Luke Dickens has just finished filming the video clip for his new single Bad Seed in an old wool room in the historic shearing shed on property “Tiverton” near Young. He’s become accustomed to the atmosphere of shearing sheds, having shorn thousands of sheep throughout the region over the years as he balanced being thrust into the national spotlight and a foray into the entertainment industry with his country life. His new album, launched in March, has already topped the ARIA Australian Country Artist Album chart, hit number 5 on the ARIA Country Album chart and has been in the top 50 for all genres.
WATCH:- Bad Seed official music video clip
As this down-to-earth country bloke effortlessly opened up to me on what led him to a life in rural NSW to his quest for music stardom, I quickly learned that when Luke sings or speaks, people listen. From his first encounter with a city-based music producer for reality television program Australian Idol, to belting out a classic pub rock hit at the local pub, to being in the shearing sheds, to now shining a light on mental health issues with his new album release, he’s continuing to inspire others with his hard work ethic and the rawness of his song lyrics.
You’ve been calling Young home for many years now. Tell me about what brought you to the South West Slopes from an early upbringing in Canberra, and how you began shearing?
I moved to Young when I was 14 years old. I was mates with a few kids at school who used to return home to Young on weekends and one of them asked me to go with him camping during the school holidays which was really exciting for me. I remember feeling heartbroken coming home, I really didn’t know what I was going to do after high school and I really didn’t like city life. The family I stayed with offered their home to me and for me to learn how to be involved in farm work and shearing, and whilst I was nervous, I felt it was meant to be.
I remember that first week I was there they were shearing at a local property “Eldorado” and this bloke, Garry Schiller, was shearing on his own. I remember thinking he was the toughest bloke I’d ever met, and I was fascinated by who he was and what he did and I wanted to essentially be like him. By the time I was 16, I was rousting in the sheds for local guys and eventually moved on to work for Lefty Goodman here in Young and spent 10 years with him after that. From the people I met, the places I went, the achievements I had made along the way with tallies I was getting, whilst I may not have been the quickest shearer, for me, I realised I was living the dream.
Whilst you were thriving in the industry, music was always calling you, and I believe it was always hoped that eventually you could embark on a more musical career? Do you remember what was the catalyst for you auditioning for Australian Idol in 2008?
Ten years into shearing I was definitely starting to look for a change and I enjoyed getting the large pub crowds excited when I performed in local karaoke competitions. A couple of mates actually told me about the Idol auditions and encouraged me to have a stab at it. At the start it was definitely a bit of fun, but as it went on, I got really serious about it and I really wanted to win. I was lucky enough to make it to the grand final, and whilst I didn’t win a record deal as such, I learnt a lot of things about the industry including people skills, song writing and performing.
Can you remember back to the first audition in Albury?
I had initially planned the four-hour drive with a few mates, but all of them except one pulled out on the morning we were leaving. I was so nervous and a little hung-over before the first edition because we had partied the night before, knowing nothing about the process that followed… I think I sounded woeful. I didn’t know the first thing about being a singer, I didn’t warm my voice up like I would these days, and the first panel of judges apologised and just said that I wasn’t going to go any further in the competition. Just as I was about to leave another producer asked me to sing another tune like a Joe Cocker hit with a bit of rasp and she said I had something she liked and she felt there was a reason I was there, they just didn’t know what it was yet.
They gave me tickets to travel to Sydney to audition in front of the celebrity judges and I think they had taken a few notes, because I was asked why I was there and I think my answers made them laugh enough that they wanted me to stick around for a little bit.
In my case there were so many amazing singers out there, better singers than me, but I think everyone needs to remember it’s TV. In some cases, it can come down to personality, your own story and who might be the most entertaining to watch, and I think if I wasn’t a half funny shearer from the country, I don’t think I would have had a chance.
Since also winning the Toyota Starmaker Award at the Tamworth Country Music Festival in 2011, you’ve continued to play gigs… Whilst Australian Idol is no longer on our screens, shows like The Voice still offer a platform for many of our talented singers. Do you believe these competitions and reality shows are a good launching pad for performers?
