INTERVIEW: Brad Shepherd (HOODOO GURUS)
What's more Australian than a summer festival out under the stars? Well when it's headlined by the likes of Hoodoo Gurus, You Am I and The Superjesus, you can't get more 'Straya than that, and that's just what 'Under the Southern Stars' is bringing to the start of 2019 with a run of festivals around the country starting mid-January. And to celebrate the upcoming festivities, who better to grab for a chat than one of the biggest bands in Aussie rock history: the incomparable Hoodoo Gurus.
Forming in the early 1980s, Hoodoo Gurus started their unorthodox life with three guitars and no bass player - an innovative spirit that has stayed with them well into the present day, and earned them the reputation as one of the most inventive and exciting bands Australia has ever produced.
Over time their mainstay hits including 'What's My Scene' and 'Bittersweet' not only became true blue institutions, but also significantly paved the way for future icons and up-and-comers, including You Am I, The Living End and Grinspoon.
And while the reality behind the bright tones and decades of success hasn't always been smooth sailing, weathering line-up changes, cancer diagnoses and brief hiatus, the secret behind the Gurus longevity may not be the elusive Holy Grail so many spend a lifetime seeking, as guitarist Brad Shepherd explains as he chats creativity, challenges and passion with The Soundcheck ahead of Under the Southern Stars next year.
TIANA SPETER: Hi Brad! How are you today?
BRAD SHEPHERD: Hey Tiana. I’m doing OK!
TIANA: Just OK?
BRAD: You’re just my second interview today, but I just talked myself silly to the first bloke, and I feel like I’m sort of getting into my stride here.
TIANA: Well hopefully you haven’t already told all your good stories!
BRAD: It may actually be better if I have, they’ll be fresh in my memory (laughs).
TIANA: Oh, touché! I’ll take that!
BRAD: (laughs) You’ll never know! I’ve got plenty of coffee in me, so I’m good to go.
TIANA: Well I’m currently drinking a coffee too, so let’s do this! Firstly we have to get out of the way the mention that you are obviously part of one of the most prolific Aussie rock bands of all time. And as such, it’s perhaps only fitting that you guys are headlining a eye-watering lineup for Under the Southern Stars festival early next year. It’s obviously not your first festival appearance by a long shot, but what are you most looking forward to about this upcoming adventure?
BRADBRAD: These kind of shows are always good fun. Honestly, there is no down side….(laughs) no down side at all, I’m lost for words! The only down side is that we have a couple of logistical challenges, where we need to bounce around the country a bit each day. Literally. I know there’s one weekend where I think it’s Adelaide on Friday, Nowra on the Saturday, Port Macquarie on the Sunday. And logistically, that’s a little challenging, to get all our gear to three different places in three consecutive days. But it’s so much fun! All the bands that are on these shows as well, we’re all good mates with them anyway. The promoter didn’t know that!
BRAD: (laughs) They didn’t know that when the put the bill together. But we’re all tremendous friends, and I suspect there will be significant levels of camaraderie between the bands, and I’m actually very much looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to just playing and being on a tour, effectively. We decided a number of years ago that we would try to work smarter, rather than harder. The downside to that is that – effectively, we play less. And there is something that happens when you’re performing all the time, and you just kind of get on a roll. You don’t have to think about what you’re doing onstage, when I’m playing a song, I don’t have to think about what my hands are going to do. At the beginning of the tour, you do, you’re wondering what comes next. And then there’s one night where your hands just play the song! And you don’t even think, you just have to stand there and be inside the music! And that’s my favourite place to be when we are performing. It’s unfortunate in some regards that we don’t play as much as we used to, because it’s more difficult for me to access that point in a performance. But! We’re going out and playing a bunch of shows in January, so I suspect that somewhere along the way I’m going to reach that point again. And that’s something I’m very much looking forward to.
HOODOO GURUS ONSTAGE AT A FIST FULL OF ROCK (2017)//pic by Mary Boukouvalas
TIANA: Well you definitely have a fair few shows on the horizon to get in the swing of things. And as you mentioned previously regarding the majority of bands fronting up for Under the Southern Stars, you have either played with and/or also influenced, and a lot obviously from the “rock” world. But I’m intrigued to know: what is your take on the current state of the Aussie rock industry? Do you hold high hopes for its future?
BRAD: (pause) Well now you’ve put me on the spot because I really haven’t paid much attention to anything in the 21st century (laughs). I have a fairly good working knowledge of all music of the 20th century. And at some point I started to realise: “wait a second…that just sounds like that”. And that sounds like that, and that, and that, and it started to disappoint me, it’s like “you guys have got something, but you should’ve listened to more than just one album before you decided to make your own”. Instead of just listening to Uriah Heep, or whatever it was, or that one Rolling Stones album….if they’d listened to that and Joy Division…then, maybe, there might be some sort of synthesis and you’d come up with your own thing. Dave Faulkner (Hoodoo Gurus frontman) is really the guy that, I guess, listens to more contemporary music? It doesn’t really impact on me at all, I still sit around listening to anything from the Rolling Stones, the Stooges, Blue Oyster Cult…I was listening to a bunch of Aussie stuff recently, but it was all from The Loved Ones, and The Masters Apprentices (laughs)…so I’m ill-equipped to answer your question, I’m afraid!
