Published on May 15th, 2015 | by The Beige Baron0
Interview: Dave Graney
Both the man and his music are regarded with deep affection, from the city fringes and redneck country towns to the aloof sophistication of inner Sydney.
There’s something disarming and incongruous about a lounge-loving punk-rocker with a penchant for lavender jumpsuits, pencil moustaches, and broad-brimmed hats, someone who is equally at ease talking regional footie teams and how to correctly maintain the Holden Monaro as he is discussing classical music or the mythology of the American west.
With Graney, these seeming contradictions sit comfortably—he oozes confidence, a dry and laconic wit diffusing any suggestion of pretension.
There is also a sense that this confidence was hard-won, and that his recognition as something of an eccentric cultural icon didn’t happen by accident, but was earned through hard work, perseverance, and an unwillingness to compromise his own personal musical vision.
Dave Graney—The Golden Wolverine—is man that doesn’t give much of a shit what anyone thinks, and perhaps he hasn’t given one for quite some time.
“I am and always have been pretty straight-forward guy,” Graney tells BNU over email. “The music scene is pretty much all private school people, so they don’t know the difference. I am neither a suburban nor a nice guy, I suppose.
Our first shows in the UK were opening for The Fall and the Go-Betweens.
Central to a music scene so beautifully preserved and encapsulated on the double CD album Tales from the Australian Underground: Singles 1976—1989, Graney formed legendary post-punk band Moodists from the ashes of Adelaide band The Sputniks with bandmates Clare Moore and Steve Miller, later adding guitarist Mick Turner (Sick Things, Fungus Brains, The Dirty Three) to the lineup.
Graney recalls the Moodists: “We lived and played (almost exclusively) in the derelict, bohemian Melbourne suburb of St Kilda and when we travelled to Sydney, we played almost exclusively in the derelict, bohemian inner city suburb of Darlinghurst.
“In late 1983 we moved to London where we spent the rest of what was our career… Our friends and contemporaries were the Go-Betweens, the Birthday Party, the Laughing Clowns, the Triffids, the Died Pretty, the Beasts of Bourbon, the Feral Dinosaurs…
“Our first shows in the UK were opening for The Fall and the Go-Betweens. I would characterise it as more of an interior, mythological trip we were on. All the music we heard and the magazines we read were imported. It was all exotic and so very far away.
“In Australia, the suburban pubs were where you went to pursue a career in music. We only played the inner city venues. We never even really tried to venture any further. In essence, most of the inner city crowd all came from the outer suburbs and didn’t really want to go back.”
Dave Graney and the Coral Snakes formed (with Moore on drums) after Moodists disbanded in 1987. Adding ex-Orange Juice member Malcolm and gigging around London, the band recorded just one album before being forced back to Australia due to visa issues.
The band release a couple of records before a major breakthrough with Night of the Wolverine on Polydor in 1993, and soon afterwards You Wanna Get There But You Don’t Wanna Travel, the former with the hit song You’re Just Too Hip, Baby; the latter I’m Gonna Release Your Soul and You Wanna Be Loved.
These tracks catapulted Graney into the lives of a younger generation of listeners, particularly kids in regional areas that, thanks to radio station JJJ’s now national reach, had better access to alternative music.
For me, as a teenage metalhead trapped in a small country town, hearing Dave Graney and the Coral Snakes simultaneously attracted and repulsed. It affected me in ways I couldn’t explain. I didn’t know who they were. Where they were from. I liked it. I just didn’t know what the hell it was.
Inclusion on Triple J’s end-of-year Hottest 100 albums ensured that thousands of kids at house parties everywhere were getting wasted to something hip, cultured, and cool, a succulent side-dish to the red meat of Green Day, White Zombie, Deftones, and Sepultura.
Graney was different. His videos were funny, sarcastic, and provocative. It was OK to love it. His music had something sexy and sophisticated in it that scratched an itch no amount of Nirvana or Dinosaur Jr. could reach.
Songs like Rock ‘n’ Roll is Where I Hide, I’m Not Afraid to Be Heavy (from The Soft & Sexy Sound) and Feelin’ Kind of Sporty (The Devil Drives, 1997) not only won recognition with numerous ARIA awards, but they also began to cement Graney in people’s minds as a permanent part of the Australian musical landscape, not someone who belonged in the ’80s, but someone who was now.
