Warmwaters are an acoustic duo, based in Brisbane. I love how bands talk about being ‘Brisbane-based’ as if to point to a vast web of performance destinations. I guess it’s not enough to be just ‘from’ Brisbane. Lena Warmwater sings and plays the flute, and Luke Warmwater sings and plays the guitar. They do a mixture of covers and self-written material, but are driven towards creating and performing original songs. I came across them on youtube, attended a gig, and have been fascinated ever since. Will you help me work them out?
Once called the “southern hemisphere’s most inspirational nu-folk duo” (probably by themselves) they seem fixated on certain themes in their songwriting: nature, the environment, and relationships of a particularly intimate kind. I’m not sure they have full control of their material. Certain themes keep insistently recurring. It looks like they’ve been practicing for some time, but are far from perfect. Their presentations are loose, the set structure following the songs.
Quite frankly, they seem old enough to know better. They act like they’re famous, like their songs are just classics you haven’t heard yet. Are they earnest or deluded? Or both?
Their dress is anachronistic, Luke in his Greek sailor’s cap, a fixture on the folkie head since the sixties. A tie-dyed waistcoat. I’ve been told I resemble Luke, which I’m OK with: he’s reasonable looking in a middle aged kind of way, but unfortunately he’s a bit of a ninny.
Lena wears her beige turtle neck like the dull brown feathers of a female bird in an Attenborough documentary, but she clearly has more colour inside.
There’s something in this chemistry of male/female singer/songwriter/performers that seemes a perennial in song-based performance: Warmwaters are clearly reaching for something like this, though it’s an awkward stretch.
Eurythmics and White Stripes have brought their yin and yang to pop and rock. Angus and Julia were Stoned. Americana and Country gave us Johnny Cash and June Carter, George Jones and Tammy Wynette, Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn, Emmy-Lou and Gram and more recently Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. Earlier on in other pop genres there was Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, The Carpenters and Sonny and Cher.
Joan Baez captured her relationship with Bob Dylan many years later in her gorgeous song Diamonds and Rust. Europe gave us Birkin and Gainsbourg, Richard and Linda Thomson and John and Beverly Martyn, whose fractious on and off-stage relationships fed their music and led to their demise.
These are the shoulders Warmwaters stand on, or perhaps the coattails they clutch. It’s hard to understand. Google them. There’s no biography or backstory to frame them, and this lack of information can only be deliberate.This song, “Le Bonheur” they always introduce as ‘from their time in France’ but was it from a Parisian songwriting sabbatical, or a Kon-tiki tour?
The relationship of the two Warmwaters is indeterminate. Are they (or were they ever) in a romantic relationship? Is their relationship familial? (I hope not) Or is it just a stage name, two personae in development that offer a musical chariot to escape the suburbs? I don’t think they’re ever going to reveal this (after all, it’s their business). However, it’s easy to see the influence of their relationship on the material and their performance of them.
Luke seems a firm leader, in control, as he is, of the chordal instrument, and playing the serious singer-songwriter. Lena is more mercurial. Sometimes she seems to take a back seat, floating, as her flute does, within Luke’s framework. Apologising. Worried about making errors.
At other times I’ve observed her exercising her own power onstage, taking advantage of the public setting to ‘play’ more, and follow her own instincts, which don’t always align with Luke’s. Seeing what she can get away with.
Luke wants to play seriously. Lena seriously wants to play.
As an audience member, you can see them playing through the pretensions and narcissism of the singer-songwriter. It’s uncomfortable at times. Their façade is flimsy. They’re playing at being musicians. Their attempts at professionalism are amateurish. I find some of what they do onstage embarrassing. And yet I can’t look away.
They’re equivocal. They share vocals. But also their material, and their performance, is equivocal. The songs are issue-based, but it’s the Warmwaters themselves that seem to have issues. Their simulation of received notions of what it means to be a singer songwriter, rather than concealing their narcissism, actually brings it into sharper relief. Their lack of fame, yet dogged pursuit of recognition. Shy and retiring show-offs.
They entered a song in a local (Brisbane) music competition, where an Independent Music Project recorded 100 songs in 100 hours. Their presence seemed weird alongside all the bearded bright young things. Warmwaters contributed two songs to this endeavour, and their efforts were filmed live in the studio in the above videos. I’m concerned they may have mistaken the presence of the filmmakers for genuine public interest.
In November 2012 they performed their first Brisbane gig live at a small café/bar. Just a short set, where they opened with Donovan’s ‘Catch the Wind’ and closed with Peter, Paul and Mary’s ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’. These two songs, however, framed a mini-set of originals – songs they’d written themselves that are musically fine. They’re tuneful, well arranged, and fairly well played. The lyrics seem a bit ‘off’.
Their dream of headlining their own show, rather than bottom-feeding at the foot of bills, blackboard stages and whole-food markets may be a closer reality than seems fair, given their lack of experience. They’re about to go to Melbourne to play, but the only gig that didn’t fall through was at a burlesque bar.
Their social media presence is pathetic, ill-attended and filled wiht mis-spellings. I’ve gathered from stage patter that they’re planning to record and release an album, as well as re-enter that 100 songs in 100 hours thing. Talk about square pegs.
The future beckons for Warmwaters. but with which finger?