Track by Track:
Workhorse - No Photographs
Words by James Lynch
Friday 19th August, 2022

Off the back of the release of their debut album last week, we got in touch with Harriet Fraser-Barbour, the mastermind behind SA dream-folk group Workhorse, to delve into the songs and stories that make up No Photographs.
Back in May on the heels of the release of No Photograph’s early single ‘Chain’, we featured Workhorse in a round up of our favourite songs of the week, at the time commenting on bandleader Harriet Fraser-Barbour’s “to-the-point songwriting and easy-going charisma” that sat at the forefront of the song. What we didn’t anticipate was how inaccurate that descriptor might be of the subsequent album - while it’s undeniably loaded with charm, No Photographs shines in its re-imagining of classic sounds and timeless songwriting into a completely incisive, unpredictable and enthralling journey.

Blending together elements of alt-country, dream-pop, indie-rock and traditional folk, No Photographs plays as a surrealist venture through Workhorse’s hazy sonic world. Early tracks like ‘Dreamhorse’ and ‘No Photographs’ feel simultaneously nuanced and grandiose with their dramatic swagger and spaghetti-western tinges, and moments like ‘More Money’ and ‘Violence’ are a little more sedated yet feel just as cinematic and expansive.

There’s a striking sense of turbulence bubbling beneath the surface for much of the album - which makes sense considering the album was inspired by “vast Australian landscapes, queer western films and apocalyptic dreams” - but bookended by ‘Chain’ and ‘Letter’, there’s also an earnest optimism that’s impossible to deny. It’s these contradictions that make No Photographs so compelling, its ability to sound excited, conflicted and exhausted all at once.

To dig into the new record a little further, Harriet was kind enough to walked us through each track on No Photographs.

This is an ‘old’ new song – one we have been playing live as a band for some years now, never truly refining it or finalising elements of it. When I finally sat down to record this album by myself, it was an opportunity to try and get everything left in the corners of my mind, all those little guitar lines or progressions stuck in my head - out - in order to move on to new things. This song is one of those things I just needed to get out, its lyrical content is a bit of a paradox. Mostly I sing ‘think I need a chain, so things just stay the same’ - but sometimes I sing ‘think I need a change, but things just stay the same’. Living in Adelaide I feel I am always flip flopping between those two places. It’s about the impermanence of things, people, places, but also the mundaneness, the restlessness that living in a ‘little’ city like Adelaide can bring. Mourning the loss of friends within the constant exodus and migration to bigger cities. Craving change, resenting a sense of conservative stagnancy, and also seeking an ever illusive sense of belonging and of community.


The inspiration for this song came from a T.S. Elliot poem I read, or maybe it was E.E. Cumming. It’s a kind of continuation of the song ‘Horses’ from our first record, which is a lament or call for belonging and acceptance. Sometimes being a queer person feels like being a different species entirely, not granted the same access, the same understanding as others. It can be a lonely existence.


This song is different to how I usually write songs. The process of making music for me is usually very sound driven, oriented or written around the textures or ambience of a certain chord progression and the mood that different layers accumulate. Lyrics are usually the last piece of the puzzle very reluctantly offered. This song is different because the words offered themselves up first. It’s a story about fictional characters – maybe they are your parents, maybe they are your friends, maybe you see them in the park or at the shops and you wonder what their story is. There is just so much to one person’s story and to one person’s life, and I think we don’t give older people the love and depth of feeling or understanding that they deserve. Generation gaps can feel like huge cavernous distances and there feels like such a deeply profound loneliness within that cavernous distance that is almost beyond comprehension, beyond understanding. Can you even imagine spending twenty, thirty years with someone. Having their children, sharing a life together - only to one day leave that behind? To one day meet again as though strangers…

