Ian Moss and Troy Cassar-Daley: “It’s really good for us to have someone else to bounce off of”

Troy Cassar-Daley (L) and Ian Moss (R)
(Image credit: Robert Hambling)

Anyone for tennis? Well, not quite, but two of Australia’s all-time guitar greats are up for a match of sorts next March. Ian Moss and Troy Cassar-Daley are heading out on one hell of a tour, buddying up for a collaborative venture dubbed Together Alone. The 17-date run will see both musicians onstage simultaneously; as Ian performs one of his songs, Troy will perform harmonies and accompanying vocals – and vice versa – drawing on some of the pair’s best-known songs, past and present… And future, too.

Nestled in the pair’s set will be an all-new song, ‘Nullarbor Plain’, which the pair worked on and performed for Moss’ as-yet-unannounced eighth studio album.  The whole album is, in fact, the result of Mossy getting “stuck into it” during our numerous lockdowns, with the Cold Chisel string slayer already hard at work in the studio. And, 30 years deep into his career, Cassar-Daley also a firm grip on some new music, dropping his 13th full-length effort, The World Today, last March.

Together Alone is an opportunity that only fans of both artists will enjoy – with the creative calibration of two very different catalogues in full force – but, as the pair tell Australian Guitar, it’s also an opportunity for both Moss and Cassar-Daley to fully appreciate the calibre of one another’s skill, up close and personal.

Let’s go back to day one: where did the concept for this tour come from?
We’ve been friends for a long time, and I think one day we just sat down and went, “Y’know, it’d be great to be able to put something together!” We did a recording years and years ago, when Nash Chambers and I were making a record full of these great old cover songs, and Ian kindly came up to sing on a song called ‘Dark End Of The Street’ by Dan Penn. It just sounded really natural, where country met soul. So we looked back on that particular recording and went, “Y’know what? This would be nice to take on the road.” Because we spend so much time by ourselves doing acoustic things, it’s really good for us to have someone else to bounce off.

So are you both performing together, or will the show be split into separate sets? 
We’ve already done one show in Grafton, Troy’s hometown, just to try out the format – and we were really, really happy with it. We’re onstage all night together, and what we’re doing is just going song for song, backing each other with vocals and a bit of guitar work or whatever. But mainly, it’s each guy supporting the other when it’s their turn to do a song and tell a story. And that’s the beauty of it, y’know – there’s lots of great stories behind these songs, and I think people are enjoying that aspect just as much as the music itself.

Are you able to shake things up every night, or because you have to learn each other’s songs, are you playing to a rigid setlist for the whole run? 
Well, whether it’s our show or any show, you put a lot of work and thought into the order of the songs – there’s more than one way to skin a cat, but y’know, we put a tonne of work into the setlist we played in Grafton, and that worked a treat, so I think we’re going to stick with that until… Well, at least until we get sick of it. It’s going to be brand new to whoever sees us every night, so it’s not going to matter to the audience so much.

Troy: I think it’ll probably depend on the audience too, y’know, the fact that they all respond differently. I love the way that set flowed. It felt really, really natural. And from one song to the next, when Ian was singing on my stuff, it felt like we’d been playing together for years. When the first show of any tour goes as seamlessly as that, I’m inclined to leave it be and let it do its thing. 

Have you found that with each other’s support, the songs are taking on a new life? 
Absolutely. Even if it’s just spurred on by the fact that we both love an opportunity to have a little go at a solo here and there. That’s a whole different kettle of fish when you’re on your own, it’s not easy to branch off to do single-note stuff. So from that aspect, it’s fantastic – one of us can strum chords and the other can just let rip and have fun.

Troy: We try to sort of build everything around what we do separately, but it’s those little things that you add on that make a difference. I mean, Ian sometimes sings on things that I normally don’t even hear a harmony on, and that, to me, is what makes the show special. Because it just takes the songs up another notch every time you hear them.

Well you actually have a bunch of new songs to play, with The World Today coming out last March. Are there any tracks from that sprinkled in the set?
Yeah, we’re playing a couple of those, and some other more recent ones. There’s one song called ‘Shadows On The Hill’ that Ian adds this whole other dimension to, and that really blows my mind. I’d normally play it on acoustic guitar, but because I’ve got another very adequate guitar player next to me, I actually play the banjo on that one. That makes a huge difference to the texture of the song, because it’s actually played like it was recorded. I bet you never thought you’d go to an Ian Moss show and see a banjo – we’ve pushed the limits a bit here! I think where it crosses over is with Ian’s beautiful tenor soul voice.

Ian: And y’know, there’s not a lot of distance between country and the blues. That’s one of the reasons I’m loving working with Troy, is that with everything he does, he’s got this great bluesiness – even when he sings a straight-out country song, there’s still this real heartfelt blues element to it.

Have you made any progress on your next solo album, Ian? 
I have actually, yeah. I got stuck into it during lockdown – in fact if it wasn’t for lockdown, I may not have gotten these songs ready. But I started recording just two weeks ago, and I’ve got a whole bunch of rhythm tracks down already. There’s a lot of work left to do with guitar and vocal overdubs, but there’s been impact! There’s a song that Troy and I wrote together, ‘Nullarbor Plain’, which we’re doing in the set. It’s a good, solid four-on-the-floor rocker.

Has anyone broached the idea of a collaborative full-length? 
Not yet, but I think we’re going to end up with a great live album, at least. We’ll get a few shows under our belt and sort something out. We’ll probably just record all of them – these days, it’s so easy to record things half decently, and there’s only two musicians onstage, so there’s no reason why we can’t get a great recording every night. I’m sure we’ll end up doing that, then sit down at some stage and pick the best recording.

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