There’s the “Secret History of Australian Music”, and then there’s the “Secret History of Australian Music I Know Next To Nothing About”, which has little merit in attempting to write about, but what the hell, here goes nothing…
Was it Kim’s on St.Marks Place in New York around late 1999? I can’t remember exactly where I picked this album up, but I’ve got an odd feeling that this was the place and the time though. The disc was beaten to shit in the one dollar bin and I was in the midst of first time New York fever, raiding the record stores looking for bargains and raising hell. I saw the Ripe CD, gave out a small laugh in surprise, and then suddenly the voice of Triple J radio’s Richard Kingsmill entered my head, venturing forth an opinion that this album contained one of the greatest songs ever recorded.
It was a weighty platitude at the time from ol’ Kingsmill (and I‘m sure he‘s since forgotten about the band), but it served its purpose and that comment remained steadfast in my mind. Why I waited six years to do something about it is not open for debate right now, but as the saying goes, there is a time and place for everything, and I guess that time was now. The “greatest song” he spoke about was called “Moondriven”, and it was there, track four, staring me in the face, so I paid my dollar plus tax, and when I got the CD home, or wherever home was at that time, I put it on the stereo and he was absolutely right.
I can tell you two things about Ripe that I knew before I started this and two things only. 1. They’re from Melbourne, and 2. Along with Glide and the Fauves, (already covered here and here) they appeared on the much coveted Youngblood 3 compilation. That’s it. That’s all I have. I never saw the band, well least not as far as I can remember, but that had a lot to do with the influx of monosyllable band names that did my head in during the early ‘90s, making them almost indistinguishable from one another. Ride, Glide, Ripe, Wipe, Loop, Luna, Lush etc. Oh my god. Enough already. I’m really not doing a good job at selling this band, am I? All I can suggest at this point is that you listen to the track and then decide if you want to go further.
The sheer abundance of question marks in regards to this band instantly deem Ripe as ‘Secret History of Australian Music” material. So secret that I can’t find a band photo worth a damn, a decent discography, or even prove that “Moondriven” was released as a single, nor can I even find the fucking CD for The Plastic Hassle to get decent scans of the artwork! This just seems like it was not meant to be and I would be seriously amiss at this stage not to give credit where it’s due and explain Ripe (at the time of The Plastic Hassle) were Mark Murphy (guitar/vocals), Peter Moran (guitar/vocals), Katie Dixon (bass) and Darren Seltmann (drums).
The thing that instantly stands out about “Moondriven” is that while the title hints at that psychedelic rock sub-genre “space-rock”, it creates its own sub-genre that in this instance I’ll call “underwater-rock”, with Murphy’s vocal (fed through a Leslie speaker) sounding like he’s submerged in the deep blue sea. It suits perfectly with the ebb and flow of the music, rising from the quiet, melodic verses to the tumultuous, chaos-driven chorus. Seltman’s drumming is really something else here, as he’s continuously shifting gears all the way through the song, while Murphy and Moran’s twin guitar assault ranges in effect from the loose drifting in space feel that characterises the start of the track, to sounding like a pair of airplane engines about to take flight
Signed to Shock and the UK label Beggars Banquet (and some US derivative it seems), Ripe were obviously earmarked for bigger things, and The Plastic Hassle is a seriously overdriven, well-crafted guitar rock album in the vein of Sonic Youth, but also too Dinosaur Jr and Swervedriver. It sounds very much of it’s time, that juxtaposition of melody and noise that those bands in particular excelled in. While Ripe never sailed such heights, their biggest claim to fame was that drummer Darren Seltmann went on to far greater things as a member of The Avalanches. It’s a shame that along with Daydream Nation, Bug and Mezcal Head that The Plastic Hassle isn’t as equally revered. If you’re a fan of any of those albums, you’re well advised to seek a copy out now.
Some digging around the internet for this piece unearthed mentions of Ripe reforming for live shows and also recording new material (an EP was released in 2006), so hopefully Matt Murphy or one of the band members will google themselves and drop me a line so I can flesh this piece out and they can elaborate more specifically on the history of the band and the recording of The Plastic Hassle, because in my opinion it’s one of those mythical great lost Australian albums that you often hear about. The ‘lost’ part I can easily validate. I know my copy is around here…. somewhere.
Now, with the power of the internet being as it is, Peter Moran, guitarist and vocalist in Ripe got in contact and offered to step up to fill in the blanks on the history of the band and the making of The Plastic Hassle.
When and where did the band form? What were your influences as an artist at that time?
Digging through some old stuff recently, I found the original ad that was placed in the Music Swop Shop window for our first drummer. It gives a good idea of where our musical tastes were at the time – although not sure we’d own up to all of these now. Aztec Camera – WTF? We got together to play the RMIT battle of the bands, which for most of us was our first time on stage (and we won!). Someone else will have to help out with the year – I’m guessing 1988.
My first encounter with the band (with a lot of Australian ‘alternative’ bands oddly enough) was via the Youngblood 3 compilation in 1991. The track was “Gaze” and from what I remember, it was more of a straight-forward melodic guitar track. It wasn’t as heavy or overdriven or strung-out sounding as what you would go on to do on The Plastic Hassle. Was there a desire in the band to break away from making music that sounds a little too ‘pop’? Was there a subtle change in direction or a new influence on/in the band that appeared between 1991 and 1993?
