Interview: Gareth Liddiard and Don Walker in 2013

Gareth Liddiard: I’ve got you on speaker phone because I’m recording it. Is that alright?

Don Walker: Yeah, I’m just sitting in the car.

GL: You’re always in a car.

DW: Ahhhm, not always [laughs], I don’t sleep here but I’m getting there

GL: Are you a grandfather yet?

DW: I’m a grandfather for the second time as of this morning at 9.45.

GL: Wow, cool, congratulations.

DW: Thank you. A little girl… This is the first granddaughter.

GL: Where do we start? This is the first time I’ve ever interviewed anybody, so… beware.

DW: I really appreciate you doing this. And it’s a little bit weird for both of us. Lets just make each other comfortable. [laughs]

GL: Yeah, I’ve got to warm it up…we’ll get to the new album pretty soon. Anyway, I think what you’ve done has endured so long because, when you’re writing songs or creating stuff it’s all about ideas and the value of a good idea kind of lies in how useful it is. Your songs have endured, your reputation and your career, I think mainly because the songs give people a lot of consolation. They’ve been useful. Do you get that from other people’s music? A kind of consoling thing?

DW: Sometimes there’s consolation for me. As you know, when you’re writing it’s got nothing to do with ‘out there’. It’s got nothing to do with the idea that anybody might hear it. It’s completely divorced. I mean some of my early songs that are now the most well-known songs were written in a situation where there was no possibility that they would ever be recorded and that’s what they were written for. They were written for my own amusement on a nothing day.

GL: Your best stuff, though this isn’t necessarily true of your new album, you’ve got a new slant – but, I mean, all your best songs from before always of reminded me of – or not reminded me – they were like the aftermath of some nasty event. Cheap Wine is kind of like this blackly funny thing about a guy who’s just totally fucked up – something in his past has gone wrong and now he’s living the way he’s living. Or there’s Flame Trees – coming from the point of view of someone in the wake of a tragedy of some sort. In all the big hits, like Saturday Night or Choir Girl, there’s a sense of getting on with life after loss – Barlow and Chambers is different in that there’ll be no getting on with it for them yet it’s kind of a debrief for the people who were shocked at what happened to them. It’s looking back, it’s like your Slim Dusty song – Looking Forward Looking Back – although he puts it more cheery angle on it. It’s almost as though, the best bits of what you have done have been a debrief for everybody and it helps them accept that they’re fucked up too.

DW: I can’t argue with that, when you lay it out like that, it sounds true. I’ve never thought of that before. All the songs you’ve mentioned, they’re talking about something that happened in the past of the song. They’re trying to connect with or make sense of that. Not even make sense, it’s very seldom you try and make sense of anything.

GL: Yeah, I’d be the same writing songs as well. But somehow the best songs seem to do that automatically. To write songs, I think you need a bit of empathy with people, you need to care. But when you started out, you were doing quantum mechanics or weapons research or something like that.

DW: That’s what I was qualified for and then I worked for a couple years in a situation where I wasn’t using that. I was using general physics skills to try pretend to be a aeronautical engineer. But that wasn’t real life, that was just what I was studying and doing for a living. Real life was more – to tell you the truth, it wasn’t just a job – I was playing or rehearsing with the other guys until two o’clock and then catching a post-dawn bus out to work and research and going to slep under the desk or reading a science fiction book under there. Meanwhile our military aircrafts were falling out of the sky. [laughs]

GL: You were working F1-11s weren’t you?

DW: I was working/modeling on an arcane little, detailed F1-11 aircraft.

GL: Anyway, let’s get on to the new album Hully Gully. I really like the album – there’s nothing about it I don’t like. I’ve been pretty much listening to it non-stop. It’s really, really, really good.

DW: Oh, good. Compared to what you do which has much more of the hot lava of youth– it’s a lot sparser and possibly more careful. But that’s what happens when you get older I guess. I wasn’t sure if you’d like it.

GL: Yeah, I mean that happens to a lot of people. It’s amazing. It kind of reminds me of – coming from the opposite side of the planet – it reminds me of, you know, Guy Clark?

DW: You’re not the first person who’s said that, and no I don’t know Guy Clark. [laughs]

GL: Really? You’ve never heard of Guy Clark?

DW: No, I know, vaguely, who Guy Clark is and where he fits in and it’s somewhere, something to do with the Flying Burrito Brothers but I never really got into that world.

GL: That’s good because you’re doing it your own way.

DW: Maybe I’m wrong. He is connected to the Flying Burrito Brothers, isn’t he?

GL: I don’t think so, no. I think he’s, you know, Townes Van Zandt and all that Texas crew.

DW: Okay, there you go.

