Posted January 15, 2004

Ian Rilen: Passion, Boots and Bruises

Ian Rilen wants an orange juice. Freshly-squeezed. And the restaurant serving three of us breakfast this humid, wet Sydney Saturday afternoon can't comply.

Their orange juice is freshly-squeezed, the waitress says. Freshly-squeezed at a factory and sent here. Not good enough and Rilen bounces outside and hits the Darlinghurst footpath, in search of Vitamin C.

It's an image a world removed from that of the Ian Rilen the public thinks they know - the Dirty Degenerate Boy of the most visceral, intimidating Australian band of the last 30 years, the mighty X.

Certain people were born to play Rock 'n' Roll. Ian Rilen is one of them.

Whether he's prowling the stage, all grimaces and gesticulations, driving the beat with a battered bass that looks positively twice his size, or grinding out chunky guitar chords against a sleazy blues backbeat, the man oozes pure attitude.

But first, some history.

Ian Rilen's first substantial band was Band of Light, a heavy blues outfit fronted by ex-La De Da Phil Key in the early '70s. After leaving, Rilen fell in with ex-Buffalo bassist Peter Wells who switched to slide as they surrounded themselves with players in the formidable hard rock beast that would become Rose Tattoo.

With a menacing image and sound just as imposing, the Tatts were taken in under the Alberts wing (the production house run by ex-Easybeats Harry Vanda and George Young that spawned AC/DC). The Rilen-Penned single "Bad Boy For Love" cracked it for mainstream success - just as its author moved on.

His next band was X. Perpetual outlaws afflicted by a reputation for hard drugs and violent crowds, the band existed outside the industry. No band played harder, faster or with more spirit. Twenty-five years later they still exist, on paper at least, testimony to the musical bonds between the only two constants, Rilen and singer-guitarist Steve Lucas.

Sandwiched between X break-ups and reformations are a variety of other Rilen bands. For a while, he even played sideman to former Cold Chisel guitarist Ian Moss (a hugely commercial form of employment that Rilen managed to, uh, sidestep, as we'll hear later). Sardine v found him moving on to rhythm guitar, his then-wife Stephanie on keyboards. Skindiver found him playing the animated front man. Hell to Pay coupled Rilen with the venerable Spencer P. Jones (The Johnnys, Beasts of Bourbon) and rollicking bar band rock. It involved his now former girlfriend (and longtime X drummer) Cathy Green. So does Rilen's current vehicle, the Love Addicts, which finds him back on guitar and grinding out gutbucket, down-and-dirty blues-rock.

An Ian Rilen solo album "Love is Murder" was one of the best things to come out in Australia in 2001, showcasing battered, Tom Waits-like vocals, disarmingly honest lyrics that cut the quick and a sympathetic backing band dipping into blues and skeletal, with equal ease. Inexplicably, it failed to make a major sales impression.

A new long player "Passion, Boots and Bruises" is due out in early 2004 on Phantom and could be the one to focus a spotlight on Ian Rilen further afield. It's high time, with various factors combining to abort the prospects of X playing shows in Japan and the USA after offers two years ago.

Solo, Rilen shows continue to be a great night in, invariably with a crew of guests like ex-Rose Tattoo guitarist Mick Cocks or members of The Love Addicts, the band that remains the main game. They span two cities, playing alternating shows in Sydney (which Rilen calls home) and Melbourne (where the rest of the band is based).

"Cocktails in the gutter" is how one journalist described Ian Rilen's music. Can't do better than that. JOHN McPHARLIN and THE BARMAN couldn't manage mixed drinks but did grill the inimitable Rock and Roll Outlaw, IAN RILEN, over brunch and an afternoon of beers. Here's the result.

Q So you have a residency in Sydney at the Excelsior...

I was just doing Sunday as a solo thing. It's basically me doing my stuff, plus a guest. But it's ended up as a five-piece band. So the money went down and the music went up! I do change it around a bit, occasionally.

Q You're drawing on all the back catalogue really. What's the oldest thing that you're doing?

The oldest song? Shit. Probably "Bad Boy For Love", I suppose. My version of it. Totally stripped back, without the screaming, without the cliched stuff.

Q So this weekend you've got the rest of the Love Addicts coming up from Melbourne. Who's in the band now?

Kim Volkman, as always. Cathy Green's back in the band.

Rilen and Cathy Green: A pair of Love Addicts.

Q Last time I saw you, you had a bloke on bass.

That little fella? That's Tim's brother Sean. I really liked his playing. He's a great guy and all that. He's just a bit, fuck, I dunno. Cath left the band because she couldn't cope any more. Then she said she wanted to join the band again. We thought about it. We decided she was the better option. And she has an input that not many other people have, on and off stage. She thinks about stuff, just little things like bookings, where Shaun was a bit out there. You had to ring him up three times to make sure he knew the gig was on, you know.

Q Is it personalities that's the biggest thing to cope with in different line-ups?

I think it's very important (Laughs). You gotta be able to be in tune with each other for things to work. You can't have someone because they're a shit hot player and you don't get along.

