He’s been gigging for 22 years and Andrew Swift, now a celebrated country music star with multiple Golden Guitars under his belt, reflects, “The goal was always to be touring doing my own music full-time, which is what I get to do now.” Swift talks us through his inspiring journey from constantly evading Khe Sanh requests while performing covers, solo, at the Berwick pub every week to touring far and wide with “little timber teardrop camper” in tow to play his own headline shows – turning his musical dreams into reality.

Most recent gig (at the time of chat): Noojee Hotel

Performing covers at the Berwick pub

“I’ve never worked at a pub. I used to play covers at the Berwick pub every Thursday for three years, but I never actually worked behind the bar or anything like that. I mean, I’m sure I collected a couple of glasses on my way to the bathroom or something, just to help out,” Andrew admits, chuckling.

“Those gigs were so much fun, because it was sort of the uni night in the area – it was just such a fun vibe. I was doing that back in the days where you could still smoke inside and so I remember getting cigarette burns – I never smoked myself, but I always joked that I’d die from lung cancer from being around it all the time.

“So all the stuff I was playing back then – I’m trying to think! It was, like, Tonic – If You Could Only See; there was some blink-182; there was Goo Goo Dolls; a little bit of Panic! At The Disco, I think; some Horses; some Bon Jovi; Run To Paradise – you know, all the pub classics.

“And back then it wasn’t a cover band, I was just playing solo ‘cause it was the way it was set up. I remember someone asking me at the Berwick pub, ‘What’s your goal?’ The goal was always to be touring doing my own music full-time, which is what I get to do now.”

“The most common request was Khe Sanh”

“What Horses is today – with everyone requesting it – is what Khe Sanh was back then; the most common request was Khe Sanh, which I’d never learnt – on purpose. So it was funny, ‘cause if anyone requested it I was like, ‘I don’t know it.’ And then someone would still request it, so I’m like, ‘I still don’t know it; I haven’t learnt it in the last five minutes.’ And I would often joke, I’m like, ‘If you request it again, I’m getting security to kick you out.’

“And someone said to me one day, they go, ‘You know, you got me kicked out because I requested Khe Sanh.’ I’m like, ‘No I didn’t. It was always a joke. No one actually kicked you out. You were drunk, you probably thought that’s what happened…’” he trails off laughing.

Jimmy Eat World “was all I was listening to”

“The most obvious for me – [in terms of] who I wanted to be like, musically, back then – was a band called Jimmy Eat World; that was all I was listening to, they’re so good!… But, I mean, we were listening to a lot of blink-182 back then and I was in a pop-punk band. And I think I was still into a fair bit of Live back then – back when they were cool [laughs]. And The Superjesus.

“When I was 18, the first gig I went to – my first pub show – was The Superjesus at the Hallam Hotel. I was only a couple of years into playing music, but I was like, ‘Yeah, this is what I wanna do.’

“I’d often be supporting bands at the Hallam – doing my own stuff – and, you know, we supported Nollsy there, Grinspoon, Evermore. But I wanted to be in one of those bands that was touring around, playing their own music and doing their own headline shows.”

Side hustles to support the “music habit”
Andrew has performed many shows as part of the Great Australian Caravan Park Country Music Showcase Tour and shares, “I’ve got the tiniest little caravan. I’ve got a little timber teardrop camper: it’s basically a small double bed on wheels with a little kitchenette in the back – it’s great!

“I repaired caravans and ended up selling them for a while as well, for about six years, at a Jayco dealership down in Seaford; I was working with my dad, he was in sales and, yeah! Look, I’ve always had odd jobs to support my music: I worked as a labourer at a fabrication factory, just working with steel; I’ve worked in CD stores, sold musical instruments – whatever would pop up to help support my music habit. I’ve still got guitars that I got cheaper from working at the stores.”

