To quote another music journalist, “if you consider yourself a music fan and you’ve not heard the name Hard-ons then you must have lived in a cave for the last 21 years.” Aside from a five year hiatus in the mid-nineties, the Hard-ons have been blowing the roof off venues across the world for nearly thirty years with their infectious ‘death-pop’. They’ve had seventeen consecutive number ones on the Australian independent charts, and Henry Rollins and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers consider themselves fans. Daniel Clarke sat down recently with bass player Ray Ahn to talk all things Hard-onsy, showing his (young) age on more than one occasion.
Music Feeds: Let’s get a bit sentimental to start off with. Did you guys ever think, back when you were too young to even play in pubs, that nearly thirty years later you’d still be rockin’ out as the Hard Ons?
Ray Ahn: Absolutely not. We really lived for the moment with zero thought or planning for the future. As each year passed, we actually started to think about these things. We would plan albums, tours, and all that stuff. It got more hectic as we kept on getting more popular, gigs got bigger, record sales got bigger- we had to employ a manager so we could think about just music. We are very lucky to have had such a happy musical career.
MF: It seems you’ve deliberately taken a DIY approach to managing your careers. Why is that? Are you more comfortable doing things for yourself? Maybe a bit untrusting of others organising stuff for you?
RA: We employ managers and bookers and publicists to do things on our behalf. Nowadays the buck tends to stop with us but the Hard-ons are a very closed shop. It is because after such a long time of recording and touring, we tend to have a good idea of what is good for us. Another reason is that the music industry places a much greater emphasis on profitability than we do, so obviously we employ a different methodology to running a band than a lot of other bands. Things like pretty haircuts and expensive film clips don’t work for us. We grew up being inspired by punk music, but a lot of bands take a similar path to us. Those bands tend to stay invisible to the mainstream.
MF: Having been in the industry for so long, what do you think of the way it’s changed over the years?
RA: Really, the biggest change has been Nirvana getting big. Previously, the underground existed with no interference from the mainstream, and it was very healthy. A band like the Butthole Surfers would pull 3000 people in Sydney without any exposure; they were a massive underground band. Most of my high school friends had no idea who any of the bands I liked were. Australia seemed to have such a healthy live circuit that would be a fertile base for a good underground scene. Now, ‘alternative’ music is the mainstream, and I have met bored sophisticated young music fans discovering bands such as Styx, Kansas, and Boston – bands punks used to hate – because they are bored of the hipster stuff. If you’ve had the Strokes slammed down your throat by the media, you may find listening to a Journey LP something new and fresh! There are some incredible underground bands in Australia, but they now play to 50 to 250 people, not 150 to 1000. I saw the Cosmic Psychos play in front of 2000 people in Melbourne in 1989. That was a band that the mainstream had absolutely no idea about.
MF: Do you think the birth of the Internet, online downloading and all that jazz has had a positive effect on the industry? Are more people getting access to music, and are musicians getting a fair deal?
RA: It’s made no difference fundamentally. Everything is faster and easier, but it’s the same for everybody, so the prettiest band that shouts the loudest still wins. If anything, triple j going national, the advent of massive festivals, and the internet has made everything accessible, so due to the fact that there is no isolation, bands now tend to sound the same. In the early 80’s there was definitely an ‘Adelaide’ sound, for example. Grong Grong. Purple Vulture Shit. The Mark of Cain. Etc. etc. Finland had a distinctive sound too. It was fascinating to tour Finland in 1991. By the time we got back in 1993, we were supported by a Nirvana cover band in Helsinki. It was depressing as hell.
MF: What about the punk scene, here and abroad? We’ve seen several rebirths and reinventions of the genre. Do you think anything has been lost in translation there? Are some punk bands these days too commercial? Is it any different to the approach of punk bands that were floating around in the 80s and 90s?
RA: I tend to think that I know nothing about punk. Certainly, I have no interest in most bands and people calling themselves ‘punk’. The stupid level of conformity sickens me mostly. The ‘punkest’ bands tend to not call themselves ‘punk’. I am not interested in clothes, haircuts, tattoos, piercings, any life-style stuff. I just like music. I have to wade through miles of artless horseshit to hear good stuff – but it has ALWAYS been that way. Nothing has changed.
MF: What prompted the Hard Ons to get back together and start touring again? I know there were a few reunion shows and greatest hits releases, but what made you think ‘Yep, I wanna do this full time again’?
RA: We reformed in 1998 after breaking up at the end of 1993, yet we still get asked this question which makes me think that a lot of people are very surprised that we actually reformed. We were driving to our show in 2007 in Mandura, WA. We had the radio on in the van. The DJ starts reading out that night’s ‘what’s on’. He says… ‘the Hard-ons live in Mandura…what? Don’t these idiots know that there was a band in the 80’s called the Hard-ons???’… that was gold. If you come to one of our shows, you’d see a lot of young faces who never saw us before the initial break-up. So, here we are… still an underground band. Toured the world fourteen times but still a lot of people don’t know that we are back fully operational… to answer your original question, we missed playing pop music. We consider the Hard-ons a pop band. Plus the offer of another overseas trip touring was tempting.
MF: Are the Hard Ons back as your first priority? What other projects have you been working on?
RA: All our bands are of equal importance. That goes go all three members. There simply are not enough places in Australia to play for people like us, so there is time for multiple bands. Blackie is working on solo project and Nunchukka Superfly. Pete is in Dead Boss, Regurgitator, and Front End Loader… and working with Lucas Abela… I am in Nunchukka Superfly, and WOG, although since the Japanese tour back in February, we’ve done nothing.
MF: Is there anything you’d say to an up and coming musician? Any pearls of wisdom, hard learnt lessons?
RA: I’m sorry, bands should not listen to me. My thoughts are just opinions. A lot of people in other bands would disagree with me. If anything, I would say ‘play with abandon.’
MF: When are we gonna see a new Hard Ons album? I hear there’s one in the works… What’s it gonna sound like? Do you think that with each album the sound of the band changes, develops?
RA: There is definitely a Hard-ons ‘sound’ – a mixture of crunching guitars and nice hooks. Yes, we are recording a new album soon. Our albums have gotten tighter in rhythm over the years, but hopefully our songs are just as catchy as ever.
There you have it. For more info, and a full list of tour dates for the upcoming Hard-ons national tour, check out their Myspace page.