GURUS GO HOG WILD WITH A
PURITY OF PURPOSE
Words and photos by ROBERT CALABRO
Hoodoo Gurus came back in 2010 with a new and in some respects groundbreaking album, "Purity Of Essence", full of different flavours: rock'n'roll, power pop, R&B. The album was released in Europe some months later and the band toured the Old Continent in autumn "forgetting" to play in Italy. So I decided to take a flight to see them at the Shepherd's Bush Empire in London. The interview with vocalist, guitarist and main songwriter DAVE FAULKNER followed...
You're back with a new album after 2004's "Mach Schau". What have you done in the last six years with and out of the band?
We toured a lot to promote "Mach Schau". Besides playing many shows in Australia, we also went to the U.S. twice, and played the SXSW Festival in Austin, we also visited Spain and the U.K. twice, including a performance at the Glastonbury Festival.
"Purity of Essence" is a record with a wide range of musical inspiration: there are pop numbers, ballads, great rockers, R&B inspired songs… What was your musical aim before entering the studio for this new album?
My main ambition was to not "filter" out any influences: just to let the record be whatever it wanted. "Mach Schau" was a little "one-dimensional" - a fiercely aggressive album. I think the album recording and mixing process exaggerated that aspect of the music and some subtleties got lost but it's hard to deny that overall it was a very "hard" set of a songs. That said, I'm very proud of that album and it contains some of my best writing.
You started recordings of "Purity of Essence" some time ago, but I've been told you did not like the studio you were in and this delayed the album's release. Then you worked with famous Ramones producer/engineer Ed Stasium, who had previously worked with you during the 90's (for "Kinky" and "Crank") for the mixing. Are you satisfied with the final result?
I'm very happy with the result. To me it's perfect. Ed gave us the album we thought we were making. I have to also give high praise to Tim Whitten, who engineered most of the album and Charles Fisher who co-produced the record with me. Charles also did some engineering. They say things happen in threes, don't they? Well, each of them has been involved with me for three albums: you mentioned Ed's previous work but Charles also produced/co-produced "Mars Needs Guitars" and "In Blue Cave". Tim mixed "Mach Schau" and also The Persian Rugs album "Turkish Delight".
I guess you can tell we're big fans of their work. The only other person we've worked with three times was Alan Thorne, who produced and engineered "Stoneage Romeos" as well as engineering "Magnum Cum Louder" and "Kinky!". We've been very lucky to have been able to work with such talented people.
What are your fave songs on this album and who or what inspired them?
I don't like picking out particular songs above others - they're all written and recorded for a reason however I don't mind saying that I am particularly proud of "The Stars Look Down". It was a tricky song to get the lyrics "right" but I think I succeeded.
Why did you title the album "Purity of Essence"? Any particular meaning behind it?
The title is taken from Stanley Kubrick's film "Dr. Strangelove Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb". It's one of our favourite films and should be one of yours too!
This is your second album since your reformation. Why in 2003 did you take the decision to have a break?
We broke up in January 1998 and reformed in late 2003 though didn't play any gigs until January 2004. At that time I was really proud of our "In Blue Cave" album (it's still one of my favourites) and I was feeling a bit unmotivated about writing another Gurus album. I thought I might have "said my piece" and that we should quit before we made an album that I wasn't 100% committed to.
I was very happy with that decision and had no regrets - I certainly had no intention of the band ever playing together again and we turned down many lucrative offers to perform.
A few years after that, I noticed I was writing some songs that would have been very appropriate for the Hoodoo Gurus to play. It took me a few more years to adjust my thinking to the idea of "going back on my word" and agreeing to reform the band.
In reality the band never stopped, since you continued under the Persian Rugs monicker. Tell me something about that side-project with whom you released an EP and a full length album?
The Persian Rugs was a very different band to the Hoodoo Gurus musically: they were purely a "60's punk"/psychedelic band (with a hint of bubblegum).
Although the Hoodoo Gurus have those same influences too, the Gurus have a lot of other ones that are added to the mix - and the band has its own unique musical personality as well, beyond all of its many influences. The fact that it ended up being most of the members of the Gurus in the band was more of an accident than a design: those guys are pretty good musicians and I enjoyed working with them.
I love both the "Mr. Tripper" E.P. and the "Turkish Delight" album - again, they contain some of my best songs. We worked very hard at keeping the Rug's recordings authentic to the era: everything was analogue (of course) but we only used vintage microphones and effects for the recording.
