Denise Hylands Introduces Listeners To The Dark Side of Country on 3RRR’s Twang

Denise Hylands with musician Joshua Hedley.

Every Saturday afternoon, driving home from teaching a Pilates class, I’d hit the freeway right as the theme song for Twang introduced Denise Hylands’ regular 2-hour country music show on 3RRR. I have to admit, I’ve never been a fan of country music, but there’s something contagious about Hylands’ pure passion and knowledge. I never change the dial, never even consider it. Whether it’s a rarity from the ‘50s, or a recent release by an Australian country music artist, Hylands treats every song and artist with so much respect. She’s been in the game long enough that if she didn’t love it, there’d be no point doing this.

“I’m usually the one doing the interviews!” Hylands tells Audiofemme. “I always just want to make people feel comfortable – in fact I just think of it like a chat, a conversation. I love talking to people, getting their story, finding out where they come from so that listeners get the full story.”

Hylands applied to 3RRR as an administrative assistant shortly after completing high school in 1983; landing the job eventually led to doing graveyard shifts and filling in for absent presenters. She presented her first regular 3RRR show in 1984, the Selection Show on Sunday afternoons, showcasing new releases. She was also part of the Breakfasters lineup, a show which still kickstarts many Melbournian’s mornings.

“I was already at 3RRR from 1984 when I was 18, and I did shows for 12 years then approached the program manager and proposed an idea for a country show,” explains Hylands. “There was already High In The Saddle, but I wanted to show off more alternative country, less mainstream. So, I started Twang on Monday nights in 1996 from 10 to 12pm. I did it for a year and by the year end, I was given Saturday afternoons, which I’ve done for the past 24 years. I loved that first year,” says Hylands, then adds with a juicy laugh: “The amount of people who complained!”

Recent episodes of Twang have offered interviews with Calexico, Tracy McNeil, Marlon Williams, Charley Crockett, Slim Dusty’s grandson and a tribute to the late, great, troubled troubadour, Justin Townes Earle and the legendary John Prine.

Hylands raves about McNeil and Dan Parsons, both of whom are performing in Melbourne in May. “Tracy turned up nearly ten years ago from Canada,” Hylands recalls. “She was hanging out with Jordie Lane. He’d recorded an EP in his bedroom and I really liked it, then Tracy had given me a CD when I was hanging out with Jordie and I loved what she was doing. She’s a really great songwriter, and every album she gets better and better. I was lucky to have her and Dan Parsons come to my house and do a concert there. I have an old church in the country and it was just like, wow.”

Hylands prides herself on introducing people to “the dark side” of country music. “That whole alternative country scene, that whole Americana thing which started around 1995/1996 in terms of music charts, has gone a bit crazy, and I’d like to think I’ve had a hand in this,” she says. “With country music, so many people like Hank Williams and Johnny Cash, but they say they don’t love country music.” Hylands has nailed me as a listener; maybe it’s time I re-evaluate my stance.

When she’s not interviewing on air, Hylands writes reviews and stories for both Rhythms and Stack magazines. It turns out we’ve both reviewed Loretta Lynn’s 50th album.

“When she hooked up with Jack White, I love that she found new people to work with. Even hooking up with Margo Price – I love seeing her with these younger, strong female artists,” Hylands raves. “The last few albums, she brings up different versions of songs she released so many years ago. These are songs that have to be heard. She was a forerunner who spoke up on women’s rights and women’s issues, I mean she spoke about the pill and got banned on the radio. She’s an incredible woman. Her and Wanda Jackson.”

In fact, Jackson is one of Hylands’ favourite international interviews. “Wanda Jackson is in the league of Loretta Lynn, right? She was the queen of rockabilly. She dated Elvis Presley who convinced her to move from country toward rock ‘n’ roll,” says Hylands. “I’ve done two really long interviews with her. I love Wanda Jackson! She’s in her eighties now, and she calls out to her husband during the interviews, Wendell, sitting in the background.”

Jackson also interviewed another royal in the country world, Dolly Parton. “I spoke to her about her biography, and originally wanting to be a bluegrass singer,” she remembers. “I only had ten minutes, so I had to get her engaged. I talked to her about her music and her charity work, and she was just so gorgeous, so appreciative. I also spoke to Porter Wagoner once, and she wrote ‘I Will Always Love You’ about him. Talking to someone so legendary, those kind of interviews are so fantastic.”

Legends are one thing, but Hylands also has a knack for recognizing the legends of the future, like the “extremely good looking” Charley Crockett. He started out as a busker in New Orleans; now he’s released at least half a dozen albums. Plus, “he can wear a cardigan like nobody’s business,” says Hylands. “I was meant to be his tour manager but he had open heart surgery months before the tour was meant to start.”