GL: He has a crystal clear way of writing about things that is reminiscent of what you do. It’s not the same but it’s reminiscent. But anyway, back to what we were talking about – you’re saying the hot lava of youth and all that, as musicians get older they usually get blander, you know what I mean? They lose a fire. They lose what I would call, the transgression, in their songwriting and performing – they don’t fuck shit up anymore, they don’t convey uncomfortable truths or weird ideas or viewpoints anymore or in their lyrics. And the musicians behind them don’t really fuck stuff up. I mean, you know your song Angry Woman – that’s amazing, that’s full of transgression – I mean, in the sense of the Sex Pistols. Bob Dylan was the same thing because he came up with all these new, strange left of field, ideas which sort of make your ears prick up – how come you haven’t just blanded out?

DW: Well, something like Angry Women was enormous fun to write and it’s always enormous fun to perform and people who laugh the most at it are the women. The guys aren’t game. But I think there’s the whole point, I became a musician and I assume you became a musician – well, for me I was working in a job that resembled the post-office and I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to do something that was fun everyday, where I could play with stuff in my head and have fun. What’s the point of then doing that and then making it like a post-office job again?

GL: That makes sense.

DW: I mean, you’re going to places where anybody is having any commercial success like Nashville and places like that and it really is what they’re doing – it really is like a post-office job. And that’s what it sounds like. But mind you, they’re selling a lot of records – I’m not.

GL: True, true. I know that feeling. Talking about Nashville and that part of the world, you got mixed by Joe Henry?

DW: Yes, that’s right.

GL: He’s a weird guy. He does that kind of, what he’s known for – the rootsy thing – but I mean he’s worked with Madonna, Marc Ribot, Ornette Coleman – who’s one of my favourite jazz guys, Timbaland – who’s one of my favourite modern RnB guys, he’s worked with Spinal Tap, that’s pretty cool. How did you get on to him?

DW: Well, I fell in love with the Allen Toussaint record he did a about two or three years ago, Bright Mississippi. That was in my car for about six months and I vaguely knew about Joe before that but listening to that, to me, it sounded like Duke Ellington produced by Jimmy Page and I could hear Ellington right through it. I just fell in love with the record and I still don’t know a lot about Joe in his capacity other than in production. I know people who are big fans of Joe as a singer/songwriter but don’t know that much about his production. I expressed a joking interest one day to somebody that wouldn’t it be good to get Joe Henry to mix this, and it so happened that somebody knew his manager and next minute I have Joe on the email saying would you like to send me some songs? And I sent him three songs and he liked it. He liked it enough to get interested in mixing it.

GL: And you haven’t made a solo album since… I mean, the last release of yours – there was the Chisel thing, and then was it the Tex, Don and Charlie thing in the mid-2000s?

DW: Last Tex, Don and Charlie was in 2005, and then I released a solo album, Cutting Back, in 2006.

GL: I’ve seen you play a bunch of times in the interim and you’ve played most of the songs of Hully Gully. When you write a tune, do you just spit them out and they’re a done deal or do you sit on them for ages and work them through.

DW: Once the band learns them, the writing’s finished. And often they’re sitting around written before I’ll decide – for no reason at all – I might teach this one to the band and see how it works up. So there’s a bunch written at that stage now. The last thing the band learnt was Fishing last year maybe and I’ve just been too flat-out to bring any more songs to them. So, there are now no unreleased songs in the set but there’s quite a few ready for them to learn and there’s few new ones I’ll be taking to them before we get to Melbourne at the end of November. I don’t want to go down there and play the same thing people heard last year.

GL: You don’t ever do that thing – like people like Bob Dylan do – where, like you said once the song reaches the band then it’s set in stone. Do you ever change them afterwards? I mean, Bob Dylan would do that thing where he’d change whole verses and stuff years after the album came out.

DW: Not consciously. And by that, I mean there have been things where I record some of these songs and then it comes to that day where you have to sit and actually do liner notes, you know. So, you go to grab the lyrics which are in a file somewhere that dates back to when the song was first written and often find that the lyrics have changed and evolved just in performance. Not to a great extent just in little details here and there.

Gareth Liddiard: There’s a song I really like: Young Girls. That’s a fantastic tune. It’s nicely un-politically correct, which I like. A man your age singing about young girls – its refreshing

Don Walker: Had to be very careful about that one [laughs]. I carefully explain in concerts before we start that “young girls” means people our age. We had put it out in the single sleeve. So, the guy doing the artwork sent me some artwork with the title Young Girls and a picture of me, kind of, staring meaningfully into the camera. I just went: “No, no. We have to put something on this that is not me. ‘Cause there is no photo of me that is going to work with that title”. [laughs]

GL: Well, you can’t really say “young women” because it doesn’t sound as good as “young girls” phonetically, so….

DW: Nah, you’re in deep Tony Abbott territory.

