The Meanies: ‘We’re Keeping It Real’
As their 21st birthday looms, Wal and Link from The Meanies take a walk down memory lane with PATRICK EMERY, revealing the true story behind their formation and how playing with Nirvana was about as close to Beatlemania as they’ve ever gotten.
The Meanies started out like just out every other young punk rock band: a group of enthusiastic music obsessives drawn together by a common love of obscure punk rock and a desire to create fast, loud and frenetic music of their own.
By 1989 Lindsay ?Link? McLellan had already played in a few largely forgotten local bands; Adelaide-born Dennis ?DD? DePianto had moved to Melbourne, playing around town with his band Crucifixation. Link and DD decided to form a band, drafting DD’s housemate (Dave ?VB? Christopher) in to play bass. Mark ?Ringo? Hobbs answered an ad in Au Go Go Records and the band’s first incarnation was born – but not for long. Enter the precocious and affable Roderick ?Wally? Kempton, who was booking The Tote at the time, and took a shine to the snotty punk band that opened for Intoxica one Friday night in May 1989. Six months later Kempton was playing bass in The Meanies and the classic Meanies line-up was solidified.
In hindsight it’s hard to define exactly what made The Meanies different from so many of their now-forgotten contemporaries. McLellan’s manic stage demeanour could not be ignored – flailing across stage, diving into the crowd, heaving and contorting his body like a man possessed by punk rock spirits of yore. In vivid contrast Kempton and DePianto were measures of control: standing enigmatically on either side of the crowd, equally amused and worried by Link’s psychotic front-man antics. On drums Ringo provided the solid backbeat upon which all great rock’n?roll bands must rely.
Bruce Milne, then co-owner of Au Go Go Records – the label and the shopfront – offered the band a record deal. Eager to replicate the original ?60s industry marketing model, Milne convinced the band to release a series of limited-edition singles. The ploy worked, and The Meanies became a local cult sensation. Aided by some choice supports, the odd all-ages gig and a relentless local and national touring schedule, The Meanies evolved into a national independent punk rock phenomenon. When grunge brought punk rock to the fringes of the mainstream, The Meanies were ready at the waiting.
Eventually, the combination of touring, intra-band tension, alcohol and physical and mental exhaustion took its toll on McLellan, and The Meanies pulled up stumps in 1993, just as they were on the verge of something even greater. Five years later, and The Meanies were coaxed out of retirement to support Japanese band The 184.108.40.206?s. With McLellan happy to revive the band, The Meanies returned, albeit on a semi-regular basis.
Fast forward to 2008 and tragedy strikes. Original guitarist DD Meanie, who’d been replaced by former Seaweed Gorillas guitarist Tasman Blizzard, died after a short battle with cancer. Eight months later Blizzard died in a freak car accident on Melbourne’s Mornington Peninsula. Despite the double dose of tragedy, The Meanies chose to soldier on. Jordan ?Jaws? Stanley (The Onyas, Casanovas) assumed guitar duties and The Meanies re-asserted themselves as a functioning unit.
Now in 2010, The Meanies celebrate their 21st birthday. On a sunny Tuesday afternoon Patrick Emery caught up with McLellan and Kempton at St Kilda’s Esplanade Hotel (where Kempton now works as band booker) to discuss the band’s wild ride.
Thank you for your time, gentlemen.
Wally: Is that it?
Yes, pretty well. I think the story’s been told before.
Link: Ask us something different. Maybe we could go off on some tangents.
OK, if you like. But firstly, how you all meet each other originally?
Wally: [Feigns groan*] We go again. [*Laughs] It’s surprising how many times we’ve been asked that over the last two days.
You can give me a different answer if you’d like.
Link: Well, I was in Vietnam…
Wally: …doing a tour of duty. I hope she’s been alright. [Laughs] OK, I first met Link at the Queen’s Arms Hotel on St Kilda Road. I first met Ringo at the first Meanies gig. I met DD at a Tote show that Crucifixation did – the band he was in before The Meanies.
