Published on September 18th, 2015 | by The Beige Baron0
In the early ’90s, the tree of metal blossomed.
Branches sprouted and flowered into myriad tiny scenes, each drinking deeply of Sabbath, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Metallica, and Slayer, forging the elements into new and exciting forms. Metal was flourishing, exploding, and 1992 provided a bumper crop of game-changing records: Burzum and Darkthrone dropped LPs that are now regarded as definitive examples of the black metal genre, while Cannibal Corpse’s Tomb of the Mutilated and Napalm Death’s Utopia Banished spawned about a million new death and grind bands.
Elsewhere, the seeds of stoner rock were beginning to push up through the desert sands—Monster Magnet, Kyuss, and Eyehategod all dropped seminal records in 1992. Dangerous albums from bands like Pantera, Bolt Thrower, Neurosis, Celtic Frost, and Suicidal Tendencies all landed that same year, bruising the landscape.
The last thing I wanted to do as a kid was play the organ.
And over the ocean in Australia, a band called Christbait released their first EP, Yeast (not a reference to baking, in case you’re wondering). While it barely made a ripple commercially, the album detonated with megaton force in the Australian metal underground, inspiring a heap of kids to pick up an instrument and tap into their unholy marriage of grind and groove-laden stoner.
The aftershocks of Yeast, and its follow-up Dirtypunkmutha, are still felt today, over 20 years later. Like any classic album, both sound just as sick as the day they were laid down on tape.
The primary creative force behind Christbait was guitarist Craig Westwood.
Lanky, bespectacled, and possessed of a bone-dry (and pleasingly offensive) sense of humour, Westwood seems to be an inexhaustible wellspring of riffs. Where other musicians walked away from their dreams of career in music, burnt up and spat out by an industry built on greed, cynicism, and apathy, Westwood has continued to “make music for my own personal consumption” in the years following Christbait’s demise, shelving much of it and releasing the rest in various forms and states of completion.
While his work with one incarnation of Jeremy Finlayson’s Budd delighted sludge connoisseurs, as did the short-lived, stupidly awesome Westwood project Dern Rutlidge, his solo recordings and other collaborative work remain criminally underrated.
Seven Songs—a stripped-back set of mellow acoustic tunes that channel the spirit of Neil Young, as well as his album with backing band The Godless Few—show an uncanny knack for melody, tone, and structure, the kind of feel you expect from Frank Black or Mark Lanegan. Add to these Westwood’s ambitious experiment with Sealfinger, plus a whole bunch of demo sketches, and a portrait begins to emerge of a musician who is driven creatively, but still searching for ways and means to lay it all out in one definitive, all-encompassing statement.
We recently got in touch to hear of progress with Westwood’s supergroup The Ruiner, which features members of Pillow, Blood Duster, and Legends of Motorsport, and got treated on the way to a pretty fucking interesting tour through his remarkable and remarkably turbulent career so far.
BNU: Where did you grow up?
Shepparton, Victoria, until the age of 13, then moved with my family to Sunbury. Jury is still out on the growing up bit.
Any brothers or sisters?
Yes, one older brother and sister.
Did you get along?
Did they put you up to this?
Yes. Were you popular at school?
With bullies, yes, or when someone wanted me to draw something cool for them. But otherwise, no.
What did you do when you were a kid?
A fair amount of my time was spent drawing. I could go for days on end doing it. I wasn’t particularly into or good at sports. When I did venture out, it was to feed money into arcade games at the corner store or fishing for yabbies at some of the nearby irrigation channels.
Do you have any interests from then that you still have today?
I still draw from time to time, but nowhere near the amount I once did. I’ve been home brewing for some years now, and still do that. I’m also really into distilling, it fascinates the shit out of me, and I like booze.
What was a time you remember you got in really bad trouble from your dad?
I can’t really recall, I was pretty good at not getting caught doing the wrong thing.
What made you decide to pick up guitar?
Both my brother and sister were organists. I got dragged along to way too many organ recitals and the last thing I wanted to do as a kid was play the organ. Kinda regret not learning it now, because I love the sound of a B3 Hammond.
