Category Archives: Press

Stories Of Ghosts Review Sydney Morning Herald 28/02/2013

The Sydney Morning Herald

February 28, 2013

Chris Johnson

Stories of Ghosts

Deborah Conway and Willy Zygier (Intercorps/MGM)

There is something sublimely distinctive about Deborah Conway.

It is her voice, her songwriting, her attitude.

It is a challenge to find any musical work Conway has been involved with that isn’t simply magnificent.

So when she teams up with life and musical partner Willy Zygier on another recording venture, the outcome is sure to be something special.

And it is.

Stories of Ghosts, the latest offering from the Conway-Zygier team is simply outstanding.

It would have been hard for the couple to follow their last album, the brilliant Half Man Half Woman, which was very well received by critics and fans alike.

But they have done it. Was there any doubt they would?

The Conway-Zygier team is a match – at least musically speaking – made in heaven.

How fitting then that this album is about God and ghosts.

On track two, titled G-D, Conway even plays the role of the big guy in the sky, although in a somewhat demented and vengeful characterisation.

Actually, Stories of Ghosts is an incredible collection of simply stunning songs centring on life’s journey. Songs about beliefs, struggles, loves and the deepest of human thoughts – with lots of themes that relate to the Old Testament.

The ten tracks on this album are all original Conway-Zygier compositions and flow naturally.

Conway’s singing is at its best, with her voice perfectly suited to this material – during both the delicate and the edgier tracks.

Vika and Linda Bull lend some backing vocals on a couple of tracks, which is just adding class to more class.

And Zygier’s voice is in great form too.

But what takes the album to another dimension is Zygier’s prowess on just about all things stringed.

Zygier is a master guitarist and a complete joy to listen to. Whether it is acoustic guitar, bottleneck slide guitar, mandolin, banjo, bouzouki or ukulele, Zygier can make his instrument sing. (He plays most of them plus piano on this album).

All of the instrumentation on this album, by Conway and Zygier as well as a handful of backing and guest musicians, is superb.

Track four, East of Eden, is the standout number, but they are all exquisite.

Chris Johnson

Half Man Half Woman Review


April 30, 2010

SOMEWHERE between her commercial high with It’s Only the Beginning and a baffling electronic experiment called Ultrasound, mercurial indie diva Deborah Conway left compromise in a ditch.

This is her ninth studio album (under numerous guises) with husband Willy Zygier, and from his jaunty Wes Montgomery-styled instrumental overture to a charming banjo lullaby featuring their three daughters, it fairly saunters with a relaxed resolve to be whatever it wants to be.

The tone is mostly set by Zygier’s smiling feel for acoustic strings of all stripes: Somewhere Different and Chromatic Jew are dappled country folk; Agar Rag drips with sepia; a woody mandolin and muted Salvation Army band flavour the contented domestic waltz, Cul De Sac.

There’s tougher stuff too: Take Pity on the Beast is intense, existential blues that nearly overcooks in eight minutes of biblical allegory but the tonally challenging gutbucket swing of Spoken Like a Man may be the highlight.

Far from chasing pop currency, it’s mainly the sweet air of another century that pervades here. But it’s their parlour and, clearly, nobody tells them how to decorate.

Summertown Reviews

Daily Telegraph

Blessed with an angelic voice, deft at lyrical wordplay and armed with a seemingly inexhaustive melody well, Conway – and partner Zygier – create songs which become best friends for life. You can hear the influence of her Patsy Cline tribute shows lingering in One Chance, while Accidents Happen In The Home recalls Martha Davis. Beautifully played, you can hear every single note and the care taken to let the songs breathe. Special guests include Paul Kelly and Toni Collette.

Kathy Macabe

Rolling Stone

There are two potentially scary aspects about Summertown. Firstly, Deb Conway wants to be ?mature?; and secondly, it?s incredibly ambitious to aim to write songs as perfect as those of Carole King, James Taylor et al. But these fears are unfounded. Apart from the odd uneasy moment, Summertown is magical. An acoustic album with classical moves, Conway is subtle and restrained. Partners in music and life, she and Zygier create upbeat gems, dramatic ballad, lullabies and pop with country music being an almost unconscious influence. Guests included Toni Collette and Paul Kelly, plus members of Augie March and the John Butler Trio. Why Conway isn?t a world-famous diva is a mystery. Maybe she could have been if she had auditioned for Neighbours.

Annette Basile

WHO Magazine

Summertown – Now Hear This

Sometimes a bad break is a lucky break. Apparently Conway broke an arm while writing her latest album, so she was sidelined from playing guitar, and long time partner- collaborator Zygier had to keep things simple and play rhythm. The result is a collection of songs that doesn?t fuss around, keeping things concise and painting everything in primary colours. That said, Conway?s storytelling ability has developed to a point where she?s not afraid to tackle the big old genres, and she has a nice line in understatement (Accidents Happen In The Home?) and in finding a new angle in a well-worn theme(?Something?s Right?). Meanwhile, ?Sunday Morning? (with Toni Collette on backing vocals) is so breezy and carefree that it warms the cockles of your heart. I?ve ploughed through many, many albums by female singer-songwriters of late that are either overly flowery or cloyingly self-obsessed, so it?s pleasant to hear Conway tiptoeing a fairly steady line between heartbreak and infatuation with barely a hiccup.

