If you are in Canberra, make sure not to miss the Street Theatre’s latest production. Creswick (a.k.a. Liam Budge) presents In His Words: Voices of Fatherhood, a very special project, blending jazz-rock songwriting with documentary-style videos. The project is very personal to the artist, coming from his own journey of fatherhood, and shining light on different aspects of being a father, and modern masculinity. A true conversation starter.
What would you say to someone who is not familiar with you or your music to invite them to the show?
I would tell them that they should expect a visual representation of fatherhood through what is essentially a documentary that profiles nine different stages, through interviews. They should also expect a musical response on fatherhood; I scored this documentary, and I’ve also written seven different songs that intersperse in response to the themes in the documentary. I’m playing this music with an incredible five-piece band featuring some of Australia’s greatest musicians. They should expect an immersive experience that hopefully stimulates conversation.
What made you want to create a show around fatherhood?
I had just returned to Australia, then lockdown happened, so I was obviously spending a lot of time with my son and my wife and I was starting to think a lot about fatherhood and what role that plays in my life and I thought this would be a really interesting thing to explore. With the help of The Street Theatre, I was able to do a mock-up of the project and start to compose some music and also start filming.
How did you choose the people to interview?
The people that I interviewed there were all fathers, obviously. Some of them I knew personally, but I deliberately wanted to choose fathers from a really broad range of cultural and experiential backgrounds, and also a broad range of ages. I reached out to people that I knew and asked whether they had people within their networks and it grew from there. I spoke with quite a lot of fathers, about 100, some were really open to being on the project, some didn’t want to be filmed and I ended up having nine fathers in the project, so that was quite a journey. The nine fathers who do appear in the project have this shared commonality of being really vulnerable and honest and very very introspective in their role as fathers.
Men don’t usually have the motivation or opportunity to create communities around this type of experience…
Yeah, I think there’s definitely a shift from how masculinity used to be 80 years ago toward men wanting to have these conversations. I found that all of the men that I spoke with, really engaged deeply in conversation and a lot of them hadn’t necessarily talked about fatherhood before, because they haven’t had the opportunity. I really hope this show opens up a dialogue around men and fatherhood.
How has being a father changed you? What is the thing that you discovered about yourself that you didn’t expect?
The thing that surprised me most is that kind of automatic shift from having a more self-centered view of moving through the world, to having this major responsibility for someone other than myself. A sense of seeing myself as a protector and provider and role model.
Do you have an ideal audience in mind?
My ideal audience is really anyone who’s open-minded enough to come to see a show like this and be open to being challenged and provoked and encouraged to have a conversation. It is not necessarily just for men, but for anyone who is open-minded and interested in this important topic.
There is a discussion around toxic masculinity and I wanted to display really positive examples of men who are comfortable sharing emotions, and bonding — I think it is in many ways a great example of positive masculinity.
Why did you want this to be a mixed-media project?
I’ve always separated my video projects and my musical creative projects; they existed in two separate worlds. This time, I was really interested in incorporating video and then responding to that with music. The music is presented underneath the visuals, while at the same time, the visuals allow me to compose an almost cinematic score, in addition to the songs that are within the piece.
The music itself is a very interesting blend of jazz and rock songwriting; there’s a great mix of genres and influences there; is this something that happened organically?
I’ve always been influenced by different genres. I do primarily come from the jazz traditions of songwriting, but I’ve definitely started to explore different genres. Within this work, I’ve also incorporated spoken elements, I’m responding to the fathers on the screen and sometimes different genres are better at responding to these different elements. For instance, one particular father has a really powerful and emotional story about how his lack of a role model of a father, and I felt really drawn to a jazz-rock style, so I use that particular genre to respond to that musically.
The band with me is an incredible group of musicians to work with. Most of them come from a jazz background, but they also have a real ability to play different genres of music as well.
So you got them to use this jazz sensitivity to go beyond that, right?
Definitely! That is one of the amazing things about jazz, it gives you a technical facility to be able to play within different genres; I’m certainly drawn to music that does have that sense of improvised nature and allows that sense of real dialogue among the musicians on stage. That is something that jazz has at its core, and that sense of conversation is something that I really value as a musician.
How did you get into jazz?
As you know, jazz in Australia is not necessarily as embedded in popular culture as in other countries, so I came to jazz in my teenage years through crossover artists like Jamie Callum. In my gap year, I traveled to England and I saw people like Jose James, people who incorporated different elements into jazz, like hip-hop or rock elements. That’s when I really started to explore jazz. Then I enrolled in the jazz program at the Australian National University and I was very lucky to learn from Vince Jones, who is an Australian jazz legend. I also studied with Kristin Berardi for a short time as well, so both of these mentors and teachers played a huge role in deepening my love for jazz. This is something that I’ve I really carried with me, this obsession with the art form and a deep appreciation for the history and the lineage of the jazz tradition.
Which tune best describes your current state of mind?
There’s a song I’ve written for the show called ‘Lessons on Me’. It’s the only song written from my own perspective and not from the fathers featured in the show and it talks about the lessons learned in interviewing one of these particular fathers and the preconceptions that I had going in.
I was really surprised by the conversations that we had and where they took me with regard to my own approach to fatherhood and life. I think that would be the song that best describes my mindset leading into this openness and that sense of valuing communication in my songwriting.
Creswick presents ‘In His Words: Voices of Fatherhood’ from 23-25 June, at The Street Theatre, in Canberra