Less a seething juggernaut full of sharp teeth, no sleep and clenched fists baying at a fearful crowd, The Scare’s howl these days is more precise and directed, a volley of basslines and drum fills, guitar strings clenched like arrows in a bow, the loose-limbed puppet stance of vocalist Kiss Reid, is now arched and focussed, his once wild shoulder length hair cropped short to now resemble a young Michael Hutchence, minus Hutchence’s charismatic draw. Once the weakest link, he’s become their greatest asset. The rest of the band themselves are almost unrecognisable these days. In England, they had an air of ‘ASBO’s with guitars’ about them, but back home in Australia, 18 months later and it’s like watching an entirely different band spring to life. Not so much reborn, but revived.
In celebration of the release of their second album Oozevoodoo and their forthcoming headline tour throughout Australia in October, we rifle through the Webcuts June diaries to when we jumped in the backseat of The Scare tour van and rode shotgun as they hit the road to play a bunch of shows south of the border in support of Adelaide funk stoners Wolf & Cub. Interspersed within this piece are excerpts from an unpublished interview conducted with bassist Wade Keighran shortly after the recording of Oozevoodoo which talks about the state of the band after they returned from living in England and how they pulled themselves together from the proverbial brink of disaster.
“When we got home we landed with a thud, as always, but we got the blues that time pretty bad. It’s been rumoured that we nearly called time of death at Christmas 2007 and for a while there we just didn’t see each other. Our record had only come out in Oct/November. This was a record that to us was finished in January of that year and had been well and truly exorcised from our systems through a year of touring hard through England, Europe and the States before the fucking thing had even come out. We weren’t sick of it, we just felt the whole thing really anti-climactic. Nothing ever happened. It came out. We had already done the tours and that was it.”
It’s still dark when the van pulls up. Half of the band are already inside, barely conscious, barely moving. Kiss gets in, rugged up to the neck in black wool coat and looking ill. Bassist Wade Keighran looks even worse and the spectre of swine flu (then at its height) has everybody uncomfortable and wary of sitting too close. Seemingly prone to illness, Kiss is forced to ride shotgun up the front and the long 14 hour drive to Warrnambool, roughly 1200 km away begins. Everybody seems to burrow down into their pillows in their corner of the van and close their eyes. It’s just too damn early in the morning for anything else. The first three hours are empty of mention, until a roadside piss break in the New South Wales countryside, where the band stand side by side like broken black fence posts encased in Cheap Monday jeans, precludes the van getting stuck axle deep in mud from a recent bout of rain that we could not shake free from.
“We did a rather unsuccessful national Australian tour in which we lost money and then went on an unscheduled hiatus just to remember why we are making music in the first place. We didn’t consciously decide to. We just cooled off in a big way. A total reassessment of priorities. It was the worst thing in the world to me at the time and we didn’t want it to happen, but it just died organically and then we weren’t a band for some time. We worked crappy jobs and played music on the side which is not something we were used to. For two and a half years all we did was tour and tour and play and play. We were burned, totally cooked.”
It’s the radio the entire way to Melbourne. The radio being the only thing that the band seem to agree on, only to deride the majority of what is heard. Jealousies and resentments are aired over the playlist. The coveted spot of ‘Album of the Week’ on Triple J is discussed. Currently this honour is bestowed to Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest which after hearing the album in near entirety during the 14 hour drive, has yet to win me over. “Peaches” by The Stranglers elicits a “we should cover this” from Wade, which given the song’s identifiable chugging bassline seems like something a bass player would say. The Scare aren’t known to add cover songs in their set, (apparently it has been done in the past), but the thought of them strangling The Stranglers most offensive track seems gleefully appropriate. The Stranglers strangling Grizzly Bear sounds even better.
“So from about December to March we didn’t really see each other as a band. We would hang out socially but it felt like the band was giving up the ghost so to speak. In March we did a tour supporting the Mess Hall which we thought would re-ignite some of the erection and change the face of our band and all that but we just played so badly that whole tour that we knew something had to give. I was freaking out, all that hard work, all that slow death on tour, the back breaking desperation of living on nothing but getting 25 mins a night to live the dream. All that man. It was just leaving us without saying goodbye. And we just couldn’t give a fuck even if we tried. It was daunting you dig?”
Half the van empties outside the hotel while the rest continue on to check out The Loft, a small nightclub-type venue that doubles as a live space. Things look grim when the first support band, Pets with Pets throw a tantrum about the sound, yet manage to leave everyone with ‘what the fuck was that’ looks on their faces. How we would come to love this band. To cut a short story even shorter, The Scare play a total of two songs at Warnnambool. After “Cyber Love”, a sleezy little ditty that didn’t make the cut for Oozevoodoo, Kiss mumbles into the microphone “Sorry, that’s it. My voice has gone” and walks off stage. The rest of the band look at each other, stunned. Wade offers anyone in the audience to come up and sing, but since it’s all new songs, I’m surprised if anyone but Kiss knows the words. Surprisingly, he comes back out for one more song, and then it’s over. 14 hours, 1200 kilometres, 2 songs. Thank you and good night.
“On the Mess Hall tour we played in Newcastle and instead of driving back to Sydney we decided to stay at Daniel Johns’ house and take a few days. Just to either totally relax or totally get our minds lost. Daniel’s house was perfect for that and for us at that time because he has a spare bedroom for each of us and a great vibe. I think the tour was over by that stage anyway so we didn’t have to be anywhere. We planned to stay a night or two and ended up staying for a week, Kiss stayed even longer. After the first few nights of just classic Scare debauchery, all that stuff you can think of, every bar we could crawl to, every shot we could chug, every anxiety in our minds slowly dissolved in our stomachs. All that dumb shit, we went off in a big way just to forget we’d been pushing death around.”
The 10am checkout is brutal, but we all pile back into the van and head off in search for breakfast. Warrnambool is beautiful in the daylight, blues skies and bright blue ocean. Pulling into the café, driver/right hand man Stevvy angles the van in too sharply and scrapes the car beside him. Everybody in the van starts screaming and further attempts to extract the van from the tight squeeze ends up in a loud scraping of metal on metal. People from the café come to investigate as the van door opens and The Scare spill out onto the street, empty beer trailing them, rattling into the gutter, Wade laughing “oh, this just gets better and better”. The cops quickly arrive on the scene and then disperse and The Scare shattered quiet is resumed. By the early afternoon, we’re in the fancy Vibe Hotel in Carlton with a few hours to kill before the show. Wade and I wander the streets, looking for something to eat, listening to him talk with envy about the studio work they did with Wendy James, ex-of Transvision Vamp. You couldn’t dream up such a pairing, but a Wendy James-fronted Scare doing Transvision Vamp songs is as close to Christmas to me than I care to admit.