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Hysteria Zoomed the remaining two Hard-Ons, guitarist Peter ‘Blackie’ Black plus new recruit Tim Rogers, to discuss that time You Am I supported Hard-Ons but were mistakenly billed as ‘You AND I’, how much a song can change while you take a mid-recording session dunny break and why there’s “absolutely never a need” for click tracks.
MORE: ICE NINE KILLS: Discuss Their Gruesome Sequel To The Silver Scream // HARD ONS: Now With Added Tim Rogers // MINISTRY: Snapshot Of Dystopia REVIEWS: ICE NINE KILLS: The Silver Scream 2: Welcome to Horrorwood // TRIVIUM: In The Court Of The Dragon // ASKING ALEXANDRIA: See What’s On The Inside // WAGE WAR: Manic // TWELVE FOOT NINJA: Vengeance // CRADLE OF FILTH: Existence Is Futile
Tim: “Did you get a word in with Ray [Ahn, bassist], or no?”
Hysteria: He certainly loves a good yarn!
Blackie: [Laughs] He does!
T: What I’ve noticed is: he has a rhythm. He starts off on a subject at a certain level and then at a particular point the tone of his voice goes up as well and he finishes at a climax. It’s quite something. I won’t do an impression of him in front of him [laughs]; that’s how to get yourself thrown out of a band!
B: [Laughs] Oh, We’re all thick skinned!
Actually Ray and Murray [Ruse, drummer] were talking about how much homework you did during the drive up to Sydney to record this album [I’m Sorry Sir, That Riff’s Been Taken] with Hard-Ons, Tim.
T: Yeah, that’s true. When Ray and PB [Peter “Blackie” Black, guitar] and I started talking and Ray said, ‘Look, why don’t we fly you up?’ I said, ‘No, I think this needs a drive’–‘cause I’ve done the Hume [Highway] so much and I do like going for long drives. And also I think just for [the purpose of] learning the songs and learning the lyrics–‘cause I just wanted to come into that first rehearsal having done my homework, you know? I think that’s not only a sign of respect, but also I’d only known the guys as acquaintances–you know, we’d never worked together before–but I kind of got the feeling that they don’t like time-wasters.
Because the work ethic of the band–and of what Peter does by himself or with Nunchukka Superfly–is quite something. So I just wanted to come in prepared but adaptable, ‘cause those things are a sign of respect. That’s one thing that we all had in common: we are not time-wasters. There’s a lot of fun to be had and a lot of great art to be made, but because we regard ourselves as artists: you don’t expect the world to land on your lap, you know? You just keep working and keep fundamentally healthy, and so to briefly answer your question … [laughs].
B: [Laughs] I think as you get older as well, if you’re still doing this sort of shit obviously you have quite a passion for it and you’re trying to get as much done as possible ‘cause, you know, life’s short so … I dunno, I personally sort of get a little bit greedy with it; I wanna do as much as possible.
T: That was pretty obvious when we had the first get-together: we got in, we had a quick chat about Deep Purple’s Fireball album and some other stuff, and then we got straight into playing songs. ‘Cause I’ve been in studio situations, and in music-making scenarios, where people wanna go out for long lunches or, you know, in my drug years, you’d rack up or shoot up or whatever and THEN you’d talk, about three hours later. And, nah, the fun’s in the playing and when you feel like you’ve done a good job then you can be convivial and celebrate each other as well. But you’ve gotta get in with the work.
… we were gonna play at Frankie’s a couple of months ago and, honestly, I sort of ran back to my hotel in Newtown and I called my best friend Nick and said, ‘You’re not gonna fuckin’ believe what’s happening! They’ve said I can write the setlist!’ [Laughs] [ Tim Rogers ]
What was the first song off the album that you worked on when you first got into the studio?
T: It was [lead single] Hold Tight. It was the first song that Peter sent through to me and I just went, ‘Oh, fuck! I’m in hog heaven right now! This is powerful fuckin’ power-pop music, my first love!’ And as much as I love it when the Hard-Ons are fuckin’ grindcore–or metal, hard-rock stuff–their pop songs just fuckin’ slay me. And particularly in the past ten years: stuff off Peter’s solo records–the pop stuff that even Nunchukka [Superfly] are into …
B: Yeah, I still consider us [Hard-Ons] to be a pop band in a lot of ways, but to me pop has quite a wide scope. I know when you say the word now–well, even the word ‘punk’ is so fucking corrupted now, but to us old farts these words are way more pure. When someone says, ‘Fuck, I hate classic rock,’ it’s like, ‘Fuckin’ hell that sounds like heaven to me!’ you know? ‘Cause, to us, the words are bit more pure. But, yeah! To me we’re a pop band and I love to play metal at times.
