The Hummingbirds Reunion: ?It?s A One-Shot
Sydney’s greatest indie-pop band The Hummingbirds are reforming for their first show in 17 years – but whether it sparks a full-scale comeback remains to be seen, singer Simon Holmes tells DARREN LEVIN*. Photo by *TONY MOTT.
The confirmation that Sydney pop icons The Hummingbirds had reformed for next year’s Big Day Out was a real blink-and-you’d-miss-it moment. The band was merely a footnote in the event’s second round, buried among a clutch of local additions, including Amy Meredith, Boy & Bear and Parades. It was hardly the fanfare you’d expect for a seminal act reforming after 17 years, but as singer Simon Holmes told M+N, the announcement took him by surprise as well.
?This has only been a reality for eight days now,? he said late last week. ?We got a call last Thursday [November 25] from someone we know who works at the Big Day Out. I think it was at 12.15pm, and we needed to let them know at 12.30, because they were putting a press release out. It’s not something that’s been a reality for us much longer than anyone else at this point.?
Formed from the ashes of Bug Eyed Monsters in 1986, The Hummingbirds released a clutch of singles before signing with rooART for their 1989 debut, loveBUZZ*. Relationships with rooART broke down after the release of the band’s difficult second album, *va va voom, and the band quickly imploded after shifting to independent label IV Recordings for two EPs.
Ahead of the band’s return to the stage for the first time since 1993, Holmes took time out from a work Christmas party to discuss the band’s legacy and future plans. For now, he’s describing the gig as a one-shot, but hasn’t closed the door on future performances just yet.
?I want to approach this gig as if it’s the last time we’ll play. I know I’ll put more effort into making it more special if I almost do a Jedi mind trick on myself, and persuade myself that that was going to be the case. It raises the stakes in a good way.?
Have you had offers to play shows before?
Oh, yeah. The offers have been coming on a continued basis for a while now, and with more and more frequency in the past year or two. We’ve always had discussions about it, but we could never come to an agreement on whether or not we really wanted to do it. But somehow the planets aligned last week, and the majority felt it was a good idea and we should pursue it, so we said ?yes?.
Do you remember the last time you played at the Big Day Out?
Well, we did play the Big Day Out in 1993 or something like that – it was one of the early ones. It was some time ago. It does feel like full circle though.
?The whole rooART experience was virtually, in every way, a positive experience for us, but it did become a soap opera.?
What’s sparked the renewed interest in the band?
I don’t know to be honest with you. From my perspective, it’s something that has come up with more and more frequency; it’s something that people want to talk to me about over the past couple years. There might be an expectation from people of bands getting back together – it’s something that a lot of people do – but beyond that I’m not entirely sure. When I think about how many people we would’ve played in front of at the time we were playing, it’d probably add up to a very substantial number.
I guess it fits in well with the ?90s revival that’s happening at the moment too.
Yeah, there’s probably an element of that. I think music is fashion to some degree, so there’s cycles that nobody really understands how they work.
So this will be your first show in?
? 17 years! [Laughs]
What’s everyone been doing in the interim?
We’ve all been doing various musical things, pretty much continuously, since then. Me, personally, I’m mainly involved in the Aerial Maps. We’re finishing an album in the next week or so, which will come out on [Melbourne label] Popboomerang next year. It’s called The Sunset Park. It’s a story in 12 musical chapters. I’m very excited about it. I’ve been playing in other bands, producing people, doing all kinds of stuff. I’m a lifer really. I like to make records, I like to play gigs – that’s what makes me happiest of all, apart from the family stuff. I’m going to keep on doing it.
Why’s the band been on hold for so many years?
When the band broke up it had to be that way at that moment in time. We had been through a fairly intense experience in a fairly short period of time. Once you lose the vibe, it’s hard to get it back. There’s a certain amount of collective willpower that’s involved in a band continuing to exist, and when you reach that tipping point when you’re not so certain it’s worthwhile, it’s very difficult to turn it around.
Was leaving rooART the catalyst for the break-up?