Originally I wanted to play the drums, but my mum poured cold water on that idea. Loud, plus we really didn’t have the cash for that kinda thing. The compromise was a guitar.
In fifth grade, my teacher Mr. Mann had a Gibson SG and would play Chuck Berry’s Johnny Be Good in class. I did lessons with him during lunch breaks, but then he moved on the following year so I didn’t pick it up again until I was about 15 or 16 years old.
What is it about the instrument that appealed to you, and how has your playing style changed over the years?
The way they sound, their resonance, their timbre, and the way they look. Guitars are beautiful and evocative objects. I’m still not very good, considering the years I’ve been playing, but I guess it’s a songwriting tool rather than anything else.
I’ve never been able to “shred” or perform fretboard gymnastics. I was never really good at “parroting” or copying note for note what I heard other people play. I took the feel of what I heard and then applied my take on it, well to the best of my limited ability. Some of people over the years have said I have a weird sense of timing and rhythm so I figure this plays some part in my “style”.
What was the moment when you realized that heavy music existed? Can you describe the time and place when it clicked and you felt like you wanted to make metal? How much of your formative musical tastes came from local bands and how much came from overseas?
There wasn’t any one time or place. I recall moments that reinforced my interest. I was about 14 when my friend gave me a mixtape of Iron Maiden stuff that I really dug. Metallica’s Master Of Puppets and Slayer’s Reign In Blood had a big impact on me. First time I heard Slayer’s Hell Awaits it scared the shit out of me.
We were kids who really didn’t have a concept of how short-term things really are.
Bands like Black Sabbath, Celtic Frost, and Voivod played a big part. I grew my hair long and started putting a band together with my mates and rehearsing in a bedroom. Most of the influence came from international bands. The scene in Oz was small, so you’d find out what was going on locally at record stores like Pipe Imported and Central Station or Metal For Melbourne.
The albums you made with Christbait have influenced a few generations of musicians, and the music has aged really well. They’re still revered in the genre. What are you most proud of about your time in the band?
I guess it’s always cool that people enjoyed and took influence from what you did. That it still has some legs after all these years is gratifying.
Do you have any desire to have those experiences again, and what would you do differently?
If the chance presented itself, of course, but things like Christbait were about relative time, place, and band chemistry. Do differently? Make better use of the time and opportunity rather than waste it on petty and pointless shit. We were kids who really didn’t have a concept of how short-term things really are.
I understand there is a possibility that some of Christbait’s catalogue will be reissued on vinyl. What are your thoughts about the analogue revival? How do you prefer to listen? Do you think that vinyl will continue to grow, or do you think it’s just a fashion?
I grew up in that era, so it’s always been a part of my life and I enjoy buying and playing vinyl. It’s a far more intimate and rewarding experience to me, more so than CDs or digital downloads. I figure so long as people are willing to release music on vinyl and can justify the economics, it will continue.
I hope to release Christbait LPs on vinyl. Still pulling everything together, I often get distracted with other day-to-day things. Have spoken with various people about assisting with financing, but still haven’t worked out how much I’m going to need. Still tormenting over the packaging-layout and tend to stubbornly work at my own pace.
Do you have any particular band or artist that has inspired you musically or with how you approach being a musician?
My tastes have always been many and varied, so when something or someone interests me, I dive in. On inspiration and influence, acts like Creedence Clearwater Revival, Neil Young, Voivod, Celtic Frost, Glen Danzig, Cathedral, The Beatles, Ween, The Cramps, Pixies, The Breeders, John Fogerty, Franck Black and The Catholics, PJ Harvey. I’ve become a Nick Lowe tragic in recent years.
I was in my early 20s when Johnny No Stars dropped and my mates and I had it on constant rotation. Was lucky enough to see you play live in Sydney and it was one of my all-time best gigs. Everything seemed to be going so well and then you suddenly broke up. Jason PC jokes that you are a “self-saboteur”. Do you agree?
Yes and no. If I find something that I’m working on is not going to meet the expectations that I have in my own mind, I can lose interest and prefer to just kill it rather than continue on. It’s a bad habit.
These days I realize that I’ve kind of suffered an anxiety that makes me incredibly irritable or despondent if the details, which appear superfluous and trivial to others around me, don’t fall into place. These days I try to make an effort to step back and let things slide a little more and not get so worked up over it.