No Photographs

This is kind of a funny, silly song - about not taking photographs on a holiday, obviously. I have this huge reliance on photos to provide me with proof of experiences. This is the result of many things, but a bad memory being one of them. I am always afraid that I will forget something significant and I struggle with the thought that a moment can feel hugely profound and then just get lost in my mind or fade away into my memory. That’s the kind of sentimentality that makes me a memory hoarder - constantly collecting or keeping things that serve as reminders of people and times that have felt significant to me. This song is about a holiday which marked a point of change within a relationship that I held very dear. It was a painful time of transition, and where I would normally be desperate to capture memories, I instead found myself unable to take photos, wary of constantly shifting boundaries and safeguarding myself and my memories for the future. The instrumentation has elements of 60’s surf like The Shadows, with a little bit of a western Link Wray edge - this brought to mind the images of a cowboy surfing a big wave which became the inspiration for the video clip. I made the clip in my shed at night, in my homemade chaps with a playschool-like cardboard set backdrop, surfing on a pile of cushions. Sometimes my dog Pony makes a cameo, sometimes I substitute the surfboard for a skateboard because they seem like they do the same thing, and then I very clumsily edited the footage against a backdrop of vintage surfing footage - really leaning into the crappy editing because I hate computers, and again, the process dictates the outcome - it’s cool because I made it, not ‘I made it because it’s cool.’

More Money

This one might be kind of self explanatory. How do we have more money, than no money at all? Answers to this question might seem obvious, and while the procuring of money is not difficult for me - the consistent pressure to participate in capitalist profiteering is something I strongly reject. Time for me has never equaled money. It’s a totally corrupt system - an hourly rate that fluctuates wildly and has no logical cause and effect? And the resulting assumption or belief that you should find ways to profit from the things you love in order to participate or get by within this system. To find gainful employment that brings you pleasure or joy is the goal of so many - but not something that I align with, and I think something I have only learnt to accept or make peace with recently. There are so many labours that I do for love only and very consciously choose to keep separate from my finances, something my mum has of course struggled to understand. That means I work shitty hospitality jobs that just afford me the luxuries of stable housing, good food, and also the flexibility to engage in meaningful community building, to make music and share in music making, to make art, to share skills. Those are the things I consequently spend my money on, not make money from. That is not to say that finding ways to be paid for these things couldn’t be a good or positive thing - but I find that money muddies things, it complicates them - it makes you answerable to this yucky power hungry thing and it’s important for me to keep my motivations and intentions free from this.

Mary Maiden

This song is a cover – a reimagining of the song ‘River in the Pines’ by Joan Baez, who I adore not only as the beautiful angelic folk singer that she is, but also for her powerful dedication to human rights activism, her involvement in non-violent civil rights movements and her support of LGBTQI+ rights. There’s a Joan Didion essay on Joan Baez which I think of a lot… It describes spending time with Joan as she sets up ‘The Institute for the Study of Nonviolence’ which despite sounding super official and methodical, was just a space, a room, where kids, teenagers and young adults could get together and just talk, discuss ideas, share a meal. Lie on the floor, stretch, listen, all under the supervision of ethereal Joan Baez. To me that’s really beautiful. Joan is the kind of music that I grew up listening to. My mum is really into that kind of traditional folk and folk revival stuff so it has very nostalgic qualities for me. I feel like I have this spirit alter ego who is like a maiden dancing around a maypole somewhere in an alternate dimension, and maybe that’s a part of my old English ancestry that I’m trying to connect with. I love the imagery that a lot of this music carries, great descriptions of nature, of the values of a different time, songs of friendship, the heartbreak of the betrothed. And throughout a lot of this music, there’s an underlying melancholic quality that really resonates with me.

I decided to include this cover after sending a demo to a friend. This friend and I really bonded over a shared love of this kind of traditional folk and folk revival stuff - Fairport Convention, Pentangle, Sandy Denny, Anne Briggs etc. and she encouraged me to share a more finalised version of the cover. For me it represents my musical roots and it felt fitting to include something in this vein, despite the end result of most of the other songs on this album being pretty far removed from this.

I think ‘covers’ have become a dirty word in more recent history - whereas in the past, this was a very accepted traditional norm, to retell and recreate the stories told through song as a means of oral preservation. Folk songs passed down through history, preserved through generations, a bit like Aboriginal songlines.

There is also a fun kind of gender play that happens in covers, say where a female singer takes on a narrative traditionally written to be told from the first person perspective of man to woman. That doesn’t happen in this song specifically, but it does in plenty of other Joan Baez songs like ‘Once I knew a pretty girl’ which sings;
Once I knew a pretty girl
I loved her as my life
I'd gladly give my heart and hand
To make her my wife

There’s a section on the queer nature of covers in the book Paul Takes on the Form of a Mortal Girl by Andrea Lawlor which explains that male singers will almost always change the original lyrics to suit a hetero narrative, while female singers will keep the original lyrics regardless of what narrative that becomes. That obviously says a lot about the inherent homophobia a lot of men face or feel towards themselves and others, and that feels incredibly sad.