Barry Divola

Time Off – Radio Song

Although she’s been out of the public eye for the past two years,
singer-songwriter Deborah Conway has been busier than the proverbial bee.

In addition to having her third child with musical collaborator and partner
Willy Zygier, Conway also worked on some diverse musical projects.

Together with Willy, she performed at the 1998 Adelaide Festival as part of
Voice, Jam and Videotape. Later that year, she joined the Tasmanian Symphony
Orchestra for a song called “When I Get Younger”, written with composer
George Dreyfuss for the Timelines album (a collaboration between young and
older people for the International Year of the Older Person). Last year,
work began in earnest on her follow up to 1997’s My Third Husband.

Conway’s new album, Exquisite Stereo, is out May 1, and judging by the
album’s cheeky first single, Radio Loves This, we’re in for a mighty aural

Conway says the single came to her on a hot summer’s day, just as she was
contemplating a siesta.

“The half sleep [is] one of my most creative times,” she laughs. “It [the
single] is kind of an ironic look at the way radio’s gone these days —
swallowed up by the corporate bodies. I guess it’s been that way for a long,
long time. It’s a little twist on the fact that radio hasn’t loved me in an
awfully long time.”

Could this change things?

“You never know, you keep your fingers crossed.”

Deborah admits Radio Loves This harks back to her youth when she listened to
3XY on a transistor radio through an ear-piece, either when she was supposed
to studying or asleep. Given that, the track has a compressed AM feel driven
by an infectious keyboard line.

The keyboards come courtesy of Cameron Reynolds from electronica outfit,
Barko, who’s now a part of Conway’s band. He teamed up with Conway and
Zygier to record the album.

“We were actually sort of wandering around the streets of Brunswick at
festival time when we saw this electronica/techno outfit called Barko which
we didn’t know at the time,” Deborah recalls. “They caught our attention —
just out of the corner of my eye — because they sounded really good. Some
weeks later we started thinking about putting the band together, and Willy
said: ‘What about that techno act we saw?'”

“I tracked them down because they were on the Push stage. There’s a state
government initiative that funds new talent, called Push, and so I looked
them up through there, found the number of this guy (Cameron) and spoke to
him, and he was really amiable to the idea and came along and we met and got
along really well.”

“After a while of trying to work through session players to get a rhythm
section happening, he said: ‘What about these friends of mine?’ They were
great — they’re the rhythm section from Augie March. It [the album] was
conceived as a band. It was recorded as a band, it will be toured as a band.
I’m determined to keep touring for most of the year.”

Deborah Conway and band play the Zoo on Saturday night and the Playroom on
Sunday, April 2. ‘Radio Loves This’ is out now through Shock Records.

Rave – The Accidental Purist

Deborah Conway is angry at the music industry. Very angry. Why? WHY?! Noise
restrictions? Major record company monopolies? The pulling of stock from
major retail chains? Hell, we should be frothing at the mouth, burning our
CDs and retreating to the forests to play the piccolo.

But Deborah is back with a new single, the caustically titled Radio Loves
This, and a batch of national tour dates, revelling in the old
if-you-can’t-beat-them-join-them catchcry. It’s been a busy few years since
we heard from her last — time spent making a new record, having another
baby, and moving her brood back to Australia from the UK.

“I live in Melbourne now,” Deborah reports, gearing up for a lively chat.
“It’s the place I call home. Home is comfortable. Home is knowable and easy.
It’s not necessarily challenging, but that’s not necessarily what I need at
the moment. I think that anyone might say that about their home. It’s not a
blot on Australia particularly, but I think you can point a finger at
Australia and say that we’re so conservative. I mean, radio particularly,
which is soooo conservative, has so many people over a barrel, but I think
there are other advantages to living here.”

Conway embraced yet another change on top of all the moving, birthing and
recording when she left longtime label Mushroom for Shock Records late last

“We decided to go indie. The relationship with Mushroom ended,” she says
shortly. “My Third Husband came out and they didn’t really understand at all
how to promote it, consequently it kinda floundered and we were both unhappy
with each other. After that whole experience I was pretty fed up with record
companies. I think as technology improves record companies will become more
and more redundant and you’ll be able to reach out to your audience more

It was precisely this dissolution with the music industry and its commercial
nature that prompted the sardonic title of the first single.

