There are few Australian bands as iconic or timelessly popular as the Hoodoo Gurus. Having formed way back in 1981, they’ve released eight critically acclaimed albums and were recently inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame.
With a new album in the works, Dan Clarke caught up with founding member Dave Faulkner recently to find out more about how the band has changed and grown over the years, their ongoing struggles in the studio, and just how a five year hiatus has brought the Gurus even closer as a band.
Music Feeds: So, what’s been happening in Hoodoo Gurus world lately?
Dave Faulkner: Well basically, we’ve been pretty focused on recording this new album, which we’ve virtually finished now. We did a little bit of overdubbing recently. We had to redo a couple of the guitar ideas that we had, get a better sound and, you know, throw in a couple of different little ideas and parts as well that were different. The mix process started yesterday so yeah, it’s all basically done.
MF: So has it gotten easier in the studio over time? You guys have been going in and out of studios, for what, nearly thirty years now?
DF: No, it doesn’t get easier. You’re still just as concentrated as ever, you really have to worry the hell out of yourself and everyone around you to try and get exactly what your ideas are, out, performance wise. Also, technologically you have to make sure everything matches everything else and it contrasts enough. I mean, you spend hours getting guitar tracks down, like three of four hours for one little part, you know. It’s just a really long process. It’s like paint drying. Hopefully, at the end of it you have got the fifteen tracks.
MF: Do you feel like you guys have got to keep proving yourselves when you go back to making new records?
DF: Of course, every record has got to be the best one we’ve made. That’s the only reason you wanna make one anyway. We don’t wanna just make up the numbers recording wise, or any other wise. We wanna go out there and do the best thing you’ve ever heard.
MF: As I mentioned earlier, it’s nearly thirty years since the Hoodoo Gurus first started. Now, did you think way back then you’d still be in the band now? Did you ever think “this is what I want to do with the rest of my life”?
DF: Of course not. In fact, one of the things that caused me to break the band up in ’98 was the idea that well, we had to end some time and it was better to do it when we were in full command of our powers, you know, when we say. We thought we might as well quit while we were ahead, but fate had other things to say about that. The band was actually still, the heart was still beating strong, it was just put into a sort of deep sleep therapy <laughs>.
MF: Yeah, hibernation.
DF: Waiting for the body to be re-animated. You know, we played that Homebake show about three, nearly four years after we broke up, and it was obvious the band was still every bit as vital and real as it ever felt in the previous part of our careers. It took me a couple of years to adjust to the idea that the only reason we weren’t playing was because I said so rather than any other real deeper reason, not like we weren’t good enough or didn’t matter anymore. So since then, 2004, we’ve been back in full swing, we had one album then and we finally got around to doing another one now.
MF: So obviously, the music scene has changed a lot over the years, with the advent of the Internet and all this digital technology and stuff. Have you seen a real difference in the way you approach recording an album or distributing a record?
DF: Absolutely. Well first, distribution is obvious: there is a direct delivery system in place now, which is so much easier for people. As far as recording goes, it’s incredible how that’s changed. This one will be our first real digital record. We did actually go through analogue tape to get the sound warmer. In some ways a lot of people don’t appreciate that, a lot of people are just happier to go straight to digital but there’s a bunch of us that really think there’s a lot of merit to be had in getting that analogue element to it. Basically, after that it was all in the digital realm and that’s been a really incredible tool to use. With the technology comes so much flexibility, so many choices that sometimes there’s too many options. I think we have to keep it real and not allow ourselves to be temped down the path of pop plasticity.
MF: Autotune and all that?
DF: Yeah, sounds that are so perfect it doesn’t have any feelings. We’re a rock ‘n’ roll band and a part of what we have to be is real and authentic
MF: So do you still get a buzz out of still playing the old songs live, like ‘What’s My Scene’ and stuff like that?
DF: Oh yeah. I say to people when they ask me whether I get bored with some of these songs, the truth is, they’re still exciting songs, that’s what made them popular in the first place. And for me, I’m always so busy on stage anyway, I’m trying to play guitar, I’m trying to sing and also thinking about what I’m gonna say in between songs, if anything, and if we wanna put a different song on the set list. It’s two different levels at once, I’m so busy I don’t have the time to sit back and just watch things, you know. I don’t get bored, ever, I’m way too busy for that. Afterwards, I kinda sit back and digest what just happened. Luckily for us, we don’t tend to have many bad gigs; that’s very rare. We’re usually pretty damn good, and sometimes we’re really great so, for me, that’s the real thing, trying to push it to the full one hundred percent, trying to get it to a really great level, not just what would be an average show for some people, just trying to reach whatever we can get, make it real for us as a band.
MF: So what’s the secret to staying together as a band for so long? Do you all just get along really well?
