Posted August 1, 2005

KIM SALMON: THE SWEET SCIENCE
OF ROCK PRIMITIVISM

Since his DIY beginnings in the Perth punk band The Cheap Nasties, Kim Salmon has evolved into one of the most important, influential and energetic songwriter and performers in the Australian music scene. From the internationally revered (but commercially underappreciated) Scientists, to the dark and dirty Beasts of Bourbon, to his eclectic solo material, to his more recent acoustic and country activities, Salmon has traversed a wide range of musical genres. In the last year Salmon has found time to join with former Hellcats, The 31st and Died Pretty frontman Ron Peno to form the country-flavoured Darling Downs, put together a cast of hard rock lovers for the Salmon instrumental concept show, as well as taking a 2004 incarnation of the Scientists on the road for a European tour. He was joined at the I-94 Bar by PATRICK EMERY. The cartoon is a RICK CHESSHIRE effort and the large Kim Salmon portrait was shot by DAVID GILLIVER.

How did the recent Scientists tour come about? I understand it was advertised in Europe as 'Kim Salmon Plays The Scientists' - is that how you saw it (rather than a 'Scientists' tour)?

At the time I was just trying to put together the most legit band I could muster up. This was hard without Boris Sujdovic, or Tony Thewlis being available - Boris couldn't and so therefore Tony wouldn't which led me to the idea of getting James Baker to have an earlier incarnation. He too was unavailable... which he now regrets. Leanne Cowie (Leanne Chock, back then) had played with the band for a couple of years after Brett's departure but hadn't played in any band since. The tour ended up being billed as Kim Salmon and the Scientists and I went along with that as I felt it differentiated things enough to indemnify any 'sacred' (in other folk's minds) line-up. At the time I took the attitude that I was getting together yet another line-up together of a band that has had about 15 separate line-ups to date

How did the tour go down in Europe? There was some speculation that Tony Thewlis would join you for a UK show? Did that eventuate?

Well, there was about as much promotion done as my last solo tour of Europe i.e. none - try imagining if Johnny Thunders or someone had come to Australia but no one knew about it till a week before and that was only from a listing in some of the gig guides and you get an idea what it was like for us. It's amazing anybody came at all.

It was fine in France, Spain, Holland, Belgium, crap in Germany and London and brilliant in the Balkans. Marseilles, Paris, Groningen, Madrid and especially Zagreb stand out as among the best gigs ever! I had loads of folk tell me that they saw the band back in '84 or whenever and that the '04 show was as good or better. I don't reckon they were pissing in my pocket.

Tony did end up playing in at the London show. Once again the actual response, (as opposed to the turn out) was fantastic.

In its heyday The Scientists went through numerous incarnations and iterations. What is your favourite Scientists line-up?

I like the "Blood Red River" line-up of me, Boris, Tony and Brett Rixon best but it was fun playing in all of them.

Across those iterations the band indulged a range of styles from garage pop to swamp blues to the latter era electronic jams, yet the Scientists are remembered principally for their swamp material. Is there any 'definitive' Scientists material, or is the Scientists about a journey across genres?

It's hardly like bands haven't gone through different stylistic periods and still retained their essence. The Stones and the Beatles are two that spring to mind immediately. What about the Stooges or the Velvet Underground?

I think you'll find with the Scientists that there is an underlying 'primitivism' that pervades everything they ever did. Our name should be a clue. It was always intended to be ironic. When James Baker and I came up with it, we were thinking of The Troggs. The 'musical journey' just happened for various reasons - like line-up changes - being more able to sound 'dark' when I started being able to write lyrics - 'experimenting' in order not to just keep writing the same most obvious things available to a band playing two-note riffs.

You've pursued a variety of different musical styles over the past 25-odd years, and have developed a reputation for embracing and interpreting a range of different genres and styles (even doing a score for a dramatic performance in Perth a number of years ago). Is it a challenge to continually seek new artistic challenges?

Hey...it's challenging just surviving in the music industry. For me, I'd have to say it'd be far more challenging to play the same style and keep interested. I'm sure I'd have been much more successful, if I had. I'm not knocking that idea either. A lot of my favourites have kept to the same style all their careers.

How did the "Salmon" multi-guitar band concept come about? How did you choose the performers? What's the objective of the show? Will there be any recorded output, or is it just a live show?

I've had the idea of having a heavy band with about 8 guitarists since the seventies. Calling it Salmon was a bit of fun. It's a bit like Roxus or Van Halen or... Nelson...but even more stupid (which is an ok thing to be in rock).

