Posted September 10, 2009

SXSW action for the Stems in 2008.


The curtain's coming down on the illustrious stop-start career of the Stems but the members won't be short of something to do.

Bassist Julian Matthews has already debuted his new band, Level Spirits, to an enthusiastic reception in Melbourne, while Stems leader Dom Mariani is re-activating DM3, doing production work, re-invigorating his solo work and kicking off a new project DomNick (but more on all of that soon.)

The announcement that the Stems would farewell Australia in October 2009 came as a surprise. Most presumed they'd continue to resurface sporadically to tour, especially given the strength of their comeback album, 2007's "Heads Up". Maybe they'd even record again.

Sadly, not.

"In the perfect world, that would be great but the band itself - it's a difficult band to get motivated on the road," Dom says from his home of Fremantle in Western Australia.

"As much as I love playing in the band, to try and arc it up every year is quite a difficult thing.

"I'd love to keep recording and doing stuff but it's really me who's the only one on that page. The other guys are doling other things and aren't into it as much as me.

"Julian lives in Melbourne and he's probably the kindred spirit. He and I are on the same level as far as the music side of things goes.

"Dave (Shaw - drums) lives in the north of Sydney. Richard (Lane - guitar and keyboards) was down south but has moved up to Perth now and he doesn't live far from me.

"It's a commitment to keep a band like this going and I don't like to do things half-arsed. So we're going to end it and finish on a bit of a high note."

There have been no shortage of peaks in two careers spanning 1983-87 and the period since 2003. In their first life, the Stems were one of the pre-eminent '60s-derived bands in the world. In they early phase, they dominated the Australian independent music scene as part of the Citadel stable, riding a "Nuggets"-propelled global wave.

Of course the Stems were a cut above most of the paisley copyists that sprang up like magic mushrooms. Undeniably overflowing with songwriting smarts, the Rob Younger-Alan Thorne production team provided the focus to shape their timeless singles.

Signing to major label Mushroom, the Stems took on a poppier aura and released their debut LP, "At First Sight, Violets Are Blue". If the softer line was a mild surprise at the time, it's an album that's grown in stature since. The band, however, was under a lot of pressure and grew dissatisfied on a number of fronts; they dissolved on the eve of a European tour - just as they were seemed almost assured of crossing over into mainstream success. Poor management and internal friction were attributed as critical factors.

Subsequent spin-offs like The Someloves, The Chevelles, The Rosebuds and DM3 carried the powerpop torch but regrets about the Stems' all too premature demise persisted.

The return of the Stems was gradual. The odd one-off show parlayed into an Australian tour. Overseas offers snowballed and things became serious with the recording of "Heads Up".

"Doing that second album was like unfinished business," Dom says. "We could have done a lot more albums if where'd stayed together but we were quiet happy with the result."

On the big stage for Little Steven.

The re-born Stems joined the cavalcade of stars like The Fuzztones, The Lyres, the Stooges, the New York Dolls, The Creation, the Pretty Things, Nancy Sinatra and Bo Diddley at the massive Little Steve's Underground Garage Festival in New York City in 2004. Visits to Japan and Europe - and around Australia in tandem with the Hoodoo Gurus and Radio Birdman - followed and overseas interest continues to this day.

"There are always great offers to go to Europe and I love touring there," Dom said, "But to organise those sorts of things - a lot goes into it. And everybody has to be available.

"We (the Stems) could do it but it's a lot of hard work to do at the level you want to do it at. We're not 18 anymore.

"But I feel I need to keep playing and writing and releasing stuff - and doing that until I can't continue any more."

That's why DM3 - Mariaini with bassplayer Tony Italiano and drummer Pascal Bartolone - will re-launch with a gig in Perth on September 18 and will play the Purple Weekend (along with the Blue Magoos, no less) in Leon, Spain, in December.

"It's the three-piece DM3 - the original line-up - with the three Italians. There are no big plans. We were asked to do a guy's 40th birthday. He sort of turned it into a mini-festival. So that got the band back together. He did want the Stems but he couldn't afford them.

"That went really well. It was like we hadn't stopped playing. From that gig, people found we'd reformed. We got this offer to do the festival overseas and we're doing that Perth show as a warm-up.

"The Purple Weekends are fairly eclectic festivals. Lots of fun and the fans are so into it. We all love going there. You get treated really well, the food's exceptional and the people are great."

More immediately, there's the debut of DomNick, a band pairing Dom with final days Clash guitarist Nick Sheppard.

"It's rock and roll in a kinda Stonesy-Faces kind of way. Nick definitely writes in that way and it's pretty much straight-ahead rock and roll.

"We got Wayne Connolly and Rob Younger to oversee the mixing of a seven track EP coming out on Off the Hip. It was excellent to get Rob on board.

As they were in 1986.

"I'm also doing a solo record, an unplugged thing with Liberation. I'm taking songs from each of the bands I've been in. The Stems' demise opens up things for me to get out there under my own name."

That career phase has already produced one album, 2004's "Homespun Blues and Greens". Post the Stems farewell tour, Dom will produce an album for Italy's answer to the Chesterfield Kings, The Sick Rose, before utilising them as his backing band for a handful of Italian dates.

But back to the Stems tour and two careers full of highlights. What stands out for you, Dom?

"I look back on the earlier days when we were touring. Getting to Sydney for the first time. We were so isolated in Perth back then so getting to the East Coast was a major operation.

"We were very lucky. We hooked up with John Needham's label Citadel and things blossomed from there.

"Sydney was really healthy. Coming from Perth, we'd heard about it and to be amongst it, in some small way, was fantastic.

"Those days were magic for a young guy with dreams of playing in a rock and roll band and it's something I'll remember for the rest of my life."

Back in the present and three October shows will be recorded with a view to them coming out in some form. There are also some "Heads Up" outtakes and covers in the bottom drawer so a posthumous studio release is possible.

Every gig promises to be something special so if you're hesitating about going - don't. Melbourne audiences will get to see a reformed Huxton Creepers while in Sydney, ex-Purple Hearts lead vocalist Mick Hadley will front a band populated by Booby Traps and Crusaders members on the undercard.

Most of all, we'll see the Stems - for one last time. Any surprises planned?

"We'll have a set list but we might pull out some dark classics from the closet that we haven't played for a long time.

"It'll pretty much be a fun tour. Everyone's feeling the same way. We don't have anything to prove and we'll just go out and have fun."


Fri 2nd Devilles Pad • Perth
Tix via venue: 9225 6669 •

Sat 3rd Mojos Bar • North Fremantle
Tix via

Sun 4th Mojos Bar • North Fremantle
1pm matinee & 6pm night shows
Tix via

Thu 8th Barwon Heads Hotel • Barwon Heads
Tix via venue: 5254 2201 | | Capricorn Leading Edge, Geelong

Fri 9th Corner Hotel • Richmond
special guests Huxton Creepers
Tix via venue: 9427-9198 •
Presented by 3RRR FM

Sat 10th Notes • Netown (CHANGE OF VENUE)
Tix via • 1300 GET TIX

Sun 11th The Step Inn • Fortitude Valley
Tix via • 1300 762 545
Presented by 4ZZZ FM