Is there anyone who doesn’t like The Hoodoo Gurus? And if so, what’s wrong with you?
While best known in the US for their ‘80s-‘90s heyday, when the band dominated both MTV and college radio charts with singles like I Want You Back, Come Anytime, Bittersweet, Miss Freelove 69, and What’s My Scene, down under, the band has continued to chug along, with 2012 finding them celebrating 30 years since the release of their debut single, Lelani. Did we say celebrating? Boy, oh boy, are they celebrating.
Part one of the celebration: a fresh best-of compilation, “Gold Watch: 20 Golden Greats.” Part two: a string of Australian shows dubbed “Dig It Up: The Hoodoo Gurus Invitational,” where the band has invited some of their favorite acts (The Fleshtones, Redd Kross, The Sonics, The Hard-Ons, Died Pretty, The 5,6,7,8’s, Steve Wynn, and more) to join them for multi-stage festival shows in 6 cities. Part three: A 3-hour webcast on Saturday/Sunday the 14th/15th starting at 10.00am AEST (Australian Eastern Standard Time – check your local time) where the band will play and chat with fans all over the world. Part four: The release of hard hitting new single, Use By Date, likely the most lacerating, and inspiring, indictment of ageism-in-the-world-of-rock-music ever recorded. Clever lyrics about why the band are hardly a jug of stale milk, cut against a charge of growling guitars and pounding rhythms that affirm The Gurus are hardly past their prime; rather, at 30 years and 8 albums in, they’re just getting started.
We were fortunate to catch up with the band’s busy, busy, (did we say busy?) frontman, Dave Faulkner, on a Sunday morning his time and Saturday evening our time to talk about all of the wonderful April has in store.
Rocker: The band have so much going on right now, I don’t even know where to start. I guess we can just first talk about the 6 “Dig it Up!” invitational shows you’re doing in Australia. They look amazing.
Dave: They are amazing! And we’re so chuffed that [promoter Feel Presents] went out on a limb and did this, because it’s a pretty outlandish idea, to have a whole bunch of obscure old bands come and play, and hope that people gave a rat’s ass.
Some people would have said, about the band having a 30th Anniversary “Keep that under your hat. Don’t give them more ammunition to shoot you down for being old and past it.” We’ve had so many shots on that score over the years, we figured we might as well make a virtue out of the very thing they would condemn us for, so we’re just happy to stand up and say, “Yes, 30 years, can you imagine? Yes, we must be bloody old.” We weren’t five years old when we started!
Rocker: When I look at the lineup, I say, “How do I get a ticket?”
Dave: Everyone should be feeling that way. I’m going to be hammering people on “Here’s what you have to go see! Don’t come late!” I reckon you have to be there all day. I’m going to be there all day! The Hard Ons are first up, that’s a great band and I want to see them, and The Fleshtones, and Keith and Ken are playing with Steve and Linda [Pimon] so it’s going to be fantastic to see Steve Wynn and that lineup. There’s nothing bad all day, and all the other stages, too…
Rocker:How did you pull the concert together? You’ve known the Fleshtones for a while, are these all people who are friends of the band?
Dave: Not really, no. For example, we hadn’t met The Sonics. I saw them 3 years ago in New York and I loved them. I always liked them on record, but I didn’t ever dream I’d see them. About four years ago, they started doing shows again, they were brought back from the dead by Garagefest who were chasing them to come and play, and finally they got it together, and they enjoyed a new lease on life. When I saw them three years ago, they were fantastic, I mean Gerry Roslie, he sounded just like he did on the records in 1965, which is a little bit strange. How does he do that? It’s insane! That’s just a band we loved.
What the promoter did, is he came up with the concept for the shows after talking to us about how to sort of mark our 30th anniversary. He basically said, “make a list of who you want” and so we put as many names as we could think of, while at the same time trying to be reasonable, and the funniest one actually was The Fleshtones, because he didn’t want to bring them out.
Rocker: Why not?
