Simply Bushed on the significance of ANZAC Day and their experiences in the Middle East

Paul Grierson and Chris Rieger form the duo, Simply Bushed. Their songs are powerful and emotive, and their dance nights are as famous as their epic performances themselves. Having released the single, “Raise Your Glass” on Remembrance Day last year; the single, as well as their EP Military Issues, is a tribute to those who serve and the emotive significance of ANZAC Day. Having played for Australian and allied troops in the Sinai and Solomon Islands, and both with military ties in their families – it’s an issue that remains close to their hearts and inspired the release.

The Single, “Raise Your Glass” has been gaining in notoriety and accolades, with two award wins in the bag (ANZAC Song of the Year at the Tamworth Songwriters’ Association Awards and Ballad – Song of the Year in the Songs Alive! Australia – Song Comp) and a nomination for CMC Video of the Year; what can you tell me about the song?

Chris: It is definitely a tribute. All the songs we do as Simply Bushed are originals we write together, and this one was brought to the table by Pauly. You could hear, from the concept inception, that it was going to be one of those real, emotive songs. It’s about the colloquial Australian “Raise Your Glass” – that sign of respect that we have. It doesn’t matter what sort of glass you’re holding or what you’re drinking; it means, when you raise that glass, it’s almost like a handshake, a curtsy or a bow. It’s a way of showing respect and that’s what’s so strong about the song.

Paul: Both Chris and I have fairly strong opinions and connections to the military, so we wanted to make it an ANZAC tribute. Because of our experiences going to the Middle East and the Solomons, the message is to make sure we remember we’ve still got soldiers deployed around various parts of the world. Sometimes we don’t even know where they are, yet they’re still away from their families and coming back with that same battle for themselves. We’ve tried to keep that focus as well.

Very few people get the privilege and opportunity to visit with our Australian and allied troops. I can only imagine it’s probably one of those experiences that you can’t verbalise clearly what it was like at all unless having been there.

Chris: Absolutely! You gotta feel the frustration of being in countries that are so dirty.

Paul: What I took from that travel that I think is present in that song is the characters of the soldiers today. The people we met over in the Middle East are quality people. They’re intelligent. They’re strong. They’re of beautiful character. They literally made me proud to be Australian. I thought, “Gosh, if these are the people that represent us in that arena, then I’m proud as punch about them”.

Chris: They’re so professional and really good people.

Paul: Absolutely! To give you an idea, when we were in the Middle East, there’s basically 28 Australians that run a camp and make all the decisions operationally for about 1600 from all over the world – so the Australians are that well regarded.

Did the experience change you in any significant way?

Chris: The Middle East is probably more problematic to get into. We had to fly to Cairo [Egypt], and then they were going to send us on a bus [that] apparently, weeks before, had been blown up, so they put us on a little military plane [instead]. That whole experience of going in, putting that body armour on, and literally stepping into the shoes of some of those soldiers in a very small way; you come back home, you realise how incredibly lucky we are and our children are to be growing up in this country. [Also] how important it is for them to be doing what they’re doing, their fight for freedom, fight to retain the basics of life and having your own freedom to make your own choices – that’s what they’re trying to do overseas.

They’re trying to help other communities stop trying to bully their way in and destroying other countries. That is an eye opener and to travel over there and breath the same air, eat with the soldiers, talk with the soldiers, see things that you would never see anywhere else – it absolutely changes you when you get back. They [also] don’t have respect for women, they’re second class, and you feel it. You hear people whinging and moaning about what goes on down here but least you’re allowed to argue, open your mouth and complain. Where, in some countries in the Middle East, you don’t get a second go. You complain; you just disappear.

Paul: We were travelling with some ladies and they were looked upon in a less than respectful way. It was a really tangible thing. Both of us have daughters. I want my daughters to be respected – that wouldn’t happen in those places – and that’s the beauty of Australia.

Other than what you’ve mentioned already, what else does Australia mean to you?

Chris: We love it! I love Australia and having lived overseas and travelled extensively through the years, still there’s no place like home. It doesn’t matter where you are; it’s such a unique place. We’re well respected all around the world and that is very evident when you travel – people want to talk to you.

Paul: We actually feel a need for an Australian voice. When we start our shows, we say, “We’re Simply Bushed and we sing Australian songs about Australia.” That’s where it is for us. If you listen to our music, you really pick up that Australia is our muse.

Chris: That’s our thing! We believe in Australia. We believe in our music. And it’s obvious.

Paul: For instance [the song], “This Country”. I’ve got two big gum trees in my front yard and every night the Southern Cross comes up between those two gum trees. To me, that was a song writing gift just there! Chris and I both get that when we travel around, the people and that’s what we write about.