Link: A Christian goth band.
Wally: And I first met Tas at a Meanies show, and I first met Jaws at an Onyas show. There you go.
Link: I met Wally – just reverse what he said. I met DD in the toilets at the Palace. We were both having a slash and we started talking about music, we had similar interests, so we decided to get a band together. He was with a guy called Dave Christopher, who became the first bass player in The Meanies. We put an ad up at Au Go Go and Ringo answered, ah, gave us a ring.
Wally: Go, go.
Link: And the rest is history.
Wally, you were booking at The Tote at that stage?
Wally: Yeah, we didn’t really know each other before the band got together. It wasn’t like we were old school mates, or went to church together, or were in rehab together.
Link: Wally and I knew each because he booked gigs for my first couple of bands.
Wally: And I looked after his brother’s [Ross McLennan] interests as well.
Link: Wally also introduced myself to my girlfriend, who I’ve been with for 20 years. I love you man!
What was the first Meanies gig?
Wally: Technically it was The Tote, Friday May 19, 1989, supporting The Dead Beasts and Intoxica.
Link: What time?
Wally: You would have been on about 9.30-9.50pm, the sound-check would have been at six o’clock and it would have been six bucks to get in and there were approximately 137 payers.
Were they still serving meals at The Tote in those days?
Wally: Yeah, but [looking at Link] you wouldn’t have got one.
Link: What was the rider?
Wally: The rider would probably have been eight pots or half a dozen cans.
Link: And who was number 16 for Carlton in 1981?
Wally: Jimmy Buckley. [Link laughs in admiration] I’m not Rain Man!
?When you’re drunk you don’t really care. And when you’re extremely drunk, you extremely don’t care.?
And what was the setlist?
Wally: The setlist was short and sweet. I remember Link putting the foldback monitor to his ear like a ghetto blaster because he couldn’t hear properly and throwing it into the crowd. I remember Link abusing people in suits, not realising that they were the headline act, Intoxica – making friends and influencing people. I thought, ?I want to manage these guys.?
Link: You saw the potential.
Wally: Then six months later I thrust myself into the bass playing position when the bass player left.
In those days was it easier to get a gig than it is now?
Wally: Apparently – we had this discussion yesterday. It seemed easy, but maybe that’s because of the line of work I was already in. I was already booking The Tote. After a while I started organising shows for bands coming from interstate, so I became a booking agent.
Link: Was that Cheersquad?
Wally: No, it was Big Tubby Productions. I was the chubby booker. [Laughs] I don’t know that it was easier to get gigs. Link reckons it was, but maybe that’s because there were less bands.
Was there a sharp divide between the mainstream and the independent scene?
Wally: Oh yeah. It was massive.
Link: These days it’s no so removed. There’s no rules, no demarcation.
Was it [Au Go Go owner] Bruce Milne’s decision that The Meanies only release singles in the band’s early days?
Wally: Totally. We were his puppets.
Did you ever think, ?Why are we doing this??, or did you not care at all?
Wally: No. We just ran with it. Especially because we were just happy someone wanted to put Meanies records out. We just went in and recorded 16 Meanies songs and gave it to Bruce and said, ?Here’s our album, Bruce. Do what you will with it.? And he said, ?No, I’ve got this other idea.? And we said, ?Oh, well, whatever.? So Link drew up four different covers.
Link: Some of those covers were shite. I was looking at them the other day. A couple of them were printed in negative, which wasn’t a very good idea.
Link, did you put a lot of thought into the cover art for the singles?
Link: No, not at all.
Not even a vague thematic element?
Link: Well, not much. They were very clumsy and very 19-year-old.
Wally: Clumsian? You’ve created a new art movement. I like that. [Laughs]
Were you dabbling in the visual – Clumsian – arts around that time?