“Since the fall of the Berlin Wall there’s been no left. Left left!” Deborah
quips. “Music, like everything else, reflects the culture at large, and it’s
very corporatised, and radio reflects that too. Just look at the success of
a show like Popstars! It’s genius! It’s absolutely brilliant. It’s so
post-post-post modern, but it’s not about music. And everybody knows that.”

Theres a pause before Deborah says, a bit worriedly: “I think.”

The irony, of course, is that radio does love Conway. It seems no working
day is complete without the requisite flogging of It’s Only The Beginning.

“But they haven’t played anything since then!” Conway exclaims loudly. “I’ve
become fossilised somehow. It’s very frustrating and I almost feel like it’s
personal. I feel like the fact that I am an older woman means I’m not
allowed to succeed — there’s like this glass ceiling. I never thought there
was, but there is. It’s ageism more than anything else. I think men feel it
too — I’m not suggesting it’s a solely female thing — but it’s more acute
when you’re a woman. Unlike a lot of other professions, the amount of
experience you have and the maturity you can bring to your work is not

Still, where radio fails, touring will always succeed. And Conway is itching
to get on the road.

“I’m excited,” she enthuses. “We made the record last April, so that’s been
a year sitting in the can because halfway through the process I … had,
well, we had … an accident.”

A happy accident!

“Yes, a very happy accident,” she laughs. “So, I didn’t really want to go
out on the road like a freakshow again and become known as that pregnant
singer. So I put it off. But I think it’s a blessing really. I can give it
my full attention.”

The Age

Restless music – by Jane Rocca

May 05 2000 04:40:55

When Deborah Conway gave birth for the third time last year, she knew it was time to reassess her relationship with songwriting. Conway happily juggles life as a mother and musician.

“My work comes in spasms,” she says. “I think if you had a fulltime dayjob you’d miss out on your kids, whereas my work periods are very intense but very short, so I find it not so much of a strain.”

Her latest album, Exquisite Stereo, is a reaction to 1997’s My Third

The Weekend Australian

Playing with ire

Motherhood has not dulled Deborah Conway’s sense of rage. Just get her started about radio. Iain Shedden reports.

For every Australian music fan who thinks Bardot’s chart-topping success is

Australian Women’s Forum

Exquisite Stereo – four out of four stars
It’s been a long time between hits for DC (remember “Its Only The Beginning” or even “Man Overboard”), but this CD deserves more than just critical acclaim. Yes, it is exqusite stereo – Conway’s voice is brilliant and she’s somehow ended up with all the passion that Mariah and Celine had surgically removed. “Radio Loves This” is a stand-out track that radio, surely, will have to love. (4 Stars)

Sydney Morning Herald

The brand plays on

The name may remain the same, but Deborah Conway’s new CD is a team effort.
Matt Buchanan discovers why she was tired of going it alone.

Deborah Conway’s new solo album, Exquisite Stereo, is not a solo album. You

20 Questions for the Sunday Age

These are the unedited responses rather than what was actually printed in the Sunday Age.

What material possession couldn’t you live without?

I’m in love with my recently acquired Neumann 149 valve microphone. I’ve been recording a couple of new tracks for Only The Bones (the best of album that’s out this week) and the vocals sound like honey; it’s taken home recording to a whole new place. Frankly I can’t believe I’ve lived without one for so long, I certainly intend to never live without one again.

What book do you return to most often?

I have a very well thumbed Collected Works of Robert Graves and I’ve just recently reread The Master and Margherita and remembered all over again why it s one of my all time favourite novels.

If money were no object, where would you live?

Damn good question and one I ve been asking myself for a while since we’re rapidly growing out of our house. I rather fancy that big white place with the turrets in the middle of the Botanical Gardens, I ll have to get my agent on to it.

What would your last meal be?

You really need more of a context for this question, like is it my last
meal because I’m to be hanged the following morning for some heinous crime – comfort food, chopped liver, chicken soup, oven roasted chicken and potatoes and some cheesecake; or am I dying of a ghastly disease that has eaten the insides of my colon, bowel and stomach (from eating too much comfort food) – probably a fresh squeezed watercress, beetroot, apple and lemon juice, intravenously of course; or is the moment of death unknowable
at the time of said last meal anything that Willy cooks for me is pretty sensational but I’d be very happy if the meal included his Jerusalem artichoke and chestnut soup, cabbage & apple salad and mushroom pastries.

What do you love/hate about Melbourne?

Love : Autumn skies, Queen Victoria market, the botanical gardens, most of Collins Street, Williamstown

Hate : hot north winds, the taunting of summers false start followed by another month of winter weather in December, the mostly unrelieved flatness.

What has been the happiest day of your life?

13th February 1995 when I held my first baby girl fresh and dripping from my womb. Like nothing else I had ever experienced until the 28th of January 1998 and the 30th December 1999 when I got to hold the 2nd and 3rd.

What do you regret?

Most of my real estate decisions, never winning Powerball and not writing Moon River, that was a real blow.

Where do you escape to?

