Posted December 19, 2008
Photo by Richard Sharman of Blackshadow Photography
RE-ISSUE IS FINAL TWIST FOR
DIED PRETTY'S "FREE DIRT"
By THE BARMAN
That hedonistic, open-all-night and infamous Babylon of underground rock in the '80s, the Sydney Trade Union Club, and the shadowy streets around it saw some strange sights. Not as sordid as some but certainly surreal was the sacrificial burning of a set of the period's most enigmatic lyrics.
It's part of a story Died Pretty guitarist Brett Myers is relating about the last night of recording for the band's May 1985 recording sessions for the "Next To Nothing" EP at the storied Trafalgar Studios in Sydney'sinner-western suburbs.
He and singer Ron Peno were the last band members present after the final touches had been applied to the vocals.
"Ron was always a bit funny about his lyrics and didn't want anyone to know exactly what they were.
"He did a good job because no-one can understand some of them anyway!
"I remember he had all of the lyrics written out on pieces of paper on a music stand, and he took them in his pocket when we hopped out, got a cab and went up the Trade Union Club.
"We got out of the cab and he's going: 'Come on, no-one can ever know what I've sung'.
"So we walked a block from the Trade Union Club and went down an alley. Ron pulled out his lighter and burned them in an alleyway. And he's going: 'Now, no-one can ever know'."
It's a small but important footnote to "Next To Nothing", which forms part of the package that is the indispensable 2008 Aztec Music re-issue re-issue of Died Pretty's 1986 opus long-player "Free Dirt". (If you're up for a challenge, grab a copy, give it a spin and and drop us a line when you've transcribed the words.)
The release itself is a lovingly-assembled digipack gem with outtakes, live tracks, singles and rarer recordings sitting next to the album itself, spread across two CDs.
"Next To Nothing" is important in the Died Pretty canon because, as Myers explains, that was "definitely the sound that was in our heads and the first time it was realised".
It was also a stepping stone to the widescope, swelling magnificence of "Free Dirt" that really put the band on the Australian map and catapulted them overseas. Died Pretty had more commercially successful albums (most notably the sublime "Doughboy Hollow") but "Free Dirt" captured a band breaking out musically and a special time in their hometown that won't ever be matched.
Myers is well-pleased with Aztec's efforts, which are a move away from regular home, Citadel. He says manager (and Citadel label owner) John Needham took some convincing but Myers himself was won over by Aztec's lavish representation of '60s and '70s artists like Billy Thorpe and Lobby Loyde.
"I guess I like the fact that it gives a new perspective on what we did and I couldn't be happier with it," he adds.
Packaging to one side, "Free Dirt" still sounds stunning - and unique in many ways.
"I never had a huge distance from it," Myers says of "Free Dirt".
"Citadel re-issued it in '89 or '90. I probably gave it a few spins when we were talking about what to play on the farewell tour but I've never had a huge time away from it.
"It was such an exciting time - it's always great doing your first album - and there were no dated production techniques or ideas. The songs sound fresh and exciting to me."
Pressed to sum up the band's essence when the album was recorded, the lanky guitarist pauses thoughtfully.
"Young, loud and pretty!"
"To be honest, we didn't sound like anything else around at the time. Not that we set out to be that way, but we weren't a Detroit rock band and weren't paying hard fast music.
"(Writer) Clinton Walker once called us 'a loud slow band' rather than 'a loud fast band' - I thought that was OK. We had our up-tempo numbers but that wasn't our bread and butter.
"But a lot of bands playing at the Trade and anywhere in Surry Hills were Radio Birdman clones, for better or worse.
"We were loathe to sign to Citadel for that reason...we were going to go with Hot but got the shits with them and Citadel was 'that horrible Detroit label'.
"In the end, we felt confident we'd stand on our own merits. John turned out to be a nice guy and within six months was managing us. The rest is history."
If you're lucky, you'll catch a dose of history and vitality all in one and see Died Pretty at one of the five Australian dates of the 2009 Big Day Out festival.
They just played December shows in Melbourne (The Age newspaper's E.G. Awards) and Sydney (the Homebake festival) in December. When they briefly reformed for the Don't Look Back series in Australia in February '08 it was their appearance live since 2002.
Homebake 2008. Photo by The Barman
"We had a great time at Homebake. It was good fun playing 'Mirror Blues' again. We hadn't done that in a while. I think we played once on that farewell in 2002, so since 1992 we'd probably played it once. It was like an old friend."
On the subject of their re-convening: "I didn't want to take it lightly. I had little desire to get the band back together again. I wouldn't say I didn't miss it, it just wasn't on my radar.
"I'm a fan first and foremost and that whole Don't Look Back concept is a great one. The idea of bands playing their seminal record...it's really, really cool. When (promoter) Tim Pittman talked to me, I wasn't that gung-ho. The more I thought about it, if there was ever going to be a time we played again, this was it.
"I'm not a big fan of reunions but if a band I really liked reformed, I'd probably go and see it.
"But in my experience, reunions don't work that well.
"With the BDO and Homebake, they were nice offers and I thought it would have been churlish to turn them down. I thought those sort of shows would introduce what we did to a whole different audience.
"And we played the first BDO so that's a nice symmetry
"The fantastic thing is Neil Young is headlining the BDO. So I get to see Neil Young five times.
"Missing the All Tomorrow's Parties festival, on the other hand, will give me the shits. But I saw the Laughing Clowns many, many times and I'm going to go see the Silver Apples with Spiritualized at a side show, so that's OK."
And the answer to the $64,000 question is: "We won't be doing any new recordings." But an occasional run of shows? If they involve Europe, the answer's "maybe". Europe was where the band first gained real acceptance and it remains close to Died Pretty's collective heart.
For now fans will have to be content with a likely re-issue of "Lost" (with some unreleased gems), a documentary that's apparently moving along nicely, this run of Big Day Out shows and a second, more organic album from the Myers-Peno project Noises And Other Voices.
BACK TO THE BAR
E.G. Awards, Prince of Wales, St Kilda. 2008. Photo by Richard Sharman of Blackshadow Photography