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 focused, 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 [review] 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 Interspersed within this piece are excerpts from an unpublished interview conducted with bassist Wade Keighran shortly after the recording of Oozevoodoo which talks about the state of the band after they returned from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 [review] 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.
“Then on the 4th day there we just picked up some of the guitars and shit laying around Daniel’s massive house and Sam set up one of the drum kits and I grabbed my bass from the tour van and we just started jamming and then Daniel woke up and came in and smiled. He said we looked like a band again. We wrote “I’m Desperate” in about half an hour right then and there, with Daniel in the room. He was like a mad conductor just smoking and yelling at us. Kiss didn’t have a mic. He was just yelling over the noise. And it’s desperate because we really, truly were desperate man. It sounds corny but we it was so close to the end, but that little song saved us. It’s basically two chords the whole time. So simple, just an authentic punk party and Daniel said “man that was fun…if we did that ten more times you guys would have an album!” And there it was, out in the open for us to think about. Someone who believed in us. Someone who was successful who believed in us. Someone who was successful and believed in us and wanted to help us. And it didn’t happen right away.”
Tonight’s show at the Barwon Club in Geelong is better attended, better staged and better played. The Scare’s set is made almost entirely of new songs, dipping into Chivalry once to unleash some Bats. From the second they step on stage, The Scare take stock of the room and engage. For someone who remembers the old Scare, it’s a jaw-dropping moment. The shrieking guitars that announce the plunge into “I’m Desperate” echo the sound of a band bitter at the path they’ve led themselves down with little to show for it. With this song, and about 8 more (with the exception of “No Money”) nobody has heard any of these tunes before. Nobody knows, nobody cares, and you can see the crowd turn from curious to intent in a matter of minutes. Whether they notice this or not, I keep it to myself. The band always seem to work best when they think everybody is against them. They used to wear it like a badge of pride, but I think they lost it on one of their many trips between Birmingham and London. Side note – Barwon Club = great rider and great food. Not so great, the punter that copped a glass in the face. Geelong, you’re scary.
“As I said before, it may have looked like we were quiet last year but in fact it was the busiest year The Scare and it’s members have ever had as musicians. Sam and Brock played and recorded and wrote with Loene Carmen a fantastic actress and blues singer from Sydney. Kiss also sang on a Loene song and worked on his own material, a lot of which became skeletons for the new album. As a band we wrote a song with Paul Mac for the soundtrack to a new Australian film called “Beautiful”. Liam did some session and live work with friends of his and we also worked odd jobs ourselves. Although we weren’t playing much, behind the scenes we were very much alive and it’s what we needed to remind us that The Scare is our number one priority. It’s at that point now…it’s death or glory. This is all we have and we needed to hit that sensitive shitty lowdown blues point to realise.”
The next morning will go down in history and become of those infamous ‘where were you?’ moments that you’ll never forget. Walking out of the shower in the room I shared with the rhythm section, Sam tells me to turn the television on – he just a got a text which read “Michael Jackson is Dead”. So I did, and so he was. We sit and watch in bemused disbelief. Living in Australia, America always seemed a country of make-believe viewed from the dimensions of 28 inch television, so far removed and so unrealistic from the world we lived in, that when moments like this happen, you kinda shrug your shoulders and sit back and watch the expected drama unfold. Later in the evening we’re all back in the lobby looking at possible artwork for the album cover as a deadline is approaching and nobody is happy. In the van on the way to the Corner Hotel ideas are bouncing back and forth about what it should be. Kiss is adamant that since the album is about the rebirth of the band the cover should have mixed race newborn babies. He’s serious.
“Once we had dusted off our boots and put Daniel’s suggestion into motion we were unstoppable. We were writing and rehearsing 3 or 4 nights a week. With or without Daniel around. We demoed about 10 times for this album. We wrote and rewrote and came up with about 30 songs. We had our own studio so we took our fucking time, something we’ve never had before. We didn’t rush anything. We didn’t have to. We didn’t give a fuck. It just became, “What is best for this song…right now” and then later it became, “What is best for this set of demos” and then again even later, “What is best for the overall album”.
The Melbourne fanbase were out in force at the Corner Hotel. The mood inside is muted from the death of Jackson, something that’s picked up by Pets with Pets, who by this stage had begun to charm everyone on the tour with their bizarre behaviour, placing a copy of Thriller front of stage, and giving a quick reading of “Billie Jean” before walking off stage. Like a repeat of the night before, The Scare accelerate through the ‘voodoo heavy set anticipating the moment when the album is out and they’re headlining their own tour and playing to their own crowd. Throughout the tour they’ve had an extra pair of hands on percussion brought on amplify the ultra-percussive groove that drives Oozevoodoo . You notice its presence on “Surgeon” and “Cry”, but its effect on “Could Be Bad” encourages a handful of girls in the audience to lose their inhibitions and take their t-shirts off and dance around, though security quickly intervenes, lest Woodstock and free love prevail.
Having given Wolf & Cub a run for their money and gained the attention of the shirtless fans, an invitation back to theirs for an after-party and an opportunity to remove them of liberties and alcohol is accepted, and for the sake of those in attendance, a black fog has invaded my memory, and nought but an image of Brock and Stevvy wearing wigs remains. On a Scare scale of debauchery, it would rate a 2, maybe 3. Nothing to write home about. Heading back to the hotel in the early AM, this writer regrettably has to grab his bag and jet back to Sydney while the band sleep in with one more show to play later that night in Ballarat. Without wanting to lay a curse on them, Oozevoodoo could be one of the most accomplished Australian albums released all year. From the beggars banquet that is “I’m Desperate” to the anthemic “who told you not to believe?” chorus of “Cry”, Oozevoodoo reads like a diary of the down but not out. It’s rock and roll for the no-fixed-abodes. It’s hope for no-fucking-hopers. Without The Scare you’d just be left with no talent junk like The Galvatrons, and what a shitty, shitty world that would be.