Dave Graney is a national treasure. A droll, elegant character whose literary and musical credentials are as impeccable as his safari suits. He's touring Australia on the back of his 25th album, You've Been In My Mind with his band The MistLY, featuring his long-time muse and creative partner, Clare Moore, on drums.
He and Clare have worked together since the late 70s, when they played in The Moodists alongside such peers as Nick Cave, in Australia and abroad.
"That was a real band of equals," Dave said. "After that finished it was always 50% me and Clare."
Which brings us back to cats. They're featured in a song, Midnight Cats on the new album.
"It's about the wild, uncontrollable kinds of unconscious feelings you have that are like animals, that move across your mind while you're asleep and awake - and that drive a lot of the things you do," Dave said.
"They're funny creatures to have around your domestic situation. People like to talk to them and invest them with personalities and I do love the poems about cats by Beaudelaire, Rimbeaux, TS Elliott …"
Like these guys, Dave's life's work is a prosaic plumbing of his subconscious. It manifests in his love of raffish onstage personas, bizarre costumes and song titles like Rock and roll is Where I Hide.
Sixteen years into his career, he was finally recognised by the 1996 ARIAs, where he was named Best Australian Male Artist. Wearing a pink velvet suit and an outrageous wig, he proclaimed himself the 'King of Pop' in an absurdist gesture that would have made any poet proud.
In a similar vein, his critically applauded book, 1001 Australian Nights recounts his own life in a series of hallucinatory vignettes. It was described by the aforementioned Nick Cave as "pure genius".
On the strength of its fearless prose Dave's been invited to the Queensland Writers Festival in September and later in the year to Perth and Melbourne's.
"I was surprised how well received it was," he says of the book. "People mostly think musicians are idiots."
Ever restless, Dave's next project was the new album. The recording took two days, but mixing took a month.
"Playing music is the easiest part of the operation. When everybody's down on the material it's usually great fun."
The band is Dave and Clare, with Stuart Perera on electric guitar and Stu Thomas on bass; a line-up that's been solid since 2004.
"We've gotten to know each other musically. I guess everybody has other artistic endeavours of their own elsewhere and it's not crushingly focused on my stuff."
That partnership has proven astonishingly fruitful, The MistLY being named Victoria's best band by the Melbourne Age newspaper last year.
"We sit quite oddly in a music scene that has fractured into many parts," Dave muses.
"We don't sit in the dinner and music scene, which is where many older musicians tend to have gone, particularly the blues players. Our music is a bit fierce for that I think. Because our culture is quite stupid, food is worshipped more than music. I don't wanna play second fiddle to a plate of food."
Dave Graney plays the Star Court Theatre on Thursday, August 23 at 8pm. Tickets are $20 though starcourttheatre.com.au/shows or call the box office on 6622 5005.
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