Licks From ?96
Brisbane indie pop heroes Screamfeeder will reprise their 1996 album ‘Kitten Licks’ in its entirety in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane over the next couple months. Ahead of their opening show at Brisbane’s Troubadour on Saturday, ANDREW MCMILLEN visited their Brisbane rehearsal space to discuss their inspiration, integrity and how best to proverbially shoot oneself in the foot.
Screamfeeder emerged from Brisbane in 1991 to find that distorted pop resonated with that era’s burgeoning rock scene. However, despite a loyal following and increasing radio exposure, they “never caught fire commercially”, as Andrew Stafford wrote in his 2004 chronicle of Brisbane’s music scene Pig City.
The trio produced wildly varied albums over 12 years and their consistent desire to push musical boundaries has made an indelible mark on Australia’s rock’n?roll landscape. Though they never broke up, the turn of the decade found the band relegating themselves to the sidelines, following 2003’s Take You Apart. Guitarist and singer Tim Steward released a solo album, formed a new band (We All Want To) and collaborated with drummer Dean Shwereb in The Whats, while bassist and co-vocalist Kellie Lloyd trialled Warm Guns and The White Mansions betwixt video production and an ongoing contribution to the Queensland music industry. The band have played only a handful of shows in the last five years, owing more to busy schedules than dislodged friendships.
Like fellow ?90s comeback kings [Knievel](http://www.messandnoise.com/articles/3580370) and [Big Heavy Stuff](http://www.messandnoise.com/articles/3577612), 2009 finds Screamfeeder returning to the national stage. In May, the band will play their fifth album, Kitten Licks*, in full across five capital cities. It’s a tour in the style of the Don’t Look Back concert series curated by London promoters All Tomorrow’s Parties, but in faith to the band’s DIY ethic, they’ve self-booked and self-promoted the shows. Released in 1996, fan favourite *Kitten Licks found Shwereb settle in behind the kit for the first time.
How did the idea to revisit Kitten Licks come about?
Kellie Lloyd: I went around to Tim’s place all excited about the idea of a tour in the style of Don’t Look Back. We discussed trying to get sponsorship from the guys who run it, to be affiliated with their idea, but then we thought we’d do it ourselves. We thought about doing a double-header performance with Magic Dirt?
Tim Steward: But they didn’t get back to us! So we started booking venues and decided to re-release the album. We got Midget on board for the tour. They were a fellow three-piece kicking around Brisbane at the time. As soon as we started booking the tour, the enthusiasm has really blown us away. It was originally going to be just Brisbane and Sydney, but now we’re doing Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth as well.
K: We’ve still toured consistently in different bands up until this point, though we’ve only done a couple of shows in the last few years as Screamfeeder. Kitten Licks is an album that a lot of people have commented on over the years, even still. It’s usually the fan favourite.
T: It seems to me that people who heard it when they were young can now stand back and remember that time in their lives, when the album was released.
K: For Screamfeeder and the wider Australian music scene, it was a time when the scene started to come together. It was part of a time and place.
So you’re trying to recapture that time and place?
K: Reliving our youth, now that we’re old and broken and achy. No, I just wanted to tour again. I wanted to play as Screamfeeder. We’d been talking in the last couple of years that we should start writing together again. Time just went by and we were all busy doing our own thing, and then earlier this year, the Kitten Licks idea was raised. My hope was that the idea would be a catalyst to get back into a routine of rehearsing old stuff, then jamming, writing and eventually touring. That hasn’t happened yet. Hopefully after this tour, we’ll get back into it!
How does the current Brisbane scene compare to the one in which Screamfeeder grew up?
T: It was relatively disorganised, loose and somewhat chaotic during that time. You didn’t have to book a venue four months in advance like you do now.
K: It really has changed. There’s so many legalities associated now; it’s much more of a business. When booking shows now, you’ve basically got to ask for a date and approach them with a confirmed line-up.
T: It’s more formal. You feel like you’ve got to play by the rules. There were less licensed venues in Brisbane when we started, remember?
K: No, I don’t remember. I was too drunk.
T: We used to just call up a place and say, ?Can we have a gig?.? They’d call us back five minutes later and say, ?Right, you’re on Friday night.?
K: Telephones! You had to call people. Not like today, where you can email venues and book a tour in half-an-hour.