Link: Oh, I suppose you draw the Kiss make-up, try and do the logo – which wasn’t very good. I suppose I was noodling, but I wouldn’t call myself an artist. It was more out of necessity than anything.
Wally: [Sings] When you fall in love…
…when you started doing all-ages gigs were you deliberately trying to tap into the underage gig market?
Wally: No, it was a case of right place, right time. There was no thought to it. It was like, ?That worked, let’s do it again.? Nursery Crimes were doing it then as well. The first time we played an all-ages gig Nursery Crimes were headlining. We gave away a 7? single and couldn’t believe there were 750 payers at the Corner Hotel on a Saturday afternoon.
Actually, I’ll tell you who started it – it was Booger and the Ripvian Mob. They came to our launch for our first single. They got there just before we played, which was really surprising for them, ?cause they used to get there early to see all the bands. We asked them where they’d been, and they said they’d done a gig at Croydon. I was like, ?Croydon? What gig is there in Croydon?? And they said the soccer club had bands every month, and suggested we do one. So we organised one – the PA kept cutting out – so that’s what really started it. We realised these kids knew about us, so that’s when we organised that gig at the Corner.
Link: I seem to remember one of the guys connected with the Booger crew saying at one of those gigs that we were jaded.
Wally: Already! Two singles, and you guys are already over it! [Laughs]
So how did you end up playing on the Nirvana tour in 1992?
Wally: Steve Pav, now of Modular, was a promoter back in those days. He brought Mudhoney out in 1989 and that went really well, so he got the taste for it. That went so well, so his connections grew. And Nirvana was on his list.
Link: Just before they broke it.
Wally: Pav booked all these small venues and then Nevermind came out and it went ballistic. Pav had given us a lot of support early on, and had been our agent, so it was a natural thing for him to do. He gave Tumbleweed some of the shows, he gave us some of the shows, Hummingbirds, Welcome Mat, Bored! A lot of us had a shot playing with Nirvana.
Link: A good man.
Wally: We did four shows – Phoenician Club in Sydney, Big Day Out, Thebarton Theatre in Adelaide and an all-ages show.
What was it like on that tour?
Wally: It was great.
Link: Kurt was pretty sick at the time, so he wasn’t really on top of his game. I hadn’t been really sold on them at that stage, and I got into Nirvana a bit after that.
Wally: It was a good experience. It was like, ?Fuck, this is mayhem.? It was the closest thing to Beatlemania that I’ll ever get to. But Kurt was pretty crook – he didn’t say much to me. I think he grunted at me when I walked past him backstage at Thebbie [Thebarton] Theatre. And Courtney fucking Love was there too. Grohl and Novoselic were really nice and have been subsequently. Decent geezers.
Link, can I ask you about your very active stage demeanour. Firstly, why? And secondly, was there a point when you realised you were in danger of seriously hurting yourself?
Link: I always knew I was running the risk of hurting myself, but when you’re drunk you don’t really care. And when you’re extremely drunk, you extremely don’t care.
Wally: You were more Clumsian then.
Link: It was always hard with that thing because you get know for a certain stage show. Particularly on a really long tour you can’t really be arsed but you have to. So I guess in the old days some of the shows were really forced because there was something to live up to. But fuck that shit – we don’t play that often these days so it’s more fun.
Wally: And less chance he’ll hurt himself. And it takes four or five days to recover.
Link: It took me a month after our last Sydney show.
Did you feel you were forced to behave on stage in a certain way to meet the audience’s expectations?
Link: There was probably a few times when that was the go, but mostly that was an adrenalin thing because I was so unfit. For the most part it was just trying to rev myself up a bit.
I was watching the DVD documentary [Sorry ?bout the Violence] last night, that features the incident at the Duke of Windsor when, after Link had removed his torn trousers, a guy in the crowd got up and snotted him. What’s your reaction when a guy gets up on the stage and thumps you?