The “Gaze” recording went a bit pear-shaped. Interesting you should point out that it wasn’t as strung-out as later stuff, because it definitely was when we first recorded it with Tony Cohen at Sing Sing (now that was a rather interesting couple of days!). Anyway, the
Youngblood people hated it and demanded we re-record parts of it with their people or we’d be out. So Mark and I went to Sydney, developed a fear of flying and did some re-mixing and overdubs in a bit of a blur. The end result is what you’ve heard, which is a long way from what we wanted it to be.
But you’re right about moving away from the earlier sounds around this time. I think seeing Sonic Youth had a big impact on us at that time. It was at Chasers on the Daydream Nation tour. Experiencing them live (esp in such a close environment) really blew us away. I’d never seen or heard such power and intensity mixed with such melody and experimentation. I believe we were trying to express much of that sort of stuff before then, but there’s no denying the influence. I think we’d always been trying to explore stuff with the guitar – we didn’t use bar chords much and tried to avoid blues-based progressions. We really loved the twin guitar work of bands who didn’t have true rhythm and lead roles – lots of inspiration from Television, and then the Sonic Youth thing thrown into the mix. I can guarantee there were a few effects pedals bought after that.
Can you talk about the recording of the album? Was it a matter of getting your current live set down in the studio? Did you already have a pre-planned idea of how the record was going to sound? Happy memories, prolonged agonies or frustrations etc?
We started the recording for the Plastic Hassle at Fortissimo in South Melbourne and moved to Sing Sing in Richmond. I think we wanted to try to get as much as the live sound initially, but then began experimenting more and more as we went on. We had done some great demos with Ted Lethborg (still trying to get him to find the tapes!).
But really, any pre-planning gradually dissolved as we started experimenting. The bass and drums were very live-like – lots of big, washy drums and fuzzy bass. But the vocals and guitars and other stuff got fairly complicated. We had the cutlery draw emptied onto the piano strings, Hammond organ through weird speakers, ridiculously loud amp
settings, ridiculously low vocals… Chris Thompson was brilliant – I think he enjoyed the license we gave him to try different things.
Happy memories, prolonged agonies or frustrations – you couldn’t have described it better! Stacks of them. But reading other band’s memories bores me, so I can only assume that would be the same with ours.
I guess for me, “Moondriven” was the key track on the album, (“Something Fierce” also) and also something you would use as a band title later on. Can you give some background on the song? (origin/influence/recording/thoughts etc). Are there any songs on The Plastic Hassle that you’re still particularly fond of?
Mark was the creative force of the band, so he’s far better placed to tackle these.
I love the song “The Plastic Hassle” – I’m a sucker for the more wig out, epic tracks we started to do. It’s got a great intro, ripper riff, nice harmonies and great melody. It was really good live. I also really like “Mother Figure” too. And “Center of the Universe”. (agreed)
The Plastic Hassle was released overseas on Beggars Banquet and Subpop. How did these deals come about, and did you actually get a chance to play outside of Australia and promote the album? If so, what effect did touring O/S have on the band?
I’m going to keep talking as though these are all facts until someone corrects me ;-)
Shock was the local label, and they did a great job getting the album released in the UK and US on Beggars Banquet. Sub Pop released “Something Fierce” as a 7″ single at the same time. Also, a small label in Canada called LSD records loved the album and wanted us to come over. All of this lead to us to a fairly long tour of North America and England in 1994. Highlights were playing in New York and visiting the Sub Pop shop in Seattle. That bit about happy memories, prolonged agonies and frustrations really applised to the tour too.
I’ve noticed that different pressings of the album contain different track listings and artwork. Was there any reason for this? I can’t recall whether it was the Shock version or the Beggars version that has the extra songs, so I guess one possible answer is the O/S label thought it was too long?
Beggars Banquet released in “international” version with less tracks and a different cover. I can’t remember the exact reason, but could well have been to keep the time down (no idea why). Shock also produced a “media” version locally, which had an interview with the band and more photos in the sleeve.
What precipitated the break-up of the band?
Even though we spent so much energy trying to avoid clichés, it was the overseas tour that basically triggered the break up, which is a bit of a cliché itself. The tour was incredibly taxing. We travelled across Canada by road from Victoria in the East to Halifax – 6000 kms in an old Dodge van with 7 people is going to test anyone. There were a lot of other factors too. Basically I think we just reached the end of the musical mix of the four people at the time.
In 2006 you revived the Ripe name again for a 6 track EP. Is that where the story ends for the band? Are you still making music?
That would be Mark and Katie. I’m not making music outside of the lounge room (and Garage Band!) myself.
I’m sure the album is well out of print, are there any plans to re-release The Plastic Hassle? Do you consider it to be a record that outside of certain circles really never got its due?
I don’t know of any plans to re-release at the moment, but if I keep hassling my friend Ted at Aztec enough maybe he’ll do something. I can’t say whether it got the recognition it deserved or not. I do know that some people think it’s a really, really good album, not just for its time but holding up well even now. I know I still really like it, which is a pretty good feeling to have.
Thanks to Peter for adding some life to this piece!