Artist On Artist: Blackeyed Susans & Lisa Miller
Ahead of a trio of Christmas shows in Melbourne and Sydney, The Blackeyed Susans’ ROB SNARSKI and PHIL KAKULAS talk covers, biopics and festive facial hair with support act and fellow Standard Hotel scene veteran, Melbourne singer-songwriter LISA MILLER.
Lisa Miller interviews Rob Snarski
I was considering doing a version of ‘Everyone’s Gone To The Moon’ until I remembered that you had done it on your Dedicated To the Ones We Love album back in 2001 (which also contained your excellent version of Springsteen’s ‘Mr State Trooper’). Were you attracted to Bobby Womack’s version or to its writer, the “smurfing, wave your knickers in the air” Jonathan King?
I was made aware of Nina Simone's recording of that song by Chris Abrahams of The Necks one afternoon in Newtown, Sydney. It must have been 1990. He declared Nina Simone and Piano to be his favorite record of all time. He may have been drunk, actually he was drunk. Nina takes that song to a strange and scary level. Really quite unsettling and loose (in a mad kinda way). It's almost as if the words carry too much weight and she's straining to sing them, the world no longer makes sense. I've only ever heard her version of the song. I remember being up in the Blue Mountains years later and walking into a second-hand record store, and there it was sitting in the front rack: Nina Simone and Piano on vinyl. I had to buy it. She also does an incredible version of ‘I Get Along Without You Very Well’ - it's truly heartbreaking.
As for Springsteen, I love Nebraska more than any of his other albums, possibly my favorite album of all time. If we ever made Dedicated #2, I'd love to record ‘Highway Patrolman’. What a great song about siblings, family, strength and loyalty.
You’ve just been touring Europe on the strength of releasing your four-album retrospective boxed set. Is there any odd crazed fan or zealot encounter on the way that you’d wish to share?
What impressed me was the amount of Finnish people who came to our show at The Borderline in London. I encountered about eight separate groups of Fins who'd travelled so far to see us in London. Like Tom Waits' ‘Big In Japan’, I think The Susans will have to record a tune called ‘Big In Finland’ or Helsinki! We're desperate to get there next year, even if it's to play to eight separate groups of Fins.
Given the festive season, will there be any facial hair?
Phil [Kakulas, bass] is always partial to a Santa beard around this time of year, Dawso [Mark Dawson, drums] fails to shave over a weekend and he tends to have a beard by Tuesday after his weekly shave on a Monday. Kiernan [Box, piano] is yet to shave, he's 40 but he looks 12, same with JP Shilo [guitar/accordion/violin]. I myself, might go with a pencil-thin moustache.
You’ve always been known as a faultlessly stylish mob. Was there ever a time that one of you wore an outfit that was deemed unfit for the stage?
Does Julian Wu's gold lamé suit count?
When The Blackeyed Susans’ biopic hits the screens who can we expect to see in the leading roles (Is Ronnie Corbett still alive to play Graham Lee?)
Shame John Denver is no longer with us. Graham always said Gérard Depardieu would play me in a biopic but I'd be happier with Johnny Depp dressed as a pirate. I've made jokes about Fitzhugh from Land of The Giants playing Phil; Demis Roussos or Jonathan Goodman playing Dan, or on a good day Chris Isaacs; Hugh Grant would have to play Kiernan Box; and let's get Gerard Depardieu in to play JP Shilo instead. As for Mark Dawson, he'd kill me if I suggested anyone other than himself - he needs the money.
Phil Kakulas interviews Lisa Miller
The Susans have always enjoyed doing other people’s songs and I know you do too. Your latest release, Car Tape 2, is your second CD of covers. What do you like about interpreting other people’s songs?
I love that childlike thing of finding your favourite song, or rather finding a song that turns into your favourite song, and then, after spending some obsessive time with it and if you’re lucky, it reveals itself as something else. I love taking the song and trying to make it fit until I almost believe I’ve written it. I love beautiful songs and strange ones - the best are a little of both.
I read on your website that in the past you found record stores to be a great place to discover songs and music. Do you still hang around the LP racks or do you have other means for uncovering arcane gems and new tracks these days?
Well, I brought the stores to me I guess and shacked up with the record shop owner who sold his shop and kept a few (well 8000 or so) records. So we dip into those occasionally and we still keep a constant ear out on the radio and find our friends do the same. I’d definitely say it’s harder to find something slightly uncovered now. I suppose it just takes a little longer to compile a collection of semi-rarities but they pop up when you least expect, like when you’re driven to find out about one artist and they’ll reference another and so it goes as you trawl to the root of it all.
You’re well known for mixing it up band-wise; big, small, in-between. What kind of Lisa Miller show can people expect at the Thornbury [Theatre, Melbourne]?
The biggest possible Christmas warmer that three people can make. We’ll be doing some new album favourites and some festive songs. Shane’s been bugging me to do Joni Mitchells ‘River’ for a while so we may have a crack at that.
"I love that childlike thing of finding your favourite song, or rather finding a song that turns into your favourite song."
Both our bands were part of the Standard Hotel scene of the early- to mid-90s along with The Paradise Vendors and Acuff’s Rose, among others. Some people would say that was the birth of alt-country in Melbourne back before it even had a name. How do you look back on that time now?
Wow, it seems so long ago now. Those were very cosy times. PA with speakers the size of an old record player, Midnight Cowboy theme wafting in to mark the end of the night, still on speaking terms with my label! It was so fun to guest with each other. Musicians such as Doug Mansfield actually got married there. It was great for me after burning out in a Texas bar band, where the pressure was always on to keep the rock and rollers or line dancers happy. Here was a place where the punters actually loved slow melancholy country songs.
It’s Christmas time. What’s the saddest song you ever heard?
One that comes to mind is ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes’ sung so poignantly by Nina Simone, Sandy Denny and Susan Cowsill; three of my favourites.
THE BLACKEYED SUSANS/LISA MILLER XMAS SHOWS
Saturday, December 11
The Thornbury Theatre, Melbourne, VIC
Friday, December 17
The Vanguard, Sydney, NSW
Saturday, December 18
The Vanguard, Sydney, NSW