The excuse for your reformation was the recording of "What's My Scene" with the new lyrics/title of "That's My Team", the promotional theme for the Aussie National Rugby Team. How did this happen and was it funny?
A friend of mine used to play rugby league for the Sydney team that I follow (Cronulla Sharks) and he is a great music fan and we became very good friends. I even sang at his wedding. Years later he was an assistant coach for a different team and on his way to training he was listening to our CD and came up with the idea of changing the lyrics of our song. He asked me if I'd mind if he approached people about it becoming the promotional theme for the National Rugby League. I never thought that it would go any further but it became their main advertising campaign for the next five years.
We made a lot of money from it but we also enjoyed lots of other benefits: box seats to all of the important finals and representative games. As we are all huge fans of the game, we were probably more excited by all of that stuff than all the money we made.
Twenty-six years have passed since you released your first, glorious, album "Stoneage Romeos". What's the secret of the band's longevity? I saw you live in London last October and I realised you still have fun on stage… Is this, maybe, the key?
There's an energy between us when we play that still amazes me. We're all still huge music fans and we love what we do, simple as that.
Looking back at your long career, what are your fave albums and songs. And, obviously, why?
Again, I don't like to pick any above the others: they're all important to me for different reasons. The first album, "Stoneage Romeos", was obviously an important experience in our lives while the second one, "Mars Needs Guitars", was a turning point for me as a writer. I started being more personal in my lyrics, not just writing colourful stories. On "Blow Your Cool" I think I finally learned how to use my voice properly and "Magnum Cum Louder" was the album that "saved" the band's career: we redefined our sound and regained control of our destiny. We had just spent a year fighting to get out of our recording contract (we won) and we also took creative control of the band too, producing the album ourselves.
That continued on "Kinky!", an album which contains some songs that many people name as their favourites of all the songs I've written. "Crank" was the closest we had ever come to our "live" sound, one of our most rocking records, 'In Blue Cave" took that energy and married it to a classic pop sensibility, another important facet of the band's style.
"Mach Schau" I spoke about earlier but it remains our loudest, fiercest album. "Purity Of Essence", well, it's simply a masterpiece!
In July 2007 you were inducted into the ARIA Hall Of Fame, Australia R'n'R Hall of Fame. How did you lived that moment. Was this just a formal situation or was it the right award for your long, brilliant and honest career?
It was more important for our families than anything else. I'm very proud to be numbered with many of the other legendary australian artists from the past that have been inducted with us (and before us) but I'm not really a huge fan of awards nor of the people who decide these things. They don't mean anything to me.
In 2007 you toured with Radio Birdman and The Stems in the so-called "Clash of The Titans" tour. What memories do you have of that tour with such an extraordinary bill?
It was a great tour and we kicked both of those bands' arses! Ha! Ha!
Apart from Australia, you have a solid base of fans in far countries like Europe (especially Spain) and Brazil. How do you explain it?
I can only say the people there have good taste!
In Italy you had a solid base of fans during the 80's. What happened then and why didn't you come to Italy for this new tour?
We lose money when we tour overseas, particularly in Europe and we just weren't able to justify spending more time and money this time around. Italy is actually my favourite country to tour: I love the italian people and their culture, their history and their food (and let's not forget the great wine)! Though I'm very happy and proud to be an Australian I would love to have been born an Italian.
You played in big festivals like the Big Day Out in Australia (where you headlined along with The Strokes and Metallica in 2004), at Glastonbury festival in 2008 and in Brazil you played in front of 40,000 people… Is this your favourite live dimension or do you prefer to play smaller clubs?
No matter where we are, how big or small the venue is or how many - or few - people are there, we always want to put on the best show of our lives. We love what we do and want the audience to think it is the best concert they've ever seen.
The 80's Aussie scene was the best period for the music coming from Down Under. Even if there was not the same media exposure between the 90's and early 00's a lot of great Aussie-bands came out (DM3, Brother Brick, Asteroid B612, Powder Monkeys, Challenger 7, etc.). What's about the today's scene. Is there any new band you'd like to suggest?
There are many I've been hearing about: The Frowning Clouds, The Split Lips are a couple of new ones. One of my favourite Australian bands reccently has been The Drones. Their last three albums have ben brilliant and they're great live.
Talking again about the Gurus, what are your future plans? Any chance to see you in Europe/Italy again soon?
I have no plans for the Gurus other than to finish off this tour, then we'll take some time off and decide what to do next. I'd love to come back to Italy. Ciao!