Posted January 15, 2008


Died Pretty 2008: Chris Welsh, Steve Clark, Brett Myers, Ron Peno and John Hoey.

By THE BARMAN

Ron Peno's not in the best position to judge why "Doughboy Hollow" is Died Pretty's most popular album. The vocalist for the soon-to-be-briefly-revived Sydney band is way too close to what he says was a watershed release.

It was 1991 and Album Number Four saw Died Pretty taking a step up. After two long players ("Lost" and "Every Brilliant Eye") on Festival's niche Blue Mosque label, they were now elevated to the company's front ranks.

"It's a really loved album of ours. It's the most loved by Joe Public. I don't really know why," Peno says.

"It's a nice album. There's a certain maturity jumping from 'Every Brilliant Eye' into this album, we turned a major corner in our musical career."

I'll suggest that "nice" is probably understating things and "Doughboy" presented concise, melodic and well-crafted songs with a transparent yet strong and layered production that had until then eluded the band. And that it grabbed mainstream audience's attention without pissing off the old fans.

Ron: "It did push us out there (into the public eye.) It just didn't keep us there."

That's a story we'll relate in a moment but if you missed "Doughboy Hollow" the first time out, or have just wised up years after the event, there's one more chance to soak yourself in it live and up close.

Died Pretty are reforming - briefly - for a series of shows under the "Don't Look Back" festival banner, where much-loved bands reprise a much-loved work from cover-to-cover.

They'll do so in tandem with Ed Kuepper whose similarly-vintaged "Honey Steels Gold" gets an airing. If you're a fan of either album (or the artists responsible) it's a coupling not to be missed.

But back to 1991. "Doughboy Hollow" charted respectably and was nominated for two ARIA awards. The critics dug it. Radio played it. So far, so good.

US Rolling Stone opined: "Doughboy Hollow is a gorgeous effort that tells a story – albeit a sad one – with intelligence and grace. On the current "alternative" scene, replete with escapist posturing and forgettable, next-big-thing ambitions, it is an achievement worth celebrating."

So why aren't the band members retired and living in the south of France? Seventeen years later, Ron Peno Does Look Back.

"I'll never forgive the record company. Festival Records had it (the album) at the time.

"The CEO rang (manager John) Needham and said: 'It's only sold 10,000. It's selling out the back door'. And pulled the plug on promotion.

"It was like: 'You prats! How dare you! There was something special happening here'.

"Years later. we were on Sony and they said: 'We wish we'd had that album'. Things might have been different had we given that album to Sony."

You sense it's a regret tinged with pragmatism rather than bitterness. Peno's happy with his achievements - Died Pretty ("my musical peak") achieved star status in Europe and released eight fully-fledged albums. All members have moved on to other things. Like families or day jobs.

Peno and guitarist Brett Myers (the songwriting core of Died Pretty) have a low-key side project called Noises and Other Voices. With Kim Salome, Ron is half the country duo The Darling Downs.

This configuration of the band - Peno, Myers, keyboardist John Hoey, drummer Chris Welsh and bassist Steve Clark - won't be the final 2002 farewell tour line-up, but the one that recorded "Doughboy". Clark spooned moved on, citing tinitus. Welsh's departure ushered in a rotating cast of timekeepers.

The decision to use the "authentic" line-up for this reunion has caused some understandable angst among some ex-members whose contribution to the band's longevity is undeniable. Peno sincerely hopes the hurt will wear off.

Putting that to one side, you have to ask how it felt to harness up for a week of Died Pretty rehearsals in Sydney before Christmas, especially as Chris Welsh now earns a living as a teacher in Thailand and doesn't play regularly.


The way there were: Welsh, Myers, Peno, Hoey and Clark in Manhattan, circa 1992. Tony Mott photo

"The rehearsals were fantastic Welshie played like a demon. To us it sounded like we'd had a couple of week's break from each other."

You can't tell the "Doughboy Hollow" story without talking about the production. To that end, Died Pretty co-opted Englishman Hugh Jones.

"We were given a list of producers at the time. Hugh Jones, I think, (for) his previous work with Echo and the Bunnymen. We went, 'Yeah cool, let's go with this guy.' There was a bunch of stuff that sort of appealed to us.

"He proved to be a really sweet guy and such a workaholic. He was amazing! He was out here for two weeks and I think he slept for hour hours in total. I saw him eat some toast once."

"Doughboy" marked a conscious shift in direction for the Pretties. As Brett Myers told Lemon magazine in 1992: "We wanted to write more concise pop songs. Also, we didn't want to piss around too much. We had something to say and we wanted to make it as nice and 'sayable', and not have anything that wasn't supposed to be there.

"The production is more textured and layered. The last one we did ['Every Brilliant Eye'] had a more rock'n'roll production. Big drums, big loud guitars. I guess at times it stripped away the subtlety of the band and made us a bit bludgeoning. But with this one there's more pieces. The whole thing is more dense. There's more mystery to it. You can listen to it and not get the whole picture."

