Kamikaze Trio's One Night Stand
Kamikaze Trio hit the road for a Sydney gig.
Writers like getting in vans with bands because it allows them to take a blunt knife and make an incision anywhere they please. Apply enough pressure and something’s bound to give and make a big mess. The story that turns in a writer’s mind runs counter to the psyche and strategic innards of the musicians he travels with. They hope to arrive safely and on time, while he longs for the mishap that’ll set them back hours. They want to prove themselves a professional and amicable unit; he hopes for bickering and bursts of anger. Flat tyres, broken windscreens, and a last-minute gig cancellation are his secret goals. In short, a good story demands that the tour be a complete failure.
But Kamikaze Trio are probably the most democratic rock & roll group you’re likely to meet. You can’t stitch up a band that claims they’ve never even had an argument. The usual transparency between democracy and pedestrian would surely not apply here, but I had to know. And so I found myself heading toward Sydney on a Thursday morning in December in a Toyota Tarago with two-thirds of Kamikaze Trio, plus a Dutchman called Bjorn and a drummer named Stu.
Andy Moore is the guy you want to have driving the van. He’s sensible, reliable and thinks things out. Andy is Kamikaze Trio’s drummer, a serious record collector, and well versed in packing large pieces of equipment into small spaces. In the passenger seat at Andy’s left sits guitarist Sam Agostino. He’s engrossed in Power Without Glory, Frank Hardy’s fictionalised account of infamous Melbourne crime boss John Wren.
In contrast to Andy, Sam is prone to adolescent humor and seems to say whatever comes into his head. His favorite subjects (today at least) are sex, the opposite sex, and unusual sexual scenarios. Oh, and music.
“Don’t put that in!” he repeatedly says to me after he’s said something particularly offensive and/or disturbing. Ask Sam what attributes he brings to Kamikaze Trio and he replies, “Like everyone in this band, I just bring myself.” Sam has played in bands since he was 14; milking cows on the family farm to buy his first electric guitar.
“I’m the guy who’s always pretty good humoured,” he continues, “I’m not a person who gets angry and points fingers. Andy is the one who cracks the shits more often than not.”
Sam and Andy share a strong friendship, having met at university and formed Fort Mary, a band that eventually merged into Digger & the Pussycats. They have toured Europe with the latter band twice in the past three years. “We must have told our life stories five times over,” Sam says. “A paragraph for every two minutes of our lives."
The obvious difference between Digger & the Pussycats and Kamikaze Trio is Snoop Mitchell. Snoop brings bass to the mix, but a full time job means he’ll be flying into Sydney later tonight. The ease of his travel arrangements is not lost on the others. They would all prefer to fly, but the cost and difficulty of hauling equipment by air far outweighs the time and energy of driving.
It’s not long before the highway begins winding through kilometers of golden pasture, singed piss-yellow by an unsympathetic sun. Rotting carcasses of sheep in the dust only slightly outnumber the decomposing carcasses of kangaroos and rabbits on the road. The landscape is a pitiful shame, reminiscent in places to the exhausted terrain Heidelberg artist Jane Sutherland painted in this region a hundred years ago. To the northwest, five bushfires rage unabated and threaten to join into one enormous front. Smoke as thick as gravy clogs the air and smudges out the horizon. The heat outside is stifling.
It’s midday by the time we reach the border township of Albury-Wodonga. “There’s always a part on the way to Sydney where you think, ‘Why the fuck am I doing this’,” Sam observes. There follows a long and enthusiastic discussion regarding the pros and cons of digital music, particularly iPod versus vinyl and CD formats.
Andy talks passionately about Flying Nun Records and his love of obscure New Zealand band Double Happys. Sam, meanwhile, offers Andy $500 to perform various lewd acts upon his person. “I’d do it,” Andy replies nonchalantly, “but I know you wouldn’t pay me.” The jocularity in Kamikaze Trio extends beyond individual amusement; a few days earlier Snoop and Sam had offered Andy, a vegetarian, $25 each to eat a sausage sandwich. Again, the likelihood of non-payment was the deciding factor in his refusal.
We stop at Holbrook for lunch. Bjorn wakes up and scrambles out into the light. He’s tall, lanky and doesn’t say much. As guitarist with Dutch duo The Anomalys, he’s suffered the unfortunate situation of being without his regular drummer for the bands’ Oz tour. Stu Tabert has stepped in as de facto drummer, despite his admission that much of his playing with Bjorn is improvised. Bjorn, meanwhile, is not interested in the 90-metre long submarine in the park, he just wants to sleep.
There’s a period after midday where no one speaks for a few hours. Andy sits at the wheel gazing into the long stretch of road ahead; the others doze, drifting in and out of sleep. Independent Australian bands do this all the time: Get in vans, drive for hours, stare monotony in the face, and try not to fall asleep.
