The Dave Graney Multi-Media Experience
Dave Graney is one of Australia’s most iconoclastic contemporary music artists. He works outside the mainstream and inhabits that region somewhere between the spotlight and obscurity, consistently producing a prolific stream of high quality work that sometimes sneaks under the guard of the gatekeepers and becomes briefly visible to the masses.
Graney is interesting and talented – but that’s the least of his problems. Recently Graney has fired a double-barreled salvo at the popular culture market. He’s released a very readable, yet definitely unorthodox memoir entitled 1001 Australian Nights and coupled that with an album of re-visited versions of some of his catalogue called Rock n’ Roll Is Where I Hide. And of course he continues to play live in various configurations. And he’s a snappy dresser.
HHMM: What has bought on this sudden surge of Dave Graney revisionism?
DG: We’ve been pretty consistent with our output, almost an album a year over our past couple of decades, with a particular highpoint since 2005, with Clare Moore and myself doing Hashish and Liquor, and then We Wuz Curious, which was a real gelling of my band the Lurid Yellow Mist, with Mark Fitzgibbon on keys on that one. Then I did a solo album with some of the players called Knock Yourself Out, so it was one after the other. They were very good, but they weren’t quite getting to people in a way that I would like. They were very thrilling artistically but very hard to get people’s attention to them. Each one being in a way a different focus so I thought I should really try to get people focused on what we do, because we basically play live around Australia as much as we can. Our actual live band is actually quite up-tempo and fierce and ferocious r&b show, so I thought I should focus on trying to draw people attention to what we do. The record before this was a re-mix album of some of our earlier-in-the-decade stuff, called Supermodified and then I had the idea to do this one. It was basically because I liked the way Howling Wolf and Muddy Waters used to re-do their classic songs later on and it sounded really good. Waylon and Willie always used to do it too so there was a precedent for it. It’s always good to hear our band through familiar songs and they are all the songs that we have been playing for fifteen years or so in our live set, the songs that people always want to hear. They have been strong enough to take all that bashing around and different tempos and different feels. So Rock N’ Roll Is Where I Hide is a collection of revisited songs and we had the good fortune to have it mixed by VIctor Van Vugt in New York, who is an old friend of ours from Moodists days. He also did the Soft and Sexy Sound and we did four songs from that so he is re-visiting it as well. In my case I’m singing them a lot better than I did on the original recordings. It’s pretty live in the studio, there’s no overdubs, except some backing vocals and we sent them to Victor and it was the sound of the band in the room. I jokingly said it’s our third debut album because when you do your debut album everybody’s been playing the songs in for a long time and you know what you are doing exactly and it goes onto the tape really sweetly.
HHMM: What you are describing reminds me of a line early in your book when you say that most rock musicians have to spend their time convincing people that they have content of interest. How do you reconcile that?
DG: I go on to say that I always had a problem that I thought my stuff was full of quite personal weirdness, but I didn’t want to put that out front and freak people out so I never came out as a brooding artist full of sadness to give to people. I always put on a bit of a show and I wanted people to come toward that music by making it an experience for them, but within the music itself it would have a lot of other stuff as well. In a way I tried to obscure my stuff and blow up a lot of smoke around it. I love all the songs I’ve written and they’ve always been pretty fresh to me. When I go and see the performers I like they come on and you are seeing a real dramatic thing and the performer has a story. It might be a new artist that you are seeing and they are so great that you see them so vividly or it might be an artist that you’ve seen a decade ago and you see them at a different time. Often its good if they are playing a few songs you are familiar with its good to see how they are able to do that. When I do a show I have a lot of songs within me and if people want to hear a song I always say they should yell out and I’ll have a go at it. They are all pretty fresh to me. I’ve never written songs for a youth culture type scene. I’ve always identified with country singers or R&B singers singing about adult kinds of things. I don’t feel any distance from any of my songs really.