One of my personal heroes is Paul McCartney, because he’s one guy who’s not afraid to try pop in every shape and form.
I just love every form of it [pop]: Motown; The Beatles; The Beach Boys; ‘60s stuff, massively; and I used to fuckin’ love punk rock to death … One of the best bands by far in that ‘70s punk rock [scene] was Buzzcocks. And, I mean, you had all these bands that were overtly political–and, you know, posturing in any interviews and shit like that–and here Buzzcocks were: they were fey as fuck! All their songs were just ridiculous love songs like Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)–oh, man, they were fucking ten times heavier than half those other bands, you know? It’s like, I dunno, that [Buzzcocks] was way less pretentious than The Clash and things like that. To me, that sort of shit just really hit me hard. I thought, ‘This shit is pure as fuck!’
Tim, we read somewhere that You Am I used to cover the Hard-Ons song Ache To Touch You. Did you tackle any others?
T: We tried Ache To Touch You–I think there were a bunch that we did. We pretty much tried the whole Love Is A Battlefield [Of Wounded Hearts] album, Dick Cheese as well. But, I mean, You Am I started because we just wanted to play with the Hard-Ons, we wanted to play with Massappeal, we wanted to play with the Hellmenn, Asylum–these bands that we fucking worshipped.
And because I’m a bit of a, I dunno–well, I’m a bit fey, as Peter said before. I’m a bit of a fop. And I loved Aerosmith so much, so when I think our [You Am I’s] first setlist was just Hard-Ons and Aerosmith songs. And when you try to play other people’s songs and you can’t quite match that style, that’s your sound: the sound of your failings almost, you know? So when Blackie, Muz and Ray said, ‘Why don’t you come up with a setlist for us to do at Frankie’s [Pizza]?’–we were gonna play at Frankie’s a couple of months ago and, honestly, I sort of ran back to my hotel in Newtown and I called my best friend Nick and said, ‘You’re not gonna fuckin’ believe what’s happening! They’ve said I can write the setlist!’ [Laughs]
And so we concocted about a 96-song setlist. But I’ve gotta tell you that 95% of the ones that I suggested, for when we play it, were from the last six or seven albums. As much as they meant so much to me as a kid, I think what the Hard-Ons have done, songwriting-wise and just as a band–the progression of the band–just staggers me. And if I’ve got a purpose here: for as long as they’ll let me be with them, it is to turn people onto those [Hard-Ons] records, not just the one that we are about to release but Peel Me Like An Egg is just–I cannot stop listening to that album! And when I first got it, it changed me; it changed my attitude towards a lot of things as to how powerful pop music could be, but then it also had depth.
So when did You Am I and Hard-Ons’ paths first cross?
T: We [You Am I] supported them for the first time–I think it was 1991 when Mark [Tunaley] was drumming and Nick [Tischler] was still playing bass, and it was at Feathers at Crows Nest. And we were billed on the front blackboard as You AND I–not for the last time, to our great shame, because [that incorrect band name makes us] sound sort of like an acoustic duo like Peter And Gordon–who I love, but, you know, we were playing with our heroes and here we are: You AND I [laughs].
B: I remember that gig! That was one of those weird gigs where I think it might have been the only gig ever to be in that venue–it was like some weird experiment that maybe the pub owner did that he personally didn’t like and you know when you play a gig and no one wants you there?
T: Yeah, OH yeah.
B: That’s kind of what it felt like. There was a few crazy fans that were enjoying it, but everyone else was sort of–I dunno, it was a fuckin’ bizarre night. The venue is still there; it’s quite an upmarket pub.
T: Is it still called Feathers?
B: I’m not sure. I used to drive past it a lot when I was a cabbie. I haven’t been there in zonks. It’s just off Princes Highway, in the main guts of Crows Nest in Sydney. But, yeah, we’ve bumped into each other many a time before this.