What happened with Dern? Is there any chance you’ll restart that project again?
Dern was probably the single thing I ever worked my hardest at getting off the ground, but you need others to be on board to help, which in the beginning was how things went. Later however I felt that support drop away and I was the only one piloting a ship full of disengaged passengers. The harder I worked at trying to keep things on track, the more it was seen as me trying to hold more control over everything.
There were also management issues that lead to a breakdown of trust. I felt isolated in my own band and ended up walking away and the others in the band chose not to continue on. It was really not my best decision. I should have just confronted it, sacked some people, and continued on, but I was never one to bring myself to confront things in that way.
I admire Jason PC’s ability to do this. He’s done this very thing throughout Blood Duster and they’ve been going for 20 years, I think.
I felt isolated in my own band and ended up walking away
I should note here that Jason PC was also gearing up to quit since he felt Dern was becoming my solo act rather than the band we started together. I just happened to beat him to it. Some years later we did attempt a restart under the name Youngbreeder, recorded some songs that still remain unreleased today, but again it all fizzled out.
Dern did do a reunion show in 2006 and then in 2013 when James Young coaxed us out of obscurity to perform at his Cherry Rock festival. I was stoked at the chance to perform the songs again, but an element in the band soured the whole event for me.
The experience killed off any prospect of a future Dern Rutlidge reunion, or even Christbait for that matter.
How did you meet Jeremy and start playing with Budd?
I’ve known Jeremy since the early Christbait days. We somehow managed to come across each other’s demo tapes and instantly formed a mutual appreciation since no one else at the that time in the Oz scene sounded quite like us.
We’d always kept in touch over the years, and when Jez relocated down to Melbourne from Queensland, we chatted over a few beers and I asked him what he was doing musically and where Budd was at. At that stage Budd was just Jez without a band, so I suggested that Tom Jackman (Ricaine, The Godless Few, Sealfinger) and myself could help him do another record.
Christbait was a full-time band was because none of us had real day jobs.
You contributed to Jawa, an album that added some different flavours to the sludginess. What was that record like to make?
Like most things it took longer than it should. We tracked the songs with Jason PC of Goatsound in a rehearsal space, then later did the additional tracks and mixed it entirely in my garage. Half of the songs were ones Jez had already and the other half were songs we wrote together during rehearsals.
I guess the notable divergence from previous Budd material was what my vocals contributed. It was also the first time I got to be a bass player, so it was a new experience for me.
What did you enjoy most about working with Jez and Tom? It’s always good to find a constructive way to hang out with your friends. Another awesome project you are involved in is the supergroup The Ruiner. How is that project different to being in a full-time band like Christbait?
Christbait was a full-time band because none of us had real day jobs. These days, people have jobs and families, so we fit it in between acting like grown-ups.
The Ruiner, sound-wise, is probably the closest thing I’ve done since Christbait. It’s a very slow-moving entity, and since we began we’ve only managed to release two songs.
We do have stuff coming out very soon on Desert Highways, but as I’ve mentioned, it’s a slow process.
Is it less pressure?
Yeah, I guess.
Is the band still active?
We are active when someone offers a show to play or if we get around to recording. Apart from that, no.
Your project with The Godless Few—on some of those songs I’m feeling a Spencer P. Jones solo vibe coming through in the guitar tones. Are you a Beasts of Bourbon fan?
I do like them, however they were not on my radar when writing or recording that album.
I go through periods were I don’t listen to other music at all. I just write my own songs in my head and play them over and over. Most of my music is made for personal consumption, releasing and performing them is an afterthought.
Who are some of your favorite local bands that you think are influential but don’t get much recognition?
I really don’t get out to gigs much to find out… Pod People, Warped, Hoss, Legends of Motorsport, and Sun God Replica has to be my current favorite band. Blood Duster and anything PC has had to do with outside of the stuff we’ve done together, but then again I figure Blood Duster are pretty well recognized.
Can you tell me a bit about your project Sealfinger? You again teamed up with Tom from Budd’s Jawa album. Was this an extension of ideas you were working on previously?