Hylands has over 25 years of brilliant stories and has made lifelong friends with many artists, including Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings. “They open their mouths and play guitar, and you just go, ‘oh my god’.” She also goes way back with previous Audiofemme subject and fellow 3RRR alumni, Mary Mihelakos; they’ve known each other since they were teens. “She was hanging around, this incredibly enthusiastic young girl obsessed with music,” Hylands says, whole-heartedly agreeing with Mihelakos’ recent induction into the Melbourne Hall of Fame. “If you’re gonna give an award to someone, give that girl some acknowledgement.”

Hylands can’t have guests for the time being due to COVID-19. But on the horizon, Hylands is very excited about the new album from Southern Culture on the Skids, who are responsible for the Twang theme, and loves being introduced to new albums by the up-and-coming indie artists managed by her friends in the States. She says, “My excitement is discovering new music every week.”

We know how she feels – perhaps that’s what keeps us coming back to Twang.

International listeners can tune in to Twang live or listen back via the 3RRR website.

PLAYING MELBOURNE: Meet Vivan Vo, Host of 3RRR’s New Pan-Asian Music Program Mooncake

Vivan Vo, aka Small FRY, is a Melbourne-based radio host and artist manager. She has a freshly minted radio show on community radio station 3RRR called Mooncake. The show is dedicated to the broad and colourful spectrum of pan-Asian music, including sounds from India to Japan, China to Korea, Cambodia to Bali. Vo began volunteering at 3RRR three years ago, filling in for shows and hosting The Graveyard Shift. Upon pitching Mooncake to the Program Manager, there was a lot of love for the idea, and it has finally manifested.

“I was born and raised in Melbourne, with a Vietnamese background,” says Vo. “I grew up listening to whatever was on commercial radio; pop, R&B and house music. Whilst I love these genres and still enjoy the nostalgia of ’90s/2000s music, my passion and exploration started when I was in my twenties. Volunteering in the music department in community radio exposed me to so many diverse genres and artists.”

Mooncake will explore music from all over Asia in addition to local Asian-Australian artists. “The show will cover genres as diverse as R&B and hip-hop, k-R&B, Chinese hip-hip, mandopop, jpop and electronica,” she says. “Music is a way to break down barriers between people and cultures. You don’t need to understand the language to enjoy a song, feel the music or to dance to it. It takes a great deal of learning in order to understand another’s background and their culture, but music could be a positive step towards that.” According to research by the University of Melbourne, about 12 per cent of Australia’s population is Asian-Australian and 82 per cent report being discriminated against, typically in the work environment or in hospitality environments.

Vo completed a communications degree in university, part of which involved a radio production course. This lead her to volunteer for five years with Melbourne’s student radio station, SYN 90.7FM. Her first paid music role was as an assistant at a management company for commercial pop artists, providing insight and experience on the business side of music and publicity.

Once she felt confident of her experience, Vo founded Small FRY to provide PR and management to independent Australian artists. She’s so far represented Melbourne-based electronic acts like neo-soul duo SAATSUMA, techno duo Kult Kyss, dark pop singer-songwriter Aeora, electro pop band Take Your Time and alt-R&B trio Huntly.

“I’m a small fry in a big industry,” she laughs, explaining the name – though hosting Mooncake, no doubt, boosts Vo’s profile considerably.

But Mooncake is about more than that, of course; it’s an answer to some of the tough questions Vo has asked of the industry for years now. In 2017, she spoke with Liminal Magazine – a publication founded in 2016 by Leah Jing McIntosh to represent the voices of Asian-Australians, showcasing artists and their work as well as providing a platform for their opinions and expression – about the meaningfulness of providing a role model for young Asian-Australians in creative jobs. “I’ve become more aware of the barriers towards Asian-Australian musicians and that we are an underrepresented group in the music industry…” she said. “So often, we’re competing against so much music and favour is given elsewhere. I’m always questioning, of these artists who are repeatedly supported, how many of them are people of colour? It’s obvious that we’re not being represented. In festival line-ups, music playlists and artist rosters, we’re still fighting for diversity; people of colour are a token.”

Vo has selected three Asian-Australian artists everyone should get to know.

Mojo Ruiz de Luzuriaga, Mo’Ju (previously Mojo Juju), is an ARIA Award-nominated Australian musician who has been outspoken on being queer, brown and opinionated. Her track “Native Tongue” is a personal ode to her ancestry, her outsider status and proves her adeptness as a singer-songwriter with superior skill in catchy, melodic pop vibes.