For me Salmon is lots of things. It's fun - let's face it posing around with loud guitars is fun; it's a challenge - I have to write and arrange everything for all the players (otherwise it'd be too outta control - maybe later I'll free it up a bit); it's arty so it satisfies a few pretensions I might entertain; and it is sort of a social event which brings us to: 'Who'd I recruit?'... Answer: Only friends. My selection process was just a matter of asking some of my friends that I knew could do it.

I try not to think about what we're trying to achieve specifically with the show. I will say though that the idea is a new way to present such an old thing as rock and roll. People who haven't heard us point to Glen Branca, Ministry, Lynnard Skynard, Blue Oyster Cult and various others and when they see us its immediately apparent that we're different to any of them. But there's a bit of all of those things in it. Some people assume it is just a bit of fun and some take it seriously. I think its both. I don't see why music has to be like homework for it to be valid.

There will definitely be a release of some sort. We just have to figure the best way of capturing what we are live. Live, we are different to other bands but, as everyone knows, the recording process is no stranger to multi-layed guitars. And drums.

Your collaboration with Ron Peno is almost at the other end of the musical spectrum, with a more country, acoustic aesthetic. How did you get together with Ron?

I only ever used to see him at shows when I was in Sydney and he'd always be saying: "Kim, we've got to do a country and western record together", and I'd always say: "Yeah", but knowing it wouldn't really happen. It's typical rock talk really.

When Ron eventually moved down to Melbourne, I thought "Hell, why not, it could actually be good". I just took an acoustic guitar over to his place and before you know it, we had a swag of songs. If it's that easy, which is a fuckin' rare thing in my experience, you really ought to pursue it.

How did becoming a father (initially, and subsequently) affect your songwriting? Is it true that "Desensitised" (from "Sin Factory") was written based on trying to put a child to sleep?

Well, I suppose everything affects one's artistic efforts. I couldn't really tell you. It is true about "Desensitized" although Jack (the name of the son this applies to) would cringe if he heard that bit of information.

A number of garage bands from the 1960s and 1970s have reformed (wholly or partially) in recent times. What's your view of the 'heritage garage rock' phenomenon that's seen everyone from The Stooges, Love and The Electric Prunes play to crowds far in excess of the crowds that saw those bands when in their original eras?

Unlike a few of my peers, I don't see anything wrong in it. Let's face it, they deserve to make a buck off it if they didn't have the chance the first time round.

I've read that you found the success of the Beasts of Bourbon (compared to the success of your solo work) frustrating. Is that true?

It was more that the rock business folk involved with that band were very short-sighted. That they were the same people controlling the recording side of my other stuff. This was an obvious conflict of interest. Of course they were going to starve the Surrealists or any other interest I had as it was a threat to the Beasts. They can say otherwise till they're blue in the face but that's the reality of it.


© David Gilliver of gilliver.net

Do you think the Beasts of Bourbons' reputation in Australian rock 'n' roll is based on its live show and/or recorded output, or is it also based on a rock 'n' roll mythology? Do you anticipate ever playing with the Beasts again?

A bit of all of the above. I really couldn't say about the second question though I kind of doubt it.

Throughout your career you've developed a reputation for playing frequent live shows. What do you see as the relationship between your studio output and your live performances?

Well I guess there's a bit of crossover of material for one thing. I'm not really that much of a fascist about whether live performances should reproduce the recorded productions, whether recordings should capture the live essence of a performer or what indeed the relationship should be. There are loads of ways of approaching this aspect and I'm pretty flexible about it.

The larger record companies (and their umbrella industry associations) are continuing to target Internet sites that provide for exchange of songs between users. What impact do you believe file sharing on the Internet is having on local music?

It, along with a few other things, has devalued the work of the musician. I cannot make a living out of what I chose to make my livelihood any more. I will not hear of anyone telling me that I should not be playing music for money any more than a photographer or any other crafts person would be told they should donate their services to whoever wants them.

It's ludicrous to single music out as something that should be free when just about everything else in the world costs money. We don't live in an anarchist society. If we did I'd say download all you like. Right now I say you take my music for free without asking me, then you're a thief!

On a related theme, but with a slightly different angle, do you think there's been any progress in preserving the live music scene from attacks by local residents?

I hope so.

What local acts are attracting your attention?

I think the Drones are very good. The Swedish Magazines should be checked out. Dave Graney and Clare Moore continue to make great music. I guess that shows you that I don't have to look very far.

What's the essence of a good pop song? What's your ultimate pop song?

I don't really know what makes a pop song these days. I don't care either.

What's ahead for 2005?

The Darling Downs have just recorded an album so that's right ahead. Hopefully more Salmon shows. I'm going to do a bit of work on my 'solo' thing too.

And finally, seeing as we're in a bar, what are you drinking?

I'll have a cup of tea.

 

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