IT had been eight years since Tim Freedman had written a song when he decided in 2019 to pen a tribute to The Whitlams' long-serving tour manager Greg Weaver, who'd just died from a heart attack.
The initial steps were painful. Rust may never sleep, but it sure knows how to linger.
"One of the worst things is you know you're gonna write some rubbish," Freedman says of returning to songwriting.
"You get really frustrated, it doesn't come easily and you've just got to sit down and put the hours in.
"Any writer of any medium will tell you, if you do the hours something will start to come. You have to be really patient with yourself, you have to disappoint yourself and just trust that it will come back.
"I knew that from the past, but you're always surprised when ideas start sprouting."
The first song Freedman finished was Sancho, which was his nickname for Weaver, inspired by Don Quixote's steadfast squire in the classic Spanish novel.
Sancho is also the title of The Whitlams' forthcoming album, which will be the Sydney four-piece's first new record since 2006's Little Cloud when it's released on January 28.
Freedman's most recent record was the 2011 solo album Australian Idle.
Initially Sancho was to be called Gaffage and Clink and released in 2020, but like everything over the past two years, COVID had other plans.
However, there's been unintended positives. It's allowed Freedman to write additional tracks and tinker with the album in studios in Cairns and Byron Bay.
On Thursday, when Freedman spoke to Weekender, he was completing the final mix of the album.
"I'm looking forward to people hearing it," he says.
"It's richly textured in parts like our older stuff, and there's a bit of emotion and, as is usual for us, there's flippancy as well."
The first track released from Sancho was the Ballad Of Bertie Kidd about a career criminal who bungled an art heist at Gosford in the '80s, followed by the Americana-tinged Man About A Dog.
The latest single is the '80s-inspired power-pop track (You're Making Me Feel Like I'm) 50 Again where the 56-year-old Freedman pokes fun at the ageing process.
Freedman and his Whitlams bandmates Jak Housden (guitar), Warwick Hornby (bass) and Terepai Richmond (drums) have toured regularly since 2015.
But Freedman says his ambitions for songwriting and music waned as he concentrated on raising his daughter Alice.
"I just had bit of a break, which was important to me," he says. "It's important not to let showbiz define you.
"It's a really tough business. You're relying on the opinions of others all the time and it can really wear you down a little bit.
"We worked very hard for 20 years and I had a break and the break just kept going. I stepped out of the room, so to speak."
So what sparked Freedman's desire to write again?
"I realised how much I loved touring and playing live and I knew if I didn't get creative and ambitious again I'd get stuck withering and we'd end up dragging our sorry bones around the heritage circuit," he says.
"There's nothing wrong with being a heritage act, but I think it's important for a loyal audience to know you're still thinking and commenting on and reacting to the world as it is at the moment."
Audiences are about to see a lot more of The Whitlams.
The band will tour extensively in 2022 - including six nights at Newcastle's Lizotte's between March 1 and 9.
On Friday The Whitlams were also added to the line-up for the music festival Sunset Sounds, which visits the Hunter Valley's Roche Estate on April 23, along with Queensland pop-folk duo Busby Marou.
They join Xavier Rudd, Pete Murray, Josh Pyke, The Beautiful Girls and Kyle Lionheart.
"We generally do our own thing, but when we do festivals I enjoy the conviviality of it all and meeting other artists," Freedman says.
"This one will be a particularly joyous affair in a lovely setting and good varied bill too."
The Whitlams are best known for their 1997 triple j Hottest 100-topping track No Aphrodisiac, fellow Eternal Nightcap track You Sound Like Louis Burdett and the anti-gambling anthem Blow Up The Pokies.
Freedman is happy to give the crowd what they crave.
"When you're playing and half the crowd aren't rusted on fans, like they would be at Lizotte's, you're definitely conscious of playing a commercial set," he says.
"We call it going up the middle, to use a sporting analogy. Pin the ears back and just run it up the middle.
"You like to pride yourself on people slowly realising how many songs they've heard on the radio over the last 25 years. We're lucky we've had a smattering of airplay since 1993, so we can do plenty of well-known tunes in an hour."
The Whitlams' album Sancho will be released on January 28.
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