Sydney-based solo artist Rainbow Chan was born in Hong Kong. Classically trained in saxophone, piano and choral music, she is also a bowerbird for samples and finds unusual and clever ways to create montages of sound. The vulnerability and candidness of her storytelling is central to her music.

A little bit glitchy, quirky and imbued with Yeo‘s humorous spirit, his smooth ’90s trip hop vibes are catchy and fun. “Six Years” is a love song worth listening to on repeat.

As Host of Highly Melanated, Eva Lubulwa Connects Uganda and Australia over the Airwaves

Every Monday from 10pm to midnight, Melburnians tuning into 3RRR can hear Eva Lubulwa’s deep, resonant and impassioned voice as she hosts her weekly radio show, Highly Melanated, “a melanin-soaked show celebrating the creative genius of people of colour locally, nationally and world wide.” A powerful and articulate personality, she can speak about matters that are personal and political without breaking a sweat. Lubulwa was born in Melbourne to Ugandan parents; her parents’ history and experiences have shaped their daughter and she is outspoken on racism in Australia. She’s also an artist – her black-pen drawings have been exhibited in galleries and bars around the city.

Lubulwa went to a private girls’ school where she was the only Black student in her year, but she never felt alienated. It wasn’t until she traveled with her Serbian-Australian husband through Asia and Europe that she noticed the everyday racism of men, women and children in their attitudes and behaviour toward her (trying to snap furtive photos of her, openly laughing and pointing). Lubulwa attributes the end of her marriage to this trial-by-fire, in which the constant mental and emotional toll of racism exhausted their partnership.

Fast forward a couple of years to 2017 – Lubulwa was given a graveyard shift at 3RRR, one of Melbourne’s longest running community radio stations. “My first engagement with radio resulted from my friend inviting me to do an arts show, and part of the promotion for the show was being interviewed on radio. I discovered that radio is a rush, you know? Trying to talk to people and be comfortable even when they’re not in the room, it’s a blessing,” she remembers. Having proven herself, she went on to establish Highly Melanated.

“My experience working with Triple R has been amazing,” she says. “They have loved my shows and my ideas, and are willing to let me go on this amazing journey. It’s not often you can say ‘I’m doing a show on Uganda and Australia!’ Tim from Teenage Hate used to do a show next to me, Mia Timpano has been a wonderful friend and mentor during this time – there’s so many presenters and people on the board and in the background who have done so much for me.”

The show “is about highly melanated people and all that we do,” Lubulwa explains. “I interview these people making amazing music in Melbourne, really exploring what it means to be African Australian. People who wake up and can’t do anything but making music – those are the people I’m super excited to talk to. I’ve been able to interview huge stars from Uganda recently: A Pass Bagonza; Judith Heard who is a Ugandan model and founder of Day One Global (an organisation that seeks to end rape and sexual assault);  Suzan Mutesi; and Mwanje, who is a singer and songwriter gaining more radio time and attention locally through performing in digital festivals like The Drive-In.”

For the radio host, it’s as much about showcasing others’ talents as it is connecting the two cultures that have shaped her very existence. “I’m a Ugandan-Australian constructing my identity backwards,” Lubulwa says. “Racism robs me of my Australian heritage and location robs me of my Ugandan heritage, because Australia is where I live most of the time. For me, I explore heritage through music. As time has gone on, I focus on Uganda and Australia and then I extend that out to the wider diaspora. The intention is to bring Australia and Uganda together over the airwaves.”

Lubulwa says she has gone on “a huge racial journey over the last few years, because racism would have slowly and surely killed me. Australia has been what I’ve called home for so, so many years. I had accepted or ignored the racism in this country for quite a while. When people look to you to talk about it and know about it, or to provide a solution to it, that’s a big burden. Racism is still here, it’s still strong and it’s tiring.” As exhausting as her experience has been, Lubulwa sees hope for the future. “The conversations that are getting louder, the murmurs that are getting stronger, the fact people – not just black people anymore, people everywhere – are saying no, shows we are willing to have a discussion,” she points out. “The problem with racism is that it affects the minority and the minority are required to find the solution, so it’s vital now that people come to the table and have the conversation when racism doesn’t affect them.”

Lubulwa is a music lover, obviously. I try to contain her to five artists she recommends Audiofemme readers check out.

Recho Rey is a hip hop and rap artist from Ugandan rap with dancehall, reggae vibes.”

Winnie Nwagi, she’s a Ugandan singer/songwriter/badass. They call her Firestarter because she dances like a genius, right? She has this deep soulful voice. She’s also done a song with Recho Rey.”

“F Wavey from the UK has just released a really great dance track, ‘Figure 8.'”

