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Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Take 5: Rai Thistlethwayte of Thirsty Merc

Virtuoso musician and singer/songwriter of five-times ARIA nominated, acclaimed Aussie rock band Thirsty Merc, Rai Thistlethwayte is heading to Kambri at ANU this weekend, Saturday 21 November.

He will perform music from his extensive catalogue of Thirsty Merc and solo music, presenting a rare opportunity to see a musician of his calibre and profile live in an intimate setting; buy tickets here.

Have you had many chances to perform lately?

“It’s definitely been the most different year for myself since I became a professional performer. It took a little while to adjust to the fact we couldn’t play.

“I’m used to literally being in my van or on a plane and pretty much doing that every weekend, especially during the hotter months, so not doing that for six months has been so bizarre.

“The end of year is looking really promising, I’ve got more gigs in November and December than I’ve had in a few months.”

With your large catalogue of music, what are your favourite songs to perform?

“It does change from night to night, sometimes I like to change set lists around depending on the format of the gig.

“I like to include some of the well-known songs I’ve written, recorded and released with Thirsty Merc, and I find as a perform I can focus in on melody and lyric in a different way when they’re more stripped back.

“I also like to play songs that are more obscure and weren’t released as a single, it just depends on what the arc of the set list is looking like … Sometimes you need a bit of light and shade.”

Rai Thistlethwayte Kambri ANU
Rai Thistlethwayte said reduced capacity shows allow for a “very intimate dialogue between audience and yourself as an artist”. Photo supplied

How is performing solo different to Thirsty Merc?

“I’ve always thought of bands almost like their own production unit; you’ve got almost what the entire recording is going to sound like going all at once.

“This year there’s been a lot of reduced capacity shows so you get a very intimate dialogue between audience and yourself as an artist.

“I remember one time in a tiny room in LA, I saw Prince do a solo show in front of 300 people, a musician friend of mine got to go on stage to play with him. Seeing that as a punter I was blown away by how close and personal it was, he breathed a new life into songs I’ve known my whole life.”

You’ve been a professional musician for 20 years, how has your music evolved over that time?

“I’m 40 years old now and I started Thirsty Merc at 22.

“I was dating girls that were uni students and writing songs about that …  I didn’t have much life experience, but there’s something really authentic about those experiences I was drawing on.

“I’ve now had a lot more experiences, seen more of how the world works, I’ve travelled and am writing from a more emotionally mature standpoint,” he said.

“I think it’s got deeper on a lot of levels … There is an evolution emotionally and sonically I’ve gone on, but I just like to see what comes out and if it’s good quality I put it out.”

Have you come to Canberra much during your career?

“The first place I played in Canberra as a band was called the Holy Grail. I’ve done Skyfire gigs, The Basement as a full rock band show, Smith’s Alternative Bookshop with a jazz musician friend from Perth.

“I’ve grown up in Sydney so it’s just down the road.

“I’ve played at ANU loads of times, at the old refectory back in the day. It’s a good part of the world to play, there’s a strong music culture there.”

Rai Thistlethwayte’s answers have been condensed for publication.

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