Chris: The amount of times we travel and the nothingness of how beautiful the sky is and the country is never ceases to amaze me – it’s breathtaking! It doesn’t matter if you’re in the middle of the desert or looking across the Snowy Mountains – it’s an amazing joint all round. That’s why we love it!

“Raise Your Glass” is off the four-track EP, Military Issues, which, as well as the single, contains previously-released tracks “Father’s Day”, “Rose and The Stone”, and “No Slouch”. What was the reason behind not doing a full length album like you’ve done with your prior releases?

Paul: [It was an] opportunity for us to pay tribute to the military. Because we had written that collection of military songs, we thought that was something apt and valid to put out. People wanted the song “Raise Your Glass”. We haven’t finished all the song writing for a new album, but we had to get it out somehow. For the rest of the year, the thing is to get a new album recorded. We’re really working hard to write. There is no circumstances where I won’t have a new album for Tamworth [Country Music Festival 2018].

Have there been any special performances or moments where you’ve sung “Raise Your Glass” that heightened the meaning of the lyrics for you personally that sticks out?

Paul: Last year’s ANZAC Day service, I sung “Raise Your Glass” to 6000 people and you could literally hear a pin drop. I had a struggle to hold my stuff together; I was getting very emotional with it. For me, it was really heightening, so that was an amazing thing for me! When we sing it live, it is emotive.

What feedback have you received from people who have heard it live?

Chris: It’s all been very positive. Whenever we start it, you get people chatting and then bang, they stop and they listen. It actually stops people end their track of conversation. It happens all the time. And generally, by the end of it, it’s almost the norm that people will be raising their glasses back to us. The reaction is that people stop and start to reflect what we’re actually saying and the message.

Paul: Another thing that’s happened is we’ve had a lot of requests from other musicians asking permission for the music and the words so they can actually perform the song on ANZAC Day at their various things. I think that’s the ultimate compliment! If somebody wants to sing the song that you wrote because it says what they want to say, then I don’t know we can get higher accolade than that.

I’ve had the pleasure of seeing you guys perform live, and apart from being very entertaining and something special to watch; Simply Bushed does have very unique sound and point of view different to anything I’ve heard recently. Where does that sound come from and what’s the inspiration behind it?

Chris: It comes from people and situations …

Paul: It also comes from our musical influences. Chris is a beautifully, well-trained musician [whereas] I’m a bit more loose and self taught, but those two things work together really, really well. I’m a massive fan of John Williamson. A lot of people say, when they’ve heard songs Chris and I have written together, they hear a bit of John Williamson in that and that’s bound to come through. And yet my favourite guitarist is Dave Gilmore from Pink Floyd, so if you listen to “Father’s Day” or “No Slouch”, a lot of the guitar playing is not country playing – it sounds a lot more like Dave Gilmore, because he’s my guitar playing hero and so, for me, that’s how a guitar should be played. That beautiful tone, and that sort of thing that he gets, is what I aspire to.

Chris: I think you’re right; we do have a fairly unique sound. It’s funny, people compare us with The Bushwackers [but] we’re completely chalk and cheese but we sing about similar things – we do try and keep that bush stuff alive as well. We are so different, but we’ve been pigeon holed into the same pigeon hole.

Where did you come up with the band name?

Paul: When we started, it was very accidental. In the early days, Simply Bushed was a traditional bush band. What happened was, we met one of the guys out of Greedy Smith (Mental as Anything, at the time). They were doing a fundraiser a couple of weeks later, so they asked if we’d do support. One of my mates had a mate called Tim and he had released an album that was called Simply Bushed. We needed a name for the bill and thought Simply Bushed was a good name, so we used the album name.

Chris wasn’t in the band when it was first formed. What did he bring when he later joined?

Chris: Extra height! (laughs)

Paul: He also increased handsomeness levels by about 40 or 50%. (laughs) But the main thing that Chris brought was this beautiful level of musical quality; when Chris joined the band, the level of the band, the musician-ship, really stepped up a bit. He also brought a desire to make it into an originals band, which I never really had. I just loved doing what we were doing. Chris said to me, “If we’re going to go any further than being a bush band we need to write our own music.” Up to that point, I had literally written three songs and was not a songwriter in any way. We were doing an album when we first met Chris, so we put a couple of his songs on. From there, we started getting the hunger to write our own music. So Chris brought an amazing quality to the band, the desire to move us forward and the drive to write our own music.

‘Raise Your Glass’ from the EP, Military Issues is out now.