Josh Cunningham says family-like bond keeps The Waifs thriving after 25 years

CLOSE TIES: Josh Cunningham, centre, describes The Waifs as a family. Picture: Rob Gunstone
CLOSE TIES: Josh Cunningham, centre, describes The Waifs as a family. Picture: Rob Gunstone

ANYBODY whose family lives apart knows the importance of getting together. Those Christmas dinners, birthday lunches or other family occasions hold special meaning that cannot be valued.

It’s the same for The Waifs. In recent years the three-piece of sisters Donna Simpson and Vicki Thorn (nee Simpson) and Josh Cunningham have been separated by oceans and continents.

Simpson lives in Fremantle, Thorn is based in the US state of Utah and Cunningham is back in his home town of Moruya on the NSW south coast.

Yet distance or absence hasn’t frayed the familial bonds which have been at the heart of the celebrated folk band for the past 25 years. A period that has traversed four ARIA awards, commercial success, relationship breakdowns and even stints in rehab. 

“I think the band is a family,” Cunningham says from his farm ute.

“It’s really my family and I miss not being closer to each other. Whenever we get a chance to go on the road it’s a celebration, not just to play music, but to spend time with each other.”

That celebration is coming to Dashville Skyline in Lower Belford on September 28-30 when The Waifs headline the Americana festival. The show is part of The Waifs’ extensive regional tour for last year’s ARIA No.1 album Ironbark.

The Waifs - London Still

The tour will also likely present an opportunity for the three songwriters to thrash out ideas for a future follow-up to the sprawling 25-track Ironbark

Cunningham says The Waifs have never written together or sent ideas over email. The creative process is more organic, occurring on the road at soundchecks.

“We’ll work on something and sometimes it even gets into the set,” he says. “That’s often the first exposure to new material.

“On the most recent album we really hadn’t heard anything of each other’s prior to turning up at my place. We set up and said, ‘OK, what have you got?’

“We were each playing and off we went. That can be exciting too. That was probably our best experience of recording, and as a result, we were the happiest we’ve been.”

A secret to The Waifs’ endearing success is partly their commitment to independence. The band began in 1992 in Albany, WA, and spent a decade growing their audience and honing their craft before their fourth album Up All Night and its single London Still brought them national fame.

Rather than chase record label riches, The Waifs maintained their independence. That in turn has allowed the band to continue to prosper now that the traditional record label power has diminished due to music streaming and downloading.

“When you do it in a genuine, old-school way then you do build up a very loyal following and that’s one of the things we like the most,” Cunningham says. 

“That interaction with our fans and how they’re really part of our story. It’s not just about us, it’s about them too.”