Emma Donovan: Australian soul

The combination of Emma Donovan’s powerhouse pipes with the soul and funk of Melbourne band The Putbacks resulted in one of the finest Australian modern soul outings of recent memory – 2014’s Dawn. On the eve of the band’s return to Adelaide, Emma Donovan speaks to The Adelaide Review. Returning to Adelaide to play Nexus after…

The combination of Emma Donovan’s powerhouse pipes with the soul and funk of Melbourne band The Putbacks resulted in one of the finest Australian modern soul outings of recent memory – 2014’s Dawn. On the eve of the band’s return to Adelaide, Emma Donovan speaks to The Adelaide Review. Returning to Adelaide to play Nexus after performing at WOMADelaide earlier this year, this was Donovan’s second artistic experience at the world music festival, as she performed with the Black Arm Band at WOMAD early in her career. “I’m looking forward to coming back to Adelaide,” says Donovan about the Putbacks performance at Nexus on Friday, May 8 with The BamboosKylie Auldist. “There’s nothing nicer, I suppose, than a mob asking you to sing in different parts of the country.” Raised on country and gospel, the authentic 60s and 70s soul and funk of Hope Street Recordings’ The Putbacks was a perfect fit for Donovan. “They’ve worked with each other for a long time, doing instrumental stuff a long time before I came on board. They recorded some really beautiful records through Hope Street. They’re pretty tight when it comes to the sound – there are no horns or strings. It’s pretty much bass, drums, keys and guitar and a bit of conga percussion. It’s funny; I never listened to music of that sound growing up. I was more into old school country songs.” You can hear Donovan’s country influence over the strut funk and soul of The Putbacks, and Donovan says more of that influence will shine on upcoming work, as she explores her family’s musical history. “Since recording Dawn it made me dig out a lot of family songs. I had to have another little look at what I was doing when I was growing up. I started digging up some of my grandfather’s old songs. Asking Mum all these questions about how Pop sang. My Nan and Pop had amazing voices. I was even asking, how did they meet? Why did they go to church? How come Pop was this way and played all those instruments? It led me to more of Pop’s songs and music I suppose. I dug around and I was sharing that with the Putbacks. ‘This is my mob. This is Pop. This is Nan. This is an idea. Do you want to do something?’ Just working like that.” Even though Donovan has been exploring her family’s heritage and music, the songs Mother and Daddy from the album Dawn are not about her mother and father. “When I introduce those songs I say they have nothing to do with my mum and my dad. The song Mother is about a woman who doesn’t want to be a mother in a relationship, which doesn’t really mean my mum. The song Daddy is about a player, like a daddy mac. My dad, bless him, I didn’t have the heart to tell him [it wasn’t about him] when he seen the song. ‘Oh, my daughter she wrote a song about me,’” Donovan laughs. “I’m like, ‘Nah – that’s a different kinda daddy’. I didn’t have the heart to tell him, ‘Dad you just have to listen to the song. It’s not really about you.’” Donovan wants to record a special release 45 to support SOS Black Australia to help their fight stopping the forced closure of Aboriginal communities. “I was yarning to the mob from Hope Street the other day about trying to put something out on 45 about solidarity with SOS Black Australia. “We might get back in the studio for a quick little recording in June to send that strong message out. We might even have a go at getting some friends, some people on board, to record a community song – one that’s come from the mob.” Emma Donovan and The Putbacks Nexus Live Friday, May 8 emmadonovan.com https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wJdAPFxIvVM