Myf Warhurst – Interview

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When it comes to music journalism, Myf Warhurst has done it all. Starting out as a voulnteer gig review writer, Myf became a household name as a team captain on ABC’s popular music quiz show, Spicks and Specks. Now, after a stint in London, she’s back, heading up ABC’s newly re-named digital radio station, Double J.

Grapeshot’s News Editor, Emma Vlatko, gave Myf a call to talk about many things, life, music, and the iconic ‘Australian Sound’.

WORDS | Emma Vlatko

Emma: Your life long love of music is quite well known. Was music journalism something you planned for or was it something you fell into?

Myf: I think my entire career is something I fell into. It’s been more a case of loving music and then working out ways in which I could be involved… I did play the piano up to university level but I realised I wasn’t quite good enough to be a concert pianist. I just really wanted to be around music, talking about music and learning about music and it just happened. I started doing gig reviews at a local stress press for nothing, which is sort of how people start. It just went from there. I remember I’d just finished university and was waitressing when a job came up as a music editor at the same paper I was volunteering for, and I got it. It was more coincidence really, and after that job, I got really interested in radio, so I volunteered at the local public radio stations, Triple R and PBS in Melbourne. Really, it was just all about starting from the ground level and then things gradually fell into place.

E: Australian music is said to have quite a unique sound because of our distance from the rest of the world. You grew up in Red Cliffs, a small rural town in Victoria. Would you say, from your personal experience, that this is true?

M: I would say in the past we had a unique sound. Being Australia and being so far away from the rest of the world, we only really had what we could get that would come in the mail or was on TV. So I do think there was a much more distinct sound, say, 20 years ago when I was growing up. But now, because the world is such a global place, Australian music seems to slot in everywhere.

E: Well on that note, have you noticed a change in Australian music since the emergence of the internet?

M: Yeah I have. The world feels like a much more global place these days. I’m no longer even sure those questions about “Australian sound” are relevant to the music we make today. I guess it depends on where you come from. You can be into punk music but not necessarily sound like you’re from a Melbourne punk band…It’s been wonderful though, to see great artists, like Courtney Barnett, a singer/songwriter from Melbourne, on all those big American talk shows, and do hugely well; I would say she has a very Australian sound, but because the world is a much more open place, her sound isn’t necessarily ‘Australian’, and people will relate to it regardless of where they’ve come from.

Then again, there are always certain things that make music sound Australian. I’m not entirely sure what that is because I think if we knew, none of this would make sense. It’s good NOT to know what that “Australian sound” is. If we did, we’d bottle it and everyone would know our secret.

E: Growing up, were there any bands that you particularly identified with?

M: There were so many. I think I identified with every band I could get my hands on. I grew up in a small country town, in rural Victoria, pre-internet. All we had were the magazines at the local news agency and a couple of music shows on TV, that was it. The radio was terrible! I identified with anything I could get my hands on, it could have been bad 80s pop or some really great stuff. I remember having a cassette of Talking Heads and I would just listen to that obsessively. I even went through a Beach Boys phase. As much as I could grab from other people’s older brothers and sisters, or whatever I could scrounge myself. I identified with them all.

E: You mentioned that radio wasn’t so good for you growing up, but nowadays, how important is public broadcasting for up and coming artists, and the Australian music industry as a whole?

M: It’s essential. Public broadcasting is one of the only ways that people get a start and get people to hear what their doing. Unless you’re that one in a million, you’re never going to be able to walk into a commercial station and get played. It’s just not going to happen. Without things like Triple J, Triple R, PBS, and the various other ones around the country, young bands wouldn’t even get a start, they wouldn’t get that ground support that happens locally. Local is so important. People often forget that when they call for funding cuts. It’s not true, without public broadcasting people wouldn’t get a reputation, wouldn’t get fans, and wouldn’t get listeners. It’s so essential.

E: Has the internet, with websites such as Triple J’s Unearthed, made the process for getting discovered easier?

M: Yeah, I think so. With things like Unearthed, there’s a focus on the music thats not signed to record labels. You could’ve made your music anywhere. You could have made your music in your bedroom in Darwin and still be just as relevant as the person, with a tonne of connections, and made their music in a studio in Sydney. For that able to happen, I think, is a huge positive for our industry.

E: Justin Burford, lead singer for Australian band, End of Fashion, recently hit out at Triple J, calling it a “closed shop” that killed “End of Fashion’s career.” How tricky is it for Triple J to get the balance right, between discovery of new music and playing what’s already popular?

M: Oh really? I’ve been overseas for the last few years so I never heard about that one! But there are always bands that feel they don’t get enough support, and really, it just comes down to whether people think the music is good. I haven’t heard their latest album, so I couldn’t say either way. I do think, however, that this is where Double J can come into play. We allow bands that are maybe no longer suitable for a younger audience to get played somewhere else. As far as we can tell, we’ve got a pretty big audience. We’re giving bands, that maybe aren’t getting played, an extra avenue to get their music out there.

E: Well, of course, you mentioned Double J. Dig Music was re-launched in April this year as Double J, with you taking up the lunch shift. How did this come about? And how did you get involved?

M: I think they knew they were going to re-launch late last year, and my boss, Meagan Loader, contacted me out of the blue asking me whether I wanted to be involved. I was overseas and I wouldn’t have come back, I didn’t want to come back, but the job was so good! I mean, when do you ever get to start a radio station? You never get that chance, it’s incredible. So I thought, “Oh yeah, I’m definitely coming back for this.” And it’s just been so worth it so far. But yeah, really it was just by chance. They thought of me, which is nice. It’s always nice to know that you’re welcome back into the ABC family.

E: Double J was the original name for Triple J. Why did they choose that as the new station name?

M: I think just to link in with that heritage. Double J was how it all began. Although, people know it already without having too much baggage, because it was Sydney only back in those days. I’m from Victoria, so I hadn’t even heard of it because we didn’t get it. But a lot of what we’ll do at Double J is about our heritage. We’re bringing back to J-Files, which used to be on Triple J. And we have all those archived interviews to play, which are awesome! All that stuff that you don’t get an opportunity to play as much, we do. I think its all just about linking back to our heritage and welcoming an older audience with that reference. Also, it’s a great name!