"New South Wales" as written by and Jason Isbell....
Here we sit
Across the table from each other
A thousand miles from both our mothers,
Barely old enough to rust

Here we sit
Pretending both our hearts are anchors
Taking candy from these strangers
Amidst the diesel and the dust

And here we sit
Singing words nobody taught us
Drinking fire, and spitting sawdust,
Trying to teach ourselves to breathe

We haven't yet,
But every chorus brings us closer
Every flyer and every poster
Gives a piece of what we need

And the sand that they call cocaine cost you twice as much as gold
You'd be better off to drink your coffee black
But I swear, the land it listened to the stories that we told
God bless the busted boat that brings us back

Morning's rough
It don't give a damn about the mission
Has no aesthetic or tradition,
Only lessons never learned

And I'd had enough
About a month ago tomorrow
Parting holds no trace of sorrow
For the bitter and the burned

And the piss they call tequila even Waylon wouldn't drink
Well I'd rather sip this Listerine I packed
But I swear, we've never seen a better place to sit and think
God bless the busted ship that brings us back

And the sand that they call cocaine cost you twice as much as gold
You'd be better off to drink your coffee black
But I swear, the land it listened to the stories that we told
God bless the busted boat that brings us back


Lyrics submitted by SongMeanings, edited by emergingsynergy

"New South Wales" as written by Jason Isbell

Lyrics © Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.

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New South Wales song meanings
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  • +3
    General CommentOh good grief people! It's called "New South Wales" because he wrote the song while touring Australia with Justin Townes Earle.

    It's about losing control on the road, and the dangers of substance abuse while touring. The meanings of "Sand" and "Listerene" aren't very mysterious here if you stop being so literal. Jason uses a lot of allegory in his lyrics, hence "the busted boat that brings us back", isn't an actual boat, but a metaphor for that which can bring you back to a more grounded, centered place. In Jason's world, that place is sobriety. For others, it could be different.

    This, like most Isbell songs, is deeply personal and reflective. It has nothing to do with the colonization of Australia. Jeeze...
    King Leeron May 02, 2014   Link
  • +1
    General CommentIsbell writes a lot of songs about touring, so I think that this song is not actually *about* New South Wales, Australia, but rather about thoughts and experiences that he had while he was there on tour.

    About the Listerine line -- I think he just means that the tequila he was served there was so bad that even Listerine would have been more enjoyable as a drink. I'd also note that Isbell is a recovering addict, and some people with severe alcoholism do in fact drink Listerine if they can't get anything else.

    The tequila reference is just one of several references to substance abuse in this song. I think that Isbell wrote this either before he got clean, or was looking back on his pre-sobriety life. The refrain of "God bless the busted boat that brings us back" sounds to me like a longing for change and redemption, something that even those of us who aren't addicts can relate to. A very poignant song, from an album that is full of them!
    joebob2014on February 22, 2014   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationFormer Drive By Truckers singer-songwriter Jason Isbell has vivid memories of his tour here with Justin Townes Earle - son of seven times wed Steve.

    So vivid he credits bad experiences with diluted cocaine and Tequila for aiding his latter day sobriety.

    Isbell sings the cocaine was over-priced and tasted like sand and the Tequila was so inferior the late Texan outlaw Waylon Jennings wouldn't drink it.

    The Alabama born artist included his down under travel advisory hints on New South Wales on fourth solo album Southeastern that he promotes on his April tour.

    "It was not on my last tour there but the tour before with Justin Townes Earle," Jason told Nu Country TV of song sources in a call from the U.S.

    "It was not Justin's influence in any way. I was trying to write a song in a different vein - more like Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. The song was inspired by a trip we were on together. The Tequila was bad over there, bad news. But we don't make good Vodka in the states. You have nothing to be ashamed of. The cocaine was bad everywhere I had it. You are a long way from Central America. I heard the heroin was pretty cheap and very strong but I was never really into that. Now I've been sober for a couple of years. The tour was not bad experiences - just in the daylight."
    hateful1on September 22, 2014   Link
  • 0
    General CommentYea so I'm on my lunch break, been listening to this snuck a google search for "New South Break" when my employers weren't looking.

    I think he's referring to the colonization of New South Wales but it's weird because he mentions listerine (not sure if it was around then). Also don't know if the indigenous drank tequila but maybe they drank shitty liquor or maybe that's what was imported.

    But the listerine who knows he could have a meaning maybe so maybe not.
    bkabbotton February 04, 2014   Link
  • 0
    General CommentActually listerine could be a metaphor for something he (narrator) packed. You can google drinking listerine. That's what I think anyways.
    bkabbotton February 04, 2014   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI have a habit of posting multiple comments on individual songs. Well I was on my lunch break so I get a pass this time.

    Listerine is used to disinfect the mouth. Alcohol was used to disinfect wounds. I think that's what he means. Something really strong that goes down hard but better than the piss the brits were importing to those on the mission.
    bkabbotton February 05, 2014   Link
  • -1
    General CommentI mean it's not about the guy who names it goes home and dies. It's about the guy who works hard goes home and dies. Brings home memories.

    I mean the Virginia stock company or whatever work or don't eat. It was standard and they took advantage.

    "But I swear"

    What a songwriter.
    bkabbotton March 01, 2014   Link
  • -1
    General CommentI mean I can just sum it up sober and drunk and everything into a colonist who was taken advantage of.
    bkabbotton March 02, 2014   Link
  • -1
    General CommentOK so this is the conclusion I came to on a google plus conversation.

    When interpreting lyrics there is a literal and abstract meaning. I don't even know what the literal and abstract meaning is because it's complex.

    It's definitely about him going there doing drugs but there's too many references to the colonization of New South Wales.

    If you listen to the pronunciations and especially the fiddle his wife plays it's not Irish but it kind of has celtic elements. They don't spell it out for you. No wonder the critics spooged over this album.

    I went to Alabama and we loved him. He's just cool. But he is so talented.

    Good for Jason I don't see Dirks Bentley writing songs like this.
    bkabbotton May 12, 2014   Link
  • -1
    General CommentI hate to be cocky but I'm right stylistically this song wouldn't contain a celtic hint and "busted boat" along with other references to colonization. I mean Dirks could hire a musicologist and he would say yes it's a hint of celtic like I said.

    It contains too many hints. It's very complex and is one of Jason's most mature songs.

    I know the politics rate it up but this is an intellectual song. Jason is really smart and he didn't explain it completely because of historical accuracy. I'm sure it was subconscious and what not but look if you take it all literal from the interview you miss what he puts out. He's so good.
    bkabbotton May 24, 2014   Link

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