Stories of place and process

Australian musician and filmmaker Mark Lang launched his new project in Queenscliff. (Ivan Kemp) 402837_01

This week Australian musician and filmmaker Mark Lang launched his new project, a web-based series featuring interviews with well-known musicians filmed in the Queenscliffe Maritime Museum’s Fishermen’s Shed, as well as vignettes with the locals who make the Bellarine great. He spoke to Matt Hewson about his journey, from touring the world performing to the stillness of Queenscliff and Point Lonsdale.

Mark Lang does not look quite like one would expect a globe-trotting singer-songwriter, the former frontman of a successful indie band, to look.

Perhaps ‘look’ is not the right word; he is the perfect, slightly older image of the earnest young frontman of Skipping Girl Vinegar from the better part of 20 years ago, complete with trademark cap and slightly bashful smile.

What is unexpected is the absence of guile. It’s probably a stretch to say any person is not trying to be something, but Mark Lang seems to be trying a whole lot less than most.

It’s a quiet and disarming vulnerability, a trait that comes to the fore in his new YouTube series Out To Sea.

Filmed predominantly at the Fishermen’s Shed at Queenscliffe Maritime Museum, each episode of Out To Sea features a conversation of an hour or more between Mark and one of the country’s finest songwriters.

His guests, which include Emma Donovan, John Butler or Kate Miller-Heidke, are fellow musicians he has become friends with after years of touring the same circuits.

The interviews often focus on discussions about the creative process, how and why Mark and his guest make the music and art they make.

The series also includes shorter vignettes focused on local personalities such as Elaine Janes – better known as the Chook Whisperer – sharing their stories to create a grass-roots mosaic of the Bellarine.

Speaking to me after the series’ launch event at the Maritime Museum, Mark expresses his gratitude to the people and organisations that gave him the space to let his creative process go to work.

“It’s been an adventure, and what’s been really amazing is the people that have believed in it from the beginning actually were patient, allowed it to fully develop into something,” Mark says.

“And it will continue to grow and develop as we go. But if I just quickly turned something around, we wouldn’t have been watching what we’re watching today, because it wouldn’t have had the time to breathe.

“Everyone’s in a rush to get somewhere. And actually to do meaningful work actually takes time.”

Not being in a rush is at the heart of why Mark and his family have made their home in Queenscliff/Point Lonsdale.

“(For Skipping Girl Vinegar’s) second record, I came down here with Nick Huggins, one of the producers; he had a holiday house in Point Lonsdale,” he says.

“And we just made the album over a winter. And being here for a good month or so, it just… I thought I was a city guy, but I kind of realised that I wasn’t.

“So my wife and I moved down here about 13 years ago; we came down here saying we’ll come for six months and see how we feel, and we just sort of never went back. It just feels like home.”

The essential characteristics of the place where Mark makes his home set the tone for Out To Sea, both in terms of process and product.

“There’s a humble gentleness about the area, there’s a real stillness,” he says.

“The motto of the council, I think, is something about being a safe harbour. (The Borough of Queenscliffe’s motto is ‘Statio Tutissima Nautis’, or ‘the safest anchorage for sailors’.) And there’s something in that idea of a safe place for people to come and be still.

“Most podcasts, a lot of times it’s done online or in a sterile studio, and it’s generally in between things. They rush in, they do it, and then they get out.

“I don’t think we get to an authentic place when we’re rushing. We actually get to genuine relationships by giving time and space to actually know someone and allow them to reveal themselves.”

And that’s precisely what Mark gives his featured artists when they come to the region to film an episode with him. Mark’s guests stay at the Lon Retreat for a couple of days, taking in the sights and getting to experience the area.

“I want all the artists to feel like we’re celebrating their work,” he says.

“In my mind, this is about providing a gift, and acknowledging them in their work, and giving them a chance to have some self-care, basically. Because when you’re on the road, it’s hard.

“I know myself, when I’m travelling around the world there are people I know and stay with; it’s like a safe harbour. So that’s kind of the general vibe.”

One of Mark’s biggest hopes is to see Out To Sea become a resource to help inspire and inform younger and emerging artists about creating their own life in the arts.

“It’s a labour of love, it’s not a money thing,” he says.

“It’s just kind of covering itself enough to be made, to get the team around it, to make it work.

“I didn’t feel myself for a long time there. I was trying to work out where I fit. And sometimes you just got to make the little universe you want to live in.

“I love being out on my boat, and I love having conversations with artists. I love songwriting, I love all that. I would always film things, making little documentaries when I was on tour.

“Somehow, here I am. It feels like all the things I’ve done across my career, all these little things have all kind of led to this moment.”