Tasmanian-born singer-songwriter Telen Rodwell discusses his debut album Shadowman, his humanitarian drive and meeting Johnny Cash in the afterlife...
You’ve described debut Shadowman as“15 years in the making” – how so?
Most of the time when you come to record you put down a compilation of your songs, and it is a representation of who you are at that time in your life. But for me it’s about reaching into a catalogue of past experiences, and trying to piece together who I am in my life.
What have your experiences been?
The album is happening at the proper time when things are coming together – a lot of my work isto do with young people and communities, andat its heart it’s about identity and culture and what is going on in day-to-day life.
Is it quite personal too?
It’s got both, there is personal stuff, my experiences with love, but I co-wrote lead single Heart Of Gold with a young guy who worked with me on  documentary film project Drive, about young men who were dying in single vehicle car crashes [the biggest cause of deaths among 10 to 24-year-old males worldwide]. This guy had seen me and my mates play and just started learning. We were jamming one day and I said, “I like that”, and we wrote the song. It’s about coming of age as a young guy. The song Shadowman is about dying, the afterlife, coming back to life and karma. There is a highwayman journey about meeting Johnny Cash in the afterlife and getting his advice – I call it cosmic country.
It sounds a spiritual record – do you consider yourself a spiritual person?
I have studied philosophy and have been through a lot of experiences with people I’ve met. There are so many different religions and philosophies and they all share commonalities.That is what songwriting is, the best songs are the ones where people go, “That’s me!” We all have things in common, more than we don’t have things in common.
And you recorded it at the famous Abbey Road Studios ...
Yeah, we just did a session there with a couple of young people from [disability school] Stepping Stones, who were interested in music performance and production. My view is you should give young people the opportunity to engage and learn. And what better place?
Community building COINS Foundation co-founder Larry Sullivan has been a big supporter ...
He’s very positive and supportive and pushed me. In the CD sleeve I say, “Thank you forgiving me somewhere and nowhere to hide.”We met when I came to the UK – my brother married his daughter. We got talking and found shared interests. He was interested in me as a filmmaker helping generate material around his foundation work. He was going to Haiti – he works with housing charity Habitat For Humanity– and asked if I wanted to cover it.
It was out there that you played in front of him for the first time ...
Former US President Jimmy Carter was involved,and [country musicians] Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood were volunteering too. One night somebody fished out an old, clangy guitar. I got up and played and got a good response. I’d done the odd open mic here and there, but I’d never really got round to performing otherwise.His philosophy is, “If you have wealth and success, share it.”
Is that yours too?
We come from a different place but we definitely agree with the fact that whatever skills or wealth you have, whatever it is you’re good at,then share that. If you don’t give your gift to the world you’re just robbing the world of it.
What has fuelled your sense of social injustice, do you think?
I wanted to become someone I wish I’d met when I was a teenager. My experiences have taken me through a lot of disability support work with every age of person and somewhere in the middle I crossed into film. I made my firstshort film, The Toy Tub, with a guy who was aquadriplegic. I was supporting him as a carer. He had an interest in multimedia – he used a computer with a mouth stick – and we made this short and it won the first festival I entered, The Other Film Festival in Melbourne, for films made by, with or about people with disability.
Where do you want to be in 12 months?
I really like the crossovers: music is great but itis important to practice what you preach. If I’m encouraging people to express themselves creatively I have to be doing that, too. If you can record at a mega-studio like Abbey Road and combine it with young people gaining skills and experience it doubles the value. It’s not just me and my music – it becomes much more.
Heart Of Gold is out March 4, and Shadowman follows this spring.