If you come from a land Down Under, or were a college hipster in the ’80s, the Hoodoo Gurus evoke some fond memories. The Oz foursome had a slightly bizarre, extra-terrestrial look, but their unerringly catchy, lyrically concise tunes were rooted in the blues-pop-rock idiom. They had some fairly big hits, like What’s My Scene and Bittersweet, and were a popular live act, but never really made it to the level of compatriots like INXS or even Midnight Oil.
Still, cult status and critical respectability are nothing to be sniffed at, and the Hoodoo Gurus came back to America for the first time in about 12 years in 2007 to play South By Southwest and nine other dates across the United States. I called singer/guitarist Dave Faulkner in Sydney in February 2007 for a chat about the band, sporting heroes, Wolfmother, religion, and his songwriting secrets.
UPDATE: As of mid-2014, the Hoodoo Gurus are still going strong. Click on HoodooGurus.net for more info. The double anthology Ampology is an excellent overview. Otherwise, start out with the albums Mars Needs Guitars and/or Stoneage Romeos.
I KNOW YOU’VE BEEN INFORMALLY TOGETHER SINCE 2002, WHAT INSPIRED THE REUNION?
We did the Homebake (music festival) show in 2002 [NOTE: It was actually 2001]. Our last show was ’98, in January, and then we were asked to do Homebake in 2002, and that was kind of really what re-lit the fire, and a couple of years later, we reformed properly. It was a like a one-off, the Homebake thing … At the end of 2003, we started recording an album, and 2004 is when we started playing out again.
WHEN YOU DID THAT LAST SHOW IN JANUARY 1998, DID YOU KNOW THEN THAT IT WOULD BE YOUR LAST SHOW?
Yeah, it was a conviction on my part. This is Mission Accomplished and all that sorta stuff. It was really only when the Homebake thing came along, and we had that sort of challenge to compete against all the latest and greatest bands, in a huge outdoor gig, it was kinda like an offer we couldn’t refuse. We’d like to headline that show and just see if we could still cut the mustard. It went really well. More important than that, we just had a great time ourselves, and it was obvious that all the energy and enthusiasm was all still there. The fact that we weren’t playing was the only issue! It wasn’t that the band had stopped existing, it was just that we had stopped doing it.
HAD YOU KEPT IN TOUCH BETWEEN JANUARY 1998 AND HOMEBAKE?
Oh yeah, absolutely. We’d actually had lots of contact. In fact, I had a side project, a band called the Persian Rugs, which had all four of the Hoodoo Gurus in it at one stage. I was rehearsing songs with Brad [Shepherd, the guitarist], songs that ended up becoming the last Hoodoo Gurus record we made in 2004 [Mach Schau]. I had these songs we were rehearsing with different musicians. I just couldn’t get it to sound the way I heard it in my head. I was writing other songs at the same time, and I liked this ’60s punk thing which I had a bee in my bonnet about. So I decided to form this group in the meantime. And then Brad said, ‘Let’s get Mark Kingsmill to drum.’ I said yes to that because he’s a great drummer, no problem. But then I realized, of course, that there was a bit of an issue because we had three Hoodoo Gurus in the band, so it would be a bit unseemly to not actually ask the 4th one if he wanted to join as well. So Rick [Grossman, the bass player] joined and we did an EP with Rick, and then he decided he was too busy to keep working in that, so we got another bass player and we did an album. It wasn’t the Hoodoo Gurus, but we were still working together in one way or another!
SO THERE WEREN’T ANY PERSONAL ISSUES THAT YOU GUYS HAD TO WORK THROUGH BEFOREHAND?
Oh no, not at all. I’m the main writer and … I was worried that I had written myself out of the Hoodoo Gurus. Every album I was really proud of … I just thought, ‘Don’t go past it to a point where I don’t think I’ve done my best work.’ Having that break away, and as I say I wrote other songs and couldn’t find an outlet for them, I just couldn’t get the flavor of the music to sound right, and it wasn’t ’til Homebake I kinda realized that there was this band that was still there, even though I had officially called it quits. The band was still in existence, and I had to get off my high horse and say, ‘What do the Hoodoo Gurus have to offer this material?’