DF: We don’t get along any better or worse that most people would in our situation. I think we’re like brothers, really, we’re family, we’re familiar. We still annoy each other to death but we also really respect the hell out of each other as well. We have a shared bond that can’t be broken by anyone. It’s not just historical, it’s also between us all the time, you know, we have this thing in common, that is our shared history and that’s who we are and what we stand for. So I guess it is a bit like being in some kind of tight knit military unit or something. You don’t necessarily always wanna be with someone in the off time but they’ll still be a great working partner.
MF: So what about the stuff you guys did when the Gurus were on hiatus, like the Persian Rugs and Antenna? Do you guys ever play any Persian Rug songs in you sets?
DF: There’s only one or two Persian Rugs songs that would have been appropriate for the Hoodoo Gurus to play. They are quite different stylistically to what the Gurus do. One would be a song called ‘Be a Woman’. We do play that one occasionally, once in a blue moon. Antenna songs, they’re a bit kooky compared to the Gurus, that’s a different thing again.
MF: So was that time a chance for you to get out of your head a bit and go completely off the track and do something different to the Gurus?
DF: Well firstly, I got a chance to bloody sit back and live a normal life and not be on tour <laughs>. I did the Antenna album to kinda soften the blow of staring down the abyss of ‘what now?’ I had that one planned before the band broke up, so I did that one over the period of a year and it was quite a different experience. That actually taught me a lot about the Gurus, because Antenna, eventually it established this kind of group identity, which until you see it happening, you don’t recognise it as being significant. So that was kind of a wake up call as to what I lost when the band broke up, The Hoodoo Gurus. I hadn’t realised that had been there all along. Seeing these four guys that were disparate coming together in the Antenna project, unifying and coming to this sort of overarching personality in the band itself, it was a bit of a shock to me. When we played Homebake a few years later, with the Gurus, and feeling that same energy that I got from Antenna, you know, the band thing, that was a real wake up call. That was probably the main reason why the band suddenly became something I thought about doing again because it was obvious the band was still together, it’s just that we weren’t playing.
MF: That’s really interesting that you had to find success with another band before you realised how important the Gurus were to you.
DF: It wasn’t success, it was actually the working process that had made that change; it was very obvious. When earlier on you’re trying ideas and everyone is putting in ideas and its all good and then at one point there was this thing where you’d try an idea and you wouldn’t need anyone to tell you ‘I don’t like it’ or ‘I do like it’, it would just sound right or it wouldn’t. That was where the band itself was defined, rather than people, this way or that.
MF: It’s that intangible pop aesthetic, huh? You know when you hear a good riff or something, intangibly you know that it’s a good riff and you don’t particularly know why.
DF: Well, that’s a bit different, ‘cause as a writer that’s what I do by myself. When I take it to the rehearsal room I don’t know which ones are going to stand or fall when the band plays them. I might think ‘this is the best song ever written’, which has happened various times over our career, where I’d bring something and think it’s gonna be out next hit single, or whatever, and the band would play it and it just sounds like nothing… there’s nothing to it, it’s stillborn. Other things have come out, that I thought were quite trivial things, that suddenly take a real leap on their own. That’s the magic of the band. In particular, with this latest album, we had probably the most exciting rehearsal period that we ever did as a band. We were just so creative, we picked a number of songs in a very, very, short space of time, and one day in particular that I remember, we actually rehearsed about eight songs that were all keepers, and this never, ever, happened before. You could tell, we weren’t talking about it; we felt the energy or whatever of what was going on between us. We didn’t want the day to end, we were working hard and by the end of it, we were enjoying ourselves so much and doing such great work we just kept going. We finally got one last song, that was kind of like, it was great, and it worked, so we sort of knew, you know what, we shouldn’t push it any further, we’ve taken like the last of our energy reserves out of us creatively, let’s get out of here before we start to regret it. So that’s really one thing I’ll never really forget in my life; that experience, that particular day.
MF: That’s incredible. It’s good to hear you guys have such chemistry together after so long.
DF: Yeah, indeed. It’s remarkable, but I guess it’s what being a Hoodoo Guru is – the band gives out this incredible gift.
MF: Indeed. We have to wrap up, so I’ll have to ask quickly, do you know when the album is going to be coming out?
DF: February or March. It’s being mixed now, everything is kinda ready to go. We’ve just got to give it a mix, round up, and then book some bloody tours and have a go and try to spread the word.
MF: So will you be playing any of the new songs live before the album drops? I know you’re playing A Day in the Park soon.
DF: Yeah, we played at the Apple store the other night, and I think we have put one of those new songs onto the actual iTunes EP, the live EP, but of the ones we’ve played live already, I’m sure we’ll do a few more before the end of the year. We know the fact is we also have a whole back catalogue that is so much a part of what the Gurus are, so we’ll still be doing a lot of those songs for people. It would be quite right to think that the Gurus will play a lot of those songs, because they’re very much a part of our journey.
The Hoodoo Gurus play A Day At The Park this weekend. Their new album will be released soon. Stay tuned to Music Feeds for more info.