Sea shanties increase in popularity as the American contingent returns to Oz

One a cappella group in the US, Home Free, exploded during lockdown with a collection of variegated sea shanties that begins with a song about a 19th-century Sydney shipping company worker.

But the group, which is making its first trip to Australia since COVID for CMC Rocks this weekend, had no idea The Wellerman’s Antipodean was about.

“I didn’t know that, I love that,” says Home Free fifth tenor Rob Lundquist.

The band wasn’t the first to record The Wellerman – it was released by The Longest Johns in 2018 and a Scottish singer started a viral trend of aggregating sounds on his TikTok recording during lockdown.

But the Home Free version – which was recorded and filmed during lockdown in each of the members’ homes – has amassed nearly 40 million streams and 27 million views on YouTube.

It’s also the recording used for the TikTok dance that went viral around the world.

“It blew up in a way we’ve never seen any of our products get widespread,” Lundquist tells the AAP.

“We were so glad she did because it brought our music to more people who normally wouldn’t check out country as a cappella, but would check out the sea shanties we did.”

The group recorded the song and video as part of their larger commitment to continuing to make music when pressing shut.

“We couldn’t tour anymore and we were like, What are we going to do?” He says.

We all got home recording equipment so we didn’t have to go find a studio and committed to releasing two music videos a month that we shot on our iPhones.

It took a lot of time, a lot of problem-solving and, man, we have a lot of respect for the people who make our music videos — because we had to do all our own lighting and things like that and it was really boring. It would take up to three hours to get everyone lighting the same look.

“I’m excited that I don’t do that anymore,” Lundquist says.

But the tough arena situation has paid dividends for the band, which now has a new, younger demographic in its crowd.

“It gives us so much energy on stage,” he says. “They’re all clamoring for this song.”

The last time Home Free played CMC Rocks, one of the bands performed a “shoey” on stage “trying to fit in,” Lundquist recalled.

On their first comeback tour since “The World Stopped,” Lundquist says the band is looking forward to seeing fans’ reaction to the change in direction.

“Most of the country fans are in both America and Australia,” he says.

“But it’s a little different in Australia – they sing along to every song, whether it’s folk songs we covered or our originals, and we’re not used to that in the states.

“They are honestly some of the best fans we’ve performed in front of – we look forward to doing it again.”

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