a constant. My father was a jazz musician (as well as a dentist!), so my earliest musical influences were Fat’s Waller and Duke Ellington as much as they were Play School and Walt Disney. But I also loved camping. My parents took us on outdoor adventures of the Flinders Rangers when we were very young kids and so my wonder of the natural world began early as well.
My wonder of the natural world figured equally as highly as the joy and escape that music provided and when I discovered that the study of geology also involved camping and playing a guitar around a campfire, well I was happy with that!
The transition from geology to music was a little messy come of think of it.
I spent a lot of my teens and early twenties trying to do both. From learning drums and guitar while living in a desert mining-camp to playing Perth pubs in covers band while moonlighting as a research geo for CSIRO by day. It wasn’t until I got past the entrance auditions for jazz college that I was able to pick up the phone a call my folks to tell them that I was throwing away a future in geology for the arts, that was a good call.
Photo credit: Ash Nayler Photography
What inspires you to write and play music? How do different experiences shape your musical approach?
Dave: There’s always some thorn inside that pokes me to create, practice or just pick up the instrument. When I don’t, the same thorn can equally give me a hard time. Inspiration is weird, unexpected, sometimes vague or blatant and careens from the mundane to the super natural. My relationship with it can at times feel complicated, loaded and conditional, but at other times it feels effortless, given and you’d best just get out of her way and let her do her thing.
Another truth of the matter is that once I actually set down and spend the hours working on the song, melody or instrument I end up feeling great and inspired regardless of any material outcome and puzzlingly, regardless of inspiration.
Even after all these years, I still feel that inspiration and I still have a long way to travel together, whether that be as hotel buddies, a taxi cab passenger, hitchhiker or the radio. The key must be to fill yourself up with as much music, story and worlds as you dare, then hopefully tap into that and try and stay out of the way just enough so that what you create speaks a truth, for you.
What do you love about being on the road, and what are some of the challenges?
Love it and hate it, mostly love it. Being on the road has been perplexing at times.
You would be hard pressed to work in a more carefree environment with so little personal accountability other than to do the things that you love to do the most, seeing the world and performing songs to fans.
That is the payoff, and it makes for a golden age in ones life.
The challenge is to be able to maintain a semblance of a structured life with those you love and remain connected to home, community and your family. And sometimes that’s impossible. And keeping tabs on your own ego or following notions of self-care can also become arbitrary or haphazard.
Photo credit: Ash Nayler Photography
Living on the road for part of the year would give you a clear idea of what you value about the idea of ‘home’; what does home mean to you?
Dave: Home means time connecting with your love and loves. Sometimes that doesn’t involve a traditional address as I have spent many years technically ‘homeless’ but felt at home in some other unexpected way. Now that we have our own place in the rural NSW, home also means eating what you and your neighbours grow, seeing stars every night, time with kin, friends, space, ocean, sleep, gardens and no airports.
You’re currently building your own home; that must be tough! What’s your favourite thing about building your house, and how have your values of home shaped what you’re constructing?
Dave: It’s a crazy privilege building your own home. I bought a cheap block of land, connected with folks who had already built their places, dreamt up a plan and then jumped right in. I had no experience, so it was a curve, but people love to help, youtube loves to help and the building inspector and trades were all supportive in pushing me along the path.
One of my favourite things about building a home was bringing together personal environmental values into the design. Off grid, solar powered, rain water, composting toilet and passive solar design were key design requirements. It feels right harmonizing the function of a space with your physical environment, connected and accountable to the natural world.
What can we look for next from you? Any new work on the way?
Dave: There is! 2018 holds all sorts of good creative stuff. I am not a prolific artist but there is work already demo’d and songs within that have been on my case for some time now. Time to work!
Thanks for chatting to us!
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