Thursday, October 14, 2010

Q&A with Hoodoo Gurus

Here is more from my interview with Dave Faulkner of Hoodoo Gurus, who was quite a hoot to chat with last month.The new album, pictured above, is available now.

The last time I caught the band live was in 2007 when you played the House of Blues in Anaheim.
That was fun - the Disneyland days. That was a great gig.

Was that U.S. tour a memorable one? Before that, you hadn’t played here in ages.
It was. We didn’t tour on our last album before we broke up. That was 'Blue Cave' in 1996. So it would have been 1994 the last time. Obviously [the 2007 tour] was like...dipping a toe in the water. We’re not expecting people to be conscious of us in the States. We haven’t had the same sort of mainstream career that we’ve had in Australia. We’ve always been sort of a cult band there. That tends to narrow over the years as people cease to hear about you. 

On your short tour of America in October, the band is doing small clubs. Do you prefer that intimate vibe where the crowd is right in your face?
It’s hard to know. It really depends on how well we play. The venues don’t daunt us one way or another...Last night was interesting. We were in a very small club in Montpelier, France. They have a law about volume in France; there’s a db limit. Our amplifiers certainly can be turned down, but our drummer is not very easily turned down! He just really smashes the drums. That little space was tricky to perform to what we thought we could do to make it a balanced sound without obviously breaking the law [laughs]. We managed to get away with it apparently. There was regular sound out the front. It was a very small little club, but was quite crazy. 

How have fans been responding to the new material from 'Purity of Essence'?
Fantastic. Besides the fact that it’s sold really well in Australia and charted – all those things you hope to do, but don’t expect them after all these years. It’s also the material. Even before the release of the album, we were playing a couple of the songs in concert and immediately they were just going over really well. There’s something about the energy of this material. I don’t just mean high energy. There’s some kind of spirit there that people really connect with. It just seemed to fit naturally into our repertoire. They weren’t flat spots in the show, which often new material can be. We’re doing quite a few. We don’t make it like the new album and cursory lip service to the past. We obviously acknowledge the fact there’s a whole lot of other stuff people are very fond of that’s part of what we represent. We do put a healthy little slab in there. So far, so good.

How did you end up connecting with producer Charles Fisher again?
It’s not hard. He’s done two albums that we’ve really enjoyed working with him on. 'Mars Needs Guitars' is the one most people would remember him for. 'Blue Cave' is the album that we did with Charles later on that we all really love. He’s a very good friend, besides someone that we respect and admire. The thing with Charles that is his great gift, besides all his musical ones, is the psychology of how he works with people...He has a great bedside manner.

When did recording actually commence?
The whole thing took a year, going from our first demos to the rehearsals to the release. That was around February and March [2009]. Then we started rehearsing. The actual recording started in April or May [of last year]. There were some tricky bits. Always the mix is that one thing you agonize over. We actually had one false start with that. We were in a studio where we couldn’t a handle on the acoustics of this room. It baffled us really. Anything we did in there, it sounded completely different and wrong. So we just had to give up on that. We ended up going back with Ed Stasium, another old friend. So it was Charles’ third album with us and also Ed’s third album with us. So we reunited a lot of our ‘A’ team. [laughs]

Q: On the song “1968,” which guitarist Brad Shepherd wrote, you sing “listen for the sounds that resonate.” Who were some acts from the period that inspired you?
That line is actually a creepy reference to the Manson family. Before they set off on their killing spree, that is what they said: [mimics:] ‘listen for the sounds.’ Which is kind of horrible. When I wrote the [rest of the] lyrics, I didn’t realize that’s what it was meant to be about, so I just wrote it about 1968 generally. Obviously it was a year of great change - not only musically but politically - and there was a lot of stuff going on. To be honest, I think it could have been written about 2009. Every year is one of great change and drama.

[1968] had a sort of resonance. Brad, if you want to [press] him, one of his favorite groups of all time is the MC5. They were pretty active around then. That’s why they get a name check in the song. That’s certainly a group I would pick out from that era that’s fabulous. Of course the Stooges were just getting going, they hadn’t recorded yet. That song probably has more of Stooges sound. 

For me, if push comes to shove, for my favorite era of rock, I would go with 1958-1962. I love the innocent pure exuberance of that era. And stuff before and after. I love all Elvis and going back even further, swing stuff. For me, the great sound of rock ‘n’ roll came to its peak around 1963 [laughs] as far as acoustics. Obviously there were lots of adventurous musical changes and things happened even to the present day. The part I’m most dazzled by is that era.