HAD EACH OF YOU GUYS MADE ENOUGH MONEY TO BASICALLY RETIRE BETWEEN 1998 AND 2003?
Yeah, well, no one’s got jobs. Rick works, but I think that’s something he likes to do. He’s involved with drug rehabilitation with people. It’s something he feels good doing. But none of the rest of us have any jobs, no.
SO YOU CAN SIT AROUND ALL DAY WATCHING TV, AND NOT WORRY ABOUT THE MORTGAGE?
Well, you know, you can’t never work again, but it’s certainly not a case of ‘next week, I won’t eat.’
THAT’S GREAT. YOU MUST HAVE MADE A LOT OF MONEY DURING YOUR HEYDAY? OR SAVED IT?
We worked. We worked very hard, and we’ve had a long career. It’s been good.
RICK’S A LICENSED REHAB PRACTITIONER?
To be honest, I don’t know the full details. I won’t want to misrepresent exactly what he does do. He’s a trained drug counselor, and does all that sort of stuff … he’s got qualifications in it.
I HAD VISIONS OF YOU GUYS DOING SOMETHING TOTALLY DIFFERENT, GENERAL CONTRACTORS AND FLYING PLANES?
I wish I could have been a general contractor. I’m paying some at the moment!
HAVE YOU KEPT IN TOUCH WITH CLYDE (BRAMLEY, ORIGINAL BASS PLAYER)? OR IS HE OUT OF THE EQUATION?
I’ve kept in touch with Clyde, but not so much lately. We bump into him now and again. He’s got different musical projects. I get emails saying they’ve got gigs coming up. He’s still involved with music as a hobby, not so much as his main thing.
ARE YOU FRIENDS WITH OTHER AUSTRALIAN ROCKER TYPES? THE MIDNIGHT OIL GUYS? THE INXS GUYS?
Rick’s working with [former Midnight Oil drummer/songwriter] Rob Hirst again. Rick and Rob Hirst have a side project called the Ghostwriters, and they’re working on something at the moment. We all know different people. You bump into each other in the traps. But personally, I must admit I’m not really that “palsy-walsy” with all the different musicians. I don’t have any issues with them, but I actually don’t mingle in those circles.
YOU WOULDN’T CALL UP PETER GARRETT FOR A CHAT?!
No. Well, he’s a politician now anyway. If I have any political issues I might give him a call. I might use the old musicians’ network to see if I can get some sort of political input!
YOU HANG OUT WITH REGULAR PEOPLE?!
That’s right. I have a whole lot of friends that are involved in different walks of life that I find interesting, and they’re people I like. The fact that someone plays music, I like their music, but I don’t necessarily want to know them.
YEAH, IT MIGHT RUIN THE IMAGE IF YOU FIND OUT YOUR HERO IS A COMPLETE ASSHOLE
That’ll never happen. Most of the heroes I have are gone to God, or else they’re well and truly never going to meet me. But local artists, I did do a thing a few months ago. I went to Tasmania for their local music awards, and I had a master class of songwriting with a whole bunch of young writers who were doing good work. That was tremendous. I really enjoyed it, and I hope they got something out of it too, just talking shop. I’m happy to talk shop and music, but as far as knowing people because they’re musicians doesn’t really interest me. I like the work. I have real friends for that.
WHAT MUSICIAN-HEROES WOULD YOU LIKE TO MEET?
I don’t really want to meet musicians, to be honest. I’d be a) intimidated by them, and b) I wouldn’t know what to ask them. All you say is, ‘You’re really great!’ I do have one foible. I do really admire sportspeople. To me, that’s incredibly different to what I do. I guess music’s in your mentality and your spirit. And sports come in your physicality. And they’re the complete opposite. Obviously, there’s a physical aspect of playing an instrument. The idea of a career being so short in sport. You’re told when to quit. And a game is won or lost in a really black-and-white manner, rather than music where you can win and lose at the same time. It’s succes d’estime, and there’s no such thing in sport. They say you put in your best effort — that’s the sort of equivalent, I suppose. There’s external forces that judge your career, really, in sport.
