Kiama country music artist Benn Gunn is releasing his upcoming single Let Their Voice Be Heard as a way to further the conversation around the Indigenous Voice to Parliament referendum.
It’s not uncommon for Gunn to write topical songs.
He’s written Every Day Is Anzac Day, Born and Bred for Australian firefighters and Anzacs, and I’m A Queenslander to raise funds after Tropical Cyclone Debbie.
He’s long found ways to use music to generate awareness or help fundraise for causes, but admitted this felt different.
“I’m really nervous about it because it’s my first ever politically driven song,” he said.
“It’s going to be a tricky one because there’s a lot of passionate people.
“It’s interesting that usually people with other referendums, it’s the typical Aussie way of, ‘Oh yeah, whatever, she’ll be right’, but everyone I’ve spoken to has been fairly strongly opinionated on this.”
Written with long-time writing partner, Andrew Cavanagh from Cairns, the pair have created some of Gunn’s biggest hits.
“It’s a funny story because we’ve been writing together for over five years and we’ve actually never met each other,” he said.
“We write on Skype every week, but we’ve never met in person.”
Gunn said it was important they wrote songs that suited his persona, with this one connecting to friends made during his childhood growing up in West Dubbo.
“He brought it to my attention, because he is obviously very passionate about it and he knew my background, as far as where I grew up,” he said.
“I’m motivated by it because of the experience and life I’ve had growing up as a kid.”
During his childhood, West Dubbo had a large Indigenous Australian community where he witnessed the challenges in those communities, but also saw the positives through playing football and making friends.
“At one stage I was the only white fella in the team,” he said.
“He (Andrew) thought this was something that would be important for us to have a go at and it came out quite easily. I’m pretty proud of this song.
“I’m keen to get perspectives from everyone and try to work out what motivates them.”
The pair always write songs with the live show in mind.
“The song does start out very heartfelt, but in the second verse it does kick into more of a celebration type song, which is really what it should be about,” he said.
“The title of the song is the main message, but the line, ‘It’s time to come together and make a brand new start’ is one of the key messages.
“The fact they’ve organised 250 representatives from communities across Australia to come together and put this forward is a pretty big message that there is a problem, and it needs to be addressed.
“It’s long overdue that we were proud of our Indigenous Australians. That’s a big element of my live show – a celebration and acknowledgement of Australian culture and history.”
He said he always aimed for depth and relatability within his music, “rather than, you know, you lose your dog, and your wife, and your ute”.
“I think music is such a powerful medium for getting a message out about topics, and especially if they’re important.
“Hopefully people will remember the songs that we write.”
And remembered they are, with his single Only In Australia being number 1 on the country music charts in 2018 and breaking records for the longest run in the Australian Top 40 country music charts in 2019 after 33 weeks.
Most of the writing for the next album is complete, with the release expected within the next six to 12 months.
“This (new single) was something that was a little unplanned, as far as it was something that had its own motivation because, while there’s not a date set for the referendum, it’s something we want to get out there and so it’s taking priority at the moment,” he said.
“If I can either educate or motivate somebody to understand where the ‘yes’ vote is coming from and change their mind if they were a ‘no’ voter, I’ve made a difference.”
Gunn said he would create a video for Let Their Voice Be Heard before releasing it.
“We’re trying to get along to one of the rallies. I’d love to perform the song there and get some footage,” he said.
While Gunn has been touring his Great Australian Show and has festivals lined up, he said live crowds weren’t back to pre-COVID times.
“The live scene has obviously been severely affected over the last three or four years, but it’s coming back,” he said.
“I have been out doing my Great Australian Show where I go to a lot of rural and regional areas and put on my show.
“I collaborate with the local community charity groups like Rotary clubs and Apex clubs, and I help them raise money for the local community through the show.
“They’re the ones that know where best to put the money and it’s about helping encourage people to get back out, because not only have musicians been affected, but the whole hospitality industry has been affected and still is.”
Let Their Voice Be Heard will be released on his Facebook page and Gunn will perform at the Picton Country Music Festival at the George IV Inn on 9 September.