Link: My initial reaction was to beat the shit out of him. Once I picked myself up I couldn’t actually get to him because there was a wall of people around him just punching him. I think I ended up just trying to calm people down.
Wally: You did – and you were naked at the time.
What did you think Wally?
Wally: I was fucking horrified. I grabbed him by the collar and said, ?What the fuck do you think you’re doing?? and then threw him back into the crowd. I threw my bass off and chased after him. I had him up against the back wall and said, ?That was a fucking ridiculous thing to do?, and then all of a sudden fists start flying over the top of me hitting him, and thought I better get out of there.
Link: A few people got a shot in.
Wally: The publican got a shot in. The publican was trying to protect him, and then he took a shot at the publican so the publican started hitting him.
Link: I heard he carried on a lot more later on and got really worked over by security.
Wally: He was banned from the pub, but the next time I was there with Even he was there at the bar. I told the manager we wouldn’t go on until he was taken out, so he was removed.
Link: I went up to him later on and said, ?What the fuck did you do that for?? and he said, ?You were naked!?, as if that was some sort of excuse.
What was the catalyst for retiring the band in the mid 1990s?
Link: I was mentally unhealthy at that time – too much drinking and what not. Just losing the plot, basically, very anxious and couldn’t do it anymore.
Wally: That’s it in a nutshell.
Wally, were you surprised when Link said he wanted to stop?
Wally: I was disappointed, but understanding. If he didn’t want to do it, he didn’t want to do it.
Link: I do feel bad about it, more so because there were a lot of people involved with the band, and not just me.
Wally: The thing is, when we got home from that last tour I went about cancelling everything, taking money out of the account and giving it to everyone, money that we’d been saving for the next record, ringing up bands in Spain and saying, ?You know that split 7?? Probably not worthwhile anymore? – things like that. It was a bummer – there was a lot of stuff on tape, and we were on the verge. But being on the verge, we would’ve been playing a lot more which would’ve sent Link round the fucking twist.
Had playing become a chore by that time?
Wally: Not for me, but in hindsight towards the end it was becoming a massive chore for Mr McLennan here.
Link: And DD had pretty much left the band by the last show, by the way he was talking, although he didn’t say it.
When you decided to play again in 1998 it was just to play that 220.127.116.11?s show?
Wally: That was all it was. In fact, I was totally surprised when Link said, ?Yeah, let’s do it.? Everyone was up for it, and it was fucking awesome. As a result of that show we got offered the Meredith slot, the headline slot on Saturday night for that year, and that went really well. I think that went to our head, so we said, ?Let’s just keep going.?
So Link, what had happened in the interim with you that made you prepared to have the band playing again on a semi-permanent basis?
Link: I don’t know why, but I was going off the twist with The Tomorrow People, and losing the plot there as well.
Wally: Maybe it was familiarity.
Link: Yeah, maybe. It’s amazing the capacity of the human mind to forget negative moments.
Wally: Plus, with all respect to DD, he wasn’t in the new incarnation.
Link: There’s more than element that went into us breaking up. There was frustration at certain members? musical shortcomings. I was ready to move on and do different stuff, but having said that, I didn’t really get another band together for another couple of years and I was driving my partner insane. She was begging me to get another band together! I’d written an entire album, scrapped it, and was wallowing in my own self-pity. And I was naked for that entire time, living in a sandpit.
Wally: It was a protest.
A couple of years ago you had the tragic events of DD and Tas’s deaths in relatively quick succession. At the risk of asking you the bleeding obvious, how difficult was it to play that gig at The Tote shortly after Tas’s death?
Wally: It was a bit weird. We’d had a gig in Geelong around the same time and that became the Tas memorial show. It was weird, but it didn’t feel appropriate to cancel because we already had Jaws [Jordan Stanley] in the band, because Tas had gone overseas to dry out. We had a few gigs booked and rather than cancel those gigs we got Jaws to fill in. So when Tas came home we became a five-piece. After Tas moved on we became a four-piece again.