HHMM: Listening to the album and reading the books leaves me with the impression that you are almost disdainful of the idea of musical genres. It’s more about creating at atmosphere than adhering to the parameters of a genre.
DG: I’ve had problems in the rock music area, because music is so full of precious little genres. It must be some ancient law of PR or something. It’s like invading an area, you take over a small town and radiate out from there. In what’s become known as the rock music scene its quite retro in a way. People have often talked about me as being ‘retro’ but I think my music has been informed by pop music in a way. I like to have choruses and snappy street language language and pretty short songs for the most part. I’m not into what people think of as dirty rock n’ roll. I’m more from the Steely Dan side of things, a bit informed by jazz and R&B. There are generic things I really like and I love people who work within small areas, but they are more personal. I like the songwriter Robyn Hitchcock and he works within this tiny area of recognizable British psychedelia in a way. He comes from the same area as Syd Barrett and I love the way he can find endless variations within a small scene. That Canadian singer Ron Sexsmith uses endless variations of a few chords. It’s very impressive when someone can do that. So I’m not really disdainful of country and things like that, more rock and indie-rock because its so uptight for the most part.
HHMM: Do you feel a responsibility to be shining a light on some of these dark corners of pop culture?
DG: I have enjoyed the way that some people who have read my book have picked up on some things that they like. As rock music gets more collapsed down – in Australian rock music they only talk about INXS and Cold Chisel and AC/DC – but there are so many other things that we’ve got and perhaps they were taking things from. All musicians take things from everywhere. But is collapses down into a very crude kind of story. I do like a lot of people who went off on little by-ways here and there. There are some things that were hugely popular but have now been forgotten in some ways and some things that were hugely popular in strange ways like The Grateful Dead. Acts like Ween. I love those things that sometimes sneak through.
HHMM: In the Appendix to the book you explain your music in terms of ‘tongues’, described as “identifiable licks, tones, words or sounds that artists insert in their work’. They might be references, nods or implied ideas. I don’t know what the collective noun for tongues is but would you say there is a common thread between all those tongues.
DG: I’ve always liked kinda occult things, meaning secretive, cliquish types of language where people recognize them and associate with each other within a larger world, almost like carnie folk. I love people who are kinda shady, but real at the same time. In rock music there is always a demand to be authentic and to be real and there’s a part of the book where I really go into the problems I had, and most Australians have , with being authentic and real within a music which is imported. They go through that in Aussie hip-hop too. I find that really excited. How can you be real and true when you are singing American music. You are wearing a mask, and I quite like that. When people wear a mask they say things that they cant normally. It actually makes a lot of Australian music very powerful.
HHMM: One of the other aspects of the book that I liked is that it is only loosely chronological and there are these random stories that pop up throughout. One of the stories I liked a lot was the one entitled I Cover The Belgrave Line.
DG: Well, the book is divided into two parts. One is me on the threshold of adult life, a teenager driving up the East Coast of Australia, getting into punk rock and feeling a sense of nowheresville and being excited by that. Having nothing to do and nowhere to go, but not in a sad way either. I wish I could have that feeling again. Then the second part is me having been deep inside a music life and writing about things from that perspective. My language in the book is full of allusions to things. There’s an old song called I Cover The Waterfront and so I have I cover The Belgrave Line. I have little titles all through the book because I love 19th Century newspapers have those titles that William Randolph Hearst kind of invented. With I Cover The Belgrave Line, I live in the outer suburbs, I’m not an inner city person. A lot of the talk about music is always focused in inner city cafes. I travel on the Belgrave line, an hour trip, and you go through all these suburbs and its always an interesting trip with different characters. You go through all those roughhouse areas and then you get into more genteel areas, it’s always a fascinating trip.
HHMM: The title chapter of the book, tells of a series of small incidents on a regional Australian tour and to me the whole book is a multitude of small incidents. Is that the way you look at the progress through your life and career?
