How to Speak Australian: Seven Great Artists From Down Under

(Singer-songwriter Emma Louise)

Forget Men At Work’s Vegemite sandwiches – these days, Australian artists are tapping universal subject matter and expanding their reach beyond the southern hemisphere. Here are our picks from Down Under’s fresh crop of songwriting talent.

Boy & Bear

Fresh from tours with Mumford & Sons and Laura Marling, Sydney folksters Boy & Bear released their debut album, Moonfire – recorded at Blackbird Studios in Nashville under the watchful eye of producer Joe Chicarelli (The Shins, My Morning Jacket) – in August, 2011. The quintet – brothers Tim and Jon Hart, Jake Tarasenko, Killian Gavin and front man Dave Hosking – scooped Australia’s music industry awards, the ARIAs, earlier this year, and their rich melodies and lush vocal harmonies continue to garner the group fans from both hemispheres.

For King and Country

Brothers Joel and Luke Smallbone swapped Sydney for Nashville in the early ’90s, when their dad – a promoter – moved for work. The duo got the songwriting bug and their single, “Busted Heart (Hold On To Me),” showcases their knack for hooky melodies and poignant lyrics. Crave, their debut album, drops in February, but fans of teen drama “The Vampire Diaries” may have heard the tracks “People Change” and “Love’s To Blame,” which scored slots in the show’s second series.


Fronted by charismatic Melbourne-based singer-songwriter Henry Wagons, five-piece country rock outfit Wagons burst onto the Aussie scene in the early 2000s with their heady mix of American country, folk and rock and roll. Beloved for their rowdy, Melbourne pub gigs, Wagons hit their stride with their new album, Rumble, Tumble & Shake, which took the Best Album gong at Victoria’s 2011 EG Awards and spawned from “turbulent times,” according to the band’s eponymous leader.


Unearthed by alternative Australian radio station Triple J earlier this year, Melbourne quartet Husky recorded their debut, Forever So, in a ramshackle bungalow at the back of lead vocalist Husky Gawenda’s North Melbourne rental before heading to L.A to work with producer Noah Georgeson (Joanna Newsom, The Strokes) at House of Blues Studios. Gawenda and band mates Gideon Preiss, Evan Tweedie and Luke Collins took their starkly beautiful folk melodies on the road with sold out dates across Oz in December, and the single “History’s Door” is widely tipped to top Triple J’s annual Hottest 100 on January 26.


Gotye (pronounced Gauthier) is the musical alter-ego of Melbourne singer-songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist Wally De Backer. Born in Bruges, Belgium, Gotye moved to Australia with his family when he was two, and his second album, 2006’s Like Drawing Blood, made waves, with the track “Learnalilgivinanlovin” popping up in two Drew Barrymore flicks. His third album, Making Mirrors, released in 2011, was launched with a gig at the Sydney Opera House and its lead single, the Peter Gabriel inspired “Somebody That I Used to Know,” featuring New Zealand singer Kimbra, was promptly played to death by every radio station in the country.

Emma Louise

Brisbane songbird Emma Louise cemented her status as one to watch in 2011, when her single “Jungle” – a catchy ditty about a messy, painful relationship – became one of the biggest Australian tracks of the year. The 19-year-old singer-songwriter followed up with her debut EP, Full Hearts & Empty Rooms, and scored the Pop Award and Song of the Year for “Jungle” at the 2011 Queensland Music Awards. Her second EP, a collaboration with Mark Myers of now-defunct Townsville band The Middle East, is due next year.

The Panics

Perth lads The Panics have been jet setting all over the place in of late, writing their fourth album, Rain On the Humming Wire, in the UK, recording it in upstate New York and embarking on a national tour of their homeland earlier this year. The quintet, now based in Melbourne, is known for sweeping melodies and front man Jae Laffer’s lyrical honesty, beautifully exhibited in On the Humming Wire’s lead single, the Coldplay-esque “Majesty.”


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