Bughouse – V For VendettaBy Craig Smith • May 8th, 2008 • Category: Secret History of Australian Music
Bughouse’s classic debut single “V for Vendetta” is remembered in our ongoing “Secret History of Australian Music” series which digs through our archives looking for some forgotten vinyl gems by bands of the Australian music scene that shone brightly, but all too briefly.
We spoke with Genevieve Maynard, bassist of Bughouse and solo singer/songwriter of her own regard, about the recording of “Vendetta” and her memories in playing in one of the most captivating and original Sydney bands of the early 90’s.
It was late 1989. I had finished another year of High School and was working a weekend job in the local library to finance my weekly fix of comic books and records. Triple J, the alternative radio station in Sydney was going national, which meant I could pick up their signal and tune into those foreign bands I read about in three month old copies of the New Musical Express and put sounds to faces..
During this time, Triple J began to play two songs quite regularly, both bands incorporating ‘house’ in their names (thankfully not into the music), both songs were debut singles and seemed more than worthy of the attention the station had given them. There was Greenhouse from Melbourne, with “Seesaw” which had this glorious chiming riff that seemed to inhabit everything I wanted from my music, and Bughouse from Sydney with “V for Vendetta”, this unassuming, slow-building track which was the antithesis of what I was listening to at the time. It didn’t have a striking intro, or an upbeat chorus, it didn’t hit you with its best shot, but in its own way, under its own subtle charm, “Vendetta” stood out. Here was some non-strident blues-y guitar with a nice solo, a solid rhythm section, some rambling pool-hall piano and world weary female vocals. It sounded human .
Now any comic book reading kid worth his salt will recognise “V for Vendetta” as being the title of the acclaimed comic book by Alan Moore (itself twenty years away from its on-screen adaptation Mr. Moore would later disassociate himself with). You can raise those stakes and increase that pile of salt when you recognise the first two lines of this song are lifted straight from the comic book and fashioned into a song about domestic violence and rape — “I love the rain, I love the moon, I love the sea and stars/I’d love to visit you quite soon and kiss you through the bars”
Behind the laundry list of abuse, the lyrics detail a sense of bitterness and resentment in what has happened to force the victim’s hand. The lyric itself is not only directed at the incarcerated male, but of society itself with the line “when entertainment means a hole in the sky or raping girls on trains”. This isn’t pop music, kids. This isn’t “if you could see what I see, if you saw what I saw” (cf: Greenhouse “Seesaw”). This is “I hate the boots, I hate the shouts, I hate the attitude/I’m scared of the switch, the point at which the legal meets the lewd”. I love the juxtaposition between the “love” of the first verse, and the “hate” of the second. The simple beauty of the world set as a back-drop to a scene of violence and fear.
Bughouse (L-R): Lea Cameron (vocals/guitar), Steve Campbell (guitar),
Peter Brookes (drums), Genevieve Maynard (vocals/bass)
I soon gleaned from the street press that Bughouse were a four-piece with Lea Campbell on vocals, Genevieve Maynard on bass, Steve Campbell on guitar and Peter Brookes on drums. “V for Vendetta/Burn it Back” was their debut single on their Ursula records label. A sketchy black and white picture would detail two blokey looking men, one tall female with curly blonde hair, and slightly shorter woman with cropped black hair. The attendant article revealed as much about the band as the photo and did nothing to sate my curiosity.
A few weeks later I caught their promo clip on Rage and got my first glimpse of Bughouse in motion. The video itself, like the song, is entirely without bells and whistles. The band stand in a bare studio, perfunctorily performing the song in a very straightforward ‘this is the band, this is the song’ set-up. There are no smiles, pouts or poses. No make-up artists, stylists or storylines. The only thing that stands out in a slightly odd way is that both Gen and Lea are wearing lipstick. I’m sure they’d look back now and think ‘was that entirely necessary?’. Perhaps this is what I loved about the song to begin with. The band weren’t trying to win you over. What you saw is what you got.