Recently I escaped from real life by being Patsy Cline. That was very
cool. I got to sing lots of great songs to adoring Patsy Cline fans, party afterwards and, no matter what time I got home, sleep 8 hours. After prolonged sleep deprivation that was definitely a highlight.

What are you afraid of?

Public speaking, car crashes, and just closing
my eyes to sleep when I hear the sound of a crying child.

What’s your favourite sound/smell?

Sound :my children laughing, one of my songs on the radio that isn’t It’s Only The Beginning

Smell: something delicious on the stove, the top of a new baby’s head, coffee, even though I don’t drink it much, this yummy fig bubble bath I’ve got.

What makes you happy to be alive?

It creeps up on me, walking around Williamstown with the sun coming up behind me and the moon still full and hanging around in the western sky is pretty sure fire. Playing music for people who are digging it, being in total control of my instrument, starting off on holiday with my family.

When did you last cry?

Last weekend from extreme frustration, don’t ask.

What was the last thing you bought that you shouldn’t have?

This question makes me realise that clearly I don t do enough shopping.

What are you good at?

making cakes, receiving massages

Have you ever had a mentor?

Dorland Bray was my first mentor. We met when I joined The Benders, a Melbourne band of which he was the drummer. We went on to form Do Re Mi, and he was the first person that I wrote a song with.

What’s your favourite piece of music?

This is an impossible question, music is something that works in tandem with your moods and surroundings how can anyone have one favourite piece?

I’ve set dinner party moods with Spain, Radiohead and Mel Torme, I’ve danced to the Sounds of Soweto, Prince and The Chemical Brothers, I’ve wailed to Tom Waites, Joni Mitchell and Dino Saluzzi.

When did you last get drunk?

I got completely smashed at a friends party about 3 years ago on Wild Turkey. Days later, I thought I was still recovering from the hangover, until I realised I was 6 weeks pregnant.

Who did you last kiss?

Willy, not a big Frenchie but slightly open with just a hint of inner lip,
he was going to bed before me. God, you guys get really personal.

HQ Magazine – Serial Thriller

Serial Thriller

Author Unknown- HQ Magazine Nov/Dec 1997

Deborah Conway likes to make moves that hijack her sense of belonging. She enjoys the way a new place impinges on her music. “I’m not very comfortable with being completely stable with my living,” she admits.

In 1995, she packed her bags, her baby, her partner and her artistic intent and headed for the UK. She wasn’t coming home until she’d made the record she wanted to make. Which is My Third Husband, a sensuous, velvety, pop-imbued thing.

Back in the comfort zone to showcase it with partner Willy Zygier, she piles on the jabberwocky. “It’s a slithering record, don’t you think? A circumference record … not a diameter record.” And the title? Conway has been waiting for this. “I’m married to my work, but I like to fuck around,” she intones, Mae West-style. “I’m afraid of commitment.” This would probably be news to Zygier? She relents: “I’m speaking nonsense. We’ve been living together six or seven years. We have a child. Hey, we hired an architect once.”

Still, she has always wanted to trot out that phrase, “my third husband”. Such an Elizabeth Taylor thing. “To actually make that commitment three times! You’re either a serial romanticist, a serial optimist or a seriously bad judge of character.”

Green Guide – My Third Husband Review

Shaun Carey – The Green Guide, 6th November 1997
London has certainly had an effect on Deborah Conway and her collaborator/husband (sic), Willy Zygier. My Third Husband reflects many of the musical currents swirling around the world’s grooviest city, with whispers of the ambient house sounds that characterise acts such as Portishead and Faithless in forming many of the songs. The single Only the Bones (Will Show) is a straight-out killer and the heavily programmed 2001 Ultrasound, built on shuffling, computerised rhythms, is as good as anything Conway has ever done. A progression for one of our great talents but probably too subtle and subdued for chart success.

Who Weekly

Barry Divola

Album Review

“I throw myself in deep, the air feels thick and wired,” Conway croons darkly over a ticking rhythm, a haze of crckling static and a pulsing bass track. We’re a long, long way from the jangly pop of 1991’s String of Pearls.
Written in London after she discovered her second album wouldn’t get an overseas release, these torch songs simmer rather than boil. Drum patterns clink and clunk, keyboard fills flutter and guitar strings vibrate. It’s a record of slow shifts in musical arrangement and melodramatic feelings lyrically. In the sneaky crawl of “Only the Bones (Will Show)”, she snarls, “These thoughts of doing myself in could only serve to make this a better place, so put on a happy face.”

Does it work? Yes and no. Conway can get a little mannered over a long stretch, and when she cuts loose on the gnarly “It’s a Girl Thing”, you wonder what would happen if she undid the top button more often. (Mushroom , $29.95) Grade: B-

The art of being immature

“One does have to be careful,” Deborah Conway tells me.”Think of Julian Lennon.” We’re discussing the possibility of Syd, her 2-and-a-half-year-old daughter, growing up to follow in the footsteps of her parents. (Conway’s partner, Willy Zygier, is co-writer and instrumentalist on her last two albums.) With her black hair, pale face, dark lips and direct stare, Melbourne raised Conway, 37, is an imposing presence, and gives answers that are at the same time flip, dramatic and funny.

