Photo: Stephen Booth

Regurgitator On 25 Years Of “Not Giving A F*ck” & How Their Sound Has Changed On “F*cking Weird” New Album ‘HEADROXX’

Regurgitator have announced they will be releasing their first album since ending their hiatus in 2015! The 13-track album titled HEADROXX will be dropping August 1st, accompanied by an extensive national tour by the band. The Gurg also hit Melbourne and Perth this past weekend, performing The Velvet Underground and Nico, a tribute to the album by the same name.

The 3-piece first gained widespread acclaim with the release of their second album Unit in 1997. Featuring hits such as ‘Polyester Girl’ and ‘! (The Song Formerly Known As)’, the album won 5 categories at the 1998 ARIAs, went triple platinum, and in 2011 came in 10th in Triple J’s Hottest 100 Australian Albums of All Time. The band became mainstays in the Australian music scene, landing two songs in Triple J’s Hottest 100 in 1999, 2001 AND 2004.

We caught up with frontman Quan Yeomans before Friday night’s show at the Melbourne Recital Centre to talk about the writing process for HEADROXX, the harsh realities of touring, and the bands plans to write a kids’ album.

Music Feeds: What you been up to today?

Quan Yeomans: I’ve been practicing some music, trying to remember shit.

MF: That’s cool. You guys are playing on Friday, right?

QY: Yeah, that’s right! I thought I’d better do something about it.

MF: You’re doing a bunch of Velvet Underground covers at that Melbourne show you’re playing on Friday…

QY: Yeah, we’ve done this show… I don’t know how many times we’ve done it now, but it’s one of the Velvet Underground records, the one they did with Nico, the German vocalist, you know, the one with the banana on it? We’re just doing that from start to finish; it’s one of our favourite records. We’re doing that with a Chinese guzheng player, and Seja is doing the Nico parts and playing keyboard with us as well.

MF: And you’re playing that style of show in Perth too?

QY: Yeah, two shows in Perth, the same thing.

MF: You say you guys have done it before?

QY: We’ve done it maybe… it must be close to ten times now. I think this’ll be the last lot of it, unless we do it overseas somewhere. It was the first time we’d ever really done anything like this, so it was kind of cool the first time we did it. We did it first for the NGV [National Gallery of Victoria] ’cause they had an Andy Warhol – Ai Weiwei show and they wanted something that kind of mixed and matched those kind of artists. So Ben came up with the idea of getting a Chinese artist to play with us and stuff, and it all kind of worked well, so we kept on doing it.

MF: Your new album HEADROXX is out August 1st, how did you approach writing and recording it?

QY: Uh, horribly [laughs]. We’re both incredibly busy at the moment with other shit. Our manager was like ‘uh, I need a record’ – like, ‘uh, okay, I’ve got some ideas’. He booked the tour and was like ‘okay, it has to be done by now’. I’m like ‘oh, fuck, really?’ I was kind of stressed out about it ’cause I was like ‘oh man, I dunno’. We just sort of sat down, and as you do… like, one of the records, I think it was the one before the last one, only took us three weeks or something, and we were like, ah, that’s fine, but this one was kind of like, a bit harder. ‘Cause Ben and I don’t live anywhere near each other, we don’t really spend a lot of time listening to the same kind of stuff.

Our stuff is quite different now, it’s kind of like, it’s forked off in completely different directions, so when we come to do a record we listen to the demos of each of our songs and go ‘how the fuck are we gonna stick this together?! It’s gonna be fucking weird!’. And this was weird, but they turned out quite well. He came down here and did a couple of days in my studio, and I would go up to his place and have a listen to what he was working on, and we’d just do it over the internet and stuff. That’s kind of how it came together.

MF: What kind of different things are both of you listening to?

QY: I listen to mostly hip-hop, like, trap kind of hip-hop. I stumbled across like a particular Australian sound – weird kind of pop, trap stuff. There seems to be a hell of a lot of it around, I didn’t realise that it was such a thing. But I mean, that’s the kind of stuff I listen to to write that kind of music. To write for a Regurgitator record I have to actually do some research and get into the vibe of different styles again. So I dunno, I listen to a bunch of different shit – I got a Spotify account six months ago and started realising that this is by far the easiest way to get into new music and listen to old stuff as well.

MF: How good is Spotify though?! Like, the playlists they make me are so on point.

