“When the iron glows red, you earn your money. That is your life.”
It was these simple words, spoken by Nguyen Phuong Hung – the last remaining blacksmith on Hanoi’s Blacksmith Street, that struck a mighty chord with Jae Laffer. Citing his father’s words to a local paper in Vietnam, Mr Hung spoke of hard work, heritage and lost trade; a street name void of meaning once he retired his faithful hammer and tong.
His story was echoed in newspapers across the globe, including that of the New York Times, before falling under the keen eye of Jae in rural Melbourne.
“I read the story when I first began writing the album,” Jae recalls. “I loved the poetry in his description and in particular the image of the glowing iron; the great moment when a blacksmith strikes. It felt like a metaphor for seizing chances and the fears and trials of day to day work life – when the future is unclear and the present is inadequate.”
It is from these contemplative beginnings that ‘When The Iron Glows Red’ was born – a powerful ode to the common man, the hard worker, the devoted family man who dutifully enlists in the rat race of life, day in day out.
“The story got me considering our chances in life, and like the last blacksmith in Hanoi, wondering just what mark we leave on earth and who really knows we are here.”
But as chief songwriter and lead vocalist of iconic Perth outfit The Panics, perhaps Jae need not worry so much about legacy. Already recognised as one of Australia’s songwriting greats, his mantel glows with proof; housing an ARIA Award, triple j’s J Award and a swag of WAMi Awards.
With a back catalogue that continues to stir and inspire not only music fans but also accomplished writers of the art, question remains as to why Jae would want to venture forth on his own.
“After writing several albums with The Panics I felt an urge to write an album where the process was very single-minded and quickly realised,” he explains. “The Panics are still very much together, but I saw this as an opportunity to take ideas and themes true to myself and see them from start to finish in one burst of inspiration, without looking up.
“Just taking a song, going with my instinct on the day and leaving it at that; singing the words while the ink is still wet on the page.”
Drawing on the powerful and straight up musical delivery of a solo John Lennon, early Bruce Springsteen and Paul Kelly, Jae took a slightly more liberal approach when seeking outward inspiration.
“My inspirations were characters around me, in the workplace and in my world, that are all living in the hope of finding a greater life,” he says. “And those who found themselves seeking answers to all the complications and trials of day to day existence in the world of work, love, and money, while keeping a flame alive to follow their illusive and sometimes seemingly impossible dreams.”
Fanning the proverbial flame, both conceptually and methodically, ‘Leave A Light On’ was the first track to be penned and set the tone for the rest of the album, taking cue from Lennon solo-era string lines and classic pop hooks.