Darren Hanlon, an Australian singer-songwriter, came to our attention early this spring. His work wasn’t something that we heard on our radio (yet!) but rather got wind of through a friend who saw this Aussie perform live. At that gig he played a nice little ditty about our favorite sport. The song, (There’s Not Enough Songs About) Squash is, you guessed it, about the sport with the four walls and a ball. And here, we spend a few minutes getting to know the man behind the guitar and racquet.
1. Let’s get to this right away: do you actually play squash?
Darren Hanlon: Yes, I try to play at least twice a week with my old flatmate.
2. For how long have you played, how did you get introduced to the game, and how good are you?
DH: Well, I discovered the game through my ex-girlfriend who is a nurse. When we moved to Sydney I lived with her for a month in the nurses quarters in Camperdown, Sydney. They had an old squash court there for the nurses to use. We played a few times and I loved it. Being a big fan of pinball machines it seemed to me the closest thing to human pinball there is.
After we broke up I moved to a sharehouse where there lived a sporty guy who played, so we kept going over to the old court and pretended to be nurses so we could play. It had now become a bit derelict, a ghost court, with bits of the wall falling away. It seemed to be always unlocked so you could go there anytime and turn the lights on and play.
I’ve now been playing for five years and gotten marginally better to become an average player. I’m still playing with that old flatmate (Curtis) and I have had to develop strategies to beat him as he’s a superior player to me. I have more stamina. I let him win a few rounds then I drive it home when he’s exhausted. Just lately I executed my first hit off the back wall to win a point!
3. Why did you write the song about squash?
DH: Once or twice I’d take my guitar down to the court to play while I was waiting for my turn. The acoustics in there are great to play in, almost like a church. Once I was just mucking around and sang that line there’s not enough songs about squash and then later thought I could actually get a whole song of it. I forgot about it until a friend’s band (the Secrets) asked me to write a song for them so I resurrected the idea, finished the song and gave it to them. After that I decided to sneak it into my set for a couple of shows, and people started requesting it all the time so I decided to record it on the last album, Little Chills.
4. Some could construe the song (There’s Not Enough Songs About) Squash as sarcastic, or as an ode. Tell us, which is it?
DH: It’s definitely an ode.
5. Are you a big fan of the game of squash to watch, or are you just a player? I.e., do you follow all the pro tour matches? Do you have a favorite professional player?
DH: I must admit that I know nothing of the professional game. My love is purely recreational. But I’d really like to learn. Maybe I should be reading your magazine!
6. How did you become a professional musician?
DH: Every step of the way it seems that things have happened by accident. After high school I’d planned to go to college to study maths. Next thing I knew I’d been accepted into Music University to study jazz, something of which I’d not planned on. I went there for three years and met a lot of the people I still work with now. I joined a band called the Simpletons who I loved at the time, and the only reason that happened was because they were borrowing my guitar leads and happened to need someone to fill in. I ended up touring and recording with them for seven years and we did some great things while still maintaining our independence in the music industry. When we split up I drifted round for a year or so. I refer to this time as my wilderness years. I thought I’d record some of the songs I was writing just for fun. I went to America to travel, and my friends started emailing me saying they were hearing my songs on the radio. I was saying are you sure? One song in particular, Falling Aeroplanes, was the one that seemed to cut through. Suddenly I had a pseudo-career. We recently released our new album Little Chills and are currently touring to promote that one.
7. Does your music pay the bills (i.e., is it your fulltime job) or do you do something else on the side? If the latter, what is your day job?
DH: It is a full time job but sometimes when I’m not touring there’s an antique shop one block from my house that lets me do the odd shift. It’s very grounding to work 9 to 5 after months of chaos. And it has heaps of old books and records to keep me entertained all day.
8. You’ve toured the US fairly recently with the Magnetic Fields. Do you have plans to come back to the States anytime soon?
DH: I’m planning to do a short tour there in august 2006.
9. When you write your songs, do you think about the lyrics first and then form music around them, or do you come up with riffs and music first and then pen some fitting words?
DH: I carry a notebook around to write lyric ideas, and when it gets full I have to force myself to finish it. Most times I have to go away to a country town to distance myself from all the distractions in my life: pinball, crosswords, friends, the telephone, the Internet, movies and even squash. I need to be thinking about the songs every waking minute to get the feelings to finish them. Sometimes it can be quite painful. I’m not the most fun person to be around when that process is happening. I become a vague freak.