Sealfinger actually pre-dated Budd’s Jawa. It was a follow-on solo project from my solo debut album. I did it so I could pretty much showcase Tom Jackman’s drumming as well as write something abrasive and different than I’d done before. Basic premise was to play one guitar, one drum kit, and perform as a two-piece.
We rehearsed relentlessly for over six months until we were as tight as a drug mule’s anus before a cavity search. I think we again recorded it with Goatsound and I did the rest in my garage. We did about 12 live performances that most people ignored, and so figured it was a bigger inconvenience leaving the comfort of home to do shows nobody went to and only get paid $50 if we were lucky.
I also had a stick in my arse at the time about the way people consumed music, so I made a point of releasing all the songs on the whole album as one continuous track, forcing the listener to play the entire album in sequence and reducing the ability to skip ahead. I rate it as one of the better things I’ve done.
There was some small public radio station in NSW that played it in its entirety, which I found immensely satisfying.
Including your solo work, what project of yours has been most rewarding?
Financially, nothing I’ve done has been rewarding. Creatively, however, I do get a buzz from the process of making a song, building it up and putting it to paper. The immediate reward I get from that trumps all other aspects of the music, be it listening, recording, or performing live. It is why I like to release albums of unfinished demos. They are snapshots of that fresh, immediate process of songs that I’m likely never going to flesh out or ever perform live.
As I said before, my music is first made for my personal consumption. Saturday Night Believer was my first attempt at doing virtually everything myself. It’s not the greatest recording due to my limited studio ability, but the fact it was pretty much all me was rewarding enough.
My day job consisted of slowly rotting away at a desk under florescent lighting. It paid better, but it also sucked the life out of me.
I had even pulled a band together (The Godless Few) to perform it live. Did one show and then shelved it. I just didn’t feel right not being able to pay people for their time, and didn’t feel confident enough to pull off fronting a band under my own name. It terrified me at the time. That album broke my heart. I loved it, but it received zero attention. It’s been over 10 years since then, so I may have another crack at a solo band or not.
Do you find that projects that go very smoothly pull the music out of you, or does the reverse generally apply?
I’ve never really had a problem with finding the songs. I have more of a problem with finding the time and vehicle to deliver them.
How did you get into brewing beer? It seems like that too would be a creative process.
It had been a serious hobby for quite a number of years and I got pretty involved. It’s a scientific process that allows you to be creative, and I enjoy drinking. Over time I’d made some friends in the beer scene and put the feelers out for any entry-level work in the industry. At the time, my day job consisted of slowly rotting away at a desk under florescent lighting. It paid better, but it also sucked the life out of me.
I like to tell my mother that the blasphemous-sounding band she never liked helped me get a job
Fortunately through some good timing I was able to pick up a gig as a trainee brewer. It was a steep learning curve, but I loved what I was doing. The head brewer at my interview happened to be a big Christbait fan. Not to say that it landed the job for me, but I like to tell my mother that the blasphemous sounding band she never liked helped me get a job.
Are you owner of the business?
No, maybe one day. Breweries and distilleries take a fair bit of capital to start up, it’s not for the faint-hearted. You have to be mad as well.
You must have a shitload of friends being a brewer.
Only while the keg remains full of beer.
As you have gotten older, has your attitude to life or lifestyle changed much or do you think and do stuff in the same way as you did in your 20s?
In my 20s I didn’t have anywhere near the experience, commitments, and responsibilities I have today, so yes things have changed. I still like writing songs, making booze, and try spending time to travel.
What are you currently working on?
Along with continuing the work I do with The Ruiner, the past year has been writing and recording demos for my next solo album.
What kind of music are you interested in playing or making at the moment?
Stripped-back acoustic songs with steel guitars and big rich harmonies. But with me, anything is possible… bee-bop polka maybe!?
So what can fans expect?
I’m hoping to get the next solo album released some time in 2016. Should also see a release by The Ruiner before this year is out. Will make an effort to do some acoustic gigs that will likely consist of me either playing to an empty room, or a venue of people who like to talk over the top of the songs throughout the entire set, prompting me to go all GG Allin, take a shit on the floor and fling it at them.