Twang Down Under
In my attempt to broaden the horizons of what radio people are doing, this week we head to Australia, and talk with Triple R DJ Denise Hylands.
Bill Frater: Where and when did you start in radio?
Denise Hylands: Back in 1984, I had just finished high school here in Melbourne, Australia. My first job was in the office of community radio station 3 Triple R FM, and before I knew it I was doing radio programs, and I haven’t stopped.
Over the years, I have done a variety of programs. In the early days, I did new release programs, covering all sorts of alternative music but always featuring the country and roots sounds of that time. I also worked for our national and international broadcaster here, the ABC. I did a program called “Soundabout” — a popular music show that was broadcast on shortwave radio. That was back in the late ’80s. I had listeners across the South Pacific and as far as the USA and Canada.
Where do you work now?
My current radio show is called “Twang.” I have been doing Twang for 20 years, this year, on Triple R FM. My program is on every Saturday afternoon from 2 – 4 p.m.
Triple R is found at 102.7 FM. It can also be streamed via the Triple R website, from anywhere in the world. [You] can also listen back to programs on the Triple R website on Radio On Demand, if [you] are unable to listen in live.
How do you describe your show?
When I started doing Twang, I was determined to showcase the other side of country music that many people didn’t know. Alternative country was a title that was being used widely then and a title I understood as meaning the alternative to the mainstream. I think I have stayed true to my intentions and continue to provide amazing music to my listeners. I play all kinds of country music, and that includes rock, bluegrass, folk, singer-songwriter, what you call Americana …
How do you define Americana music?
To me, Americana is a title that encapsulates so many traditional music forms to present them under the one umbrella: country, rock, bluegrass, singer-songwriter, folk and so many others. It identifies music that has taken its structure from traditional sounds and is independent of the mainstream-manufactured sounds that use those titles, giving it an identification of its own.
How do you prepare for your shows and what thoughts go into preparing your sets?
Every week I am on the lookout for new music. I am very enthusiastic about finding new music, either by new artists or new recordings from familiar favorites. Over the two hours of my show, I like to highlight new albums by playing a few tracks. [In addition to] picking up lots of local artists, I also play many artists from America and around the world. I have many live guests on the show who I will speak to and have them perform songs live in the studio — either local or international guests who are on tour. Recently, I was fortunate enough to have Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings on the show, chatting and playing live. That was a highlight.
I also present a totally live program from our performance space here at Triple R. It’s my very small version of a Grand Ole Opry. It’s called “Grand Ole Twang.” We have a live house band who plays country classics in between a selection of guests, [both] local and international. All sponsorship announcements are read live and all acts and music is performed in front of a live audience while being broadcast live on the radio. It’s lots of fun. Some of my guests have included Robert Ellis, Justin Townes Earle (twice), Jason Isbell, Whitetop Mountaineers, the Felice Brothers, Jonny Fritz, Elizabeth Cook, and the list goes on.
How many new releases and independent artists do you play?
A majority of the music that I play is from independent artists. It seems that they are what is making up most of the amazing music that is Americana these days. Even well-known artists are opting to release their material independently. Most of the music played on Twang is new, but it’s always fun to add a few oldies here and there, to set a scene, story, or comparison.
What was the first artist or album that turned you on to roots music?
I heard a lot of country music as a kid — Johnny Cash and Hank Williams were two artists I seem to remember. But then there was what was happening in the ’80s. When I started doing radio, there was an incredible amount of country music that was quite alternative, that really switched me on: The Knitters, Blasters, Lyle Lovett, Dwight Yoakam, Steve Earle, kd lang. It was fresh and exciting times in country, with great crossovers from country to rock, and so much more. And once you get hooked on something, the new discoveries are endless, from new to old.
Who are your favorite artists from any genre?
Well, I think you may have guessed by now that country music is my very favorite. One of the most difficult things to do is name favorites, [since] there are so many — from Hank Williams to Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton to Gillian Welch, the Louvin Brothers to Old Crow Medicine Show, Townes Van Zandt to Justin Townes Earle, and everything in between. I know the term “Americana” was put out there back in the mid-’90s and is probably a term that developed its own identity more in the past five years than ever. It’s a term that was needed to highlight all these many types of music and put the spotlight on so much great music that doesn’t necessarily get the attention it deserves.
Where do you see Americana radio going in the future?
Americana radio is bigger, better, and more appreciated now than ever. It always pleases me to have so many younger people listening to my show and appreciating what they hear.
I recently bought an internet radio, and wow is that fun. I can’t believe the choice of Americana music I have on offer all day, every day. Radio is my favorite medium for music. It’s all about listening.
What recent albums or artists are you excited about?
Here in Australia — and especially in Melbourne — we have an incredibly healthy music scene full of amazing and talented folks, playing everything within the Americana genre. I am constantly amazed by the standard of music being produced here on my doorstep. To name only a few, look out for Raised by Eagles, Suzannah Espie, Jemma & Her Clifton Hillbilles, Sean McMahon & the Moonmen … I really could just go on and on.
Do you have any other interesting hobbies or interests you wish to share?
Well, my number one hobby is music and radio. I have other interests, but they don’t even come close.