Posted August 2, 2009

WORDS: Patrick Emery

LIVE PHOTOS: Richard Sharman of Blackshadow Photography

The Dacios were recently fortunate to be the subject of a small feature in the Australian edition of Rolling Stone magazine. Despite the band’s best endeavours, the feature inadvertently symbolised Rolling Stone’s increasingly futile efforts to position itself as a journal of rock’n’roll credibility rather than conveying the melodic rock’n’roll brutality of The Dacios.

Dacios guitarist Linda Johnston’s comments were stripped of original context and dressed up in discursive flourishes that threw back to an era when magazines such as Rolling Stone constructed their identity on the margins of polite society. For The Dacios, it was frustrating. But there’s no bitterness – and when you’ve got an album of the quality of "Monkeys Blood", and a live performance so powerful it threatens the structural integrity of even the most resilient music venue, who gives a shit about the irrelevant rhetoric of the mainstream music media?

We’re gathered in the beer garden of the Wesley Anne bar in Northcote to discuss The Dacios’ debut album. Johnston apologies for the absence of her brother, and co-writer, Bean, who’s laid up with the ubiquitous seasonal flu. Compensating for Bean’s absence we’re joined by drummer (and one-time bassist) Gus (Brian Hooper Band) and recent addition Kim Volkman (X, Whisky Priests) – not to mention an occasionally rowdy surrounding cast of Wesley Anne patrons, one of whom is obviously celebrating a birthday.

“I grew up in Smithton, on the north-west coast of Tasmania, but my musical history is in Hobart,” Johnston explains,
when I ask her to delve back into pre-Dacios history.

“It’s a small country town in Tasmania, so I suppose people could say it has its charms – there were nice of parts of it, there was a dairy, there’s a rainforest, it’s quite beautiful in some places. But growing up in a small town, population 3000 when you end up doing what I’m doing, then it’s pretty hard to fit in,” Johnston laughs.

“I remember when the first record store opened up in Smithton. It was about the same time as the pizza shop opened – it was like ‘you can go to the shop, order a pizza, get the pizza and eat it there and then go and buy a record,” Johnston says.

“Which would fit in the pizza box,” Gus adds with a smirk. Johnston and her brother grew up listening to their parents’ music collection – Bob Dylan, The Band and some lesser lights, including Leo Sayer (at this point Gus professes a latent interest in Leo’s work, much to his band mates’ amusement) and Neil Diamond.

Linda learnt the rudiments of guitar at an early age and taught her elder brother Bean his first guitar chords at the age of 12. “I taught Bean D, A and G – and he pretty well went nuts on it. He just couldn’t get enough of it, listening to music, playing guitar.” Around ten years later Linda and Bean had both moved to Hobart. “He had a boring job in a bank, and I was married and living in the bush – I was a hippie. We started jamming, playing a few Beatles songs, some Stones, Patti Smith.”

A friend loaned Linda and Bean a copy of The Birthday Party’s "Junkyard" and things were never quite the same again.

“He had this massive record collection, and he gave us "Junkyard" to listen to. Up until that time the most radical thing I’d been listening to was The Clash or Talking Heads,” Linda says. “We both looked at each other and thought ‘we have no idea what this is’, so we kept putting it on and listening to it. After a couple of weeks it started making sense, and we starting hearing the music, and we decided to start a band,” Linda says.

Linda moved across to Melbourne permanently about ten years ago – “I moved across once before, and it was a debacle” – eventually forming the Little Ugly Things alongside Bean. About five years later Bean and Linda decided to form The Dacios, initially as a two-piece.

“We did the first Pony 3am slot – if you’d seen that you’d remember it,” Linda laughs. “That took a lot of preparation, a lot of wheeling and dealing. It was off its head that night. The last thing I remember was being up on stage with Van Walker, who was playing drums – and he can’t play drums for shit,” Linda says. “He was hitting the drums,” Gus says. “God knows what we were doing, but the management came and pulled the power out of the wall – but it was a great night,” Linda laughs.

The band’s name was taken from friends of the Johnston’s grandparents, a Ukrainian immigrant couple who featured prominently in Bean and Linda’s childhood. “They wore their gumboots in the house, which terrified me for some reason. But they were warm hearted, generous people”.

The two-piece became a three-piece when Bean and Linda’s younger brother Pops joined on drums. Kirsty Stegwazi (Bedridden, Hand Hell) joined on bass – recording the songs that would end up on "Monkeys Blood" – before Gus was enlisted to take over bass duties after Stegwazi’s departure.

“I’d played with these guys when they were a two-piece back in the day, and I was struck by this racket that was being created. Then I saw them at the Town Hall and they’d turned into a three-piece with Pops on drums. And I got it all of a sudden. I got really fuckin’ pissed and I went up to Linda and said ‘if you ever need a bass player‘, and two years later I got the call,” Gus says. Pops returned to Hobart, and The Dacios went into temporary limbo. “Then we thought ‘Gus is the best drummer in Melbourne!’ and so we asked him to play drums,” Linda says.

While Linda and Bean were confident they could exist without a bass player, fate stepped in when Kim Volkman became a free agent after leaving X. “Kim works at the same place as me and Bean do, and we asked him if he wanted to play bass and he was like ‘yep’,” Linda says.

“I didn’t even know the songs yet,” Volkman laughs. “They loaned me a disc and I went home and slung it on, and within the first 30 seconds I loved it – such great songs,” Volkman says.

Linda admits to feeling fortunate that fate has dealt her a plentiful hand with the current line-up of The Dacios. “It’s fortunate to form a band with people you don’t know when you’re at this time in your life – we’re not all spring chickens,” Linda says.

“To form a band with people you feel a bond with creatively, but also on a personal level is a privilege, it really is,” Linda says.

Having recorded the album a couple of years ago at Soundpark, Linda and Bean had almost resigned themselves to never seeing the album appear officially. Eventually, however, the rejuvenated Dacios line-up proved the catalyst for the release of Monkeys Blood on Solar/Sonar Records.

“To some degree when you have a strong force together and then it disbands then you lose a bit of heart, so we did flounder a bit with finishing it,” Linda says. “And then at one point we got the enthusiasm to realise that it was a good album, and with Gus coming into the band with his creative energy it helped us get it together to get the album out,” Linda says. “By the time I joined I was a massive fan, so for me it was a dream – I was playing some of my favourite music in Melbourne,” Gus says.

Linda puts her philosophical attitude toward playing music down to her formative musical years in Hobart.

“There’s no music industry in Hobart and the scene is very much to do with a very sincere and pure love of music. Everyone’s very young and disorganised, but at the same time everyone’s really passionate. But no-one ever thinks of anything other what their gig is.

" At that time you didn’t have grandiose visions of what you were going to do. It was parochial, but there also a lot of good that came out of it, in that people are very proud of what they do creatively. And that’s why you got great bands coming out of Hobart, like Mouth, Stickmen, Surgery – fantastic bands, who were really amazing in terms of their creative drive and innovation,” Linda says.

At this point Gus interjects with a valuable culinary metaphor – this was after all, two days after a zillion Australian viewers watched the final of Master Chef. “When you’re older your anger changes as well. There’s a time for the hamburger with the lot, and there’s a time for the slow cooked meal,” Gus muses.