QY: Yeah, it’s insane. It’s totally insane. Whereas Ben is kind of a vinyl collector. He likes buying new vinyl and also collecting old stuff, so that’s the way he listens to records. He’s listening to a lot of low-vibe, acoustic, ambient sort of stuff, and he’s working on theatre productions so he’s doing a lot of like, guitar, ambient stuff, and listening to a lot of nu-wave, krautrock things that influenced him. But me, I’ve always been more of a pop fan. I like the hooks and stuff like that, so I’m listening to a lot of 80’s music and Devo again, listening to some White Stripes, and some… hmmm, what other bands have I been listening to? I don’t know, you should never reveal your inspiration anyway. Less mysterious.

MF: How is the sound of this new record different to the past ones? Is it continuing on with a similar kind of vibe, or is it completely different?

QY: Hmmm, I dunno, it’s got a kind of awkwardness to it – I mean, they’re all awkward – but this one’s particularly awkward, I think, and it’s because of the divergence of our sounds, I think. It’s got a weird feel to it because of that reason. There’s a bunch of different genres and stuff on there, but I dunno, it’s got a kind of loose feel about it, I think. There’s a couple of songs that just happened overnight, as well, which probably have the most energy on the record.

MF: Which ones are they?

QY: Oh, that ‘No Point’ song just happened like -that- while we were together, in an hour I think we put it down. And then there were a couple of songs that I really liked that were dropped as well, that I kind of felt like, might have helped the record a bit. But yeah, because of the style differences it’s very hard for us to agree on what kind of sits together well, nowadays. So I think it gives it a particular sound, which is us, obviously, but it is very much him and me now. They are getting more separated.

MF: That’s interesting. ‘Cause you guys have been together for what, like 25 years as a band now?

QY: Yeah, over 25 now, I think. It’s kind of ridiculous, really.

MF: How have you noticed things changing in that time? Like, I guess on one hand the personal influences have changed, but have you also noticed the landscape of music changing in Australia too?

QY: Yeah, I mean, it takes a little bit of searching to realise that the whole thing is completely different, you know? It doesn’t take long to work it out, but I think we’ve just been locked in our own kind of world for so long lately, just doing other things. Like, I’ve been working on cartoon soundtracks and stuff like that, and [Ben’s] been doing a lot of theatre work, so when it comes together it’s like okay, we’re a band, remember that, how do we slot into the landscape now? It’s kind of like, if you over-think it… It’s not even worth thinking about in lots of ways, because you’ve just gotta do your own thing and hope for the best, and if there’s people out there that are interested in hearing new stuff for us, then great.

I mean, when you get to our age as a band I think a lot of it is to do with nostalgia and the people that have grown up listening to us, they’re a large majority of our crowds, and there’s not much you can really do about that. That’s the reason they come and that’s what they enjoy, and I still like playing all the old stuff as well, it’s fun. When it comes to making new material, you’re really doing it for yourself more than anyone else, I think. I mean, it’s rare that we come up with something really… that angst you had when you were young, and that fever that you had when you were just starting out and doing stuff for the first time is very hard to recapture and very hard to find again.

MF: It’s great that you still enjoy playing songs you wrote 10 or 20 years ago! Do you go back in your head to where you were when you wrote them, or something? Like, what is it about it that you really enjoy?

QY: I don’t know what it is. I’m not very sentimental, so I don’t really have many memories attached to early parts of my life. I think the energy that they have just sort of lives on, and the band plays well together still, as a live act. We’ve all kind of looked after our bodies and we haven’t gone overboard, sort of thing, so we can still play with energy and with fun and that fun that started the band is still there. And that’s generally the way we approach a new record, it’s kind of like silly, it’s fun, we don’t really give a fuck, whatever it is is fine. We kind of bring that to the live shows still, and it still works, and I think those old songs still work because of that reason as well. They still have that kind of, don’t-give-a-fuck vibe about them, and they’re still fun to play because of that reason.

MF: You mentioned before that you’re doing cartoon soundtracks, are those adult cartoons or kids ones?