T: It was mostly just at shows, really, but we also did a couple of Big Day Out tours together. And then I ran into Blackie a coupla times socially, just on the street if we crossed paths when I was up in Sydney. I used to see Ray a lot at the record store [Sydney’s Utopia Records, where Ray is vinyl manager]. I’d never met Murray before and Muz and his wife, and my wife and I–we’ve just become really firm friends. We go and spend a bit of time with them in Newcastle and Muz just fascinates me, ‘cause, you know, he either looks like an axe murderer or a romantic lead in a film, and I kind of feared him a little [laughs].
And then at the first rehearsal I saw him out in the street and he just came up and went, ‘Come here,’ and gave me a big bear hug and we’ve been in each other’s pockets ever since. It was just one of the extra little gifts, you know, ‘cause I knew–and have been listening to–Blackie and Ray for over 30 years and then Muzza’s suddenly the greatest guy in the world and, again, a huge musical brain. And one of the things I love about him is that he just absolutely adores playing the poppier stuff that the band does. I mean, he’s such a powerhouse and he can do blast beats and …
I think with all four of us that’s one of our real common grounds: we are massive music geeks that love shit right across the board. So I think that gives you a little bit more ammunition in your palette
[ Blackie ]
B: I know! Again, that was Ray’s idea to try him out. When Pete [Kostic, former drummer] said, ‘Look, mate, I can’t keep doing this,’ Ray goes, ‘Fuck, mate, I’d love to try Murray,’ and I couldn’t see it. I was like, ‘Man, I fuckin’ love Murray, but he’s a fuckin’ grindcore drummer. We’re a pop band, how’s that gonna work?’ Ray goes, ‘Man, I can just hear it. Let’s try it,’ and I go, ‘Yeah, alright,’ not thinking much, and then, yeah! Murray rocks up and, again, it was kind of like, from the first song, he had this mad swing. And I think we hit him with two of the more melodic songs that were already recorded and then we hit him with a new song to see how he would tackle something he hadn’t heard before. And I’m like, ‘How the fuck are you drumming all this pop shit?’ And he goes, ‘I know I’m in a grindcore band and, yeah, I love all that shit but fuck, man, I fucking love pop!’
I think with all four of us that’s one of our real common grounds: we are massive music geeks that love shit right across the board. So I think that gives you a little bit more ammunition in your palette, if that makes fuckin’ sense. It’s, like, even if you play a straight-ahead pop song, you could maybe perform it–or interpret it–in a slightly different way, because you have a lot more going on in your musical noggin than just a standard type of pop sensibilities. I dunno, we’re just fuckin’ music geeks that’s all I can say.
T: We were talking the other day, because you know Jerry A. [Jerry Lang], the Poison Idea singer … Peter was saying the other day that Jerry’s this really big pop music fan, whether it’s Motown stuff or even show tunes, and then listening back to those Poison Idea records you think, ‘Yeah, okay, he’s possibly the greatest, slam-dunk fuckin’ punk singer there ever has been, but there’s something else there,’ you know? And why Poison Idea is so great is that, yeah! They’ve got that fuckin’ power, but I think as Blackie’s saying, they’ve got that in their arsenal–they were just huge music geeks–and so the riffs and the melodies are not that simple, there’s colours there. So anyway I’m gonna write my thesis on that and I’ll send it through to you [laughs].
So was I’m Sorry Sir, That Riff’s Been Taken all demoed and ready to go before Tim joined Hard-Ons in the studio?
B: About 70% I think, maybe. Yep. But I used to try to explain this to Ray ages and ages ago: you can’t just play a song, it’s never enough. And I used to get really geeky with it. I’m not a spiritual dude, but I used to say, ‘Anyone can fuckin’ play a song, you know? There’s the song, there’s the chorus, there’s the verse, it’s really catchy, blah-blah-blah–let’s go!’ But you’ve got to get right in there, you’ve gotta get into the soul of a song and I think that really makes a difference.
And after we finished this record, Ray rang me and goes, ‘I fucking get what you mean. I remember you said that to me ages ago and I did maybe poo-poo you a little bit at the time, but I was listening and I do get it,’ and, yeah! I think if you heard what the demos were like and compared them with the end product, it’s quite a different beast.
Were there any happy accidents that went down in the studio that you left in because they made the song even stronger?