I had just started to play guitar around this time and Steve Campbell would become something of default guitar teacher as he had this relaxed arpeggio/strummed style that he alternated effectively to allow some variety between the blues/rock rhythm patterns that I found interesting to watch and challenging to replicate. On “Vendetta”, the main focus was on Lea Cameron’s vocal, and she had this soulful, raw voice, that when paired with that of Genevieve Maynard’s on the chorus gives the song an extra lift, and it works especially well towards the end when Genevieve reaches out and hits that spectacular high note. I also adore the piano playing of session guest, Louis Tillet that comes in briefly about 1.20 and continues throughout as the song picks up momentum and intensity (note: guitar solo at 2.00), ending in a cascading piano run with Lea delivering the taunt of “I will bring the children and we’ll kiss you to the bars”. It largely plays in the background of the song, and sounds like he walked in the studio, banged it out in one take and then left, but it’s a crucial piece of the “Vendetta” puzzle and I can’t imagine the song without it.
Bughouse were one of the first Sydney bands that I religiously followed. After picking up their single from Waterfront Records, I saw them play an afternoon show a few months later at the Hopetoun Hotel, for an event held there every Wednesday called ‘Rock Against Work’. It was my first time diverting from the well-walked path to the record stores, my first time walking uphill from Central Station through the tree-lined streets of Surry Hills, which a year later I would happily call home, to the Hopetoun. I walked into the pub and saw Genevieve and Lea sitting at the bar. I was a little in awe to see them just hanging around having a beer and killing time till 4pm. Musicians were still something of an unknown entity that gained an instant elevated status, regardless of the fact they probably worked part-time in cafes or held regular jobs. I kept my distance, trying not to stare, fully aware that I was an interloper on their scene. I wanted to tell them of the circumstances that brought me here, but resisted in fear of feeling stupid. As it was, they came to me, somewhat impressed with my Tank Girl t-shirt (the comic book thing coming to my advantage) and wanted to know where I got it from. I glowed, feeling as if I’d suddenly gained acceptance and sat on a stool nursing my scotch and coke, nonchalantly flicking through a copy of On the Street.
Bughouse – “V for Vendetta” Promo
The events of the show that followed are mostly lost to my memories. Songs played would later turn up on their still-astounding Tax Stamp EP and the muted, but still engaging debut album Every Fool in Town. I would’ve been surprised by their approach to the songs, which seemed to cover every style imaginable, drifting between rock, country and folk, skittish rhythms and time signatures, Steve Campbell’s deft playing and lyrics that sounded profoundly bitter and incisive. All of these songs sounding as good or better than “Vendetta”, which in a live setting tore shreds off the recorded version, building up to this intense, set-closing climactic finish. They played three sets in all that afternoon, but I had to miss the final one to make it home in time for tea. It makes me laugh to think that I skipped school to see them play, but traded an extra half hour of songs for a hot meal. My priorities were warped. That was the last time eating came before music.
The cover of “V for Vendetta” reminded me of a picture of myself and my mother in the days when you’d go to a photo studio to get a ‘family’ portrait done; back when it was just the two of us – a young, single mother and her doe-eyed child. I still can’t look at the sleeve any differently. I eventually became casual acquaintances with Lea and Gen, purely from being seen in the audience or relentlessly pestering them to play a song that they’d yet to record, and the band became (along with several others that will appear here in time) as much a part of my life as possible. Their last ever gig was one of those bitter occasions where the band bowed out from an unresponsive music industry rather than each other. I can understand the amicable splits, the hated unworkable relationships, or whatever excuse you’re handed when a breaks up, but when they call it a day out of being unappreciated, it’s just the worst possible way to go.
When I started writing these ‘Secret Histories’, there were a handful of bands that I had unfinished business with – questions that needed to be answered, and a desire to make sure these bands weren’t forgotten, and also to share a disappointment I felt in that while these bands were larger than life in my world, they were just another band playing in a pub on the outskirts of Sydney on a Friday night. I’ve got fond memories of the night Morrissey cancelled his Sydney show in June of 1991, and having played Morrissey on the drive all the way down from the Central Coast, missed the announcements on the radio, arriving at the Hordern Pavillion and finding only gladioli-bearing disciples refusing to take the bad news. Scanning the pages of the music press in the car-park to see who else was playing, raced over to Rozelle to catch Bughouse at the Rose, Shamrock and Thistle, just in time to hear guitarist Steve Campbell berate the sitting audience for not getting to their feet. “This isn’t performance poetry” he says disgusted, “this is rock and roll”. Everyone stood up.
a final word…
I managed to get in touch with Genevieve Maynard, bassist of Bughouse and steal her away from her daily duties of running a recording studio (Revolution Studios in Alexandria) and working on her as yet untitled third solo album with the Tallboys to indulge in a little Bughouse revision and give her thoughts on the recording of “V For Vendetta”.
