The Greencards’ Sweetheart of the Sun album effortlessly glides and grooves with razor sharp precision. Songwriter and mandolinst Kym Warner spoke with CMT Edge about the innovative bluegrass band’s most adventurous collection yet.
“It’s our first ever theme record,” the native Australian and current Austin resident says. “We weren’t just picking and choosing what goes on the record. We started out with a plan in mind to have it based on water and travel and the feeling of motion, journey, and we wrote the whole thing at once.”
CMT Edge: Do you think albums as a concept is a dying art?
Warner: To a certain extent, yes, maybe so. I think it’s certainly not the norm, put it that way. Another part of the reason we wanted to do this is we miss that feeling of listening to a record from front to back. I think a lot of it is singles these days. It was something we thought about, and we wanted to create a record, a journey that takes you through. It was definitely a conscious thing.
Explain the title.
Sweetheart of the Sun could be any of us, I guess. It’s the attachment you have to summertime and the water and the feeling you get. Carol [Young, the band’s lead singer and bass player] had that line, which became the third line in the opening track. It seems to fit the theme of the record. In Australia in particular, beach life is really prominent, and you feel a real attachment to summertime. I guess that’s a loose way of saying that.
So, Carol brought in the line and then …
Yeah, Carol had the line “sweetheart of the sun,” and we liked the idea of a predominantly instrumental thing to open the record that wasn’t too long but wasn’t solely instrumental, much like Paul McCartney had in his early (solo) records. We thought that was a good statement and way to get people ready for what was about to happen.
How does this album represent your evolution as songwriters?
Good question. That’s totally the listener that decides that, but I will say that we talked about doing another album before we decided on doing this particular record. We dabbled in some songs and it wasn’t really coming to us naturally. We wrote the song “Black, Black Water,” and that was in response to the title track from our 2005 record, Weather and Water, from a woman’s perspective.
Once we wrote that song, we discussed the idea of not just having one song like that, but basing the whole record on that theme. It went a lot smoother once we decided to do that, and the album really shaped up when we had that in mind. It wasn’t doing that beforehand. As songwriters, this is how we needed to operate. It was really fun to focus on putting a collection of songs together that wasn’t just individual things.
Describe working with [producer] Gary Paczosa.
Oh, it was a dream working with Gary. First of all, we’re really great friends. It’s a great thing to be comfortable with your producer. Gary’s been an engineer and a producer and he’s about as good as it gets, particularly with acoustic music. I’ve never heard anybody make an acoustic record sound better than Gary. He liked the songs and took the album and ran with it and went places we couldn’t have imagined. You always think, “Gary’s gonna do this,” and then he surprises you, always for the better. We stayed at his house for five, six weeks and everyone still gets along and we’re still talking, which is great. (laughs)
Tell the story behind writing “Fly.”
The lyrical idea was loosely based on a quote from Dr. Jonas Salt, who said, “Put your roots down and spread your wings.” In other words, stay close to home but don’t stay. Keep your roots close to home, but go out and see the world. We really wanted to put together a song that had stages, much like “Band on the Run,” where you could turn on the radio at any particular point in the song and it sounds like it’s a different song three or four times. We wanted to put together something that had drastic changes but was still cohesive.
McCartney’s obviously a big influence.
Certainly, yes, I would say so, but for this record I’d say Pink Floyd and Mark Knopfler and McCartney more so than the Beatles, for example. It’s how McCartney’s solo stuff is put together as albums. It didn’t appear to me to be just a bunch of songs thrown together. A lot of thought went into a common thread.
How “Ride and Sway” did come to you?
That was totally something that felt like it was moving along. I could imagine hearing that if I was driving. When I was writing, I closed my eyes and imagined I was going somewhere in a vehicle, and that sort of pulsing melody came to mind. Again, it was a piece we needed for the album to move from this part to this part.
Did you try adding lyrics?
No. I felt that was going to be an instrumental from the start. There are other times you think about the instrumental, and you might have a melody you need to sing over and think, “That’s too good, I think it needs to be a vocal piece.” But, no, that one was an instrumental right from the get-go.
Have you mastered the mandolin?
Have I mastered it? (laughs) I don’t think I’m even close. I don’t know if I’ll ever master it. Don’t even know how to comprehend that.