Posted November 26, 2003


With a rapturously-received European tour under their belts (their first since 1978) earlier in 2003, Radio Birdman are firing like a well-primed machine. Anticipation is high for their return to Australian shores with just two shows planned for 2003, the first at Sydney's Gaelic Club on December 11 and the second, a headlining appearance at the Meredith Festival in Victoria, two days later. The I-94 Bar covered the European tour extensively from a fan perspective with a plethora of reviews from the audience in our Eurostrike section, but felt it was high time we heard form the band. DENIZ TEK kindly obliged when THE BARMAN threw some questions his way, including a handful about the forthcoming studio album and persistent rumours that a USA tour may also be in the offing.

Q So it's two Australian shows only for Birdman before Xmas?

One at the Gaelic Club in Sydney where Rob, Jim and I played with Deep Reduction last June, and one at the Meredith Festival in Victoria.

Q Is the brief appearance back on home shores due to member availability?

Actually member availability is due to the shows.

Q Support for the Sydney show is the Modey Lemon, a new American band we're yet to hear. Do you know much about them?

Sorry, but I have no idea. I have been living in a pretty remote area in Montana. No good radio stations. Of course that can be true anywhere these days...

Q The dust has now settled on the European tour. How was it?

I had a good time out there, and it looked like the people did too. I think the band was better than previous tours. Chris' guitar sound was more back to 75/76. No Fenders this time. It rocked.

Q And sorry to pose a hoary old chestnut but did relationships between band members emerge unscathed?

Well, we had to kill Pip, but were able to scrape up a few cells and have sent them off to a cloning lab.

Q Which were the stand-out gigs? From what I hear, the intensity level and jamming both climbed as the dates went on...

The thing is, we had several days of solid practice and a top grade alcohol diet in Spain before we started, so we hit the ground already up to speed and hitting on all cylinders. It took one or two gigs to tweak the stage sound, is all. I guess for me London, Bologna, Bielefeld, Oslo were standouts, but there were no really bad gigs.

Q Reports had it that Ron was drumming better than ever and you and Klondike were really pleased with the stage sound and combination you were locking into.

Ron was drumming great. Chris and I were generally able to hear each other at most shows, so we could engage in what Keith and Brian called "the ancient art of guitar weaving". We left room in some of the cover songs for free jamming which is always interesting because you have no idea where you are going until you get there. Very occasionally, you can escape the tyranny of idioms.

Q What was the deal with the four guitar version of "City Slang" when you and Chris joined the Hydromatics on stage in Germany?

When Fred Smith would sometimes ask me to play with his band on "City Slang" in the late '70s, he would say that you can never have too many guitars in that song. (Apparrently, there are 12 guitar tracks on the record). Scott Morgan and I have experimented with three and sometimes four guitars in our live line-ups with Powertrane and 3 Assassins, it works out very well at times and generates tremendous power but you have to be comfortable with ensemble playing and be listening to the other guys.

So, when we found ourselves on the same bill, we thought it would be a good idea to experiment with this idea on the Germans.

Q So when's the next European tour and - in response to a steady barrage to the Bar of e-mails from people in that part of the world - what about the U.S.A.?

We don't know yet. Stand by for word on that. It looks, finally, that we might be able to do something in the USA. It seems like there's a curse on it ever since they cancelled our USA tour with the Ramones that was scheduled for late 1978. There is a rumour that the White Stripes manager has offered to help put something together.

Q Were you surprised at all by any of the reactions in Europe, especially in parts where the band had never been like Italy and Norway?

Pleased, but not surprised. This is Radio Birdman, after all. After 25 years of hype you expect people to get sort of excited.

Q It must have been ironic to go down so well in London. Was that an expat Aussie crowd or a good proportion of locals too?

I think it was mostly locals. Contrary to folklore, we had some very strong gigs in London in '78, especially at the Marquee and the Hope and Anchor, with packed house and wild crowds. London show this time wasn't much different than those.

Q Rob did shows in Los Angeles and San Francisco with the Leaving Trains on the way home to promote the U.S. release of "We Got This". Have you heard how those gigs went and have they left him any keener to play the States?

Steve Godoy went to those shows and said they were great, especially the second one in SF at the Bottom Of The Hill. Kim Cooper from Scram Magazine also gave glowing reports. I haven't actually talked to Rob about it yet except on e-mail.Q You moved back to Montana for six months early in 2003 and haven't exactly been inactive. I believe a new Glass Insects album is in the can with Jim Dickson and Dave Weyer. Jim's addition is certainly going to add something extra in texture but will it be as "out there" as the first one?