I GUESS IT DEPENDS ON THE OTHER TEAM AS WELL. YOU CAN PUT IN A GREAT PERFORMANCE, BUT IF THEY’RE A BETTER TEAM ON THE DAY, THERE’S NOT MUCH YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT.
That’s right. I guess in music, when you have these big festivals, you’re sorta rival teams, trying to get the better, put on the best show. But it’s not quite the same.
YOU’RE A SPORTS GROUPIE?!
I’m afraid so, yeah?
YOU HANG OUTSIDE THE BACK DOOR OF HOTELS?
No, we’ve been very lucky. We’ve been involved with sports, as a band even. The Hoodoo Gurus have been the theme music (“That’s My Team” – a reworking of “What’s My Scene”) for the Australian National Rugby League competition for the last four years, and including this year it’s the 5th year running. So our song is the anthem of their ad campaign. So we’re involved in that level, not that we go down to locker rooms and go to training sessions. But we’ve met lots of footballers along the way, and I’ve met other sportspeople through other connections, cricketers and what have you. They’re people I’m interested in meeting mainly because, as I say, I just find what they do so incomprehensible to the way I’ve run my life.
WHO’S THE NO. 1 SPORTS STAR YOU WANT TO MEET?
I don’t have any, to be honest. I’m a really big rugby league fan, and all the big ones are here, because Australia is the main place where it’s played. There’s great players over in Europe as well, but all the big ones come past here. I’ve met a lot of those.
ARE YOU MUCH OF A CRICKET FAN?
I am, yeah. I was very lucky recently. I met [West Indies legend] Viv Richards, and [English veteran] Alan Lamb. I was at a sponsor’s lunch with about 20 people. I was invited to that, so I was very happy sitting across the table from Viv Richards, chatting.
DID YOU CALL HIM SIR VIVIAN?
He didn’t expect that. He’s a very funny man. He obviously carries his reputation in a sense. He has a presidential feel about him, which is pretty impressive.
THAT’S MY FANTASY, TO WATCH A CRICKET GAME IN THE WEST INDIES
Yeah, that’d be great. Everyone says it’s the best thing. It starts in three weeks, the World Cup, in the Bahamas.
I DID NOT KNOW THAT! LIVING IN AMERICA FOR 15 YEARS, I’VE BEEN COMPLETELY OBLIVIOUS TO PROPER SPORT
Yes, it starts in three weeks, so they’ll all be there, all the different teams. It’s a one-day series, but still it will be pretty amazing.
OBVIOUSLY YOU GUYS ARE HEADING TO THE NORTHERN HEMISPHERE AS WELL. DO YOU HAVE MIXED EMOTIONS ABOUT ESSENTIALLY STARTING OVER AGAIN?
We’re not really starting over. We’re just revisiting, to be honest. We’re not expecting some sort of new career. We’re really just enjoying the one we’ve always had, I suppose. The South By Southwest thing (in Austin, Texas, on March 16), like Homebake, was too good an offer to refuse. We’ve always heard about it, and it sounds fantastic as well, so we jumped at it. The chance to go and play a few other club shows while we were around was something we loved doing. We felt a little bit like we’d been robbed of a chance to go say goodbye to people when we broke up, because we didn’t get the chance to tour the States then, on our final tour. This isn’t a goodbye tour, but it’s certainly hello again, and sorry for not being here for so long tour!
We’re looking to prove to people that we’ve still got it. We’re happy to report we do. But of course, people should see for themselves. they can’t take our word for it. When people see that you’re in a band that’s been around as long as we have, they go, ‘They must be just hacks.’ But we feel a bit more like the Rolling Stones, these days. Or Prince, he’s still got it.
THAT’S INTERESTING. I’VE GOT THIS ROLLING STONE ARTICLE FROM 1989 WHERE YOU SAID, “IT’S NOT LIKE WE’RE THE ROLLING STONES AND WE’VE GOT SOME OBLIGATION TO SOCIETY TO STAY TOGETHER. WE’LL PASS AND SOMEONE ELSE WILL TAKE OUR PLACE. MAYBE THEY ALREADY HAVE.”