What was the inspiration behind “Only in America”?
I’ve spent a lot of time in America. A couple years back, I was talking to some friends who are musicians about the whole 'red state vs. blue state' thing. They said something quite funny to me, which was ‘the result of the Civil War was wrong. We should have let them split off.’ [laughs] ‘So we don’t have to put up with all that tension of people trying to force their way upon the other side of politics. They could have their way and we could have ours.’ The song’s not written about that in particular. The lyric is actually a bit dark, talking about problems and stresses that are in America. And also many others places around the world, those same stresses. I just use America [as an example]. But the chorus is so celebratory in the way it sounds that you think it’s actually an anthem for America. Even though the lyrics are kind of questioning how settled everything is...From an outsider point of view, I like the fact that the song embraces both the insecure and the defiant. [laughs] 

On “What’s in it For Me,” were you paying homage to the Stones?
Musically, yeah. Also, we’ve had a lot of punk energy in the past, but we’ve never had it like that. That was really something we were proud of. Lyrically, it can be taken tongue and cheek. I am not the world’s most miserable skinflint that I would begrudge paying some charity money.

“Crackin’ Up” actually came to you in a dream. Can you tell me about its genesis?
That is true, yes. It was a weird one, you know. I just woke up and it was like I was listening to a radio station, except I was slightly coming around and realized I’m dreaming. I figured out there wasn’t anything really playing and it was in my head. Then the fact it was a new song and a pretty damn good one. I had to quickly gather my thoughts and find a little recorder and sing all the melodies in there. Even the chorus words were there. All I did was write the words for the verses and it was done. That has been the standout hit on Australian radio.

What is the story behind the amazing cover art collage?
It’s a long association with these surfer artists we know that started designing leisure wear, surfer clothes, and hip gear. They came to us many years ago wanting us to wear their clothes. In fact they named their label after a line in “Leilani,” our first single, and called it “Ngawa.” They spelled it wrong and so did we [laughs]. I’ve learned from riding the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland it is that way. They spelled it Umgawa. 

Jumping forward,  they weren’t the best business people and didn’t really succeed. They were talented graphic artists as well. They went into fine art and are still good friends. They have a tandem art personnel they call Doug Bartlett…I really loved their clothing and hadn’t thought about them for a long time and wondered if they were still making clothes. I’ve still got clothes of theirs that I wear. I Googled them and found out they’re real artists and saw their work and liked it. I ended up buying a painting of theirs.

When it came time to do the album, I thought they were ideal. I knew they liked our music and talked to them about it. They were excited to do it. As you can see from the cover art, they’ve kind of referenced some Gurus iconography in there with the dinosaur and the greyhound. Playing around with the notion of Hoodoo Gurus as well as classic American icons. That’s why we put Paul Hogan on the cover as well. He gave us his permission. We didn’t do like the Stones did with ‘Some Girls.’

Did you enjoy doing the tongue-in-cheek webisodes on the Gurus' web site?
It’s a bit silly and we’re not going to challenge anyone for acting stakes. We just liked the idea of putting this silly fake rockumentary together and having a laugh at our own expense, really. Making ourselves look idiotic as usual. It was just the development of the idea of doing a bunch of clips for YouTube so we could have a bunch of songs and an online presence. Rather than putting all your money into one of two videos which get shown twice on network TV and never shown again. We thought, ‘let’s get more bang for our buck’ and the idea expanded to ‘let’s make a plausible plotline as well.’

In 2005, there was a Gurus tribute album “Stoneage Cameos” and you guys contributed in the guise of your alter ego group. What did you think of the other bands' results?
We loved it. Most tribute albums suck, I reckon. I’ve heard a lot of them with great artists and they just seem to lack something. Usually it’s the fact that the original is so much better than the tribute. And the tributes don’t add anything to it. These particular artists and the way it went together, they took such radical directions that it became its own thing. We were almost marginalized in a way from it because they had done such dramatic changes to our songs and personalized them. I was really happy to see that. The Living End did “Leilani” and brought more of the rockabilly aspect out of it. It’s really cool. Most other ones went so far out, you could almost not identify those songs on a couple occasions. A lot of the people involved were significant artists in Australia. It was a huge compliment to us that they’d lend their talents to our work.

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