QY: I did a couple of adult ones to begin with. I did one called Ginger Snaps, which was like a Warner/WB/ABC thing in the states that did one season. That was kind of a weird, adult-humoured girl scouts kind of thing, but they were gangsters, it was quite funny. Then there was a thing I did for some producers in Australia called Kitty Is Not a Cat, which is like a really cute, 2D, old-school animation style about a bunch of cats that live in a house, and then a little kid who thinks she’s a cat, dresses like one and just meows and stuff. That was really nice. It’s a lot of work though, a different kind of discipline. I did a lot of orchestral work and jazz, which I never do, like really hack-jazz stuff, so I kind of had to teach myself how to do all that. And a lot of orchestral stabs and scoring and stuff, so that was interesting for me.

MF: What made you want to explore that side of music?

QY: Just ’cause I’ve got kids now. I had a young family. Both my bass player and drummer did it earlier, so their kids are all teenagers now. My bass player just had another child, so he’s back to square one in that regard. It’s harder to tour, and there’s not really much point if you’re just touring like an older band, so I just thought I’d try something different that was more based at home and more something my kids could relate to. My four-year-old really liked watching it, and it was cool to seem him kind of giving feedback, so that was fun.

MF: It seems like a really cool side to explore. I know a lot of people just think the music industry is like you be in a band and you do those things, but there seems to be so much more to it, with different avenues…

QY: Oh, definitely, there can be. I think a lot of people get sick of it. I’ve got a friend who’s played in Warpaint for ages, and she’s kind of getting a bit sick of touring as well as kind of looking towards doing film work, and really likes doing indie films and stuff. I also ran into Darren from Powderfinger actually, not that we were ever close or anything like that, but he happened to be in Alice Springs when we were doing a festival up there recently and he’s been doing a lot of soundtrack work. So, I think a lot of band members who are maybe getting a bit tired of trying to write songs want to branch out and do something a little bit more structured and under someone else’s guidance as well. It’s another discipline, working for someone else.

These guys I worked for recently were really nice – one of the guys was from the Underground Lovers, which is an old kind of band from Melbourne. Lovely guy, and his vision for the cat comic was really cool. There was another producer from the ABC who used to do Recovery, which was an old show we used to play on all the time. So, it was nice to reconnect with those guys, they’re really lovely to work with. I just don’t like the deadlines that are associated with it when you’re working with Channel 7 or HBO or AdultSwim or whoever. Just the deadlines they impose on you can be a little bit stressful and you don’t really have to deal with that when you play in a rock band, ’cause you’re kind of working for yourself. Apart from that it’s an interesting thing to do.

MF: You mentioned people getting tired on the road, do you have any tricks to make it so you don’t get so tired while touring?

QY: Well, when you have a young family like I do it’s kind of like a break now. ‘Cause I used to think – tiring. You go on tour it’s like 20 or 30 shows in a row and it’s like ‘oh god, but now that I have like, a baby sleeping in my bed every night, when I go on tour it’s like oh my god, I can get 6-7 hours sleep, incredible!’ I trained myself to have kids by being on tour, and now I can handle it a lot better, I think, because I have kids that are young and don’t let me sleep [laughs].

I mean, I never partied hard. I wasn’t a drug-taker. I think a lot of people deal with it by taking uppers and downers . Trying to get to get sleep is hard after the adrenaline rush and late nights and early starts. It can be very, very draining, and it is a lot of traveling, a lot of really tedious shit. People think it’s like really, really fun, and you have partners and if you don’t let them know how tedious it actually is they get really kind of jealous about it, but it isn’t that thrilling, to be honest.

It’s fun to begin with as a kid and stuff, and touring around the world and around Australia and playing to different people and cultures and seeing different places, but you’re only getting windows, like really short snippets of these things when you’re on tour, you’re not really engaging much. It’s really quite a tiring procedure.

MF: I imagine it would be. Sometimes I see the lists of shows that a band is playing and I’m like oh my gosh, that’s a lot of places to be traveling so fast.

QY: Yeah, you have to have your match fitness up as well. I think the first week of this tour in August is five shows in a row and two in one day, and that’s pretty full-on, especially for a first week, ’cause I haven’t done it for a while it’s like oh my god, how am I gonna cope?! But it should be fine, I’ve got like a personal trainer now so I should be alright. Gotta get those washboard abs!

