Shane Nicholson - Secondhand Man

Shane Nicholson

Shane Nicholson chose the song Secondhand Man as some of his best work.

Some Of My Best Work is a podcast hosted by Jane Rocca, music and culture journalist.

Guests nominate one specific work they feel is some of their best.

The text below is a partial transcript from Shane Nicholson’s episode of Some of My Best Work. 

It’s been edited for length and clarity.

I wrote Secondhand Man after my divorce in 2013 and I hadn’t written a song for a while, but I was thinking about writing an album. I was ready to make an album, which eventually became Hell Breaks Loose.

I had ideas, but there was nothing to hang off yet.

There was no pivotal song that kick started the process.

I went on my first post marriage date, which was quite uneventful. I had the idea walking back to my hotel after this date being a secondhand man. I was trying to take stock of the things that you had on offer for a new potential partner.

I remember thinking that I liked the juxtaposition of first and second and it was how the line came together.

I’ll be first in line, if you’re looking for a secondhand man, that was the line that sparked the song. I sat in the hotel that night thinking about all these different things, which ended up being aspects of the song. 

I did find one of the toughest things I’ve ever done in my life is to move out of a family home and reset up a new one. Then setting up a studio so it’s not just where you live, it’s your place of work.

It’s strangely liberating rediscovering yourself as an individual.

A lot of the album does deal with that, Secondhand Man is the cornerstone of that.

There’s other parts like Single Fathers and there’s a couple of other songs that are directly related to that situation.

I found it tough, but I’m sure everybody does.

It’s not meant to be easy but I also wouldn’t change it.

I learned a lot in that time and certainly professionally Hell Breaks Loose record and Secondhand Man being the first single and it did pretty well.

It did better for me than any single done in nearly 10 years.

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That’s another reason it’s special to me is that every song has a different journey coming to life.

Some of them are harder and some are really easy. Some just fall into place, some are a bit of a search and some are really a struggle.

I’ve recorded hundreds of songs over the years, but there’s certain ones that you remember, for certain reasons, but this one is every reason.

The writing, the production, the final result, the process that it kicks started.

It did so much for me, but it didn’t stop there. Once it went out into the world, it became a whole other thing.

I took Warren’s [H Williams] invitation to head out to Alice [Springs] and all these songs just started flowing.

But Alice is what made the record come together. But it was Secondhand Man that got me on the plane to go.

[Secondhand Man] was sitting in a book and it wasn’t even completely polished at that point it was a skeleton of a song. I knew I had a great song and I knew that there was going to be an album there.

But he saw I wasn’t making any progress at home. He’s pretty intuitive and he saw in me that I just needed to get out of my bubble. I was living in the studio world every day.

He took me out there for some perspective and removal from day to day life. I thought we were going to spend 10 days together and hearing his great Indigenous stories of the area. But actually, he just watched the World Cup the whole time and sent me on my own.

I did finish Secondhand Man then about six other songs just flowed in no time. 

It came from a simple guitar riff that I had. It married up perfectly with what I’d been jotting down in the hotel that night.

The guitar riff was so pivotal to the song. It seemed to inform every other decision that was made and it flowed from there.

That carried through into the production of the song, because I had my good friend Matt Fell produced that record for me.

I handed that song over to him, the production of it and let him steer the ship.

I was surprised how quickly it fell into exactly the way I heard it in my head.

That’s probably why it sticks out in my mind as an important song because it covers so many bases for me.

There’s a great moment in the making of video of Hell Breaks Loose where he’s recording the bass part on Secondhand Man. I remember sitting in the studio when he was recording the bass and it was the moment I thought ‘this songs done‘. It wasn’t done, we’d done drums and bass. But I knew at that moment that we’ve got this.

I remember doing the vocals and thinking, ‘this is cool, I’ve never put my voice in some of these zones before‘.

It sounds you’ve made it trivialises it to say it was easy.

The first time I played it live was at a record company showcase for the album before it was released. I had my capo on my guitar, three frets too low. It’s already a low song for me, I had to sing it in a ridiculously low register, because I was already too far deep into the song when I realised.

I thought ‘that’s a great way to present this song, for the first time completely screwed it up and played it in the wrong key couldn’t sing it properly‘. 

What really capped it off for me was going on tour and playing all the songs. Specifically Secondhand Man and Single Fathers to a lesser extent.

I would do signings after every show. All of a sudden, I had these middle aged men coming to the shows.

They were talking to me and I remember two or three cases of big burly guys coming up and kind of tearing up talking about Secondhand Man, because they’ve just been through the same thing.

To really see the impact and the way it connected with people was the ultimate final chapter of that song to me.

It is really quite amazing the amount of times that happened and how special it felt. 

I got some extra awards out of that and it was really because of that song, kicking off that album, got me my first solo ARIA.

The moment it was beautiful, I was surrounded by this new team that I had sitting with my new record label.

To win that award meant so much to me, it was just one of those great career moments.

I got a chance to stand up there and thank those people for coming on board and working ridiculously hard on that record.

You don’t get those opportunities very often.

It’s a pretty amazing career moment for anyone. I know most artists will tell you they don’t make music to win awards, but also none of them will give them back.

Listen to this story on Some of My Best Work, a free weekly podcast hosted by music journalist Jane Rocca.

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