B: Oh, a couple, yeah. There was tonnes of that shit and leaving room for that sorta shit to happen I think is really important; even up to the last minute something might click with you–like, you can perform a song half a dozen times and think, ‘Fuck, we’ve got it! This is the best the song could be,’ and then you’re playing it for the 13th time and you fall over and, you know, the jack falls out of your guitar and it’s like, ‘How good did that sound when my guitar got unplugged?’ You know? We’re always open for that sort of shit so, yeah! Definitely.
T: I think Lachlan [Mitchell], the engineer-producer, was really good with that as well–he’s such a musical mind, with such a broad palette–there’s that word again!–and he’d suggest dropouts and things like that, like, ‘Let’s just leave the vocals here rather than have the music going through–just vocals and drums.’
But I think because Blackie and Ray, in particular, love harmony–I discovered that the more we talked–and some of the harmonic stuff on the last Nunchukka [Superfly] record is so berserk and then I felt like, ‘Oh, okay, I can suggest that we do this harmonic stuff,’ and I think that Blackie and I have a pretty similar ear for what we like in the harmonies.
So rather than just stick to the demos–you know, I’d be sitting there in the studio with a mouthful of baklava and I’d go, ‘Can I just try this?’ And anything goes, you know–similarly to You Am I, in a way: we try it and if it doesn’t work then we just fuckin’ move onto the next thing. If you have to labour an idea, you’ve maybe gotta consider whether it’s a particularly good idea in the first place. I think using that musical intuition you’ve got and listening to your intuitive mind is a good thing.
B: Yeah, there was definitely a lot of–I guess you could call them flourishes, added to the tracks. Not in an overbearing way–you know, we’re also musically educated enough to know when enough’s enough; you can make something so sweet that it’s not edible anymore. I think we went in there and really it was just one of those awesome times when the energy between–well, I guess you would say all five of us, yeah, ‘cause, as Tim mentioned, Lachlan added a lot of great ideas as well; all five of us really fed off each other and just really hoed into these songs.
I think I actually suggested hand claps on every single song and, at a point, they just took me aside and said, ‘Yeah, come on, enough’s enough. Go and get a hug from your mum, Tim.
[ Tim Rogers ]
My favourite track at the moment is Home Sweet Home, the one with heaps of hand clapping in it.
B: Yeah, that’s the one with the dropout that Tim was talking about. I remember that, ‘cause I think I went out either to the dunny or to get a coffee or something and I came back and it’s like, ‘What the fuck’s this?’ And I can’t remember who–it might have been Ray–goes, ‘Check this out!’ And I’m like, ‘That’s just fucking gold!’
T: I mean, Home Sweet Home was one of the songs that blew my mind when first hearing the demos and my love of hand claps–maybe it’s because I wasn’t hugged enough as a child [laughs all ‘round], but I’m a fuckin’ sucker for hand claps, when you least expect them. I think I actually suggested hand claps on every single song and, at a point, they just took me aside and said, ‘Yeah, come on, enough’s enough. Go and get a hug from your mum, Tim. What’s the need for hand claps about? Fuckin’ hell!’
Can you draw any comparisons between making an album with the Hard-Ons and The Bamboos, Tim?
T: I mean, Lance [Ferguson] of The Bamboos–again, we’re such different people but we just worked really well together. I think he was a little surprised that I was enthusiastic about everything, ‘cause they’re jazz musicians through and through, I mean, fuckin’ hell! They’re so learned [laughs] and they enjoyed how sort of loose and uneducated I was, in a way, and it was all intuition.
With the Hard-Ons–incredibly musically literate people–but, similar to The Bamboos, they’ve got all that but they are just looking for the excitement button. And what I’ve gotten to know–when playing with Blackie, in particular, and with his songwriting–is you’re just looking for that pleasure button. I don’t wanna draw that physical analogy much further than I’ve already done [laughs], but looking for that excitement and that pleasure button all the time; you know that you can’t just be continually trying to hit it all the time, it’s just musical nous.
And, again, if I think anyone listens to the Hard-Ons’ catalogue, to Peter’s solo records, to Nunchukka [Superfly]–you’ll see there’s a really, really deep well of knowledge going on, but then you go and see the band live–or go into the studio with them–and it’s just total abandon. They’ve got the potential to be so musically intelligent that it gets a bit po-faced, but they’re the least po-faced people I’ve ever met in my life. And similar to The Bamboos, actually: they’ve got this potential to be snobs, or po-faced, but they’re just fuckin’ hilarious fun to be with.
Is it a bit of a musical bromance that you’re having with the Hard-Ons perhaps, Tim?
