Posted October 13, 2006



There was a time when Toshi Maeda hated the “Ramones clones” tag that went hand-in-hand with his band wearing leather jackets and being Australia’s among the top two or three punk-pop outfits. Now, he can’t give a shit.

“It did used to worry me, but I thought about it a lot and wondered why I should deny being influenced by a band that I love,” the drummer for Mach Pelican muses down the line from his hometown of Melbourne. “We like all sorts of rock and roll but that’s OK, if people want to compare us to the Ramones, that’s fine.”

There’s no denying that a big streak of leather-clad Ramones goodness runs right through the middle of Mach Pelican’s music, but their third and latest album “Radio Action” takes the whole “one-two-three-four” thing two steps further. Deftly mixing pop hooks with tonal variations and a large whack of fun, “Radio Action” successfully breaks the stereotype and should push the band in front of a wider audience.

Originals like “Spend My Time”, “Spit The Rock Out” and “Words” show a great sense of (warning: questionable critical cliché ahead) “maturity”, but it’s two covers that tell you there’s more to Mach Pelican than meets the eye (ear).

Atsu C Roll in his element at The Tote.

One is the ‘60s hit by New Zealanders Ray Columbus and the Invaders. Toshi says it’s a song the Pelicans fell in love with - “It’s a one-hit wonder that deserves to be heard” – and it shows a keen appreciation for the local pop heritage that would put many home-grown acts to shame.

Then there’s the downright cute “Love is Strange”, the 1957 hit for Mickey and Sylvia that was later appropriated by Sonny and Cher, Dolly Parton and Kenny Williams and (oddly) whoever put together the soundtrack for “Deep Throat” (someone told me that, I swear). In Mach Pelican’s hands, it turns into a duet with their sister band, the fabulous Spazzys - and it works a treat.

Mach Pelican are genuinely thrilled with the warm welcome “Radio Action” has received. Toshi says it’s a recording they spent a lot of time working on and transfers much of the praise onto producer Matt Maddock.

“We spent two weeks in the studio but about 18 months in pre-production doing preparation and demos,” he says. “We really wanted to take time and make it sound different, putting original ideas together. Much of that sound we got – it is because of Matt Maddock. He also does our live sound too and he knows what we’re like. He doesn’t force ideas at us, he works with us.”

The production credit could have gone to the late Dee Dee Ramone, who was negotiating with Mach Pelican to come to Australia before his untimely death. One Sydney venue already had him booked to play a gig (with Mach Pelican as his band) but a required up-front payment of $US10,000 for The Great Man’s production services became an insurmountable stumbling block.

“It almost happened,” Toshi says. “We have the idea that we might ask Daniel Rey to produce the next one. I’ve never been to the United States and that’s where so many influences come from so it would be great.

“But our main work will be promoting this album and touring first.”

Weddings, bah mitzvahs and intimate social gatherings are a speciality for Mach Pelican.

The Pelicans are no strangers to being on the road, having chalked up 750 shows since forming in Perth a decade ago. Meeting as expatriate Japanese students at an English language college, guitarist-vocalist K Rock, bassist-vocalist Atsu C Roll and Toshi had the modest aim of mucking around on instruments and having some fun. Everyone liked it, it kept the band in beer money, and things took off from there.

“I didn’t know many Australian bands when I came here,” Toshi admits. “It was AC-DC, of course, The Hard Ons, The Meanies and Radio Birdman. That was about it.”

Ten years on, Mach Pelican are part of the musical furniture, but their medium term aims are still modest. “We’re aiming to get to 1000 shows. We’ll get to 800 in 2007 so we’ll have a big party.

“We just got added to the Falls Festival (in Victoria at New Years).”

All three band members hold down day jobs to some degree. Toshi is just thankful that they have a degree of flexibility (his is a couple of nights in a friend’s restaurant) that leaves room to rock and roll.

“We’d love to be able to do music full-time but there are very, very few people in Australia that can.

“In a way, it’s good that we all have jobs. That makes things more real, it gives you things to write songs about that are real.”

Not that any of the Pelicans are idle. Toshi, for one, has just launched his own record company, Bop! Records, and has been up to his ears in the operations of his own touring company, which has brought the likes of the awesome Electric Eel Shock, The Gimmies and Guitar Wolf to Australia (with the latter back here in November). A double-headed visit to Japan for Mach Pelican and The Spazzys balanced the cultural exchange balance. Toshi also sent The Fireballs to the Land of the Rising Sun and has The Cants heading there this month.

Toshi lays down the beat.

Pushed to pick some highlights from Mach Pelican’s career so far, Toshi nominates their 2004 trip to Europe as one: “We had four or five weeks there and I think we only had to sleep on a floor once.

“There are all these different cultures going on and you only drive 4-5 hours to go to another country. The venues and crowds treat you very well. We were something different to them because we were Japanese-born people in a band that came from Australia.”

One support that stands out was playing with pop-punk godfathers The Buzzocks on their second-last Australian tour. “We did five shows with them and became really good friends with Pete Shelley. The Buzzcocks were my second-favourite band of all time.

“Touring The Queers around Australia was another highlight. I’d loved that band since I was 17 and we got Joe Queer into the studio on a day off to sing on our version of ‘King of the Surf’.” (A damn fine take it is, too, and you’ll find it as a hidden track on “Radio Action”.)


FRI 29th SEP - Collingwood @Tote
SAT 30th SEP - Ballarat @Karova Lounge
SUN 1st OCT - Belgrave @Ruby`s
FRI 6th OCT - Canberra @Woden Youth Centre (All Ages)
SAT 7th OCT - Sydney @Utopia Records (In-Store 4pm)
The Sando (Night Show)
SUN 8th OCT - Wollongong @Oxford Tavern
TUE 10th OCT - New Castle @Lucky Country Hotel
WED 11th OCT - TBA
THUR 12th OCT - Gold Coast @Coolangatta Hotel
FRI 13th OCT - Brisbane @Skinny`s (In-store 4pm)
Brisbane @Troubador (Night Show)
FRI 20th OCT - Warrambool  @The Loft
SAT 21st OCT - Adelaide @Crown & Anchor
SUN 29th OCT - North Melb @Townhall (Rock Stock Fest)
FRI 3rd NOV - Perth @Amplifier
SAT 4th NOV - Dunsborough @Three Bears Bar
TUE 7th NOV - St Kilda @Espy (Cup Day Chaos)
SAT 12th NOV - Brisbane @Columbian (Ramone A Thon)