The past couple of years have been spent in London, and she will return there in April after the birth of her second child. “I was bored,” she says of the initial move overseas. “I wanted to go away and do something weird and wacky. And I was rebelling against becoming a mother. You’re meant to settle down and become a nesting, so I wnt vigorously the other way.” She smiles. “I’m so immature, I really am. It’s hopeless. I’m such and adolescent.”

Her third solo album, My Third Husband, was developed in London, and the title is a phrase she has always wanted to use, “but one has to get married a few times, so I thought this was an easy way to incorporate it into my life.”

When describing the new songs, Conway goes off on a geometrical bent : “It’s not a diameter pop record, it’s a circumference pop record.” I raise my eyebrows. “It goes around and around instead of cutting to the heart of anything,” she says by way of clarification.

So what shape was her last album, Bitch Epic ? “Like ab isosceles triangle. All the albums are different but they’ve all grown out of each other. Nothing comes of nothing, as Julie Andrews once said.”

She like London. She loves the easy accessibility to alternative culture and exotic European cities. “But I like Australia for different reasons,” she is quick to add. “There’s no traffic, the air is clean, the beaches are unsurpassable, the food is fanstastic and it’s so cheap compared to over there.” She smiles again. “See how optimistic I am See what a positive human being I can be?”

Mushroom Press Release For My Third Husband

October 1997

The Bitch is Back and would like you to meet her third husband. After 2 years of holing up in the second bedroom of her London flat it’s time to bring him home to meet mother.

Deborah Conway began her musical career with Do Re Mi in 1981, the band recorded several singles, EPs and 2 albums, but despite achieving commercial radio success with a song about “penis envy” (amongst others), the band broke up in 1989. She then spent a couple of years living overseas, recording an album which was never released, appearing in theatre and film, including Peter Greenaway’s “Prospero’s Books” and working on a Pete Towshend album.

Following her signing to Mushroom, 1991 saw the appearance of Conway’s first solo record, “String of Pearls”. The album achieved platinum sales and produced a number of singles including “It’s Only The Beginning”. And indeed it was. In 1992 Conway won the coveted ARIA Award for best female performer.

Then came the ground breaking Bitch Epic album in 1993. More musically ambitious that it’s predecessor, the record featured a rich tapestry of instrumentation and a number of guests and collaborators including Vika and Linda Bull. It was produced by American producer Jim Rondelli. Multi instrumentalist Willy Zygier featured heavily on the album as co-writer, arranger, composer and co-producer. It was a personal and musical partnership that proved successful commercially and creatively.

Since then Conway has become a mother to Daughter Syd and 2 years ago she, Willy and Syd relocated to London determined to write and make her next album. The duo soaked up the musical and cultural atmosphere, checking out various clubs and gigs and performing a dozen of their own. Through necessity they set up a studio in their second bedroom and set to work burying their noses in manuals and began piecing together their ideas on the electronic equipment they had acquired. As with most projects it proved to be 99% perspiration as they worked obsessively each day stockpiling new songs and accumulating newly discovered sounds and effects. Both wanted to write standards for the end of the century. Finally they sent out the resultant tapes and connected with Fine Young Cannibals and Sundays producer Dave Anderson, determined to get a sound that was both raw and gutsy, yet polished at the same time. A migratory recording process then ensued, moving from studio to studio and acquiring ex Fine Young Cannibals guitarist Andy Cox and programmer and ex Waterboys bassist Martin Swain as part of the team. These sessions proved the most ambitious and easily the most relaxed recording experience that Conway has had. They had succeeded in re-inventing themselves.

The resultant album has been christened “My Third Husband”, a provocative and ambiguous title that has a number of possible interpretations, especially given that Conway has never married. Perhaps she’s married to her work, it is her third record. Perhaps it’s a reflection on love and institutions. Is she a grieving widow or a newlywed? It also sounds like the possible title of a classic sophisticated 40’s movie directed by Howard Hawks. And it’s a great phrase for Conway to use at a party.

According to the bride, this album dwells on the universal themes of sex, death, memory, loss and self flagellation, fairly weighty subject matter for your average pop song. But what strikes the listener first is the post Portishead almost cinematic feel to the lush electronic and acoustic musical tableaux and the sound of the rhythms that push and surround Conway’s at times almost narcoleptic and disembodied vocal stylings. This record has a real groove to it.

These songs have already been tested in live performance in England to full houses and warm responses. Australian audiences will be able to witness that for themselves over the next couple of months before Conway, Zygier and daughter return to England around April of next year.