Dave: They don’t mean anything in Australia. They have no career. It’s going to cost him money and not add anything to the bill. I just said to him, “Look, if The Fleshtones aren’t on there, I can’t do it.” They’re one of the most significant bands for me, personally. Not so much that I was inspired by them to form The Gurus, but I certainly saw them before we formed. It was one of the great moments where I saw someone doing something I really understood, and who really tied up all my love of Paul Revere and The Raiders and all these different influences as they were chucking them together on stage. It wasn’t a blueprint for the band, it was just a great record. The dB’s were just as important to me, and The Cramps, of course, were probably even more significant because they literally influenced us, as when we started we didn’t have a bass guitar, just like The Cramps and The B52’s. We took both those bands as cues not to worry about that sort of thing. Sometimes I think Peter Zaremba of the Fleshtones thinks The Gurus owe him a huge debt, which I don’t thing is true, but as a fan, I owe them a huge debt as I’ve loved The Fleshtones and worshipped them. I’ve seen more of their shows than any other band, ever.
Rocker: So what’s it like being the headliner on a show like this?
Dave: What I see as the big problem for the day is preserving my energy levels, because as a fan, I want to see everything and I want to totally get lost in the music. But I have to keep a little bit in reserve for the real job of the day, which is to actually put on a decent show. The Fleshtones and Redd Kross are two of the most fearsome live bands in the world ever, and they take no prisoners, and we don’t want to look like we’re just an “also ran that night…” on the night of our own show.
What we can do is pull our one ace out of our sleeve, playing Stoneage Romeos from start to finish, because that’s an album people always talk about as being very important, one of the best ones ever, blah, blah…. So this is the only trick we have to fight fire with fire, they’ll be doing bloody stage antics that we can’t possibly match.
Rocker: And for those who can’t make these Australian shows you’ve got a webcast-show coming up the weekend of April 21st, how did you come up with that idea?
Dave: Basically, the idea of the show, and of the trivia contests we’ve had on our website, were partly to promote the album, and partly to draw attention to these shows coming up in Australia. Some out of the ordinary publicity to get some column space.
Since we started this Facebook thing all we see is “When are you going to play here?” and it’s from over the world. We don’t have the ability at the moment, due to the costs of getting ourselves around. We’re a bit spoiled, as far as touring in Australia; we don’t really like to rough it with a backpack. But a proper tour with a proper crew is very expensive, and it’s difficult to get things going.
Rocker: The new single, Use By Date, is just wonderful, and the topic is so much what our website is about
Dave: I wrote it when the band broke up for six years. As a band we found it hard to get any attention from the press and radio stations, because you just don’t qualify anymore to be taken seriously now that you’re “over the hill”. We thought, “We’re still doing very well. We’ve done an album we really love. We’ve got huge crowds coming to see us play. We’re playing well. Let’s just knock it on the head now, quit when we’re ahead.” It’s just sad when bands get to that stage where no one’s coming to see you, and you can’t get arrested at a gig. You see some bands doing that, and it’s kind of tragic. So I thought, “Let’s quit while we’re at the top of our game,” so I did that, and I started writing other songs, but there was still an issue of why that was a factor. I wrote Sell By Date as my protest against that nonsense, the idea that somehow you expire, because you pass a certain number of years.
Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones addressed this many times over the course of his career, he’s been a leader in breaking this barrier down. No one says this kind of thing about old blues players, the older they get, people think you know what you’re doing! But unfortunately with rock and roll and pop music, it seemed to be like you’re not fresh anymore, or there’s something wrong with you.
I mean, obviously, there’s a certain thing that is very understandable in the whole process which is when you’re a new artist everyone’s going, “Wow, where did this come from? What’s this about?” It’s a whole new set of flavors and influences that have never been done that way before, and in that sense you can’t be new every album. You can try, but it’s a stupid supposed “reinvention”, that people claim they do, like Madonna and U2, which I never buy for an instant. It’s just basically different production sounds, there’s nothing new in their music. You can’t have a debut album with every album, you’ve obviously got to be a known quantity after a certain point, and the more you have a body of work, the more you tend to resemble it for people, and so they say, “There’s nothing new from them, they’re just doing what they always do.” That doesn’t mean it’s bad, but it means “oh we don’t have to pay attention anymore, we already heard that.” There’s a certain plausibility about why they think they’re right about these ideas, but it’s stupid, because a good song is a good song, no matter who wrote it and where.
I was playing Use By Date last night for my friend Ron from Died Pretty, they’re playing with us too. They’ve pretty much broken up, they very rarely do anything, and he says this will likely be the last time they do anything. He’s got a great solo project now called Ron Peno and the Superstitions which is very kind of dramatic, atmospheric, classic pop, very Scott Walker-ish stuff. Anyway, he was up from Melbourne and staying at my house last night and he hadn’t heard the new single, so I played it for him and he loved it. And he’s a person whose opinion I value very highly, not just because I love his music but he also has a very strong thirst and curiosity for new music and he’s always turning me on to new bands and things I haven’t heard of.
