Donna Simpson on milestones, chemistry and Kasey Chambers
2017 was a big year for WA folk trio The Waifs. It marked the band’s 25th anniversary, which they celebrated with the release of commemorative album Ironbark and a national tour.
There are no signs of slowing down in 2018, which the group will kick off with a gig at Perth’s Kings Park alongside country star Kasey Chambers.
“We don’t want to stop,” vocalist and guitarist Donna Simpson tells Music Insight.
“We didn’t realise it until we were doing [the 25th anniversary tour] and the gigs finished, and we were thinking, ‘let’s get revved up for our 30th’.”
Admitting there were a few years when things felt a little ho-hum and the band was “going through the motions”, Simpson says there’s nothing stopping them now.
“There is no goodbye, no winding down.
“We want to just keep winding it up, especially after this last record.”
After originally forming a duo known as Colours with her sister Vikki Thorn, the pair were joined by Josh Cunningham who hitched on after a ten minute jam session in Broome – and The Waifs were born.
Simpson says the chemistry between Thorn, Simpson and Cunningham is what has kept the band together for so long.
“If Vikki and I weren’t sisters, we’d never have survived being in a band together,” she says.
“We had rough times, and Vikki and Josh were in a relationship for 12 years as well, went through a break-up and we all just continued to keep playing, touring and travelling together.”
But it isn’t just the chemistry and connection between the three – it’s also the jam sessions.
“Josh will bust out stuff we haven’t heard in years,” Simpson says.
“You walk on stage and do the professional show, but the jams are the best.
“At rehearsals, Vikki starts busting out Nina Simone, even John Butler covers and will make up her own words – we have a good time, trust me.”
There is no goodbye, no winding down. We want to just keep winding it up, especially after this last record.
Having never played on the stage at Kings Park before, Simpson says she’s stoked to playing there.
“It’ll be great to see everything from a different perspective. I’m really excited about it, it’s a beautiful, beautiful venue.”
Having worked with co-headliner Chambers on previous albums, the musicians have “huge respect” for one another.
“She’s a gorgeous girl; a funny, fantastic singer and we’ve met up with her in the United States a couple of times and gone to some of her shows,” says Simpson.
All three members of the band have spent several years living in the United States, with Simpson living in Minneapolis, Cunningham in California and Thorn currently residing in southern Utah.
Influenced by the music and festival scene over there, the music left a lasting impression on the band, having played with some big names over there.
“We would be on stage and Kris Kristofferson would be there, or we would play with Gillian Welch and David Rawlings – Bob Dylan took us over there for a 30-day tour with him through the US. So we really know the US quite well.”
If there’s one thing those artists have in common, it’s the ability to tell stories through song – something The Waifs have built a career upon.
“When someone tells a story, they’re the song writers that I connect with, who can tell me something and teach me something about life.”
Reflecting on the past 25 years – an impressive career by anyone’s standards – Simpson says music has never been less important to her.
“There are very few things in life that I enjoy as playing music and hearing music.
“It’s what keeps me sustained, it’s what keeps Josh sustained and Vikki. Spiritually, its our inner strength, our passion. It’s there.”
The Waifs and Kasey Chambers play Kings Park on Saturday 3 February.