T: The Brisbane audience these days are a bit spoiled for choice. Maybe they’re a bit apathetic and jaded toward music as a whole.
K: I don’t agree. There’s always young kids who are experiencing these new bands, who are looking back for the artists who influence those bands’ sound. They’re generally seeing their peers and friends rehashing the ideas that they might have heard their older siblings play. I’ve noticed a pattern, where present artists are listening to what happened 20 years ago, though that window is probably getting smaller. All the bands that we really liked – look at H’sker D? – they originally emulated The Byrds, and those ?60s-style bands. And then you had The Stems, who were taking stuff from the ?60s and doing it with a modern twist.
We never chose a sound and stuck with it, we never let a sound define us. We tended to defy people’s expectations, and probably shot ourselves in the foot a billion times over. But to use a cliche – having integrity allowed us to sleep at night.
I suppose that in doing this tour yourself, you’re the guinea pigs for other bands from the same era who may want to run with a similar idea.
T: Totally. When trying to book support bands for the tour, we went through every ?90s Australian band we could think of – Violentine, Moler, loads of bands – who said they’d love to do it, but the only one to commit were Midget, who confirmed late. We got to the stage where we were desperately unable to find support bands. Thankfully, we’ve managed to book strong line-ups in all of the cities, but the result isn’t what we originally had in mind.
K: We originally thought it’d be cool to have all ?90s bands on the line-ups, but most of them have split up by now – they’ve all moved apart and had kids. But we still live in the same neighbourhood and see each other often, so we’re all quite close together.
What are your goals for the tour?
T: We’re re-releasing Kitten Licks with extra b-sides, so I’d like to sell a lot of copies of that, to get people to hear it. It’s not like we’re trying to break through to a new generation or anything ambitious like that, but more that we want to get out there and rock out, have a good time, and kick a bit of arse.
K: My goal is to reignite our passion to play together again. Because we’ve only played three shows in the last couple of years, two of which were with Dean behind the kit [Steph Hughes filled in for Shwereb for their 2007 Pig City performance]. We never broke up, so we’re not calling it a reunion. We just want to play; we always did and I really miss it. I just want to go on tour and play and have fun.
T: We used to tour six or eight or ten times a year, so it was just part of the yearly routine to tour. It was very easy and natural for us to do.
K: We haven’t all been sitting around not doing anything. We’ve been really busy actually.
T: It’s been weird, because as soon as we come back together and practise, it’s just – click – instantly mega-easy.
I’m guessing you haven’t played some of these songs for a long time.
T: Yeah, some it’s been like 10years. Some of them are easy and we just fall back into it. Others find us looking at each other and asking, “How does that go??, and then trying to work it out. Some parts feel unfamiliar, so there’s an element of improvisation.
K: On the flipside to that – because I was always the person who forgot everything, I have the worst memory when it comes to songs – and now, I rarely make mistakes. When we started rehearsing to do these songs, I just relied on my muscle memory. My hands just knew where to go. That’s been really cool and really fun. Going back to songs like ?Gravity?, it’s just hilarious.
T: I was really daunted in the beginning and I thought, “Oh no, this is going to be a nightmare?, but it’s actually pretty easy. There’s only 12 songs on the album.
Are there any songs on Kitten Licks that are you aren’t too fond of in retrospect?
T: It’s been so long that it’s fine. Sometimes when you record an album and you go on tour, some of the songs you get sick of really quickly and you drop them. But with this one, there’s no songs that we’ve got a problem with at all. It’s kind of a novelty really: “Wow, we wrote this!”
K: We listened to the album together just before we started rehearsing – the re-released version, which has extra b-sides – after the album finished, the b-sides came on and I was just shocked.
T: Kellie hasn’t listened to the album’s b-sides since we recorded them.
K: It’s really weird to hear yourself singing and playing music that you’d completely forgotten. Some of the songs aren’t representative of what we’d write now. They’re clearly from a different time.
The album came out 13 years ago. Would you say that your songwriting was juvenile at the time, compared to now?
K: Still juvenile! No, we were obviously incredibly mature…
T: We were writing and practicing every night at that point and everything we came up with, we made into a song. So someone would come up with a riff, and then an hour later, we’d have built it into a song.
K: I doubt whether many people have listened to the album’s b-sides over the years. They’re b-sides for a reason. But usually there’s a couple of corkers that you soon wish had made the cut.
