Just Passing Through is a straight-up, stylish snapshot of life as a full-time muso in Australia. Three of Australia most respected artists (Gareth Liddiard, Sarah Blasko, Paul Dempsey) speak candidly about the challenges and conundrums they face, from finances to fatigue. Handsomely crafted with cinematic subtlety, this is a documentary that offers a rare breathing space for musicians to discuss the everyday mechanics of success and the balancing act of running a small business on the road. You’ll never see musicians the same way again.
Director Thomas Hyland coaxes his subjects to reveal their most intimate ‘3am thoughts.’ These are the conversations musicians have amongst themselves. How do you hold down a day job and music career? Can you survive from art alone? When is it okay to sell out? With stoic humour and clarity they clear a space in the messy tour van of their lives, detailing the persistence, passion and practice that goes into becoming an overnight success.
Sarah Blasko reveals the disillusion of finding herself at “the head of a company.” Paul Dempsey reminds us that with Australia’s small population, nobody’s “rolling in cash.” Gareth Liddiard offers the parable “you like surfing? Well try doing it for 18 hours a day for four months.” It’s a confronting and fascinating dissection of an industry where the business side is often swept under the smoke machine. This is fame and fortune Australia style – unglamorous and hardly secure.
Just Passing Through sets itself apart from other music documentaries with a distinct visual style. Photographer Sean Fennessy captures the tiny moments of life on the road with a subtle, poetic beauty – the swish of an air hostesses legs, quiet drizzle on a festival site. Paired with a sparse folk soundtrack, these ‘downtime’ sequences give grace and vulnerability to a profession normally masked in distortion and bravado. As John Lennon said “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” This is a time for reflection in a media cycle that never sleeps.
Just Passing Through is a timely contribution to the debate about making music sustainable in Australia. The recent SLAM rally in Melbourne activated an impassioned community demanding that music be valued for its cultural and commercial contribution. It revealed a disconnect between the arts, government and business communities. Just Passing Through is a warmly accessible portrait of the hard work and dedication musicians pour into their craft, without crossing into pretentiousness or self-pity.
“Every band is just getting on with it,” says Paul Dempsey, “trying to play more shows or make another record or afford to get somewhere or try to get on festivals. From the outside I guess it looks like something else.” Just Passing Through is the view from behind the microphone - the sound of a heartbeat behind the drums. It’s a vital reminder that being successful in Australia isn’t a free ticket to coast, everyone works whether they want to or not. In a media climate often short on empathy, Just Passing Through reminds us that it’s not just fame and fortune artists seek, but security and respect.
- Justin Heazlewood, author of the forthcoming book 'Funemployed: the working life of Australian Artists.'