Dig It Up!: ‘A Dream Come True For The Gurus’
News posted Wednesday, April 4 2012 at 09:00 AM.
Related: Hoodoo Gurus, Dig It Up.
Brad Shepherd from The Hoodoo Gurus talks to AARON CURRAN about the upcoming Dig It Up! Invitational in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide and Brisbane. Headlined and curated by the Hoodoo Gurus to celebrate the 30th anniversary of debut single ‘Leilani’ it'll feature The Sonics, Red Kross, The 5 6 7 8’s, and The Fleshtones, as well as local favourites Died Pretty, Kim Salmon, Spencer P Jones, The Hard-Ons, Royal Headache and a “mystery act” in Sydney.
Whose idea was it to stage the Dig It Up! shows?
The lion’s share of the idea is Tim Pittman’s of [promoter] Feel Presents, he came to us. The band had been looking for a way to honour our 30th anniversary in some capacity but we hadn’t come up with the right concept until Tim starting talking to us. The original idea was just to do the one big show in Sydney but then with our input we beefed up the concept to include some other capital cities across the country.
Sydney gets the biggest line-up but there we were lucky, because a bunch of venues along Enmore Road decided to come to the party and Newtown City Council was fairly amenable to the event, which wasn’t the case in some of the other cities. We really wanted to take the entire festival on the road with us. Melbourne and Perth still get pretty big shows but we just couldn’t find suitable venues in Brisbane or Adelaide for the full thing unfortunately. Do we get points for trying anyway? [Laughs]
Let’s talk about a few of the bands on the bill. I can imagine the Gurus had some long and fruitful discussions with Tim about the kind of acts you were after for the Dig It Up! festival?
Yes that’s certainly true, that’s the key area the band worked on – the curating side of things - by providing Tim with a long wishlist of acts that we’d be eager to have alongside us.
Can you tell us about a couple of the acts that you’re most excited to have secured?
Where do I start? The whole line-up is like a dream come true for the Gurus. I’m really excited to see The Sonics, who I’ve never seen before. I’m always thrilled, but a little bit scared, to play alongside The Fleshtones and Red Kross: scared because they’re quite capable of blowing us offstage, they just take no prisoners when it comes to their live shows. You can’t even compete with them on their own level, so the rest of us will just have to find our own way to play to par on the day.
Steve Wynn from The Dream Syndicate is coming out to join us and he’s a dear old friend. Dave and I were massive fans of The Dream Syndicate in the early ’80s and we are fortunate that Steve could join us for Dig It Up! The Died Pretty are also dear friends and don’t often perform these days, so it’s exciting that Ron [Peno], Brett [Myers] and the gang are along for the ride in Sydney and Melbourne. What Died Pretty do is completely unique. On some occasions when I have seen them live, I would feel like I was having a genuine out-of-body experience watching them, which is something that very few bands have ever made me feel.
I notice you’ve asked Deniz Tek and Rob Younger to play on the Sydney bill.
Of course, those guys are deeply influential on various members of the Hoodoo Gurus, if not the entire Australian music industry.
I helped curate an exhibition of Radio Birdman memorabilia a few years back and one task I had was to go through all of the band’s fan-mail from the 1970s. In the pile was a letter from a Brisbane teenager who signed off as Brad “Bullet” Shepherd.
That was me. Bullet became my nickname at school after I cut off all my long hair in true punk fashion, while everyone else still had flowing locks. In stark contrast I had a streamlined, bullet-shaped head. I took the name on as a badge of honour, though I think the intention was that it was an insult! That Birdman exhibition was down in Double Bay, right? I went along to that. I’m glad that my fan letter to them is still kicking around, I remember writing it to them in my very best copy-book handwriting, like the dutiful schoolboy I was.
Now, in your letter I remember you begging to buy a copy of the sold-out Burn My Eye EP from the band.
Indeed, that was the main thrust of my missive. And it failed!
Did you ever find a copy?
I did, I tracked one down in the early ’90s at Au Go Go Records in Melbourne, which I paid $100 for, from memory. And I was very happy to part with the money. [Laughs]
The reason I’m asking about all this Birdman stuff is that it seems to me that when Le Hoodoo Gurus first started up, the band took a lot of the energy and passion of Radio Birdman and punk but combined that with a lurid, fun, trash-pop aesthetic. Do you agree that this was very different from many other bands on the Australian independent music scene that followed what Birdman had done perhaps a little over-reverently?
Well, look I guess the answer to that depends on who you speak to. All of the Hoodoo Gurus were certainly kicking against some elements that we found to be – how do I put this? There was definitely a kind of elitism associated with that scene. Not with the guys from Birdman themselves, who were always very generous and open in sharing their ideas and musical tastes, but some of their fans could be a little much. There was a sort of half-life that persisted through their followers, after the band’s demise in ‘78 and through to the early ‘80s, a kind of elitism of musical style.
I think what Le Hoodoo Gurus were doing when they first started was railing against any kind of musical elitism, embracing diverse influences like glam rock and ’50s rock’n’roll which at the time, in the early ‘80s, were seen to be naif and hopelessly out of fashion. And yet the Gurus were proud to wave their freak-flag of influences. This appealed to me greatly before I joined the band; that the Gurus didn’t truck with any kind of Khmer Rouge/Year Zero approach to musical fashion which some other bands on the scene seemed to follow.