Graney has continued to be one of the hardest-working entertainers following the demise of the Coral Snakes in 1998, with national tours and recording with his bands The Dave Graney Show, The Royal Dave Graney Show, Dave Graney & The Lurid Yellow Mist, and currently, Dave Graney and MistLY.
His music continues to describe a vast and eccentric array of influences and obsessions; from country to R&B, to disco, lounge, and rock ‘n’ roll. Stints as a radio host on Melbourne’s 3RRR, newspaper columns, memorable television appearances on much-loved programs such as Club Buggery with Roy & HG, as well as a number of books have kept him in the public eye and sustained his relevance.
You get the feeling this guy hasn’t even started, and he’s been at it for close to 40 years.
Like The Rat Pack, The Sex Pistols, or Elvis, Graney seems born for entertaining people, being on stage, expressing himself and sharing his energy. It seems to be in his blood.
BNU recently got the chance to try to find out why.
BNU: My sisters introduced me to a lot of music when I was a kid. Do you have any brothers or sisters? Did you get along? What music did they introduce you to?
We had a big family and two rooms for five and then six kids. We each left home at around 16 or 18, as there wasn’t much room.
We had no car or phone and a little record player in a suitcase. My brothers bought records by The Beatles. My sister had a poster of Led Zeppelin on her wall. My second older brother got a car at 17 and it had an eight-track player. I’d go sit in it and listen to Deep Purple In Rock. Sweet Child in Time sounded haunting.
Two cousins, who were surfers, came visiting and carrying a copy of an album by The Who. Pre-Tommy. I used to love The Rolling Stones and coveted lots of blues records. As a teen I loved Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf the most.
Did you ever go on school holidays somewhere when you were a kid? Where did you go? Did you ever meet anyone that impressed you or changed you when you were on holidays?
We rarely holidayed. Six kids and no car. Occasional trips on the train to Adelaide. I went on a football trip to Melbourne when I was 15 or 16. Got caught by the cops buying a lot of booze for the team and sent home in shame. The team was all the best players of SA and Western Victoria.
Country Victorians had variations of the Sharpie look, that was impressive.
Got caught by the cops buying a lot of booze for the team
Did you enjoy school? Who was your favourite teacher? Were you compliant or rebellious as a teenager? Why?
I enjoyed school, though the teens were a traumatic and mythological time for me. Teachers were daggy. I went to a state school and it was great, very well funded. I didn’t do any maths, really, after year 10. Enjoyed Ancient History, would have enjoyed further education but never got around to it.
Do you remember the first thing you ever recorded as a musician and what was the reaction of people when you played it to them?
It was awful and I still can’t bear to hear it. I played musk for years with ambitions far above my abilities.
I loved people who’d gotten their tone and skills through years of playing and trying things out. I was only hearing the end result. Some of the Moodists stuff sounds better than I thought now. The more it went along the better it got.
Do you remember your first gig as a band? How did you feel? Were you nervous?
It was at a party we held in Mt Gambier at a soccer club in 1978. Me and my mates were living in Adelaide. We drew a few hundred people. We murdered songs by The New York Dolls and Johnny Thunders Heartbreakers and it would have been horrible. We got paid quite a bit of cash.
How different was the Australian music scene in the 80s to what it is now? Was it a big deal when you first got played on the radio? Do you think, as an artist, doing “promotion” then was as big of a deal for bands then as it is now?
It was a much bigger scene. People had much less choice. The mainstream was huge and there was a reaction against that—which I was a part of.
The world worked nine-to-five and had weekends, and in Melbourne, places closed at 10 o’clock. Banks were places you went into to withdraw money (no holes in the wall), and there was no internet or mobile phones.
Word of mouth was real. We didn’t give a thought about any kind of airplay. In general, the world was PHONY.
I would act tough and joke and smile, people saw that as arrogance.
It was very expensive to record or make records. We were interested in international music and things and thought mainstream Australian music was absolute codswallop.
Your career is studded with famous names… I mean the list is extensive, but I guess back then none of you were very famous. I wonder what impact being recognized and applauded has had on you personally, and also on those you grew up with and played with as a musician?
It was unsettling for me to be a musician in the underworld and then to be a recognisable person. Took years to get used to. With my background I would act tough and joke and smile, people saw that as arrogance.
