When he was younger Damien Leith was interested in drama. Due to his school not teaching the discipline, he took second best – musicals. From playing Fagen in a production of Oliver to Nat King Cole, before the big jump of rocking Pantera covers, Leith has had a taste of every genre. “Then I started thinking about what I actually wanted to play and Woodface by Crowded House was the one record I actually bought, I didn’t borrow off my brother.” Strange then that Crowded House’s last public gig (at least for 10 years) would be the same location as Damien Leith’s – winning Australia Idol on the steps of the Sydney Opera House. Fortunately, unlike past Idol winners, Leith didn’t have to rush out a record in a week. Where We Land, Leith’s latest album, boasts nine songs written by him and is more cafefully crafted towards the actual artist than past Idol affairs.
You moved here in 2003, were you hesitant with the popularity and the showcases you were getting in Ireland and the UK? Yeah. I had my own stuff and I had Releaf, which was like our family band Leaf, many years later. I had showcases with Sony Ireland and Universal but my wife and I had been deciding whether to move to Australia or not. And I had to think ‘is this really happening or not… no it isn’t’. That was it. The interest is there but it wasn’t interesting enough.
So tell us about the Idol process? Daunting, rediculous? Well Idol is a crazy thing. It was never something we were ever entering. We both ended up there under strange circumstances. For me I was in Darling Harbour as the auditions were going on and they told me to go and do it and I said ‘Alright I’ll do it’. They chose me for “The Blower’s Daughter”. I had watched the ads on TV and I chatted with my wife and we thought ‘nah’, not really for me. Whenever I watched it I also had my views and it’s got a stigma attached to it, and that’s the way it presents itself, so rightly so. But fortunately that year they changed the format. They made the it very creditable. But I’ve met the other winners since and they’re all accomplished in their own right, they’ve been playing for years and gigging for years. And this year we could all play instruments so you could bank on us to do a tour, like Bobby and all the rest. We got to showcase what it would be like to do a live gig rather than sing a song. It’s complicated, it’s stressful but you learn a hell of a lot from it, live TV – all that stuff. You learn about how to win an audience in a very short space of time. Even with singles you have to hit the mark pretty fast. You don’t always get it right.
But you got your touchdowns. Touchdowns are crazy. They’re powerful things. They do influence people. So they are very important. When Jess got two touchdowns in a row we thought we were all outta here, ya know?
Are you protective of your songs? There’s loads of songs that are waiting for the next album or will never see the light of day. I was protective at the start. When I started working with the guys, they were way ahead of me as to where they saw the album. It took me a while to realise where the album should be. I went in thinking I’d have one totally acoustic album. That was never the right move, but that’s what I had in my head. There are a lot of songs I’ve written that are fully piano, you wouldn’t build them up, they’re moody. There are songs that, looking at the album, would never have fitted in.
You cover Fleetwood Mac’s “Songbird”. I got married to that song. My sister and I used to gig with that song all the time. We’re not really “our song” type of people. But if we had one, that’d be it. And I didn’t want to put any covers on the album because Winners Journey had all of that. But it kept a balance between the two albums.
So what’s your favourite track on Where We Land? My favourite track is “Alone”. I wrote that for a friend who had a death in the family. I like the way it was put together. It’s a darker sort of song. I like sad songs. Not heavy or fast songs but slow songs. It will never be a single, that’s why it’s so far back on the album.
Where we land is out now through Sony/BMG