T: We thought that if we played the album in full, and then did half a dozen b-sides that no-one knows at the end, it’d kinda kill the show. So we’re gonna do the album, two b-sides, then a few more recent singles.
Are you aiming for a faithful recreation of Kitten Licks, or just an approximation?
K: We’re definitely going for a faithful rendition – even down to the between-song drum fills, the piano part at the end of ‘Ant’, the saxophone solo in ‘Pigtails On A Rock’ and purring kitten sound at the start of ‘Explode Your Friends’.
T: We’re even dodging the alternate endings that we’d done for a few of the songs while on tour, to play the songs as they were recorded. We tended to blaze through the first three tracks from the album in sequence when playing live anyway. We didn’t even write them on the setlist, it’d just be ?the big three?: ?Static?, ?Bridge Over Nothing?, ?Dart?.
Lots of formerly popular rock acts have been reforming lately, which often prompts a discussion of whether an act is ?past it?.
T: That’s the concept that I’ve been wrestling with a little.
K: I hadn’t considered that. I don’t feel that way. We never broke up, so it’s not a reformation. We’re not doing it for the money.
T: We’re probably gonna lose money, actually.
K: Just like old times!
T: We’re doing it for the right reasons, we think.
K: We’ve always had enough integrity to never have to second-guess anything we’ve done.
T: It’s not like we’ve put out three shit albums at the end of our career or anything like that.
K: Well that’s debatable! I’m sure there’s someone out there who thinks that way. And we haven’t reached the end of our career yet!
You’ve never questioned your integrity?
K: Maybe I’m blowing our own horn, but I figured that we were always humble.
T: We were never big.
K: None of us ever really wished to be big, it was never the goal. We didn’t want to be ?rock stars?. And I think we share that with a lot of Australian bands who started in the early ?90s; a love of music and the chaos of it all. I don’t know anyone in a band at that time who was thinking they were going to be a big ?rock star?.
T: I didn’t know anyone in a band at that time who was employed! It was a real punk scene, basically.
K: We’ve always taken that punk ethic into our music. Integrity has to be a part of that. We’ve only ever made the music that we wanted to make; we never had to bow to anyone who was giving us money to make a record. We always chose not to make the same record twice, and that was probably to our detriment. [Third album] Fill Yourself With Music* was a huge departure from the album before it [*Burn Out Your Name*], and then *Kitten Licks was different again. That’s another thing that kept us humble: we never chose a sound and stuck with it, we never let a sound define us. We tended to defy people’s expectations, and probably shot ourselves in the foot a billion times over. But to use a cliche – having integrity allowed us to sleep at night.
So your expectations for the announcement have been met?
T: More than met! It really snowballed straight away.
K: We asked a couple of people to write liner notes for the album re-release: Steve Bell [editor of Time Off*, Brisbane street press] and Andrew Stafford [author of *Pig City: From The Saints To Savage Garden*]. What they both wrote was amazing; Stafford was texting me while he listened to the album. “This is amazing, I’m really loving listening to it again!” A girl that I work with fell in love with her partner at the time of *Kitten Licks‘ release, so that was their soundtrack that they bonded over. It was a great album to write, record and tour.
T: It was all really positive and great. There’s no bad memories here, for any of us.
If the tour goes well, would you consider revisiting other Screamfeeder albums?
K: I’d love to, though I don’t think we’d be able to do to [second album] Burn Out Your Name*, because Tim wouldn’t be able to sing in that range anymore. [Sixth album] *Rocks On The Soul would be good to do, maybe if we roped in a few friends to recreate back-up noises. Maybe we’ll just turn into a novelty band.
T: Maybe we already are one!
SCREAMFEEDER REPRISE ?KITTEN LICKS?
Saturday, May 9
The Troubadour, Brisbane, QLD
w/Midget + The Butcher Birds
Saturday, May 30
The Annandale, Sydney, NSW
w/Midget + Further + The Magnetic Heads + Richard In Your Mind + Grand Fatal + OxMusic
Friday, June 5
Edinburgh Castle Hotel, Adelaide, SA
w/No Through Road + Suzanne Grae & The Katies
Saturday, June 27
The East Brunswick Club, Melbourne, VIC
w/Midget + Sounds Like Sunset
Saturday, July 4
Amplifier Bar, Perth, WA