But we’re also gonna think about doing a kids’ album this year as well, like a pure kids’ album. We did our first proper kids show at the MRC recently, like about three or four months ago, and it went really well. It’s kind of fun, ’cause you know, we’re the kind of band who can kind of get away with double entendres a little bit. I think a lot of the kids’ stuff can be a little bit dumbed down and they don’t really take into consideration how tedious it actually is for parents to sit through shit like Th Wiggles – not that I want to denigrate them or anything like that, I think they’ve done incredibly well, of course – but I just won’t listen to it, I refuse. My kid, even though he likes it, I’m like ‘Nup, you can listen to it at your Grandma’s place, you’re not listening to it here’. He listens to The Beatles, The White Stripes, The Sound of Music, anything but them. So I think there’s a huge opening to do something that’s a little bit more, I don’t know, interesting for kids, not so namby-pamby, and I think we’re going to enjoy giving that a shot this year.

MF: So you’ll be writing separate stuff, like new songs for kids?

QY: Yeah, yeah, just simple kind of stuff. It suits us to a tee as well, I think, because it’s silly and we can have fun and be a little bit silly and just do different kind of instruments. The first one we did was very theatrical as well, and it turns out our drummer is actually really great at that sort of stuff, he’s really naturally funny and great at doing dialogue and stuff. I think that’s gonna have a kind of whole new world for him. Ever since he joined, since our old drummer left, he’s had a bit of a hired gun feel about him, he hasn’t really been integrated into the band as a writer very much at all. I feel bad about it, but that’s just the way it’s turned out, but I think when we start working on the kids stuff, because he is naturally really talented at it, it’ll be great to have him more part of the show and the writing process.

MF: How do you approach writing songs for kids as opposed to writing songs for adults?

QY: I don’t know. It’s really hard to approach writing songs for adults, ’cause you can’t really think about it too much. The way that I approach writing for Regurgitator is like, I have to come up with something that’s relevant or interesting to me, as an adult, and translate it in a way that’s kind of bizarre and a little bit off-base, and try and find that cool somehow, which is incredibly difficult to find. Increasingly so, because there’s so much new, incredible music being made by young people that are on the edge of what they’re doing, obsessed with what they’re doing. So there’s a lot more competition involved with that.

With the kids’ stuff, I think we can take risks again like we used to, and just do stuff that might be a little bit risqué in that genre currently, ’cause it is so neutralised by everyone being terrified about offending people and offending children, or like damaging children in some way by exposing them to something a little bit I dunno, adult, or just realistic. So I mean, when I approach a kids’ show, I want to educate in a non-patronising way. I want to talk about science, I want to talk about the human body, and be on the level with what they’re gonna have to get used to as they grow up. My kid’s vocab is very much inspired by the way that I talk to him – I don’t talk to him like a child, I talk to him how I would talk to anyone. Obviously I’m sensible with my understanding of what he understands, but I don’t believe in talking down to children, I never have, and I think that a lot of the kids’ material that’s out there kind of does. It can be a little bit patronising for kids, and you know, they enjoy it, and that’s fine and it’s catchy or whatever, but I think there’s room for something a little bit more sophisticated ’cause we do kind of undervalue the way they look at the world.

MF: Have you heard the They Might Be Giants kids’ albums?

QY: I have, I have, and I think the best iteration of that is that StoryBots thing. That stuff’s cool ’cause it brings a lot of different songs together, there’s some really good animators on board, and the base animation is really cool – it’s like 3D but it’s mixed with 2D stuff – and I think it’s reasonably educational, but I just cannot stand that guy’s voice. I think it’s like, really annoying, I cannot handle it. I didn’t mind They Might Be Giants, I think they’re a pretty good band, but this stuff kind of annoys me a little bit. It’s a little bit plain for my liking, I think that he [StoryBots] does broach interesting science and stuff like that pretty well, but we want to get onto the more absurd side of life. You know, talk about death, talk about stuff that kids aren’t meant to talk about. Talk about shit, talk about farting [laughs], bodily functions – learn about what it’s like to be embarrassed, about being young and dealing with social interactions with other children and adults. Kind of like just exploring new territory, I think.

MF: Have you picked a name for the group for kids?

QY: Not really, it was kind of more based around the show, so we haven’t really decided whether to keep our name behind it or call it something completely different. I think the album will be structured like a show, like it’ll have a bit of dialogue and stuff through it. I’d really love to do more videos and do lots of different genres, and it’ll probably be quite adult-sounding, but also have cutesy kind of stuff through it as well. It’ll be interesting to see how it goes!

Regurgitator’s new (non-kids’) album HEADROXX is out on August 1st and you can catch them touring round the country that same month.

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