The kind of violence I’m referring to in this song, in this chorus when I sing “I believe in violence, there’s no surer way to live and die”, is romanticising a kind of violent feeling - not a violent act itself. I like a kind of dissonance in music, when a sad song sounds happy - or in this case, a song about violence feels calming and soothing. It might be my favourite song on the album. It was the first one we recorded and finished, I played everything on it myself and we didn’t touch it after our first mixing session back in 2020. (We actually lost the files so we couldn’t even if we wanted to but luckily, it felt finished).

How to explain this song, how to explain that I’m a pacifist who believes in non-violent action despite a chorus declaring otherwise. ‘Violent’ is usually used to describe negative feelings, you can have a violent dislike for someone but can you also feel a violent love for someone? It’s about powerful feelings and unhindered expression.

Rode a River

A lot of my song lyrics come from my dream journal. I have never been good at keeping a diary, it feels so empty writing to myself - I can’t figure out which voice to adopt or what kind of perspective to write from - but my dream journal acts as a way of documenting and reflecting on different times in my life. I have always had very vivid dreams and I often read back over dreams to find very clear themes which outline certain periods of my life, indicative of certain experiences or anxieties of the time, and also certain people who were important or meaningful in my life during those periods. A very consistent recurring theme throughout, since as early as I can remember - has been dreams of apocalypse and survival. I have always had the desire to be prepared, I don’t know if that’s because I loved being a scout - learning how to build fires or tie ropes! More than that, I have a desire to look after others and protect those around me. Often in these dreams, there is an impending event - whether it be a disastrous storm, or interplanetary collision, I am always packing a bag with the items I deem important - recently this has included cans of dog food to account for the acquisition of a dog. Otherwise I look for my fishing kit, a knife, frantically looking for batteries for torches. In one dream I am looking through my shed pulling out old clothes to pack in my backpack items that might keep others warm - I am looking for as many hats as possible. Hats seem important in the post apocalypse. Often I am preparing to leave my home and never return. I had my palms read at the psychic fair a few years ago and the palmist told me that “I would be good in a disaster situation - stab someone if I needed to”. Again I don’t know how this reckons with my pacifism.

The Birds

This song started out as a bit of a homage to the band ‘The Byrds’. It was something I was playing around with as the potential beginnings of a new band! I wanted lots of harmonies with no one vocal being a ‘lead’ - I think of groups like the Everly Brothers or The Byrds who have equal parts in vocals creating this awesome game of singalong where you constantly switch between vocal layers. Jess Johns and I sat down and played around with this song and I like to think we wrote it together. Another homage to The Byrds is that I played this one on a 12-string guitar. It was one of the most recent additions to the album, but it became one of my favourites.


'Letter' is made of two parts. The first is inspired by a skipping song that my mum used to sing when playing jump rope as a child, ‘A Tisket a Tasket’.

The rhyme was first noted in the United States in 1879 as a children's rhyming game, sung while children danced in a circle with their eyes closed. One kid walks around with a slip of paper representing a letter. As the kid with the letter walks outside of the circle, the kids sing the song. Right as the last line is said, the letter is dropped behind to one of the kids in the circle. The nearest child would then pick it up and chase the dropper. If caught, the dropper either was kissed, joined the circle, or had to tell the name of their sweetheart.

The second half of the song is imagining what a letter to a loved one might say, what you might read if you might happen upon or intercept a letter full of longing.

This song was only half-written when I went into the studio. I had an instrumental structure I had been playing with and liked - so I started there, recording guitar, drums, bass and lap steel in the studio, and from there I played around with words and lyrics at home, then eventually recorded the vocals from my bedroom. Later Skye Nichol recorded violin from her home in Brisbane and Frank recorded his pedal steel from a hotel in Mildura, and that extra instrumentation really brought it all together. There’s a lot going on musically in the song, so the process of mixing involved me firstly intuitively selecting the sections where strings and pedal steel might come and go to help give the song the right sense of momentum, then I would send those sections to Colby to drop in and mix properly onto the tracks we had recorded.

No Photographs is out now via Dinosaur City Records - head to to purchase the album on limited vinyl. Catch Workhorse performing in Melbourne this weekend at The Retreat Hotel tonight, August 19th, and The Cactus Room tomorrow, August 20th.
Header photo by Chelsea Farquhar
Second photo by Zac Snoswell