Rocker:How do you hear about new music?
Dave: To be honest, I’m pretty lazy. I don’t try too hard, and I’ve kind of given up because most of it disappoints me. It’s basically the production more than the content.
I do have this thing that I’ve been doing it for many years now, The AMP awards (The Australian Music Prize). Basically it’s a bit like The Mercury Music Prize in the UK, people pay 100 bucks to enter their album, and can win 50 grand. It’s prestigious, and a real career profile kick and they tend to reward music which hasn’t quite found its audience yet. So through that, I’ve been hearing all these great new albums every year, so I’m hearing all the young people’s work, in Australia, at least. That’s my ear-trumpet to the youth.
Rocker: The Gurus are having a very exciting time now, but the time May hits, will you be getting ready to hibernate for winter? What’s next?
Dave: We’re not planning any major tours. We have a few shows at the end of the year, the start of the summer. Apart from that, we’re doing some corporate shows, someone’s private party, weird things like that…. But as far as us getting a road crew, hiring a PA, trying to book six shows a week for two months, we’re just not interested in that right now. It’s too difficult, and we’re also too lazy.
We’d love to tour overseas, but we’d need substantial offers from festivals and things like that to make it feasible. Just going on the strength of a few club dates, it ain’t going to pay our bills, because the cost of hiring a crew and flying them over there and transport and hotels, it’s ludicrous. It’s nice to be wanted and to have a room full of 300 people that want to see you, but unfortunately, it’s going to make us bankrupt. You need a South by Southwest, Coachella, anything, one of the major festivals, Garagefest, to come to the party and put up some serious money. They can cover a large part of our nut, of getting ourselves from A to B.
On our last tour we did, we did get to the States, but it was a very quick and brief tour and I knew that it was probably our last time there. It cost us money, it was a bit of a hole in our bank account afterwards. We wanted to do it, but we’re not going to do that again, without real offers from real people.
It’s a bit like our Dig it Up shows, you need something that’s crazy enough to work to make them gamble and bring us over. By and large, mainstream festivals wouldn’t invite us, they want something new and hip from Seattle. No Australian band that has come out of the mothballs for the American market. They need some kind of hook to make it work for them. It’s a bit of a long shot that anyone will ever do that again for us, they never had in the past, I can’t see why they’d start now.
We were lucky though, we got to go to Spain and do a few festivals there, that did break the ice for us, and if things do happen for us like that, we’ll definitely do it, it’s not like we’re saying we don’t want to leave home and are too lazy to tour, we just can’t afford, at this stage in the game, to be spending 20, 30,000 dollars just to say we’ve done it.
Rocker: When it comes to recording, what is your career like now?
We’ve been lucky that we’ve managed to keep on major labels throughout our career. We were almost a hobby band for the last couple of labels we’ve been on. They knew we weren’t going to be going multi-platinum and breaking around the world, but we’re a safe bet [due to our the steady sales of our back catalogue], so the only question for them is if they can spare any resources to devote to us. We are lucky enough that in Australia, we do sell pretty well throughout our catalog. So, so far, they’ve been pretty happy to have us on board and put up with our grandiose plans, so we feel lucky. Whether that will continue in the future, I don’t know.
We might have to self-release it if we decide to do another album. I haven’t contemplated that at this point, and I’m not really worrying about it. I’m not sure we’re going to do another album, to be quite honest, it would take a lot to make me want to do another album. It took me six years to do this last one. I’m just letting things lie for the moment.
Rocker: Would you be happy to just keep playing your catalog?
Dave: We love playing. We’re condemned to perform, we just enjoy it so much, and it’s part of our psyches that makes us feel like more rounded human beings. It’s just engrained.
But only playing the catalogue… that would be the death knell for the band. We won’t just be an oldies act, that’s what we pride ourselves on. When we cease to be a creative unit, we’ll cease to be a functioning unit. We’ll wind down in our own way. It might take years. Do occasional things, and then suddenly we’re not doing occasional things. There’s not going to be any grand “never again” statements, we tried that once and it was bullshit.
One day I might want to do another album. We have our things we’re doing now, keeping ourselves in it. I’m not going to start turning down gigs. I’m quite happy to keep doing what we’re doing. Maybe it will lead to more and more shows. We’ll take it as it comes.