I think they are more important than anything you can try to do these days. It’s the strongest form of putting yourself out there and making connections with those in the industry. Some people may feel like they are portrayed in a way they don’t like, but for me I couldn’t have been more grateful, it really can make the biggest difference if you do want to captialise on the exposure received. u
You’ve just released your third album ‘After the Rain’ that was produced in Nashville. It took a while for you to create this compilation and it’s dedicated to one of your close mates who passed away late last year. There are songs on the album that are very close to you and have been inspired from personal experiences as well… Tell me a bit more about the inspirations behind the album including mental health awareness and the satisfaction to have produced this particular record…
I’m really proud of ‘After the Rain’. I didn’t win it, and I wasn’t handed it. I’ve saved up and paid for the production myself. It’s as real as it gets, full of songs that I believe in and I wrote for people to enjoy… The tracks on the album were all written over a number of years. The title track I wrote on the way to a shed when I’d just started shearing again after a relationship breakdown and I was feeling pressure from a lot of different angles… I didn’t particularly want to be shearing at that time, so I wrote the song expressing my feelings, I was certainly doing it tough. When I found out that my mate had taken his own life on Boxing Day after going through mental health issues, it really became his song and I couldn’t listen to it without feeling this immense sadness.
I did decide to dedicate the album to him because he was such a great mate who I considered my family, and he was the reason I am living in Young and living this rural life I had only ever dreamed of. I don’t want it to be a song of depression or despair, it’s really a song of hope, passion and just something I used a few years ago to express my emotions in a positive way rather than a negative way, and that’s why I think it’s an important song for others to listen to who are going through a tough time.
Your fast foray into stardom due to reality television and previous album releases led you to tour nationally and internationally, what is the biggest highlight from your musical career to date?
I travelled to the Middle East to play for the troops in Afghanistan in 2010 and shortly after that I was also asked to perform in Egypt for a bunch of troops stationed in the Sinai desert for a peace keeping mission and they were both very humbling trips that I would do again in a heartbeat. I’ve had family in the military and there was always a possibility I would be a part of the Army or Air Force before I took on farm life and shearing, so it was just surreal that I ended up in the middle of a war zone, making music. It was a great thing and the appreciation that we got from the men and women over there was amazing.
I also remember the first ever gig I played after Australian Idol and it was definitely one of the exciting ones. I basically got a band together and we played a bunch of covers on Cockatoo Island for Richard Branson and some of the biggest celebrities in the Australian entertainment industry.
After doing that gig (my first one ever) I flew to Los Angeles the next day and did it all again – that was also my first trip overseas!
In amongst your song writing and recording, you have continued to play gigs. Is performing in front of live audiences the pinnacle?
There is no better feeling than having a crowd full of people enjoying what you’ve created. I believe in my songs, I believe that I am producing quality music and the crowds seem to also love it. I don’t preach to them that they should be listening, I just mix my own songs in with the ones they already know and most of the time my originals are really well received!
Whilst you admit that you don’t have a strong family influence in the entertainment industry, you watched online tutorials on how to play the guitar, and have continued to work on honing these skills…
My grandfather was musical, but I don’t come from a family of performers or anything.
After my time on Idol, I was invited to be involved in so many opportunities, but it became apparent I needed to have an instrument to support me because I always needed to find a band to be with me. If I wanted to broaden my horizon and to entice more gigs, I needed to play guitar, so I started learning song by song and now I can play pretty much anything at an amateur level on an acoustic guitar.
My son Jordan is actually showing interest in music now – he’s a little drummer, and he actually stars in my latest video clip. He’s been doing lessons for a few years at the School of Music here in Young and he’s learning about music from people in the industry I know, so that’s been great for me to watch as well.
You are actually about to hang up the shears again to concentrate on your music with a move to sunny Queensland planned after you get married in October. Tell me about that.
My fiancé Sammie and I are really excited about our future and starting a new life with Jordy and her two daughters. On the freezing winter’s days in minus temperatures that can be experienced in Young, I’m not going to regret swapping the country life for Brisbane, but the spring afternoons looking out over the horizon and camping opportunities with mates, and shearing, I am going to miss all of that, but it’s a big growth for us and it’s a beautiful community, and we’ll always have a home to come back to in Young. For at least a little while I’ll be just focusing on my music and I am also hoping to even put a tour together for the whole country. I feel like with the release of this new album, I’ve really found my place as an artist. I’ve always loved country music, and while in the early days I was concentrating on more a rock sound, I think traditional country music fans are really starting to listen and enjoy my new songs as well. I think I have finally struck a balance and created something that really resonates with a large crowd.