“There’s a whole bunch of really talented dudes from Perth – Jordan Dennis, thatkidmaz and Denzel have just released a song called ‘Doc Marty.'”

“JessB, a rap artist from Sydney, has just released a song called ‘Pon It.’ Absolutely divine, I’m completely obsessed!”

Eva Lubulwa presents Highly Melanated on 3RRR weekly. The show can be streamed from anywhere in the world or heard back as a podcast, with playlists also available.

Playing Melbourne: An Introduction

Image provided by Toff In Town

Welcome to Playing Melbourne! A little on me, your host. I was born and raised in Melbourne, so this city is in my veins and deep in my neural cells. It’s part of me, basically. Melbourne is known for three things, primarily: our music scene; our coffee; and being enormously diverse in terms of cultures, ethnicities and subcultures.

I have written on and reviewed music for just over a decade, but I’ve loved music as far back as I remember. Isn’t it funny that when you love something so much, you assume everyone else does? Perhaps that’s why I took Melbourne’s incredibly rich range of music venues, the artists and creatives who make up this industry for granted for so long. Melbourne’s music scene encompasses world-class live performances, albums, studios, videography and art, to a ready audience of local and international fans.

Right now, there’s more opportunity than there has ever been for international audiences to engage with Melbourne’s music scene. You can check out a playlist on Spotify, watch a weekly gig on The State of Music, a government supported platform for Victorian musicians, or buy a ticket to support artists at Delivered Live (live streamed on Saturday evenings, Melbourne time).

Melbourne is home to over three times the number of music venues per capita than Austin, Texas; this city hosts over 62,000 live music events annually (though currently, those events are on hold due to the pandemic). Right now, venues are at risk of closing down permanently and many in the music industry are questioning whether they have a career when restrictions ease. As dark as this is, there’s also a lot of good news. Music Victoria has been prominent in championing the need for casual and freelance workers in the music industry to be eligible for government income support as well as ensuring grants are open to artists and venues to enable them to continue creating and operating in some capacity while they can’t do their usual thing.

We’re fortunate to have a number of community radio programs that champion local music, as well as state and federal funding and arts/music organisations that support and promote music and the people who work in the industry. Our community radio stations really reflect how diverse this city and its population is and if you’re truly curious about this city in regards to music and to its spirit, it’s worth tuning in live or listening back to recordings of Melbourne’s community radio stations online, like 3RRR, PBS106.7, and Australia’s first and only LGBTQI+ community radio station, JOYFM. Triple J, a national radio network that has supported and discovered many local acts in their infancy, provides another great sources of Melbourne sounds and culture.

But it’s the musicians themselves that make Melbourne what it is, and there’s no one genre that dominates the scene. Ngaiire performs soulful R&B, combines glitchy electro with melancholy instrumentation. She was born in Papua New Guinea but has really been adopted as a Melbourne music identity. In March, she released “Boom,” the first official single from her third album, which will follow 2013 debut Lamentations and 2016 sophomore effort Blastoma.

Likewise, Sampa The Great was born elsewhere (she’s Zambian and was raised in Botswana) but has been adopted as Melburnian. She raps about her own life and cultural observations over hip hop beats. Her 2019 album The Return was nominated for the NME Award for Best Australian Album. A prolific collaborator, she’s features a wide swath of Australian artists on her own releases, as well as appearing on tracks by Wallace, Urthboy, Jonti, and Ecca Vandal.

Eddy Current Suppression Ring are a garage rock band that has shied from doing much media promotion in favour of plying their trade. They’re favourites locally for their blistering live sets and no-frills, no-fuss personas. Along with associated acts like Total Control, Dick Diver, and UV Race, they carry on the lauded “Little Band” scene of the early eighties instigated by Primitive Calculators.

Lupa J (aka Imogen Jones) got her start by posting a couple of tracks on Soundcloud as a 15 year old. Now 21, she’s got two albums under her belt – 2016’s My Right Name and last year’s Swallow Me Whole – combining synth, soul and R&B to deliver personal, melodic songs. She carries on that tradition with her latest singles “Half Alive,” “Out to Wreck,” and “Limbo.”

Alice Skye is a Wergaia woman from Horsham, just outside of Melbourne in Victoria. She released her first album Friends With Feelings in 2018 and has toured with like-minded female folk singer Emily Wurramara. Her identity as an Aboriginal woman and her connection to the land in this way has informed her sound and her songwriting.

Whether you know one or two Melbourne acts or your knowledge on the Melbourne music scene rivals Wikipedia, I hope to bring you insight, profiles, interviews and recommendations that convince you – once travel is available and safe again – to spend some time in this city. If you love music, Melbourne loves you.