It’s reminiscent of an obscure documentary from 1982 called Another State of Mind, which follows the then teenage members of Social Distortion and Youth Brigade as they embark on a five-week tour in a converted school bus. It’s fascinating to watch as their collective idealism and energy gradually dissipate from frustration to a vexing hatred of each other. Eleven punks in a pre-technological age can only watch as the utopian ethic of unity burns up in diesel fumes before them.
In the same time frame, Black Flag’s well-documented tour schedule made a relentless battlefield of the road. In doing so, they were instrumental in propelling their brand of independent music to an audience that would otherwise not have experienced it. And so it is for Kamikaze Trio 25 years later, as knowing heirs to that legacy, but with the luxury of air conditioning.
We pull off the Hume into a tiny outpost for fuel. It’s deathly quiet, like a scene straight out of Deliverance. Everyone buys an ice-cream. Sam picks up the driving and rather ominously asks Andy where the gearshift is. “It’s a column drive Sam,” Andy deadpans.
Onwards through the haze. Andy spots an echidna and excitedly explains what it is to Bjorn. Half an hour of dead land speeds by, then suddenly a house appears with the word JOY on the roof spelt out in Christmas lights. Someone puts on The Minutemen’s Double Nickels on the Dime album and I can’t help but think of singer/guitarist D. Boon dying in a van wreck while on tour in 1985.
“Are you gonna eat your tomatoes?” Andy asks, leaning toward my dinner plate. We’re at Tongs Kitchen above the Hopetoun Hotel in Surry Hills. In a few hours Kamikaze Trio will play downstairs, but for the time being it’s been overrun by lagered-up supporters of Sydney F.C. chanting burly anthems and carrying on. By the time Kamikaze Trio are due to play, the football fans are streaming home in their hundreds. Sydney has beaten Perth Glory 1-0. Not a single fan goes into the Hopetoun.
Snoop arrives by taxi as the support band finish up. He’s tired from work and travel and hardly looks in the mood to be on stage. The band plays an average gig. From a spectator’s perspective it’s neither outstanding nor disappointing, and afterward they show no outward signs of despondency. Still, I can’t get past the idea that driving ten hours to play eight songs to 40 people just doesn’t make any sense.
The next day starts at 6.30am, after four hours sleep. Raining. No one has showered. Andy drives via the airport to catch a 7.30 flight to Brisbane. As drummer with Spencer P. Jones’ Escape Committee he’s playing tonight at the Troubadour and on Saturday at Ric’s Bar. We say our goodbyes. Snoop takes over the driving.
I skim through I Hope They Serve Beer in Heaven, a chauvinistic non-novel detailing its authors’ sexual prowess. Snoop claims to have bought it at the airport “for something to read,” but you have to wonder. Sam picks it up and reads passages aloud.
“A band of our level is always going to be pushing shit up hill,” Snoop answers when asked how they measure their success. “We would have lost money this weekend. [But] losing money isn’t an issue, that doesn’t mean crap.”
“We’re an independent Australian band,” Sam continues. “We don’t get any national radio play. We don’t have a fanclub, we don’t have 20,000 MySpace friends [they have 685]. We’re one of the benchmarks for independent bands in Australia. This is what you do. You go up and you play.”
Everything that could go wrong for Kamikaze Trio did so in 2006, including serious hospitalisations and personal tragedies. Through these experiences their newer songs – as heard on their new EP ‘French Lick’ – have taken an angrier edge, although they still unashamedly use the word ‘grunge’ to describe their music. As if to prove it, I’m practically thrown from the van when I suggest that J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr is past his prime.
Three hours south of Sydney the rain stops and the drought begins again. Stu regularly calls for score updates on the third Ashes test in Perth. In between, he tells stories of the bands he played in – The Philistines, Hands of Time – and saw during the mid 80s and early 90s. He has an anecdote for practically every song on the Do the Pop compilation. We all listen intently like kids around a campfire. Bjorn remains in the back and hasn’t said anything except what sounds like “wallet broken” in his thick Dutch accent. He had to repeat it three times before Stu figured it out and handed him a water bottle.
Tennis courts rush by with weeds growing taller than the van; lonely memorial halls that look like their insides haven’t seen sunlight in years. Junked car bodies sit high up on hills as if they fell from the sky, while sheep so emaciated they look like vacuum-packed bags of bones seek shade in dilapidated tin shacks.
By mid afternoon we’ve crossed back over into Victoria and the clear skies are replaced by ugly grey smoke. We’re listening to Dream Syndicate’s self-titled album because it’s apparently J. Mascis’ favourite record. Sam is keen to get home and we make it back at 6pm. “It’s a really weird scenario, driving for 10 hours, doing one show and driving back,” Sam says. “I like to let the chips fall where they fall, you know. Just play it down, let it go.”