With X it was sort of different. Steve and I never socialised and we didn't get along - we don't get along - when we don't see each other. But when it comes to getting on stage, snap, bang, we're brothers. In between we're probably not.

Q Someone once made the comment that X was the only band they'd seen where the music actually powered the band. It grew a life of its own. Have you ever wondered why or is that something you can't define?

It's pretty hard to define. It was just a unique sort of music that only Stevie and I can do. So we had no choice: Stick it out and do it together.

Q Is it a plus that you had completely different lives outside the band?

I think so. It maybe kept us together because we didn't live in each other's pockets. Like I said, the only time we'd really see each other - the for the last few years, I refused to do soundchecks. I'd just turn up, plug in and play. 'Gday mate, how ya going? It's fucking great to see ya'. Give each other a big hug and fucking 1-2-3-4, off we'd go. So there was no sort of sitting around, thinking of shit inbetween. Just go for it.

Q Is that why there won't be another studio album?

Oh, there definitely won't be one.

Q Steve says the same thing. That you were lucky to have had some songs to do the EP.



Ian Rilen's arrived for our appointment at a Darlinghurst café about 30 minutes late - not a problem as one of us only beats him by minutes.

He wears the thick-rimmed glasses he more often than not sports on stage these days, a denim jacket and jeans. His snakeskin boots are slightly worse for wear and the chunky belt holding up his washed-out jeans seems bigger than him. A tan cap is pulled down low over a face that's lined and lived in. He's tanned and fit.

Thick silver rings adorn each hand with a blue X tattoo prominent on the middle finger of his left. A chunky silver ear-ring resides in the right lobe.

Ian's voice is quiet, his manner initially withdrawn, but he's a notoriously slow starter in interviews, we're told, especially so early in the day. He gradually warms up as a cooked breakfast and a couple of double-strength coffees hit home. And that freshly-squeezed juice.

Our breakfast guest looks positively glowing, but to be honest, an Ian Rilen night of excessive partying would still leave a year's worth of yours for dead.

After all this time, Ian Rilen can't do much to change people's perceptions of him, but he conveys the distinct impression that it makes him all the more determined to seek out new audiences.

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner With Ian Rilen: The Excelsior pub owner gets up for a blow.

With the Love Addicts, we've never rehearsed. You know. I'd just make up a song, turn up to the gig and say: 'I've got a new song and it's in G...when I nod, it goes to something else'. I think that's really good in a way because it's always on the edge and...Kim and I have been playing together, off and on, now for the best part of 10 years.

And Cathy Green and I, as you know, we've been together now for 20. We just have a natural rapport.

The Love Addicts' music has a particular style, a particular way it goes. It's got that beautiful way of doing those one note solos. It's too easy.

Q You've worked with high profile bands. You went back and did the Tatts again. Is it the things you have to do with a band - be here, be there, rehearse - that goes against the grain? Spontaneity was what X was about over the years.

Yeah, but Rose Tattoo didn't rehearse either. We just did it. I don't think we rehearsed. You don't need it. Just do it.

Friends ask me did I see it comin'
I have to answer yes
Cos I'm a band man when I've been drinkin'
And you can guess the rest

"Rock 'n' Roll Man" - Rilen (Control)

When I did that Ian Moss thing, I sort of got hooked into that. I wanted to move back to Sydney, I was living in Melbourne. Don Walker rang up and said he (Moss) needs some songs for his new album. So I thought, oh yeah, I don't mind doing that. Then they rang me up and said: 'We want to strip the bass off (the album recording), whoever did the bass. Can you play bass? Come up to Sydney, we'll pay you good money. Put you up in a hotel'.

That was fine. And all of a sudden I was on the tour.

Which didn't make me all that happy. I think it's the only time I've ever prostituted myself!

The money was really good and I'd never seen money like that before. And I needed to move back. So I did it and I found it really hard to leave because I started getting really used to making money. And I thought the only way out of here is to get sacked. Which I did in a very disgusting way.

Q Should we talk about how you engineered it?

It was very easy. We were doing some open-air concert somewhere, and the publican and I got along. He knew that I liked wine. So he was going: 'Try this'. So it was Ian Moss and me and the publican at lunch.

The publican's going: 'You have to try this wine'.

'Hmmm. hmmm, that's nice'.

Ian goes: 'I've got to go to the gym', so off he went. And the publican and I sat there.

'Try this one'.

So, five hours later, I could hardly fucking walk. It was '1-2-3-4'. I just fell over backwards (on stage), knocked my entire stack over. The whole thing fell over on the ground with me on top of it. The drummer, who was a big guy, picked me and the stack up. '1-2-3-4' again and I played the most disgusting bass I've played in my life.
We flew home - I don't remember where it was was - back to Sydney. I was at one end of the plane and they (the band) were at the other.

Ian rang me a few days later and said: 'Let's have lunch'. We were there and he said: 'I'm sorry, we're going to have to let you go'. (Laughs) I'm like: 'Cooool'. So that was my way out of that. I was back to where I wanted to be again.

Fuck, I think I almost did that for eight months. That was a long time. It was continual touring. A couple months in the studio, I think, and six or seven months on the road. It was sorta fun but...we went all over the fucking joint. All over Australia.