GL: It reminded me of the book Shots that you wrote, in its unashamed carnality. Most rock n’ roll and that side of popular culture is all a bit monastic these days, it’s all a bit sexless. Young men these days have beards and they sing about barnyards, whiskers and woodland creatures. And all the women these days sound like their grandmothers when they sing. But Young Girls and Shots, it’s still really sexy – I like that. It reminded me of Robert Drewe, the Australia writer.

DW: I know who he is but I haven’t read any.

GL: Well, he’s got a great book called Body Surfers. He writes in a kind of journalistic style, but he writes about all the things you pretend aren’t happening in your head.

DW: Yes, I’ve seen that title. I think it’s always dangerous in a culture where what people are allowed to say becomes too shut-off from what everybody knows they’re thinking. Where language is controlled with the idea that that is going to change thinking. And it does to a certain extent. It’s a brutal suppression, that one.

GL: I agree with you there. There’s another great song, Everybody, and that really refers to the current state of Western culture and the obsession with celebrity and consumerism and sort of impossible beauty and porn and sex, and all that, which is odd considering these days rock n’ roll is kind of sexless. That’s a great tune. But it’s got a great line I was interested in that goes something like “everybody says they’ve been abducted by aliens” – this is something that’s fascinated me. It’s like a post-religious thing. It’s something that happens in secular states but the oddest thing about it is, I just wanted to get your thoughts on this, why do you think so many people think they’re not only abducted by aliens but, sort of, raped by them.

DW: Yeah, there’s always “I was tied down and examined, or raped”.

GL: Yeah, they’re never asked questions, you know?

DW: Yes, interrogated or having their toenails clipped, or something like that. I love that stuff. I used to go and buy, in a King’s Cross Newsagent, The National Enquirer. That American magazine that has all that kind of stuff. And that’s far more interesting than The Guardian [laughs] and no closer to reality.

GL: Too true.

DW: All that stuff, a front-page photo of somebody who’s clearly had a shocking accident and underneath they’ve written a story about cosmetic surgery gone wrong. It’s fantastic, page after page of it.

GL: It’s a funny thing in a society so obsessed with denial, mainly, which is another thing – you don’t really do denial in your songs, you cut to the chase. A lot of the new album – like the song On The Beach where it’s about loyalty vs temptation and the perceived lives of people vs their actual hidden internal lives. Why do you write about what’s really happening when everybody else is just trying to maintain being as full of shit as everybody else?

DW: I’m at least as full of shit as anybody and have been told so by those who care about me most and know me best, so let’s not duck that one. I sound like Kevin Rudd, don’t I? Let’s cut politicians names out of this interview. On The Beach is a, I think, bloody minded act of will in the face of everything in the landscape that says this doesn’t make sense. Its about people who say: “fuck the world, fuck the landscape. I will be by your side until the end of time”. It’s a pure act of will in the face of all rational thought or fashion.

GL: I agree. Me and Fiona were talking about having a spine or a set of values that you just stick by through thick and thin and we were wondering where it comes from and I always grew up with dogs and, weird as it sounds, it was dogs that taught me a lot about loyalty to people and values like, love is blind, but loyalty is a dogged thing, like you say.

DW: Yes. There’s not much glamorous about it, but the rewards occur at a depth that you never see unless you take that step.

GL: It’s true. The album has a lot these kinds of themes on it. They fly in the face of the modern world and rampant individualism, and yeah there is a lot of that on the album. Have you always been disenfranchised with the world around you or is this a recent thing?

DW: Oh, no. I think everybody is. Through youth and middle age, I spent a lot of my time being enraged at the stupidity of what was accepted wisdom. I’m pretty calm these days, I can listen to the radio – you get to an age where everything’s being enacted by younger people anyway. You can look at it all as being entertainment and not get emotional about it.

GL: I mean, you could accuse somebody who says something like that that or be disconnected or complacent. But I’m suspicious of people who accuse others of complacency especially in a world like to today, where what can you do – everything is just so… inherently stupid. [laughs]

DW: Actually, yesterday I found myself shouting at the car radio – that was Monday morning. Luckily I was alone in the car, wouldn’t have done it if there was anybody else in the car. And I won’t even go into what it was. It was somebody who had just revealed themselves at length to be so self-blind, talking to somebody else who didn’t pick up on it. What am I listening to? Who are these people? Can they not see – anyway, I am ranting and waffling now.

GL: No, no. It makes sense to me. But this is a nice little segue into the track on the album, Pool.

DW: Ah, yeah.

GL: I mean that tune comes up twice. I’m quite fond of both versions. I really like that someone has finally written a song about pool and it contains one of life’s great truths which is you gotta have a couple of beers before you can get your hand-eye coordination in order.

