The Waifs Interview by Kath Orgovany. The Waifs Interview by Kath Orgovany
Article By Kath on Nov 12, 2002



Donna Simpson from The Waifs talks touring, Billy Bragg, alligator burgers, Aria nominations and Japanese porn movies with Kath Orgovany.

Donna is at Darwin airport getting ready to board a flight. She is tired after two shows and 40 degree heat but is very excited to be back in Australia after a grueling tour of America and the UK with The Waifs for the last eight months.

"It was great! It’s funny to actually come back and look at your photos and hear your own stories and think wow, did that happen, 'cause when you're in the thick of it you're so tired and it's just city to city, hotel to hotel, festival to festival, it becomes a bit of a blur sometimes. It's an absolutely gorgeous atmosphere at the festivals, especially up around California and that."

The band played many of the North American folk festivals on main stages to 20,000 people who love acoustic music. They were also inundated with staple Aussie treats like Vegemite, Violet Crumbles and Cherry Ripes, which happens to them quite often apparently. They are well loved in America and Canada with sold out shows where ever they go resulting in a record label being set up in the U.S with John Butler which Donna says came together relatively easy.

Donna's favourite places O/S include British Columbia. New Orleans didn't impress her that much as it was a bit touristy but she did find somewhere near by that was a lot more genuine where she tried an alligator burger!

The Waifs also played with Billy Bragg in the U.K which Donna says was excellent. "Billy's such a great performer just seeing him night after night and he and his band just cranking and he's such a funny guy. We were worried how we'd go down 'cause Billy's got so much to say and we have so little but we went down really well!"

The Waifs have been going for ten years now and are a family of sorts with Donna's sister Vicki also in the band as well as guitarist Josh Cunningham. They started life known as Albert's Surprise (don't ask) but after their Grannies told them they looked like Waifs, that's what they became!

You must really get along to have stuck it out all this time. "It's kinda like a marriage, y'know. I mean we're totally committed to eachother and what we're doing and we've had fights like you wouldn't believe…we had an argument in the ABC radio station the other day and the lady just said, 'It's so cool that you guys can fight like this in public, sit down and play some songs and then walk out arm in arm!' You get to the stage where you have some rip-snorter fights but after ten and a half years you know eachother better than anything."

The band are to release their fourth studio album in January with a double live album due in March. Their studio album was recorded in a mansion in the Hollywood Hills where Donna found it a little too comfortable for a work environment!

"It was absolutely gorgeous, it was one of the most beautiful buildings I've ever been in…you get given a wing of the house and there's so many wings! It was absolutely gorgeous to be there but I think we were too chilled out to make an album. We were like doing laps of the pool, coming in and laying down a vocal track…there were big rooms full of cushions and mirrors…it got a bit comfy actually!"

Adding to the ambience of the place was the realization that a Japanese porn movie was being shot in the next room! "They sorta rocked up halfway through when we were making the album. They make a lot of movies in this place. We looked out the window and saw this Japanese girl running around with a wedding dress on lifting her skirt up! And it was so funny she was in a wedding dress, like wedding porn!"

They came back down to earth though when they got to the ABC studios in Melbourne which was being renovated and were confronted with plastic stools, resulting in more work being done!


The recent Aria nominations for Best New Artist and Best Independent Artist surprised Donna. "I never thought we'd get recognized by the music industry just because we were independent and y'know, just not in that scene. It's been a struggle for us from the word go but we've chosen to take that path so for someone to actually go hey you guys have done well, it's a huge buzz."

The band's current single 'London Still' has been doing very well for them lately. The song is inspired by home sickness but was actually written a few years ago. Donna explains. "I've never lived in London but I was there for a couple of weeks and I spent a week on my own, I had a friend's apartment, no one else was there, my birthday was coming up…it just sort of wrote itself. That's exactly how I felt! It wrote itself in ten to fifteen minutes."

I was put through the airport metal detector just before I was to ask Donna about what she thinks the advantages are of being independent.

"It's been really hard but I'm pretty stoked that we've managed to get this far…the world's a different place now, it's a lot more possible to do this, with the internet…I feel the industry is changing a bit and people are realizing that they can be independent and successful musicians."

My final question was a silly one as a friend of mine was wondering whether the water being poured on the band on the cover of 'Sink or Swim' was hot or cold? "It was freezing! It was so cold! That is a weird question!"