Playing Happy Families. Deborah Conway returns with a trip hop album

Juice October 1997- Johnny Friendly

I wasn’t coming home until I had a record finished,” says Deborah Conway, wearing her stubbornness like a badge of courage on the lapel of her faux fur coat. The record is called My Third Husband and it annouces a new side to the Melbourne-born singer-songwriter. Gone is the acoustic strum, replaced by a more atmospheric, synthesiser-based sound. But much has changed in the four years since the release of her second solo record, Bitch Epic.

Conway had created a persona as an outspoken, controversial ex-model, the reckless daughter of Joni Mitchell and Camille Paglia, but her records were less feisty than her persona. Nonetheless, Conway boasted a large and fiercely loyal audience. Two years ago, the singer moved to the UK with her four-month-old baby to promote Bitch Epic, but her arrival coincided with a restructure at the record company. Conway and her husband (sic) and producer Willy Zygier, decided to stay anyway. Mushroom Records helped out with studio equipment and support while Conway and Zygier set up a home, a studio and a new sound.

“It’s not an easy place to live,” says the mother of Syd Dolores. “It’s much easier to live here. If you’ve got a little baby, free babysitting is extremely valuable and shouldn’t be underestimated. It’s very expensive to live, it’s not easy for me to make money, it’s crowded, the water’s undrinkable, the air virtually unbreathable. What can I say? Having a very large population in a very small place is both its greatest asset and its greatest downfall. But if you live in London, it’s a pretty exciting town. There’s plenty of stuff to do, plenty of stuff to see. Some of it’s even free. So I never felt bored.”

A glance at the Conway family photo album shows bucolic shots of the family playing in the English countryside and taking afternoon tea with charismatic former Labor prime ministers. But it wasn’t all cucumber sandwiches and lobbying for a Keating. Most of their time was spent in the studio, with the added pressure of living and working together on a budget. “We’ve always had a fairly intimate relationship because we work together. You know, it works out … It has to, otherwise we’d both kill each other. I’m not saying I’m easy to live with.”

As for the album’s title, Conway quips, “I’m married to my work” (she also describes the Ultrasound band and album as “an affair on the side”). Fortunately it avoids becoming the middle-aged memoir that seems to be de rigeur among writers who are Conway’s contemporaries. The album has only one song that alludes to motherhood; the rest explore the emotional terrain of love, desire and fear.

“It’s a melancholy record in some ways,” she says, “I’d call it circumference pop. We’re not cutting straight to the heart of it, we’re going through the subtext, we’re taking the circuitous route. England is not a very direct country; it’s full of subtext, hidden menaing, the unsaid. And I immersed myself in it.”

The album’s textures are reminiscent of a cross between Portishead and Ry Cooder’s soundtrack for Dead Man Walking. Ironically, however, the album also captures Conway’s range more precisely. This is the closest she has come to delivering on the promise of Do Re Mi’s startling “Man Overboard”.

Whilst in Britain, Conway played a few shows, established friendships with other musicians and found management with Peter Jenner, who also looks after Billy Bragg and Pink Floyd and who is currently shopping My Third Husband around labels in Europe and the US. Meanwhile, Conway is assembling a band in Australia to hit the road in October. No doubt she’ll be playing songs from her entire repertoire, including the Do Re Mi hit “Adultery”.


Anthony Horan, In Press 22nd October 1997

Some years back, Deborah Conway headed to Europe with her partner and musical collaborator Willy Zygier, the intention being to start work on a follow-up album to the much-admired Bitch Epic. Just prior to departing, Conway and Zygier had popped into a studio for a couple of weeks with Bill McDonald and Paul Hester, coming out the other end with a remarkable album under the name Ultrasound. A twisted, experimental and fascinating album, it provided a fascinating contrast to the (comparatively) more straightforward songs that made up Bitch Epic, and signposted an intriguing shift in musical direction for Deborah Conway, one which was expected to manifest itself on the next proper album. That album has been a somewhat longer time coming than anyone expected “I’ve been in London for the last two years – I have been very busy, just not in the public eye, I guess”, Deborah offers by way of explanation; now in the stores sporting the title My Third Husband, it has turned out to be more of a turn into uncharted territory than anyone imagined.

And what an album it is – recorded and mixed in London, it sounds like nothing else to be found in the present or past. It’s almost as if Ultrasound was a trial run for the pure creativity, left-of-centre experimentation and quirky audio trickery here. The single that preceded the album a short while back – a reworking of the Ultrasound track Only The Bones – provided an appropriate link between then and now, but the bulk of the album explores entirely new ground, and does so with rich melodics and seductive subtlety. It is, quite simply, one of this years essential records.

That it’s taken so long to appear in the first place is the fault of circumstance; while Deborah was not taking time away from her music after the birth of her daughter, the demands of parenthood kept her busier than even she had expected.