I had a lot of songs I’d written and ideas about presentation and texture. When people began to see me as a “persona” I closed off to lots of influence but I had stuff to burn for years.
I feel a lot in common with someone like Tex Perkins or Kim Salmon, coming from the same kind of background, I mean working class background. We didn’t learn about music from university, we are pretty much street people in a way. Everything came from TV, really.
What are you favourite memories of living in London? Did you ever get homesick? Who did you meet there? How did life change for you? Was it true you were thrown out of the country?
I loved living in London and touring in Europe. It was dramatic and exciting. I learned so much and was able to dive into my obsessions and interests. Pulp crime books and rock music. Saw lots of great live music.
Things that stick with me: Zodiac Mindwarp opening for Motorhead, Glen Campbell with orchestra, as well as Johnny Cash at the Royal Albert Hall, the Mike Flowers Pops in a theatre show before they recorded anything, Panther Burns, the Butthole Surfers, the Gun Club, the Fall.
I landed in 1983 with 70 quid and spent 40 on a leather jacket.
I landed in 1983 with 70 quid and spent 40 on a leather jacket. I never intended to return to Australia but ultimately, didn’t have the right heritage or visa to stay.
What musician most surprised you when you got together and played?
I haven’t played with many people, really. The people I play with in the mistLY are my faves, Clare, Stu Thomas, and Stuart Perera.
Billy Miller played with us for a while and he was amazingly skilled as well as a great guy. So was Adele Pickvance. Mark Fitzgibbon on piano was amazing as well, and I’d love to play with him again.
Count Basie was asked how he’d liked to be remembered, and he said, “nice guy!” I agree with that. I don’t play or spend time with anybody who doesn’t want to be there or is unhappy.
Why do you love guitar? Is it the sounds it makes? The shape? The feel? You seem like a guy that could make playing “hot crossed buns” on a recorder seem cool. You could probably play anything. Why guitar?
Well, it’s the only instrument I know how to play. I have always liked rock music and it’s been the premier instrument mostly. It’s been through different periods.
Making records in the ’80s and ’90s was tedious as they spent so much time on the guitar sound, placing it in the centre of proceedings. Then the vocal took two takes. Drums should be at the centre.
I love folk players like Davy Graham and Bert Jansch.
I like different periods of guitar sounds. Psychedelic San Francisco, ’40s R&B, rockabilly. I love where they place it in the mix in reggae music. I love jazz players pre- and post-bebop. Kenny Burrell, Grant Green, and Charlie Byrd. I love folk players like Davy Graham and Bert Jansch.
I am addicted to 12-string electric guitar and it takes ages to work a tone on that. Twelve-string acoustic as well.
Your friendship with Clare Moore is pretty amazing. So many years, hairy times, fun times. Why did you like Clare Moore in the first place? What do you most like about her playing?
Clare is a very sophisticated player and musician. We make music together and have written many songs together.
If I said five artists, could you associate five foods or drinks with them? Just for fun.
Damo Suzuki – Something in a CAN
Elton John- Something awful, like a cake with whipped cream
Sid Vicious – Coca-Cola and a burger. Half eaten on a plate with a cigarette butt stubbed in there
Frank Sinatra – Scotch, on the rocks. Marlboro
John Coltrane – Juiced kale
Not really nostalgic, no. But modern times are like a slow moving sci-fi horror movie. We are already in some kind of mix of feudal society and ’30s Germany.
Modern times are like a slow moving sci-fi horror movie.
I think, at some point, people will click with my stuff. It takes time and perspective and I loaded it with a lot of interest.
What are you working on? In what direction are you headed? What do you have in your mind, what do you want to accomplish next?
I am going to release an album—digital only—of demos I made for Night of the Wolverine.
I also want to release some songs from tapes I have of the late-period Moodists as well as some other archival things. I am putting together a book of lyrics and chords from songs I wrote in the period 1998-2015. I did one for the period before that.
My last album Fearful Wiggings came out in 2014 and it was one of my best. I love all the records I’ve made. I have an album I’ve been making with a friend. Kind of a rap album WAM and DAZ. I’m DAZ.
That’ll come out this year perhaps as well.
I have a lot of songs and will work out a way to approach them some time.