Well that’s true. In a way, that’s happened. There was no obligation. We did break up! Obviously you don’t imagine ever that you’re going to be doing this sort of thing past your thirties, really. Now we’re in our forties [he was 49 at the time]. You discover life as you go through it, as everyone keeps telling Pete Townshend about “My Generation.” But that was something that he wrote when he was 21, or something. Forget about it. He couldn’t know what was really going to happen.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL, WOULD YOU BE MORE INCLINED TO JUMP INTO THE BACK OF A VAN AGAIN AND PLAY EVERY LITTLE CITY IN AMERICA?
Certainly. We love playing. It’s a fact of life. That’s why we’ve been together for so long, despite that six-year break. If you take that out, the band has still been playing for 18 years, or 19 years. We formed in 1981. You do the math. And this lineup hasn’t changed since 1988, if you want to be pedantic about it! That’s a long time. We’re just doing tentative planning now to come back at the end of the year, as well. We’ve been offered something over in Paris. The biggest obstacle being in the southern hemisphere is the incredible airfare. It’s $3,000 per person to bring some crew, and you bring gear. It just gets astronomical. When we get an offer like something like South By Southwest or the Paris gig, it just makes it a lot easier so we can plan other ancillary shows around that. At the end of the year, we’re possibly doing this show in Paris, in which case we’ll do a round-the-world ticket and end up skimming through again.
WHAT’S THE SHOW IN PARIS?
It’s related to the Rugby World Cup (Sept. 7-Oct. 20). As I say, the sport connection is strong with us.
HOPEFULLY YOU GUYS WILL BE BIG PLAYERS AT THAT?
That’s right. Australia will participate. I don’t know whether it will feature in a major way, the way it’s going. [South Africa beat England in the final. Australia lost to England in the quarter-final.]
SO SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST IS PAYING TO BRING YOU OUT?
No, but it’s something we can hang it on. They’re not paying for everything, but we do our budgets and it all makes sense. We’ll cross our fingers and hopefully it will come out the way we think it will.
DO YOU FLY FIRST CLASS, OR SIT IN THE BACK?
No, never have. I’d rather fly three tickets rather than waste it on one. I love traveling, so for me it’s more the question of where I get to rather than how I get there.
WOULD YOU HOPE TO HAVE NEW MUSIC AS WELL?
I wouldn’t know at that stage. I’m intending to, but I’ve just been caught up in other things. I mentioned the building contractors before, and different things that just have been distracting me. Now we’ll be touring. I need to sit at home and be focused to write. I don’t do it out of a suitcase. I need to be in my work area, and just sit down every morning and just get the guitar out and not let myself get up for a few hours.
THERE’S DISCIPLINE INVOLVED IN WRITING A SONG. IT DOESN’T COME TO YOU IN A DREAM, FOR EXAMPLE?
No, no. Some do. That’s not the way it works. I’m a creative person. I can be creative all day, in a sense. But to be disciplined and to make it into something and open up to it, that really requires actual concentration. It’s no less creative. It’s not a random event, writing music or being creative. Like Picasso, he didn’t just find artwork when he woke up, under his pillow. He went to his studio, got the instruments in his hand, and started working. Of course, some things don’t turn out. Some things do. It’s being actually available to create, that is where the work comes from. Not just somehow being struck by lightning.
WITH THE BIG HITS LIKE “LIKE WOW—WIPEOUT” AND “WHAT’S MY SCENE” AND “BITTERSWEET,” WERE THEY SONGS THAT YOU SWEATED OVER FOR WEEKS AND WEEKS AND WEEKS, AND DID HUNDREDS OF DRAFTS OF?
The lyrics are sometimes the hardest part because you don’t want to let unclear or sloppy wording slip through. But they always do. But lyrics are the ones that, I guess, are more wedded to the sweat on the brow. You really want to make sure you’re concise. That requires honing and chipping away and rescratching. Melodies and so forth, they come out pretty fast with me. By the same token, I put them onto cassettes and scraps of ideas, and I might leave them for six months or a couple of years before I come back to them and rediscover them. Obviously they come back to you as you hear them. I don’t write a song and then go, ‘Don’t get up until you finish this song, chorus, bridge and whatever.’ Sometimes you can’t get up without finishing it because you really are compelled. You’re on a creative surge and you don’t dare leave. Or you’re so excited anyway. Then you come back a day or two later, you might think, ‘What was I thinking? It’s not so great anyway.’ There is a little bit of editing that goes on. In the initial writing of it, you try not to second-guess yourself. You let it go where it’s gonna go, and then afterwards you sit back and try and get some perspective on it.