Fitting, then, that the band used an Englishman in light of Ron's recollection that most the music Myers brought to the table was written during some brief downtime in the UK.

"I think Brett did a lot of the songs in London in Needham's flat. It was a time when Brett stayed on in London after a European tour. He whipped out the acoustic. There was a great bunch of tunes there.

"Every tune was a gem, I thought at the time."

Even gems have a dark side and Peno's always compelling lyrics have some hidden layers. Go on, tell us about "Sweetheart", Ron...

"It's coming out in the liner notes! The album's being re-released and I had to explain a few of the songs...it's been more than 15 years since the release...I can actually tell them it's about a serial killer. Ed Gein.

"At the time I thought I'm not going to tell anyone.

"I think Corey from The Welcome Mat, who were a band we toured with, came the closest to guessing. We played some shows with them and he asked, 'Is this about Ed Gein?' 'Yes it is, actually'.

"It was 1950s Wisconsin. A little farming community called Plainfield. 'Plainfield is home sweet home'."

Truth be known, it was a home decorated with lampshades and furnishings made from human skin. Tell the story to "Better Homes and Gardens."

A central element on "Doughboy" is the alternately driving and rolling piano lines of John Hoey. "D.C." (Myers/Peno) is an undeniably great single (one of three from the record) but the Hoey/Peno-penned "Godbless" (a B side to "Stop Myself") might just be the pick of the cuts. In a direct predecessor of what's now known as an electronic bulletin board cross-post, it manages to lyrically reference another contemporary Sydney band in the Sunnyboys.

"Hoey had this tune. It was one of the first times I'd worked (on songwriting) with anyone outside of Brett. I'd never sung with a keyboard melody before. I sang, "Here I am/Alone With You/The Sunnyboys, Godbless them/And Godbless you".

"So the song wrote itself.

"I loved the Sunnyboys. One of my all-time favourite bands. So it was a nice little tribute to them."

So is it possible to pick a favourite from the litter of 11 offspring?

"I like them all, actually. Probably 'Out In The Rain' the least. To me it's like a French Francois Hardy type of songs, one of those French pop songs.

"I think 'Disaster' is really special for me. It was written to friends and there are some lovely lines in there that I'm proud of."

So you know the tour's in the offing. Here's a scoop. There's also a documentary pending.

Interviews have been shot with key personnel and a crew documented rehearsals after Ron and former Died Pretty keyboardist Frank Brunetti had met the Melbourne producers to give them the once over.

"We sat around their boardroom. I took Frank with me and met them, had nibblies and wine and stuff. They were huge fans, they were now in a position to do a documentary.

"They're nice people. We wanted to make sure they were and that they'd do the job properly.

"THey're hoping for theatrical release so they're looking to do it big."

Don't expect the doco or tour to spawn another five studio albums. The door's fairly well shut. "We all have new lives," Peno says, breaking out of our phone call to urge his son to stop jumping on the lounge and watch Looney Tunes ("one of dad's favourites".)

Perhaps the definitive word on this reunion should come from that prescient '92 interview Lemon did with Brett Myers.

"There's nothing worse than trying to prove yourself over and over. We don't want to be like these 40-year-old guys playing heavy rock. It seems pathetic to me. I'd rather do what we feel comfortable with and what we feel natural with.

"Fuck, there's hundreds of loud screaming rock bands, but there's not many around like us."

Well said.

The battery's just about dead in his cordless phone ("I moved to Melbourne six years ago and I haven't replaced it since then!") so how about a final word about "Doughboy Hollow" and what makes it special to Ron Peno?

"It was such a pleasure to record, it was a pleasure to write for. The demos were a pleasure to do. The whole thing was pleasurable."

DIED PRETTY performing Doughboy Hollow w/ special guest ED KUEPPER performing Honey Steels Gold *
Feb 8th: SYDNEY, Enmore Theatre *
Tickets $56.50 (includes GST & booking fees - some transaction fees may apply). Available online from: www.ticketek.com.au or via phone 132-849. Also available from www.enmoretheatre.com or in person at the Enmore Theatre box office.

Feb 9th: BRISBANE, The Tivoli *
Tickets $49.50 (includes GST & booking fees - some transaction fees may apply) direct from the Tivoli - Phone: (07) 3852 1711 or Ticketek: All outlets (phone: 132-849) or online: www.ticketek.com.au or Rocking Horse or Skinny's Record stores.

Feb 14th: ADELAIDE, The Gov
Tickets $40.00 + bf available from The Gov 8340 0744 and Venue-tix 8225 8888 or www.venuetix.com.au

March 15th: MELBOURNE, The Forum *
Tickets $52.50 (includes GST & booking fees - some transaction fees may apply) from www.ticketek.com.au http://www.ticketek.com.au/ or phone 132-849.

Feb 16th: FREMANTLE, Fly By Night Club
Tickets $40.00 + bf available from BOCS ticketing Phone: 9484 1133 or online @ www.bocsticketing.com.au