How long had the band been together before “V for Vendetta” was released? How did you all know each other?
The band actually got together to record some of Lea’s songs.
Pete and Lea had been in the Lucky Dinosaurs together, and Pete knew Steve. Lea and I had been rehearsing some songs in a band that was going nowhere. Pete had some money and so the four of us got together in a rehearsal room for a few weeks, demoed the tunes on the guitar player from the Dinosaurs reel to reel 4 track and then went into the studio and recorded the single. It was all pretty quick. Pete also had a piece of paper as big as a table cloth covered in potential band names… at one stage we were almost called “Free Radicals”.
What do you remember in particular about the recording session?
Quite a bit. I remember Louis Tillet was about 4 hours late – we were unsure that he was going to turn up at all by that stage. I remember that the 2 inch machine was slipping and held us up a bit. I remember not fixing a bass mistake on the b-side (Burn it Back) that is there for posterity now… and I remember doing the backing vocals – there’s a line in the end chorus where the vocal goes up and when I did the high bv on it I got the thumbs up from the others in the control room.
Did you consider “V for Vendetta” to be anything special? Was it a defining kind of song for the band at that time?
It wasn’t one of the songs we initially demoed – Lea brought in into rehearsal a week or so later. As soon as she played it to us I knew it was the one. It was such a deceptively simple pop tune with lea’s typically brilliant lyrics. Defining? I don’t think we actually settled into being a band with a defined sound until the last album, Fink Tank.
How did this song come about? Did Lea bring it to the band fully formed? Were you aware of its comic book connotation? (ie: title, opening lines lifted entirely from the comic)
Lea brought the song in. We were very self-critical, but this song didn’t need any fixing up. I don’t think the arrangement changed at all. We all knew Alan Moore’s comic.
Were you surprised that it was picked up and played regularly on Triple J? Did you notice the impact at all?
No, we weren’t surprised that JJJ played it – in those days it was a local station and they would give pretty much anything a spin – but we were blown away by how much they played it and the reaction it got. Things started happening pretty quickly after that.
Looking back on the Bughouse experience, do you have any regrets? Do you feel the band could’ve achieved more?
Yes, I have regrets. I think Fink Tank was a great album. It still stands up today in terms of production values, and the songs are very strong. It actually sounded like us, unlike the first album (Every Fool In Town) we did with Mushroom, and I really wish Mushroom hadn’t pulled the plug on what would have been our second album (it was released unfinished as the EP Bardo). We were working with Tim Whitten and Daniel Denholm and Nick Fisher was now in the band on drums and had started using samples and loops. There were some great songs. It took us a year or so to get ourselves back into the right frame of mind to record Fink Tank, which we released independently, but by that stage the personal problems in the band had really come to the fore and were crippling us. When we broke up we’d only been together 5 years, but in that time had released 2 singles, 2 EPs and two albums. It was a pretty productive time.
Your current live band/recording outfit features Steve Campbell on guitar, is the chemistry still there? He always had such a recognisable guitar style. I’m glad he’s not entirely lost to music when not saving the planet through Greenpeace.
Yeh, he’s a great player. I wanted him in the band because he does that blues/rock kind of thing so tastefully. He still has his 345 and Markley head too. I think the chemistry is better these days because there’s no pressure on us to prove anything.
I used to fondly make the trip from the Central Coast down to the Sandringham Hotel every fortnight to catch Bug (Bughouse minus the boys), and pester you and Lea with requests. Your voices singing together old country tunes and the odd AC/DC number song were a delight. What became of her?
Lea and Nick and their son live in Northern NSW. She’s writing songs and has a home studio under the house.
Genevieve Maynard and the Tallboys have an album almost in the bag, and with Steve Campbell in the fold and playing guitar again, it’s going to be something truly special. And if the rest of the band read this feel free to get in touch and expand on this piece, I’d love to hear from you.