DG: Everybody knows the feeling that life is very short and I’ve seen as few plays by Samuel Beckett and they are very simple – two people walking into a room and trying to talk to each other. Often it seems very abstract, but often life is just that. Over and over the same things. I’m trying to talk about being an artist and a player in the book and it’s eternally changing, but it’s the same argument over and over. Young people coming in and changing it and other people trying to protect things and keep it the same. It’s the thing of chaos and order and I find it very repetitive, like Groundhogs Day.
HHMM: There’s almost a new genre in Australian literature and its populated by yourself, Stephen Cummings, Paul Kelly and Don Walker. How do you view the phenomenon of a set of people of a similar vintage and a similar set of life experiences all deciding to write their memoirs?
DG: We probably all had the urge to say something in a way. I’m not familiar with all the books you mentioned but I would imagine they would all be very different. I really enjoyed Mark Seymour’s book for very different reasons. He articulated things that musicians would see in there, the very tedious parts of being a musician, he tried to put it down on paper. It was very effecting – the bonds within his particular band that have dominated his life, the psychological, quite traumatic things. I found it an amazing piece of writing.
It’s such a chaotic world and live music has been and will continue to be such a big thing in Australia. It’s a big shared experience so it’s quite good that the players are talking because they have quite interesting perspectives.
HHMM: In Don Walker’s book he manages not to use the words ‘cold’ or ‘chisel’ together throughout the whole book. You also mange to not mention The Moodists by name until the end when you are giving a list of thank yous.
DG: I was trying to write in a more mythological style, an interior style. A lot of it is about things that might not necessarily be right in the importance I stress on some things but that’s the way they are within me. Whatever a myth is , is the truth, is my kind of perspective. Also my experience is that I haven’t had the cultural impact that Cold Chisel had. He might have felt that he had a story to tell that was buried beneath this giant shadow over his life. But myself, I’ve lived in the shadows and I’m in a much more underworld place. I cant presume to try to talk to people and they will know the names and the dates I’ll drop in a more linear way, so I wanted to write in a mythological, non-linear way. People who don’t know all of the things but they might see it through this character which is ‘me’.
HHMM: You’ve survived the era of big omnipresent record companies to remain active in music. What sort of survival instinct was and is required to remain a working musician?
DG: I think you have to find a simple joy in the playing and hold that pretty close. And you have to find some comrades. I’ve been very lucky that Clare Moore and myself have been together the whole way. The two of us together, we only need one other person and we can make a show. We are like a band with a songbook ready to go, ready to put it out. We are lucky we have each other for that kind of thing and we have that constant thing in our lives.
Thurs May 5th The Bended Elbow, Geelong
Frid May 6th The Bended Elbow, Ballarat
Sat May 7th The Northcote Social Club, Northcote,
ALBUM LAUNCH “ROCK’N’ROLL IS WHERE I HIDE”
Sat May 14th The Republic Bar, North Hobart
Thurs May 19th Notes, Newtown, NSW
Fri May 20th The Vault, Windsor NSW
Sat May 21st Coogee Diggers, Coogee, NSW
Sun May 22nd The Clarendon Hotel, Katoomba NSW
Thurs May 26th Lizottes, Dee Why NSW
Fri May 27th Lizottes, Central Coast,
Sat May 28th Lizottes, Newcastle , Lambton NSW
Thurs June 2nd The Gollan Hotel, Lismore
Fri June 3rd The Jubilee Hotel, Fortitude Valley
Sat June 4th Sol Bar, Maroochydore, Sunshine Coast
Sun June 5th The Great Northern Hotel – Byron Bay
Friday 17th June Westernport Hotel – San Remo Victoria
Saturday 18th June- Baha Tacos – Rye Victoria
Friday 24th June the Loft Warrnambool Vic
Sat 25th June- the Wheatsheaf Hotel – Adelaide
Sunday 26th June- Semaphore Workers Club- SA
Thursday 30th June- Transit Bar – Canberra
Sunday 3rd July- Williamstown RSL