Living proof that great bands and great songs endure all, Sydney’s Hoodoo Gurus are the epitome of the walking jukebox, with a back catalogue of classic singles and albums that have become as much part of the Australian consciousness as any other. From their conception in 1981 they have been captivating audiences the world over with their inspired blend of garage rock and power pop.
Fresh from playing the world famous Glastonbury Festival and with a highly anticipated show at London’s Forum looming, Craig Smith caught up with Chief Guru Dave Faulkner out enjoying a sunny afternoon in Brighton to talk about life on the road, their plans for a future, and of a career that has spanned decades.
Dave, welcome back to the UK.
Thank you, lovely to be here. Its fabulous weather and we had some good fun shows. Couldn’t be better!
You were weren’t here all that long ago, right?
We were here about a year ago, and that was the last time since the early 90’s, I think. We had a couple of shows here that weren’t well attended, which was a little weird, but we played alright. This time around has been a little bit better for some reason, admittedly we’re only two gigs into it and one was Glastonbury (laughs).
How was that? That’s a pretty big thing!
We had a ball. We’re old hands when it comes to these big festivals. We’ve played a lot of them over our history, particularly we did a bunch of big ones in Australia. We did the Big Day Out which is enormous, so no surprises for us on the big stage.
Did you stick around for the weekend?
Unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to. We saw the band on immediately after us and that was Black Mountain from Vancouver and they were pretty good. We enjoyed them, but we didn’t really have the opportunity, though to be honest we wanted to do some sight-seeing — we went to Stonehenge, we went to Bath, just crossing the t’s on a few things we hadn’t seen after all these years.
I’ve only ever been to Glastonbury the once but it was such a great time.
It’s incredible, isn’t it? You see the aerial photographs of the place and it just boggles the mind.
Yeah! And we were very lucky, it was the first dry year for a long time I believe. Some people said to us that it was the best weather they’ve ever seen there. We had a pretty lucky experience there.
These shows are coinciding with some big dates in Spain. Do you have a big fan base there?
We have a huge fan base there which we sorta known about but hadn’t ever had the opportunity to play to them. We toured Spain once back in 1987. So they’ve been neglected by us over the years. We got there last year and we went to a festival in Northern Spain called the Azkena Festival which was incredible, in Vitoria, outside of Bilbao. We played with Roky Erickson and MC5 and all these other different bands, and it was a pretty amazing festival they had going there, and we had a blast and obviously we impressed a few people because they’re still talking about in interviews in other parts of Spain. They’ve heard how well we played there, so hopefully a few people will come out and see what the fuss is about.
It’s weird how Australian acts find favour in some truly foreign countries.
Particularly Spain. It’s funny, in a sense we haven’t particular exploited that, while The Stems and The Lime Spiders or whatever have been going over to Spain for years and have enjoyed huge support, and you kinda feel partially responsible for some of those bands and we never really got the benefit of it, so we’re redressing the imbalance there.
You’re big in Brazil as well, right?
Yeah, we’ve had a great time in Brazil. We almost went there on this tour, but it didn’t quite pan out. Spain is the same weekend as the big festival they wanted us to do in Brazil, so we’re hopefully going to get there later this year.
It’s funny how these countries remain faithful to you after all these years.
Well, it used to be for example, France were a huge rock and roll country and it still sort of is, but they’ve lost their way as far as rock and roll goes. They’ve had bands like Air and Dimitri from Paris and they’ve kinda gone a bit clubby and anonymous eurotrash. So the places that have taken over as far as rock and roll is concerned are Greece, Italy and Spain, and the Scandinavian countries are still pretty good on us.
They’re still big rock and roll outposts?
Yeah, well they have bands that play it themselves, whereas the French haven’t had much rock and roll coming out of there for a while, that I know of anyway. When I get there I’ll find out. I’m going there for a holiday soon so I’ll get to see what’s going on.
There seems to be a bit more of touring resurgence going on with the band these days. Are the Gurus still a fully functioning musical act, or do you just tour when you get the right offer?
We tour when we feel like it. We do those things for a purpose. When we’ve got an album to promote we try a bit harder to carpet bomb the place with gigs, but most of the time we just cherry-pick really with the big festivals. We also have the corporate shows that pay us a lot of money to go there and play a set and that keeps the money rolling in as far as paying wages and paying for costs of running the band.
Your shows at last years South by Southwest were regarded as some of the highlights of the festival. Did anything come out of that? Were you looking for a label?
No, we’re really still doing what we’ve always done, which is playing. We broke up for six years, but apart from the bands always been just a real rock and roll band. We play when we can afford it. None of us are software developers with independent support. We actually make money out of music and support ourselves that way and so we can’t always do loss-making tours. For example, this is a loss-making tour, but we’ve had other gigs that we’ve been able to fund it with. The idea of playing Glastonbury was too attractive to turn down and South by South West was a similar thing, just making sure it happened. It wasn’t a case of us trying to make a profit out of it, it was just important for us to do it because we believe in that stuff and want to be in the mix.
It’s been a few years since you put out Mach Schau (2004). Have you been songwriting? Do you intend on recording again?