“No, that wasn’t my intention particularly, to take time off, she says. I mean, I was just stupid, really. I don’t know if anyone knows how to be a parent until you actually are. I hadn’t realised how absolutely intensive it can be. Its such a 24 hour job, it really is. So I guess the reason its taken so long between records is because there hasn’t been that much time for work as well as being a parent. And considering that both the songwriters are both the parents.”

So why London, then, at a time when so many Australian artists and bands were discovering solid audience support in the US?

“Mushroom had wanted to put Bitch Epic out there, so there was this offer on the table which I thought was quite good – also, I had a British passport, which I knew would make life a lot easier work-wise than it would be in America. There was also family and friends that already existed there, and I guess I thought that would make things a little bit easier with a child. But as it turned out, the shooting party had beaten me to it, and Mushroom was in a shambles by the time I arrived. So we were pretty much thrown back on our own resources, which was very good for us. So we just sat down and wrote a record.”

Part of the reason for the unique sonics of My Third Husband can be traced back to the albums genesis in technology, as Conway and Zygier worked the songs into a workable demo form almost entirely using keyboards, samplers and sequencers – a radically different approach, certainly, to that taken on previous records.

“It was the way we did the demos, so we were thrown back on that”, Deborah recalls. “We were in a small flat in London so we couldn’t turn the guitar up too loud – we did a lot of it on headphones – and these limitations explain why it sounds kind of like a bird making a nest I was always very keen to put acoustic instruments on it, though, and both of us wanted someone else to get involved and take it to the next level. It’s not a matter of how much belief you’ve got in yourself; you know after youve been working on something for a long enough time, you kind of lose a bit of perspective, and you just feel like you want some input, particularly from someone whose work you like. We wanted to be surprised.”

Once the demos were completed, the tapes were shipped off to a producer who would, at first, seem an unlikely candidate; the decision was to prove insightful.

“We sent the demo tapes wed done off to Dave Anderson, the producer of our choice, who did the Fine Young Cannibals and The Sundays. With both of those records, there was a polish about them, but there was also this raw energy, which is what we liked about it. He really liked it, and rang us and said he wanted to come and have a look at us play, which luckily we were doing a few days later. He dragged along his mate Andy Cox, who was the guitar player from Fine Young Cannibals – the wacky dancer. They both went bonkers for it, and they came back to my place that night and started dancing around the living room to the demos, and it was then that I knew that a beautiful relationship was about to happen. It was rare, and it was very welcome. Wed been working in a vacuum for such a long time, heads in manuals trying to figure out how Logic Audio and ProTools worked.”

With the album completed, the next task was to send it to the label that paid for it – and being an album that takes several listens to properly sink in and gel in the listeners mind, it likely raised a few eyebrows .

“Yeah, they were a bit nervous about it”, Deborah says with a wry smile. “Well, it doesnt sound anything like String Of Pearls or Bitch Epic, does it? Weve made a circumference pop record, as opposed to a diameter pop record. Or an isosceles pop record. Let me explain myself – Bitch Epic was probably isosceles, String Of Pearls diameter, and this ones definitely circumference. Diameter meaning cutting straight to the core, isosceles just because Im being stupid, and as for circumference – you kind of go round and round in these lovely concentric circles before you finally find your way through the maze to the emotional centre, which is definitely there, but it takes a few listens to figure it out. It’s quite a dense record – which is why we only included ten tracks. Its probably enough – I’ve never been keen on albums that go on for too long. Its a wild and wonderful and wacky record. And a good late-night spin, too.”

Good Weekend

Nice girls don’t … smear Nutella over themselves and sing about pubic hair. However, Deborah Conway, a woman show eschews marriage but whose new CD is called My Third Husband, has always been determined to do things her way.

By Nikki Barrowclough. Good Weekend 4th October 1997

Deborah Conway is sitting in a cafe in sydney immediately next door to the cafe in which she said she’d be waiting. So, with the kind permission of the waitress, I take my strawberry frappe and move along the pavement to join the singer at a corner table where she’s sipping a strawberry frappe of her own.

She doesn’t glance up, but there’s no mistaking that magnificent slash-and-burn mouth which gives her a kind of voluptuous, devouring beauty.

The diaphanous eyes, on the other hand, palest hazel with their so-direct gaze, could almost have been stolen from another woman’s face.

“Russian, way back, on my father’s side, Spanish on my mother’s,” Conway says of her ancestory.

The singer/songwriter from Melbourne is back in Australia after two-and-a-half years in London, in tiem for the release, later this month, of her third solo album, ironically titled My Third Husband.

Conway’s partner, guitarist and collaborator Willy Zygier, co-wrote My Third Husband, and is also the father of her two-year-old daughter, Syd Dolores.

Why the name Syd? “After the luggage labels,” Conway replies, “Dolores … after Nabokov’s Lolita. She was a Dolores. I wanted something lush and sexy for a second name.”

Conway began her professional and personal relationship with Zygier during the making of Bitch Epic, her second solo album, which was released in 1994. It’s a relationship that, like others before it, she refuses to discuss.

