25 Oct

Finding balance

Words by
Ben Cameron
Pictures by

Tony White looks at his role as frontman of Fountaineer as a creative outlet, something that fits in between family and work.

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Fountaineer frontman Tony White is almost the anti-musician.

The 36-year-old father of two is not sure he wants to be a full-time musician, let alone identify as one.

“For me it’s not a career thing, it’s about creating something,” he says.

“I wouldn’t say I’m necessarily a muso either, I just love writing stories and putting music together. I don’t have any training or anything.

“I’m not sure if I’d like this as a job, to be honest.

“If I was 20 and didn’t have responsibilities, you’d probably just throw everything into it. I’m not, and I made a deal with my family before I made a deal with the record label.”

He could be kidding, but Tony says his dream gig is not filling band rooms, but stacking shelves.

“I want to work in the library in Bendigo, I really would love that,” he says.

“I’ve gone for a couple of jobs with them and haven’t even got to the interview.

“It’s a magical place.”

Tony talks to Bendigo Magazine on a June evening from a well-worn path: somewhere between his home in Golden Square and band rehearsals in the northern suburbs of Coburg and Brunswick.

“Hopefully I’ll get home around 1am (tonight). It’s very draining, it’s really hard,” he says of the common commute.

It’s probably why his day job in a call centre job at Centrelink appeals so much – it’s easier to combine the grind of getting Fountaineer off the ground with a punch-in punch-out job.

“There’s no stress … so if I can balance family and music and this job…”

Stress was the main reason why he quit teaching English at alternative school for at-risk kids.

“It killed me, it really broke me,” he says.

“I was probably not prepared … how it would affect my mental health.

“It was hard to get the kids excited about books and bloody pronouns.

“I learnt a lot about people and the town. I reckon somewhere in the writing of the record is, a piece of that place I reckon.”

That record is debut LP Greater City, Greater Love.

The long road to its release began in a cupboard at a family friend’s house in Bendigo.

It was there a pre-teen Tony found a neglected guitar.

“I’ve been writing songs since,” he says.

Over many years, Tony would lock himself away in his bedroom writing music, only to appear for the occasional solo show.

“It wasn’t very good music, but I think every year I got better, or learned new things,” he says.

“I’ve always written songs about Bendigo, but they were too explicit.

“I didn’t take myself seriously enough.

“I was always looking for a punchline about some new shop that opened. The only people who would get it were from Bendigo.

“I didn’t quite let myself go and make more accessible music.”

But things shifted with a phone call to his brother Francis in 2013 – it was time to finally get that band together they’d envisioned since their teens.

“This is the first band where we’ve given it everything,” he says.

“I’ve done things like uni where you do it to get a pass, this is something we’ve actually done to try and do really well.”

The LP was recorded that year at a farm house on Lake Eildon over five days.

“It’s been sitting on a hard drive for years, basically,” Tony says.

A Groovin the Moo slot in 2015 proved a breakthrough moment that scored them a supportive manager.

“He really believed in the album,” Tony says.

“We wanted to get it out there now but he said ‘No, there’s magic on here.’ ”

The band fought the label’s pressure to re-record, including “the most nostalgic song on the record”, The Cricketers.

“It was a really good move (in hindsight),” he says.

“We had to redo my vocals, my singing from three or four years ago was bad.

“Some of it we kept, it’s a real mixture.”

A lot was recorded during early mornings in his bedroom.

“I think you can feel that in the record, it’s got that stadium feel but it’s also introverted as well,” he says.

“I don’t like doing music at night because it just swims around in my head and I can’t sleep.

“I’d be up really early, 4.30am, 5am. I’d do a few hours before work, the dawn is in there somewhere.”