It's way more out there than the first one. We were messing around with a Gibbs Unit and a newly modified Davophone, and the thing started to play itself! We got about six hours of tape. There is stuff on there that has never been heard by human beings before.

Q You've also been working with Ron Sanchez on the odd project, one of which is a soundtrack for a potential live Birdman DVD. What's the status and if Career do it in the USA, will there be an Australian format edition too?

I just saw the finished film edit, and it kills. Darren Moloney filmed it in Brisbane in '02, and did a professional job with four cameras. He got the whole gig. Ron Sanchez helped fix up some things with the sound, which was taken from mixing desk sources. The sound could be better (as always) but it's adequate, you can hear everything, it's balanced, and should master well. There has never been this quality of film of the band since the ABC stuff from '77. The other guys haven't seen it yet, so it is still pending band approval, and if we get past that step then Darren will be putting it out in partnership with us. Nothing is known yet about where, how and when.

Q Speaking of Ron Sanchez, are you doing anything further with Donovan's Brain, who I believe have the best part of half an album recorded? How about the Career Caravan of Stars in 2004?

As a part time member of the Brain I'm sure they'll find some more stuff for me to do sometime.

The Career Cavalcade of Stars is an idea still in the planning stage. It would have the Brain, Golden Breed, Penny Ikinger, and Angie Pepper touring the west coast of America in a bus, with guest appearances by others which might include Roy Loney.

Q Then there's that Sonic Assasin live album coming down the pipeline that you and Scott Morgan recorded. Can you tell us a little about that?

Recorded at two shows in Italy and France in 2001. The sound quality is exceptional. The band is Scott Morgan, me, and three members of A-10 who now call themselves Sonic Assassin. Hence, 3 Assassins. We do a mix of Scotts and my material.

Q Angie's album has been released in the time you both moved back to the States, going out on Career outside Australia and Citadel here. How has the reaction been?

Haven't heard much in the press but individual reactions are glowing. We are both super happy with it as a record. It not only honours Angie's past efforts, with great girl-group and Passengers type songs, plus it breaks some very new ground. There's even bits of the first Glass Insects in there. I hope people get to know about it. Their loss if they dont.

Q Speaking of albums, Birdman is slated to record in the first quarter of 2004. How many songs are ready and did you put much together on the road or is that still ahead of you?

Can't really say anything about it except that we are working on it.

Q Any decision on a producer or which label it will go out on in various countries? How far off would a release be?

I would guess that we'll do it independently, but nothing is set in stone at this point. We are not interested in major labels.

Q I saw you recently quoted in Australian Guitarist magazine as saying the new stuff would "piss off the obsessives". Will Birdman, as a band, be consciously striving to break new ground or do you think that's an inevitability of you all changing and growing as players?

If we tried to make a "typical Radio Birdman album" it would require conscious striving, and it would never get there. It would be like trying to build a 1958 tube amp out of modern components, impossible. The old albums were not atavistically or self consciously contrived, and maybe thats one reason they were OK. So the thing to do now, is just go ahead from where we are now, which is a far different place than it was 30 years ago. We'll define what Radio Birdman is, rather than let it define us.

Q Whatever happened to the tracks you recorded in Melbourne 18 months ago and will they surface on the album or on a single? No more word on your contribution to the Alice Cooper trib?

The only finished track is "The Ballad of Dwight Frye". If the others surface anywhere it will be because of a security failure. As far as I know, the SubPop AC tribute is still going to happen, with our track on it.

Q The shows since the mid-2002 run have been notable for the variety of covers you've played, as well as the odd new song like "What It's For". Can we expect any surprises in the two dates you're doing in Australia before Xmas and is there a prospect of more shows before you record?

I'm sure there will be something new. We'll sort it out the day or two before...maybe on the day. We don't plan this stuff definitely, although we kick around ideas on the email we never know until we get there.

No more shows are booked beyond Meredith so far.

Q So it's a move back to Australia for much of 2004? Any other musical plans for next year?

I'll be back in Australia with the family in a couple of weeks, and plan to stay. I hope we can get another Angie Pepper album out, do the Career tour, get the Glass Insects and 3 Assassins records out, and do the Radio Birdman album and maybe a tour. That should be enough since I still have to work and pay the rent as well.