The press has never succeeded in breaching her defences. “I think people who (ask) for that sort of celebrity generally invite it in, and then repulse it, by which time it’s too late,” she says dryly.

Conway’s family name was Cohen. Her father, a lawyer, who emigrated from England to Australia as a teenager, changed it to counter anit-Semitism when he set up his law practice. Conway’s parents wanted her to become a lawyer as well. When she told at the age of 19 that she wanted to be a rock singer, they packed her off to see a psychiatrist (who took Conway’s side).

After a successful stint as a model, she went on to become the frontwoman with Do Re Mi, one of Australia’s star pop acts in the 80’s. Their 1985 debut single, Man Overboard (vetoed by the BBC for its mention of pubic hair), made Conway an overnight idol. After several charttopping years with the band, Conway went solo. Her critically acclaimed first album, String of Pearls, sold 70,000 copies and won her best female performer at the 1992 ARIA awards.

Over the next three years, she performed in clubs and pubs for a growing coterie of ardent fans, did theatre, made a movie with director Peter Greenaway (Prospero’s Books) and wrote more songs. In 1994, she met Zygier and fell in love. The following year, they decamped with four-month-old Syd to Britain for the European release of Bitch Epic.

In London they discovered that the fledgling English arm of Mushroom Records was not properly set up to give them the backing they needed to promote the album. “We sort of knew (about the problem) before we left,” Conway admits. “But I was being indomitable: ‘I’m going and you can’t stop me!'”

She and Zygier decided the only thing to do was to get busy and write a new album.

“I always wante to use the phrase ‘my third husband’,” Coway explains. “I always thought it would be worth getting married and building up (to the point) where you could finally say ‘My third husband and I.’

“But I can’t summon the courage to marry even for the first time,” she adds.

It’s all to do with her attraction to instability, she says. (She liked the way she and Zygier had to free-fall in London.) But she does admit that she needs a temporary stability in order to write. “I used to really like my little flat in St Kilda Road in Melbourne, overlooking the railway line. The flat had this deeply poetic, romantic feel about it. I wrote String of Pearls there.”

She describes working in a room where the television shook and the whole building vibrated every time a train passed, and talks of gazing out the window, enjoying the fact that she didn’t know where the trains were heading.

This conscious casting of herself in melancholy solitude makes her seem, as one devoted Conway fan observes, “like a character from a Raymond Carver novel”.

Conway says she gets “terribly black” when she’s writing and describes the new album as introspective. “A lot of it’s to do with mortality and a lot to do with sex. It’s a late-night, headphones sort of record, a much more complex record, that take you around in circles before it takes you to its emotional heart, I think.

“That’s also how England works in a way,” she adds. “I think Australians say anything to anyone and it’s sort of meaningless. The British say nothing, and everything is in the meaning of their nothings.”

The ABC’s Elle McFeats, who says a lot about everything, got into a bathtub with Conway to film an interview with the singer for the 1994 McFeast documentary Sex, Guys and Videotape. Both were naked.

Perhaps McFeast was inspired by the famous sleeve photographs of Bitch Epic, which displayed Conway’s torso bared and smeared with two jars of Nutella. Her mother’s reaction, she says, was to remark that a little more mystery might be a good thing.

On the other hand, Mushroom boss Michael Gudinski complained that Conway utterly failed to capitalise on her sensual good looks when she wore golf pants in the video clip for Only the Beginning (the first single from String of Pearls).

“There was a discussion late one night. There were a few people who involved (and) some of them said things they deeply regretted the next morning, and one of them wasn’t me,” says Conway grimly.

Of the criticism itself, she adds, “It was laughable. I suppose we all have different ideas of what sexuality is. I think sexuality is about appearing to be a strong person who knows her own mind and is independent.

“Some people think sexuality is all about being vulnerable – like Marilyn Monroe – while someone like Katharine Hepburn bases her sexuality on being strong. Some people don’t think Hepburn is sexy – I happen to think she’s very sexy. I’d like to think that’s what I was aiming for in that video.”

In three year’s time, the singer will turn 40. “A lot of people I’ve talked to feel similarly to me – that they’ve reached some sort of watershed in their lives,” she remarks. “I suppose there’s a point when you think, ‘God, it’s no tall stretching out before me forever.’

“I read a lot of Syliva Plath when I was away. I read her letters, and she seemed to be a young woman who, at the age of 16 or 17, was totally aware of her mortality – completely aware of the limited time she had. It’s terribly rare to find that.”

It’s in this vein that Conway mentions that she likes songs about memories, “and the unresolved ambitions you become aware that you can’t fulful for whatever reason”.

Of songwriting itself, she observes, “There has to be a core of truth. People know when there’s no truth. Whether you’re someone who’s been abused or bashed up, or loved or left – it doesn’t really matter. It’s not the mechanics that matter – it’s the spiritual core.”