ARE THERE SPECIFIC LYRICAL THEMES YOU’D LIKE TO TOUCH ON WITH THE NEW RECORD?
No, no. But I’ve always got my antenna up, looking around the world, and thinking things. My friends are always very cautious when I start railing on about different causes that are close to my heart because I’m fairly emphatic. Songs are just another way of getting those points of view across. Hopefully they won’t be too dogmatic.
YOU’VE TOUCHED ON HYPOCRISY A FEW TIMES WITH SONGS LIKE “HAYRIDE TO HELL” AND “IN THE MIDDLE OF THE LAND”…
My big themes are religion and death.
ARE YOU PRO-RELIGION OR ANTI-RELIGION?
I’m very anti-religion, actually. I’ve used religious imagery in songs, but I hate dogma. So that’s a dogmatic approach about dogma I have. And I don’t like authority either. Obviously there have to be authorities, but I’m suspicious of them. And when people put themselves up as religious authorities, I’m doubly suspicious.
DO YOU HAVE VIEWS ON POLITICS AND THE ENVIRONMENT, OR DO YOU LEAVE THAT TO PETER GARRETT?
Everyone has views on these things. You can’t live without having them. I don’t really want to go into them. I have opinions about a mass of things, and some of them are personally held and deeply felt and others, everyone has. You don’t need to hear them from me particularly. It’s not really what the Hoodoo Gurus do. If we talk in a bar, I’ll rail for hours on that. As I say, my friends frequently do hear that. In my music, I do it in a way that hopefully is a bit less boring than when it comes from my mouth in black and white.
SO THERE WON’T BE ANY HOODOO GURUS SONGS ABOUT IRAQ OR [AUSTRALIA PRIME MINISTER] JOHN HOWARD?
Aaaah, I hope there will be, personally! I can’t write a checklist of subjects and put them into songs. They just come out the way they are. But I have strong feelings about all these things.
DO YOUR BANDMATES SOMETIMES TEMPER YOUR LYRICS?
They scratch their heads sometimes as to what I’m talking about or where it’s coming from. But we’re pretty of a kind, really, all of us. We’re pretty similar in our philosophical outlook, and that’s one way that we’ve stayed together for so long because we’re not such odd matches.
DO YOU GO TO EACH OTHER’S PLACES FOR BARBECUES ON SATURDAY AFTERNOONS?
After all these years, I don’t think so! We have enough of each other when we’re touring together. Certainly, there are social occasions where we do all get together, but it’s not like a regular thing where these are my only friends and we don’t know anyone else. We really have lives, and that’s obviously a defense mechanism as well. You can’t be in each other’s pockets all the time, otherwise you would just kill each other.
DO YOU LISTEN TO NEW AUSTRALIAN ROCK BANDS LIKE JET AND LIVING END?
I do. Obviously when we play festivals together, I see them. Wolfmother, we enjoyed meeting up with about a year or so ago. We played a couple of festivals together.
WHAT DID YOU THINK ABOUT THEM GETTING THE GRAMMY?
I thought it was great. It just shows how far the acceptance of artists from outside America is getting now in America. It used to be very difficult for anyone to break through that club … I was very happy for them. I like the band. They’ve got the spirit of what I enjoy in music, so more power to ’em. As far as Australian bands, I’m a judge on the Amp Award, which is like the [Australian] equivalent of the Mercury Awards in the U.K. I’m trying at the moment to plow through all the CDs for the final nine and just rank them in my top 10.
NOTE: Unrelated to the above interview, my gossipy rock bio Strange Days: The Adventures of a Grumpy Rock ‘n’ Roll Journalist in Los Angeles is available here. For more info, go to strangedaysbook.com
Copyright © 2007, 2014 by Dean Goodman. PLEASE DO NOT CUT AND PASTE THE WHOLE THING