I haven’t been writing enough. Theoretically we wanted to have an album out this year, and that ain’t gonna happen, so hopefully next year. As soon as I get off this tour, as I always say, I have to get back in there and start getting my hands dirty with songwriting. I’ve got more there than I give myself credit for, but I feel I just want to get a sustained burst of writing, have it in a way as a statement right now for what I think where the band fits in and what I want to do. I’m not really that interested in slowly but surely amassing a group of songs. I’d like to get it in one energetic burst, so that’s what I’m gearing up for.
Last year was a stellar year for the Gurus being inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame and yourself making into the Who’s Who in Australia.
(laughs) That’s all part and parcel of the same thing. They just get the list from the ARIA thing and they make that automatically part of the Who’s Who, I think.
That’s impressive work though. You got your white pages and yellow pages, but that’s the golden pages!
(laughs) Oh I have no idea. I didn’t see it. I didn’t buy a copy. It’s a bit silly. About the ARIA awards particularly, I wasn’t that fussed about it, but the other guys were a bit more keen, mainly for their families and a feather in the cap for them.
But it’s kinda a validation by your peers and country, though right?
Yeah, but the thing is, ARIA has never acknowledged us throughout our history. We never got nominated for an ARIA award ever in our career. So why were we suddenly deemed to be worthwhile of all-time legend status. I find it laughable. You look at the things that they’ve nominated over the years when we were up for different albums and you go that was a joke we didn’t compare to these things that won awards, even in the same category. It just typical music industry – they think they’re so hip and they’re always so wrong. If I’m gonna take that position, I can’t really back down because they say something nice to me therefore I have to take them seriously.
It seemed that Countdown got it right with you guys…
Yeah, but that wasn’t the Countdown program. That was the peers at the time though, I agree, but that was a year after the album came out, and it had kinda built up a critical mass by that stage. But the album itself (Stoneage Romeos) wasn’t really greeted with hosannas of celebration. It was kind of a bit of a sleeper, and it was just after a year of so it became acknowledged as being a great record, but as I say when it came out there was no people saying “at last, the great album from a new band!” We’ve had that problem with every record being unfavourably compared to the one before it. So you have to wait for the next record for the one you just made to appreciate it (laughs).
It’s funny, the first time I recall seeing you actually was in the pages of Countdown magazine.
Oh god… (laughs).
They did an article on you in the Land Beyond Beyond in Sydney, this little sci-fi and comic book store.
I remember the shop, yeah that was obviously a very heavy stereotype of the band earlier on, that we were trash culture or whatever, and we certainly don’t deny that was a big influence of the band but it kinda devalues the reality of what the band is about, we’re a bit more rounded than that.
From my point of view, being a twelve-year old who loved comic books and music, you seeming to bring it all together made you minor deities.
We still have that same sensibility. The real truth of the matter is what we call high art, people call low art and vice versa. Smart lyrics don’t impress me, but dumb ones do. I guess its where the emperors got no clothes to me, whereas for people he’s dressed in robes, and I’m in Brighton now and you can guess who I’m talking about (laughs).
From there it was Sounds and Donny Sutherland with the clip for “I Want You Back” full of vivid colours, wild hair and stop motion dinosaurs. Were you aware of the time you were building up such a young fan base?
Yeah, funnily enough we’ve only just accidentally recovered that with “What’s My Scene?” being used for “That’s My Team” (National Rugby League theme song). All these kids love that song and when they find out we’re the band that did it, we’re like mini Father Christmas’ or something. But of course they don’t know anything else we’ve ever done and the words are wrong when they hear the original version. It’s funny with those songs. There was an incident years ago with our fourth album, Magnum Cum Louder (1989), where we had a video clip for a song called “Another World” which was incredibly…if you think “I Want You Back” was cheesy, that one definitely took the cake. Plan 9 from Outer Space was a big budget Hollywood movie compared to this one, and it was shown in Toys R Us in the States as an in-house video, so we’re very proud of that moment.
You seemed to break in the States in a big way the same time the Bangles did, although I think they probably got the better deal…
Yeah, we were both on the cusp and they crossed that cusp while we stayed on the cusp (laughs). When that tour was booked we were co-headlining and then unfortunately “Manic Monday” went to number one just before the tour started. So it was very obvious we weren’t going to be switching the headliner every night. That was fabulous tour and I still like the Bangles.
You know they’re out hitting the road these days too. Actually they played London last weekend.
I know, I know! We saw them in Australia about 18 months ago and they caught up with us on tour for 2 or 3 shows. It was a lucky coincidence they happened to be there. They’re still fantastic.
You’re playing the Forum in London on Friday, you were here before in when it was known at the Town and Country club, right?
Yeah, that’s right. I’ve very good memories of it. Hopefully we can add to those and not have a sour taste in our mouths afterwards. No-one came or they hated it!
When was your London debut? Was it one of those career moments every Australian band hopes its going to be?
I think it was ’85 or ’84. Brad’s usually the one for these things. He remembers nearly everything we’ve ever done. I think ’85 was the first UK tour. Yeah, we were touring on the back of Mars Need Guitars. I remember playing The Tube and doing “Like Wow-Wipeout” on that. So that’s probably about the right time.
It’s fantastic to see that longevity in bands coming from Australia. You don’t normally see that.
Yeah, or anywhere. I guess longevity in bands is a function of reality of the music you’re making. If you’re a real band there’s a good chance it’ll have some legs, but if it’s something of the moment or a passing fancy in the public’s imagination it will never last.
Interview continued at Secret History of Australian Music feature for “My Girl”