It would’ve been part of it, I think. The whole rooART experience was virtually, in every way, a positive experience for us, but it did become a soap opera. I don’t know if everybody’s expectations of the experience were aligned completely. When we left rooART, that’s because we wanted to be leave rooART. We asked to be released from our contracts, because we weren’t happy with how we were perceived by the record company in terms of what we wanted to do – When we started out on Phantom, I was very big on this whole Smiths or Beatles idea of putting out a new single every three months, putting new stuff out all the time: bang, bang bang. It was an exciting thing to do, but when you start working with a multi-national it becomes, ?You have to work the album for 18 months, and then you’ve got to wait another six months before working on the next record.? I wasn’t interested in having an album come out every two to three years, I wanted stuff to come out all the time. I don’t think a multinational was ready for that concept.
loveBUZZ recently came in at #65 on the list of [?The 100 Best Australian Albums?](/news/4103065). What was your reaction to that?
I was flattered to be included. I could either tell you that I thought we should be higher or lower, but just to be in there is very flattering, I have to say. I like the idea of going into the studio with nothing and coming out with something you’ve created; a piece of art. I’m very big on the idea of the album, which may or may not be a disappearing proposition. I like the experience of going from the beginning to the end of an album. I was always concerned with creating that type of experience.
Did you have any idea you were making a special album?
I was ready to make it. I had done my homework, and by the time we started making it, I knew what we wanted to do. My line on this is always that bands? first albums are usually about how good it is to be in a band, and how great it is to be playing gigs and travelling around the world; and the second album is always about how terrible it is to be in a band. [Laughs*] And that’s what we kinda did. Out first album [*loveBUZZ*] is optimistic. It’s sad, but uplifting, whereas our second album [*va va voom] is sad and not particularly uplifting. Personally, I prefer the second album, but I understand it’s a difficult listen relatively speaking. It’s a fairly depressed record. You don’t realise that when you make records, you are expressing how you feel at the time. It does come out of the speakers in the final analysis.
Do you think that’s the reason why those records resonated with so many people?
I hope so – I was always trying to write songs that everybody could relate to by keeping the songs as simple as possible, and talking about how you’re feeling. I know it sounds trite, but it’s not as easy to do as one would imagine. There’s a directness to it.
Will the set-list be drawn predominantly from loveBUZZ?
I think so. We’re doing a 45-minute set. My perception of it is it’s pretty much a ?wham, bam, thank you ma’am? proposition. I think people would like to hear the songs they know most of all, which are presumably the singles. There are a few songs that I want to play as a personal matter, which may not be quite so high profile in our repertoire, but beyond that there’ll be songs people would know. Apart from that, we’ve played those songs more than the others, so they’ll be easier to re-learn.
I guess that’s the thing about reunion shows – you have to pander to nostalgia.
I accept it completely. This is a trip back in time. We want it to be a celebration of what we were about when we were about, and we want to recreate being about for 45 minutes in time. I think the thing to do is to play the songs that are going to make people the happiest.
Have you got back into the rehearsal studio again?
We haven’t yet. We’re planning to have our first bash next week, and we’ll be doing it on a continuous basis until the show. It’s a one-shot, that’s the thing. It makes it kind of interesting to prepare for. We’re not saying that we’re not going to do more, but we’re not contemplating doing anything else, until we’ve done this show. We’ll see how this experience is for people and we’ll take it from there.
Who’s actually in the band now?
Right now, it’s certainly myself and Lani [Allanah Russack, vocals/guitar] and Mark [Temple] on drums. Shane [Melder], the second drummer, is going to get up and do one song. As far as the bass player position is concerned, we’re not entirely sure right now. We do know that it’s going to be somebody that has played bass with The Hummingbirds, but beyond that I can’t really be precise. I think we’ll know within the next week or so.
Any chance of coming to Melbourne?
All bets are off until after the show. If we have a good experience and everyone enjoys it, and it’s completely positive, there’s every chance we’d be up for more activity. Fingers crossed.
####The Hummingbirds play the second leg of the Sydney Big Day Out on Thursday, January 27. Tickets still available [here](http://www.bigdayout.com/sydney.php).