The wedding singer

“To know that your music is really connecting with people is the biggest compliment you can ask for, I think. I performed one of my songs as the first dance at a wedding a few months ago, actually. The Question seems to be the latest one at the moment, which is appropriate: it’s all about getting engaged and being traditional and asking for permission from the father and all that sorta stuff, so it’s a sweet song and perfect for weddings.”

The Tamworth effect
“Eventually I got dragged up to Tamworth and realised there was much more to country music than I had previously thought there to be, and I loved the community and family aspect of it. And realised there was a place for me, musically, as well as a place in that community. So it was a bit of a no-brainer and it was almost like an epiphany where I was like, ‘This is where I need to be!’ And I regret not finding this earlier.”

Straight to the pool room!
“I don’t have a trophy room. If I did, it’d be full of netball trophies. The Golden Guitars are the first awards that I won that weren’t for netball, so they don’t need a room to themselves yet. But they do take the prime position in the lounge room, they’ve got their own shelf and there’s a couple of photos from the awards night there as well.

“I’ve got the three [Golden Guitars] now! Two in 2019 and then Male Artist [Of The Year] this year. And Male Artist is a huge, huge category to win. So that’s definitely a career highlight.”

“It’s like your parents going, ‘We’re proud of you, mate’”
“Look, I mean, obviously we don’t make music to try and get awards, but after chipping away at it for so long and having years and years of rejections along the way before finding my feet with country – you know, I’m in my 22nd year of gigging; I first started when I was 17 – it’s really nice to get that industry recognition. You know, just that pat on the back and that nod that you’re doing something right is the most reassuring thing an artist can ask for, I think,” he laughs, before quickly adding, “aside from selling out shows and people coming to the shows. But just to get that industry nod is like getting your parents’ approval, it’s like your parents going, ‘We’re proud of you, mate,’ you know?”

“Don’t use that c-word with me!”
“When I started singing and writing my own stuff, people would often say, ‘It’s got a bit of a country vibe to it,’ and I would always deny it and I’d say, ‘Don’t use that c-word with me!’ I fought it for a long time because [country] was a bad word in Victoria; it was uncool…

“I mean, in Australia when you think country music you think Slim Dusty or Lee Kernaghan, and those guys aren’t for everyone. They’re fantastic, don’t get me wrong – they are incredible artists – but when it comes to everyone’s tastes, it might not be their cup of tea. But all you have to do is look around the corner and you’ll find a country artist you do like.”

Swifty’s country tips

“You can’t go past The Wolfe Brothers – probably the best country band in Australia at the moment and great guys, too. U.S. artists: Lainey Wilson is amazing, Luke Combs is absolutely killing it. And Morgan Wallen.”

Favourite venues to play
“Look I do love intimate shows and quite often I tour acoustically for that real intimate, storyteller thing. But I’m loving doing the band stuff at the moment. And, of course, the Hallam Hotel – how is that not a favourite venue!? It’s my local and it’s such an iconic pub. But there’s a café up in Bundaberg, which has to be one of my favourite places. We go up there and it only holds about 60 people at the most, so we do a coupla nights. Just very intimate, very much a listening room where everybody’s silent when you’re performing and so you really connect with the audience – it’s fantastic!

“I hope the venues keep putting live music on. I’m hearing that there are some venues that are cutting back on it, for whatever reason, which is a bit of a shame so, yeah! Hopefully we’ve still got plenty of venues around.”

Upcoming album: Lightning Strikes & Neon Nights – out April 28

“The title of the album isn’t actually a song title or a lyric, but Lightning Strikes & Neon Nights basically summed up the album. I sort of stood back and looked at the songs and realised that there were a bunch of songs that were about romance or love, what we called the ‘Lightning Strikes’ moments or that electric feeling that you get. And then there’s a bunch of songs that are about having a good night out and hitting the town, and they’re the ‘Neon Nights’.”

Lightning Strikes & Neon Nights tracks currently available via streaming services: Young Lovers, The Good Old Days, The Question and You And Me And A Bottle Of Whiskey. 

Friday, April 28

Hallam Hotel, 241-245 Princes Hwy, Hallam, VIC

Tickets here