“We never aspired to be around for any specific duration, we were always living in the moment.” - Josh Cunningham - The WaifsBy Kimberley Price
When Riverboats festival director David Frazer revealed The Waifs were headlining the 2019 event, his excitement could not be contained.
“We’ve had lots of people asking for The Waifs for years,” he said.
“Their sound encapsulates the whole vibe of what we’re going for here.”
And he’s not wrong.
The band’s soft, whimsical sound and Australiana accents in London Still, Bridal Trainand Sun Dirt Waterhave meant The Waifs have become a household name.
Their folk sound became popular in the early 2000s when their descriptions of Australian landscapes and perceptions of day-to-day life resonated with their listeners. Today The Waifs have fans across the nation as well as the world.
But for the sisters Vikki and Donna Simpson and the recruited Josh Cunningham, fame was never the goal.
“I think maybe the reason for our longevity is perhaps the fact we never aspired to be around for any specific duration, we were always living in the moment,” Cunningham said.
“We were on an adventure and as long as it felt like an adventure worth being on, we stayed on it and that’s been the same to this day.
“We never had the ambitions of lasting for 25 years or that we wanted to achieve this or that – things have just evolved and progressed in a very natural way.
“It still feels like we’re creating something that’s important and making a good contribution to the world.
“I think while it still feels like that we’ll keep doing it.”
It seems fate played a part in Cunningham meeting the Simpson sisters. While Donna and Vikki left their home in Albany and travelled up the west coast of Australia, Cunningham did the same, just from the opposite side of the country.
“We ended up playing at the same venue Donna and Vikki were at,” he said.
“There was instant musical chemistry, I heard them play and I just knew instantly I was supposed to be a part of that sound.
“We had an impromptu jam and Donna stopped and asked if I wanted to join them on their adventure.
“It didn’t feel daunting, it felt safe and right.
“It was the most natural thing to say ‘yes’ and it’s felt that way ever since.”
For 25 years, the trio built a massive fan base. First playing covers, then beginning to formulate their own music, as prompted by their fans. After writing their first couple of songs and releasing their first album, The Waifs were born and became the pioneers of folk in Australia.
“A lot of people’s life is working in a job they don’t like with the end goal being retirement,” Cunningham said.
“I just think how lucky I’ve been to do a job where you don’t have to retire, but I don’t want to.
“I want to do this until the day I die.
“Donna, Vikki or I will write a song and we’ll introduce it to the group.
“Because we don’t live as close as we did, the person who’s written the song will introduce it and everybody joins in and adds their part.
“It’s usually a pretty natural intuitive process, you can hear what you’re supposed to do and what feels right.
“I always seem to write about life and whatever I’m going through.
“I tend to write about people or relationships or myself or circumstances in my own life that tends to be pretty universal.
“This year’s been a pretty difficult year going through some personal turmoil and writing songs has really been a great way to help process and navigate through that.
“We’re all humans and we all go through the same stuff and when someone can encapsulate those things in a song and condense it down to three minutes, it speaks to the common experience and I think that’s a wonderful thing.
“We hear the most incredible stories of people sharing their experiences and how certain songs were important for them in their journey.
“It makes you realise what an important thing music is.”
Closing the Riverboats Music Festival on Sunday, The Waifs will perform their strong of hits, as well as some of their new material. As it is the trio’s first performance in the twin towns, Cunningham admits the band is just as excited as we are.
“It’s always an honour to be billed on a festival stage. There’s a sense of occasion about it. You get to reconnect with friends in other bands and make new friends and new experiences and this will be a new experience for us.
“But probably the biggest kick we get is still being able to go to festivals. It’s something we really love and thrive in.
“Our set will be fresh because we don’t really know what to expect.
“I’ve driven through Echuca before but we’ve never played there before.
“We do a set that has a lot the well-known songs throughout the years and the most recent material as well.
“We love connecting with our audiences. We feel what’s being given to us and we feed off each other in this beautiful circle that goes round and round, I think if we can have any of that kind of experience, it will be special.”
The Waifs London Still
The Waifs Lighthouse - YouTube
The Waifs - Love Serenade - YouTube
Interviewed by: Kimberley Price.
Voice: Vivienne Duck.
Produced by: Kimberley Price and Vivienne Duck.
A Riverine Herald production.