Having said that, Radio Birdman for me, personally, as a teenager, was a vital conduit to things that I’d never heard of like The Stooges, MC5, New York Dolls and Blue Oyster Cult, all of which are still very important and influential to me. So even though I appreciated what Le Hoodoo Gurus were doing and loved them, to the point where I jumped ship from The Hitmen to join them – a move which to many people at the time seemed like a misstep, I think – it’d be disingenuous of me to suggest that I wanted to separate myself from Birdman’s influence.
That’s what I cut my teeth on and was, and is, an essential part of who I am. Blue Oyster Cult records have grafted themselves onto my DNA! [Laughs] And I wouldn’t have discovered them without reading about Birdman. I say reading about, not listening, because it was so hard to get their records then of course. But you could go down to your local record store and find the records that Deniz and Rob were talking about in their interviews.
Now the Hoodoo Gurus were similarly open in discussing their favourite bands and records. ‘Let’s All Turn On’ seemed to be almost a statement of intent. I remember as a teenager trying to decipher the lyrics just so I could go and track down all the records that Dave was singing about.
That’s true and I think the song came from that same, pure celebratory impulse. I wasn’t in the band when they wrote ‘Let’s All Turn On’ but I believe it originated with Dave and Rod [Radalj, ex-guitarist] sitting around their living room with a couple of friends on a Sunday afternoon, reaching back into the pop past of their record cabinet, identifying what was great and influential.
Well, as long as they rhymed, right? Yeah. [Laughs] I think there might be a couple of false rhymes squeezed in and made to fit! But all of the songs and bands mentioned on ‘Let’s All Turn On’ still hold true today as influences on the Gurus I think. While we’ve certainly expanded on those elements, they’re still a part of us.
Let’s talk about Stoneage Romeos, the band’s debut record which you’re playing in full as part of Dig It Up! It seems like an album that came together gradually: you’d record a song or two and release it as a single, then go off on tour, before coming back to the studio and recording another couple of tracks, and so on it went. Is that how you remember it?
Yeah, I think the record company [Big Time] we were signed to at the time were kind of hedging their bets a little bit. [Laughs] “These Hoodoo Gurus seem like a good idea, but how can we be sure?” They didn’t seem entirely sold on this crazy thing we were offering.
But the process you’ve described is exactly right, we would record a single, put it out and go on tour to promote it, then come back and do the whole thing again and see if the band was stirring up any public interest, before the company would commit to an album. That’s my recollection at least. I remember signing our recording deal at a pub in East Sydney on the corner of Bourke and Cathedral Streets sometime in early ’83, and the album came didn’t come out till later in ’84. I have a sneaking suspicion that Big Time had a “get-out” clause and could always bail out of the deal and on committing to an album while we were recording all the singles. [Laughs]
What was their hesitation? Did they want the Gurus to become a little more pop, more commercial?
Certainly, we struggled with that, especially in the mixing process. We struggled with what the producer [Alan Thorne] wanted, but he was getting pressure from the record company to take things in a smoother, more polished direction. While the Gurus were just trying to make a record that was as cool as The Cramps, as trashy and as cavernous-sounding as possible! Whereas Big Time was chasing Top 40 hits.
The closest you came at that point was with the ‘My Girl’ single. The video for that song has become a bit of a classic. What do you remember about making the clip?
Me personally, I didn’t a lot of work on the video. Most of the band simply turned up at a pub that’s long been demolished - it was up the back of where the Sydney Entertainment is now – and we set up and performed. Clyde [Bramley, then bass guitarist] was really hungover and I think you can see that in the clip. [Laughs] He looks pretty shabby. I remember there were some very colourful old characters in the pub; there was one bloke who reminded me and Dave of Dean Martin, he was a laconic old fella who certainly liked a drink.
Dave did most of the work on the ‘My Girl’ clip; he’d been up since 4am, where they’d filmed him repeatedly putting bread in the toaster at his flat in Francis Street, Bondi. His working day wasn’t over after the pub shoot, as he had to go to the racetrack that night, or maybe the night after, to film the stuff with the greyhounds. Yeah, it was Dave who had the full schedule that time.
The Hoodoo Gurus have had bigger-selling albums than Stoneage Romeos, and you’ve had records with more hit singles, yet your debut seems to retain a special place in your catalogue and in your fans’ hearts. Why do you think that is?
I think it’s one of those fortunate things, just an accident of fate, that Stoneage Romeos was so against the grain of what was commercial at the time but also was different to what was happening in the margins, so it felt very different and became special to some. I guess it was indie music before there was such a term, it captured the zeitgeist and the Gurus surfed a wave of pop discontent [laughs] and clicked with all the people who’d become sick of what they were getting spoon-fed from Countdown.
DIG IT UP! THE HOODOO GURUS INVITATIONAL
Fri, Apr 20 – The Tivoli, Brisbane, QLD
Sun, Apr 22 – Enmore Theatre, Notes Live, The Green Room, Sydney, NSW
Tues, Apr 24 – HQ, Adelaide, SA
Wed, Apr 25 – The Palace, Melbourne, VIC
Sat, Apr 28 – The Astor Theatre, Perth, WA