Acoustic Attitude 

Aussie trio not just common folk

WHO: The Waifs

WHERE: Garfinkel’s

WHEN: Monday, Sept. 17

It’s not often a trio classified as "folk" can command so much attention or enjoy so much popular success. Australia’s, The Waifs, have achieved both – independent of major labels we might add – and are now showing North America what an acoustic band with attitude can do.

Although The Waifs aren’t yet a household name in the northern hemisphere, they’ve been kicking around the music business for nearly 10 years. Sisters Donna and Vikki Simpson had been paying their dues in their local pubs when they decided to explore the rest of the country in 1992. Armed with two guitars, a camper van and the name Colours, they began their road trip in Western Australia, where the span between major cities can be as great as in Northern Canada. In the red dirt of Broome, the sisters met Josh Cunningham, a guitarist with a passion for similar music and a desire to create a fresh sound. When the trio returned to the Simpsons’ home town of Albany a year later, they found themselves without a place to lay their hats. They were dubbed The Waifs.

These days, The Waifs are far from homeless, but they have embarked on a new road trip where, once again, their faces are strange and their music is new. With the established support of Aussie fans an ocean away, they play their songs to crowds of just 50 and as great at 5,000.

"It’s like a fresh loaf of bread," comments Donna about conquering new territory. "Straight from the oven, it’s steaming and just waiting to be consumed. We come to festivals and walk on stage to thousands of people standing there, waiting to listen to our music. It’s great thinking, ‘These people have never seen us before. Let’s do it!’"

The sheer magnitude of performance options in North America also excites the Aussies. In Canada especially, where young musicians often become disheartened by lack of records sales or label contracts, The Waifs aren’t concerned about matching the thousands of disks sold in their homeland. Instead they’re soaking up the culture and making new friends.

"Compared to a lot of the other countries we’ve toured through, Canada has the most incredible music scene. I say that in all sincerity. Canada has some unbelievable artists and so many festivals too. America has just as many festivals and rootsy acts, but it’s got a highly commercial scene. Canada is just great music and talented people. I want to take so many of them home with me! We adore The Be Good Tanyas. We’ve invited them to come tour with us back home. There are so many people we’ve met along the way that welcomed us into their lives."

And North American audiences seem to be returning the affection. A core group of listeners has flourished to include just about everyone who attends their shows.

"You could tell that at first the parochial crowd were a little unsure of whether this bunch of Aussies could match up to their local favourites, but after Donna and Vikki let their voices loose the applause and cheering after each song had already become louder than for any other performer that night," writes one fan of The Waifs’ American kickoff performance in Boston.

Whether they’re performing in the summer sun or a smoky bar, The Waifs’ casual attitude and fierce love of music combines to make a good time. Even in more formal atmospheres, like soft-seat theatres, their energy is irresistible and their shows are more like a party than a gig, a description not always synonymous with "folk" bands.

"We’re not party-party hard, because we don’t necessarily rock the house all night," she laughs. "But we are like an intimate party. We’re very real on stage. We mess up. We argue on stage. A lot of people say ‘Wow, I feel like you just played in my back yard.’ There is definitely a connection and that’s what they enjoy instead of a slick, polished show. With us, what you see is what you get."

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