Did you contemplate drawing a line under the band’s career after Tas’s death?
Wally: I didn’t, but Ringo did.
Link: I didn’t at all.
Wally: Ringo was ready to pull the pin. Two people that he felt close to had left him in the space of eight months.
Link: It was traumatic and everything, but I didn’t contemplate stopping the band. Particularly with the guitarist’s role in the band, given that it had fluctuated and changed so much. With all respect to Tas, I think it’d be different if Wally or Ringo died – that’d make things very hard.
Wally: And if Lindsay left us, it’d make things impossible.
Link: I think you’d do fine.
Do you think you’ll release more new material?
Link: We intend to. I don’t know whether we’ll just do internet singles or something. But we are doing a covers album.
What about the project you started a couple of years ago with local bands covering Meanies tracks?
Link: That’s going to be a part of this too, because we didn’t finish the series. We’re going to get those bands and put them on one CD, and have another CD with us covering Australian bands, bands that we used to play with or bands that influenced us.
Wally: It’s going to be grouse.
So what tracks are you going to cover?
Link: There’s some Saints, X, Splatterheads, Bored!, Exploding White Mice, Hard-Ons, Powder Monkeys, Freeloaders, Victims, Throwaways, Cosmic Psychos – all your favourites.
Didn’t you have some new material already written and recorded about the time you broke up originally?
Wally: What happened was that in 1995 Link had all these demos on tape, about 20 songs and we were saving money to record them and then we stopped. So when we got back together in 1998 we thought maybe we should record those songs, but they were really fucking good. Gavin Purdy, who was managing us at the time, said his friend Shane O’Mara had just built a studio in his backyard and could use us as guinea pigs. So we ended up with all these great songs recorded really nicely. And no one wanted to put them out, because apparently they sounded different to our other material.
So Richie Ramone put half a dozen of them out on an EP on Full Toss Records, Munster Records put six of them out on an EP, and we had this idea of putting the rest out on a series of 7?s over here with covers on the B-sides. We put two of them out, and Bruce doesn’t want to put another one out at the moment because he hasn’t got any money after The Tote [debacle](/articles/3847100). But I’d like to keep putting the singles out.
Link: I’d like to record more new stuff.
Wally: I’ve forgotten what we’ve got lying around. You Am I just have to finish off their cover of ?Never? and we’ve got another single there, Digger and the Pussycats did a great version of ?Gangrenous?, Glenn Richards from Augie March did a stonker version of ?Goodbye Man? from our first album. There’s stuff lying around all over the place – it’s just time and money to get it out. Now we’ve got some help with publicity, maybe we can do a bit more.
Link: Which was been a bit of a problem since we got back together, because I wasn’t very forthcoming with my availability for lots of shows, so Wally didn’t have a lot to work with in terms of promoting the band, because I didn’t want to do too much. But things are picking up now.
So when you started out in 1989, where did you see yourself in 20 years? time?
Link: Columbian drug dealer.
Wally: Clumsian art dealer. [Laughs]
Link: I thought I’d have life on a string by this stage.
Wally: I didn’t have a fucking clue what I’d be doing by this stage. I still don’t. I don’t know what I’ll be doing when I’m 60.
Link: If you had have told me when I was 20 years old that one day I’d taste human flesh, I’d have said, ?No way!?
Wally: The only reason we’re doing this now is because it’s fun, which is why we did it in the first place.
Link: [Adopts wearied LA accent] We’ve come full circle, man.
Wally: [Adopts same accent] We’ve got to just keep rollin?, y’know.
Link: We’re keeping it real.
Wally: We’re more relevant now than we ever were.
The Meanies will celebrate 21 years at The Hi-Fi Bar in Melbourne on June 19. Supports by ?Jam, Kit and Wanet?, Wicked City and Money For Rope. Tickets: $20 plus booking fees from the Hi-Fi [box office](http://www.thehifi.com.au/events/the-meanies-7749/).