DW: Yes, and whether you’re asking or not, I have to tell you, I am a terrible pool player. But I’m a game pool player, I’ll have it on anytime and when I play pool, my first game is my best game. I can often look like quite a confident pool player in the first game or two and if I have the presence of mind to walk away then, people don’t get to realise just how bad I am.

GL: [laughs] That’s good, I thought you might be some sort of shark so I was worried. But I’m like you.

DW: I know some killer pool players, Glen Hannah, the guitar player in our band is lethal, Jim Barnes is pretty good. Tex [Perkins] is really good.

GL: Really? Tex? I can believe Jimmy’s good but I’m having trouble with Tex. [laughs]

DW: And Wilbur Wilde – very handy pool player. But it’s one of those things, if you’re a lead singer, if you’re the out the front lead singer which I certainly don’t class myself as and I don’t think you would class yourself as that – maybe you do.

GL: Aw, I feel like a guitar player that has to sing because no one else will.

DW: Yeah, so that lets you off the hook. But if you’re like a Tex or Jim type person who gets out the front with the mic stand and is basically putting it to them, it’s obligatory – don’t even think about that unless you’re a seriously good pool player.

GL: [laughs]

DW: It’s just an obligatory part of the skill set.

GL: So true.

DW: If you get up on stage and do that, and then you go later and reveal yourself to be a poor pool player, well then you’re a fraud.

GL: You lose all credibility, you’re a charlatan. Another thing about that song, it has never occurred to me that one of the true pleasures of playing pool is a – what do you say – “give the afternoon away”, it’s nice to feel like a bit of reprobate and a rebel by wasting time and not being out in the world and making money for everyone else. And that’s one of the charms of playing pool.

DW: Or even for your family.

GL: Or any responsibility.

DW: I’m not going to make money, I’m going to completely waste my life for a few hours, and it’s kind of admirable in a way. I haven’t had enough of that myself. I admire people who do it.

GL: Yeah, I do too. I really do. So anyway, what have you got coming up? You’ve got a tour, you’re playing Gympie Muster, I see.

DW: Yeah, we have to do Gympie Muster. And then I’ve got a couple of months in September and October before we do a little bit of touring through November, only Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne.

GL: How do people in country towns respond to a band called the Suave Fucks?

DW: Well honestly, mostly that gets a pretty positive reaction, I think. I’ve never had – yeah, but people who don’t like that, they wouldn’t come up and tell you anyway. It’s like with your music. If you regard the people who come up and say they like your music as being a comprehensive sample of the population, you’re deluding yourself because the ones who hate it, they never come up and talk to you at all.

GL: Yeah, they wouldn’t, yeah.

DW: And the Suave Fucks are the same.

GL: Yeah, it’s a great name. Whose idea was that?

DW: It came from Michael Vidale – the bass player, and it’s actually a line out of Blue Velvet. Dennis Hopper says to Kyle MacLachlan: “Man, you are one suave fuck”.

GL: That’s nice. Classy.

DW: A great Dennis Hopper line to a guy who went on twenty years later to star in Sex And The City.

GL: True. I don’t watch Sex And The City like you, so I wouldn’t know. [laughs]

DW: Yeah, but I bet you know people that do.

GL: I do. I’m not naming them in public.

DW: I won’t name names either. We all know people who watch Sex And The City.

GL: It’s true. And that’s why we’re musicians. That’s why we do what we do.

Outro: I think, this is the longest interview and the very last one to be re-posted by me, originally on The Music website in two parts, part 1 linked here and part 2 linked here. It’s a big pity but Gaz and Don have never gone into a recording studio together, maybe one day? Both solo Walker and The Drones played Melbourne’s ATP festival in the same year of 2013. By way of band members, both around that very same time have had female backing singing of Erica Dunn and Amanda Roff which would the closest link to them, I guess?

Worth to note plus just righting wrongs at the very end of this interview: it was Hopper’s Frank who says that “suave fuck” line to Dean Stockwell’s Ben in the Blue Velvet movie, it’s the last embedded YouTube clip today just above. Also got to point out: it was Kyle MacLachlan who when on to be in Sex And The City NOT Dennis Hopper, you know guys?

I don’t know if anyone else really cares that much about these GL old interviews? But I enjoy fuckin’ about with them on my little blog! Does anyone really know anything about The Drones and it’s side-projects? Well, because I’ve run out of live clips of live Gaz & Jim plus I’d found someone else, NOT me has made a bit of history of The Drones in almost half an hour YouTube thingy, someone who’s profile is called wookiebutt do a pretty good job at explaining all the in’s and out’s, point out some of the great songs, about all the albums etc. if you want know more about The Drones, solo Gaz and TFS? Check this out:

Gaz (left) and Don (right) not really together at all but the best I can do!

Cheers! 🙂

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