T: Ah, well I just think it’s really strong friendships, you know? We’ve been acquaintances for decades and I really fucking care about these people. It’s been a difficult time for all and I’ve been speaking to Peter, to Ray, to Murray and they’ve been incredibly strong friends. And there’s a lot of joy and a lot of heart, which makes it all the harder to say I have to leave the band … [laughs] NO!
B: But that’s the whole thing about music. I mean, it is one of the artforms where I guess the main element is it sort of hits the brain directly–almost more than any other artform; like, you could get a mad sort of emotional fuckin’ whack from films and books and visual art and stuff like that, but music sort of hits the noggin in such a direct way.
And I think that level of excitement–you know, fuck! Like if you’re driving in a car and you hear an awesome song on the radio, just the way it makes you feel–there’s fucking nothing like it. It’s one of the maddest things we, as a species, have come up with–it’s fucking nuts! And I think when you love it that much and you wanna be fucking involved–and then you find a bunch of people that think the same way, and you get together and do this sort of shit–it’s just as Tim says, yeah, the word I use a lot is joyous, you know? There’s a tonne of work, like, when people ring you up, ‘Oh, what are you doing today?’
‘Oh, I’ve got a whole bunch of demos to do, I’ve got a whole bunch of vocal exercises to do,’ or, ‘I’ve gotta practice the acoustic,’ and they’re like, ‘Oh, fuck, BORING!’ And, you know, it’s just not, because the whole process of it is–I dunno, I’m gleefully joyous the whole fucking time! So that is what almost everyone that plays music is trying to get across with their music–you know, you can say, ‘Oh, I’ve got a message I wanna get across,’ or, ‘I’m gonna try to talk about a painful time in my life,’ or blah-blah-blah-blah-blah, it’s like, ‘No, I just want fireworks to go with off in your head when you hear my song,’ you know? That’s what everyone really wants, initially: ‘That’s awesome! Fuck, man, this song’s tops! I feel like jumping out of a window! Fuck, yeah, that makes me feel good!’–that’s what I feel like when I hear a song.
It’s driving me fucking insane that lockdown not only means we can’t play, but it means we can’t get together and rehearse and try out the next lot of ideas and things like that. But this was so exciting and felt so fucking good that I personally want more.
[ Blackie ]
T: Blackie, don’t jump out a fuckin’ window, please! I couldn’t handle it, alright? Just don’t.
B: Don’t worry, I won’t [laughs].
It sounds like you all came away from this experience feeling really inspired. Have you already started work on the next Hard-Ons album with Tim?
B: Yeah, you know what? It’s driving me fucking insane that lockdown not only means we can’t play, but it means we can’t get together and rehearse and try out the next lot of ideas and things like that. But this was so exciting and felt so fucking good that I personally want more.
T: We finished the record in about two-and-a-half days and as we were leaving the studio, and just feeling so good, Blackie turned to me and said, ‘Would you mind if I sent you some new songs tomorrow?’ [Laughs] And I went, ‘That’s fine, yeah!’
B: You know what I’m trying to do today? I get really lazy with demoing, ‘cause I mainly demo just mnemonically, for myself–you know, if that’s enough for me to hear it’s enough as a demo just for something to store but, yeah! Now that we can’t get together in a rehearsal room, I’m gonna have to learn how to use the click track again so I can make you guys decent demos that don’t sound like a fuckin’ [makes buzzing sound]. I dunno, ‘cause we can’t jam it’s the next best thing.
T: No click tracks, mate. Please! There’s absolutely never a need, no. Things quicken up, they slow down, whatever. Honky Tonk Women by The Rolling Stones–that thing almost goes into double-time, you know? Just no. No click tracks. Don’t worry about that.
B: Alright, you know what? I might send you something–which is one of my really, really rough-as-guts things–today then and if you can decipher it, then we’ll talk.
T: Mate, I’m in. I’m in.
B: Ok, deal. I’ll send you that shitty demo!
T: Thanks, brother.
Catch up on Part One, featuring bassist Ray Ahn and drummer Murray Ruse here.
Catch Hard Ons at the following dates:
JANUARY: (Uncaged Festival)
Sat 22 – Brisbane, Showgrounds
Sat 29 – Melbourne, Coburg Velodrome
FEBRUARY: (Uncaged Festival)
Sat 12 – Sydney Showground