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Grinspoon – Mateship and Music

Written by Marc Zanotti on 17th August, 2012

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Grinspoon have been a mainstay in Australian rock ever since winning the very first triple j Unearthed back in 1995. From the brash snot-nosed punchiness of 97′s Just Ace to the polished fully formed sound of recently debuted Passerby, lifted off upcoming record Black Rabbits, the four-piece that originated in Lismore have remained in the consciousness of music fans for almost 20 years.

Coming up through an era when Australian alternative rock bands were becoming accepted en mass as legitimate acts, Grinspoon have since outlasted many of their 90s counterparts. With popular outfits such as Powderfinger, Silverchair and TISM now retired from active duty, does this mean Grinspoon have finally become the ambassadors of Australian rock?

“Of course we are,” jokes Grinspoon bassist Joe Hansen.

“It’s funny, I always say like every time one of those bands quits we just step up another level… I mean, I don’t like to see bands call it a day, but like Powderfinger, Silverchair, Jet, I mean it can’t be long for Wolfmother, surely,”

“I don’t know if we’re the ambassadors but we’ve definitely seen a lot of bands come and go and some have been bigger than us or some haven’t been as big as us, but we’re still there and we’re enjoying it, it’s good fun.”

The career of Grinspoon has spread across six, soon to be seven, studio albums and a string of popular singles. Yet perhaps even more impressive then the band’s musical achievements is their sustained commitment to one another.

For approximately 17 years Grinspoon has weathered the rigours of rock ‘n’ roll with the original lineup still intact. Enduring well-documented dark times that would have seen the implosion of lesser bands, Grinspoon stands as a prevailing model of friendship that values personal ties over professional gains.

As Hansen sees it, the band’s longevity boils down to each member understanding what they have in Grinspoon and an unwillingness to accept when they’re unwanted.

“I think we’re all just really stubborn, like we’ve all actually been sacked at various points or quit, but then we just seem to turn up at the next rehearsal anyway and no-one says anything and you just get on with it,” Hansen poignantly remarks.

“Honestly, I think everyone knows that we have a good chemistry together and we enjoy doing it, and so I dunno, it’s probably a combination of mateship and music.”

“I’ve seen a lot of bands over the years throw a good thing away just over petty stuff or over stuff (that they think) can’t be resolved, and it’s just ridiculous really. It’s so hard to get a band up and running that’s half decent and that has any level of success, so if you’ve got one, hold onto it.”

One of the keys to Grinspoon’s longevity is abiding via the adage of ‘distance makes the heart grow fonder’. Having recently completed recording their latest album Black Rabbits, the quartet dispersed to their homes along various points of the East Coast to decompress and ready themselves for next year’s dutiful album tour.

“I think it’s good to get away from eachother. I think that’s probably one of the secrets to our sort of longevity: giving each other a bit of space. We actually really enjoy spending time with eachother and hanging out, but it’s really good to sort of get out of eachother’s faces, definitely.”

Distance does have its disadvantages, especially when it comes to creativity and the benefits that can spring from maintaining an intimate connection with co-creators. Having previously worked on LPs in separate recording spaces, Grinspoon made the concerted effort with Black Rabbits to avoid the monotony of segregation and capture the energy and angst that comes from playing together.

“On this record we tried to get back to doing it a bit more organically, if anything. Like, less edits, less pro-tools sort of stuff and more live playing and probably less extra instrumentation that’s coming from outside the band and all that,” explains Hensen.

“So we just tried to get in there and play the songs and give it a bit of a live feel and the sound of a band playing, you know, all playing together, I guess.”

“Sometimes when you’re doing it all separately and over-dubbing everything, I mean we still did over-dubs of course and all that, but when you’re doing it more separately it’s kind of like (more) clinical and it’s like you don’t even have to be in the same room, you know, you wouldn’t even have to see eachother almost to record like that.”

“So this way it’s just more a vibe thing and it gives a bit more sort of energy and angst to the recordings, but it’s just more how we started and what a band should do. You know, we’re not a machine, we are a bunch of guys playing music together, so it’s nice to actually do that.”

Working together also gives each member the chance to implement their particular musical tastes. For Hansen that means pushing his leanings towards metal, even if the black arts aren’t always so readily accepted by his bandmates.

“I’m not necessarily a massive metal head, but I really like sort of heavier music… I’m always kind of pushing that angle, but then Phil and Pat and Chris are always pushing their angles as well. So that’s what Grinspoon combines to become, so there’s elements of kind of that metally stuff and the fast stuff and the punk stuff, and then there’s all sorts of other stuff as well that everyone else puts into it.”

“I argue my point and try to get it across and everyone gets really sick of me and tells me to shut up basically,” laughs Hensen.

Before setting out to tour Black Rabbits, Grinspoon will be appearing on the upcoming bill for Big Day Out 2013. Much like Grinspoon, the Big Day Out rose to prominence during the 90s, but although the band and festival ascended in parallel with eachother, it wasn’t until the turn of the century that Grinspoon finally played the Big Day Out, which coincidentally was also headlined by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Now veterans of the infamous festival, Grinspoon are ready to take in the whole experience and celebrate their latest material.

“Our first one was in 2000… I remember Flea was side of stage kind of watching us and I got all nervous and was like, ‘Ah fuck it’s Flea’,” Hensen admits.

“I think (now) we can definitely relax a bit more. I mean sometimes it is pretty nerve-racking when you’re up in front of thousands and thousands of people…but now we’ve done it a few times…so it’s not really (a) stress anymore, which is good, we can sort of actually enjoy the moment.”

Black Rabbits by Grinspoon will be out in 41 days and counting….

Watch: Grinspoon – Black Rabbits – Trailer

Watch: Grinspoon – Champion – Big Day Out 2000

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