SCOTT Bird is a master of reinvention.
The Central Coast musician has already had one full career, achieving critical success with a progressive country rock band, Pale Riders, that ended when they walked off stage at the end of Midnight Oil's Redneck Motherland tour in 2001.
The band had achieved everything they set out to do, and emotionally the members were spent, in need of a rest and change of direction. The national tour with the Oils was a high point, and they left it at that.
Nearly 15 years later, Bird's creative juices have truly returned and he's fronting a bluegrass-tinged roots band, Men From Earth, packed with raw energy and potent original songs. The band has just released their debut album, Wildwood Echoes, paying heed to Bird's Tasmanian origins, and is set to embark on a 17-date tour that begins at Lizotte's in Newcastle on November 15.
"I guess growing up in Tasmania, in that kind of area, the physical environment, it really does get in," he says. "It's a wild place. This style of music, there's nowhere to hide with an acoustic instrument. It captures the wild spirit of where I grew up because of that."
‘‘I wanted a band, that magic collective experience of what happens when you get a bunch of dudes in a room and start playing together.’’
While Bird is far from Tasmania these days, he and Trudi set their sights on returning there one day when they purchased a 185-acre property near Cradle Mountain more than a decade ago.
Men From Earth include two players that Bird gave lessons to when they were youngsters - Tom Beasley (mandolin, banjo and vocals) and Luke Wright (mandocello, acoustic guitar and vocals) - and percussionist Robert Patey-Downs, who also sings.
The album was recorded at Albert Studios in Sydney - Bird got a positive response immediately from Philip Mortlock at the music house when he sent a demo - in three sessions.
Bird's instincts told him he was on to something good with his songs and bandmates. Prior to recording, he took the band to his Tasmanian property for two weeks.
"We took them out of their comfort zone," he says of the journey. "We took them to where the music comes from. That was fantastic. Then we went straight to the studio and did the whole thing live to tape."
Bird unabashedly admits the band name came from the legendary Ozark Mountain Daredevils, one of the most revolutionary American alt country rock bands ever formed. The Ozarks fourth album, released in 1976, was called Men From Earth.
While Bird pays respect to the "Ozarks", his band is not the same, as it leans much more toward the bluegrass end of the spectrum.
Bird's isolated Tasmanian upbringing was a major influence on his music and independent spirit. He started playing in bands in 1979.
"To the best of my knowledge, we developed the first stompbox," he says. "We'd gather around the kitchen table and we had a wood floor. We needed that sound when we played live, so through a process of trial and error, we developed our own stomp box. The first one was a shoeshine box."
The Pale Riders played Bluesfest at Byron Bay in 1996. They played Woodford Folk Festival, and travelled overseas.
When it all ended, he desperately need a creative break. After buying the property in Tasmania, they settled on the Central Coast.
"I was lying on the couch, life was good. I got over the loss of the band - I'd been in one my entire life," Bird recalls. "Then Trudi had a massive seizure and died in my arms. Bang, out of the blue, in 2002."
"She was resusitated. And we found out she had a massive brain tumour."
The journey of Trudi's recovery, including two operations by top surgeon Charlie Teo, took a bite out of Scott's own music time. He continued to teach, but did not return to writing music until about 2008, laying down a solo album, Riversong, in 2009 that reinvigorated his creative energy and eventually led to the formation of Men From Earth.
"After Riversong, I was still writing songs," Bird says. "These ones felt more like they wanted a band. It was kind of like, Riversong was my story. This was getting back to my roots. I wanted a band, that magic collective experience of what happens when you get a bunch of dudes in a room and start playing together."
Trudi has recovered, and is a key part of the management of the band.
The set list for the tour won't be limited to the 13 tracks on Wildwood Echoes, Bird says. He's already written enough material for a second album and, there might be a few surprises along the way, hinting at songs from the Pale Rider days or that influential American band alluded to in their name.
Men From Earth play Lizotte’s on November 15 and the Laycock Theatre in Gosford on November 28.