TIANA: I feel like as we get further away from that era and that 20th century stuff….a lot of that gets lost, a lot just gets re-hashed and we need someone to remind us that a lot of this has been and gone before. You can be the keeper of that era.
BRAD: For all these bands who I don’t know, I would just encourage them to listen to as much music as they can, and to actually think about how songs are constructed. In some regards I’ve lost my interest in contemporary music, and that’s my reason why. I feel like a lot of the times the songs aren’t that great, and these bands can either actually learn about song construction or do something so radical that it’s fresh and new. I don’t really care if songwriters adhere to the American song-writing traditions…how a melody develops and blah, blah, blah. I adore Joy Division, as I mentioned earlier, and they don’t really adhere to that. They do something different. But if you’re going to do that – I think you need to do it well.
TIANA: That’s the golden, elusive key!
BRAD: Yes, I think it’s a great idea, for example instead of just listening to Joy Division – combine that with the New York Dolls and Hank Williams. Or something like that! And then you synthesise your own unique sound, I think that’s important. If you want to create something profound artistically just beyond giving yourself the opportunity to go out on tour for a year, you need to be enthusiastic about what you’re doing in order to hold the attention of an audience for any significant length of time.
WHAT'S MY SCENE (HOODOO GURUS)
TIANA: That actually brings me quite nicely to my next question, as that is something the Hoodoo Gurus have managed to achieve. I don’t need to re-cap your career to you, not only have you lived it but it’s so well known….early 80s beginnings, ten studio albums…we could be here all day with the list. But if you had to pinpoint a catalyst to the success….could you?
BRAD: I would suggest our greatest talent beyond anything kind you might say about the Hoodoo Gurus…is our enthusiasm for music. When this band started we were barely out of our teens, and we had already scooped up a huge amount of influences. And at some point, those influences start to stack up against each other and the lines blur, and then you come up with something unique. That’s always been my advice to other bands, and I think that’s really something that worked to our advantage – we were enthusiasts about music. And even on the very first album, there’s a song called ‘Let’s All Turn On’ where we effectively name-check twenty or thirty different bands. That’s a lot of music. And that was just then! The amount of things we have enthusiastically pursued as a band since then…well it does my head in! We’re still enthusiastic music fans, still music enthusiasts. And we’re still enthusiastic and committed to making music as well.
TIANA: One thing I found particularly interesting about you guys that I’ve read in the past is that you like to challenge your audiences and not just “rest” on your hits in your live shows. Is that still your M.O as a band in this latest phase?
BRAD: We will do that as much as we feel we can get away with it. There’s a lot of songs that audiences will expect that we will play. And then there’s a whole bunch of other songs that an audience wouldn’t expect us to play, and may not be particularly aware of, but they’re songs that are near and dear to our hearts; B-sides, deep cuts on albums, that kind of thing. We try to walk a balance between the two. Sometimes that’s confusing to people, our front of house guy was telling me he could hear people talking in the audience when we played in Melbourne, complaining that they didn’t know any of the songs we were doing. We stacked a couple of B-sides together, ‘Be My Guru’ and we did ‘Bring The Hoodoo Down’ as well I think? And they haven’t been played decade upon decade on FM radio in Australia. But we get around to those songs eventually (laughs). We know that an audience will be bitterly disappointed if they go and see the Hoodoo Gurus and they don’t hear ‘What’s My Scene’ or ‘Bittersweet’ or ‘Come Anytime’. We accept that. And as far as I’m concerned, I never get tired of playing those songs! For me, they’re different every night anyway. There are subtle differences that refreshes it and re-energises the song; those songs are re-born every time I play them. So that’s not a concern for me, I love playing those songs just as much as I like playing the other ones. It’s really just having the time to do them all!
TIANA: It’s a healthy way to approach it! So many people, even bands who have been around for a third of the time you guys have so frequently talk about being sick of playing the hits and wanting people to invest just as heavily in the new stuff. It’s good to have the balance,
BRAD: I still love playing ‘Tojo’. There’s still a 50% chance I’m gonna mess it up, but if I can get through the song – I’m thrilled! (laughs).
HOODOO GURUS CIRCA 1987
TIANA: Well I had a very clichéd suggestion for Under The Southern Stars next year – and I’m sorry in advance. So I spied that Sheppard have been added to the list and... look, the spelling’s a little bit different, but I feel like your surname gives you a shoe-in if you get bored and wanna jump up onstage with them?
BRAD: Yes! Well, there may be some discussion about that (laughs). I don’t know what common ground I might have with that band? But that should enter the conversation at some point.
TIANA: It’s a great ice-breaker, if nothing else.
BRAD: (laughs) Absolutely. Truly it is. That’s my name!!
TIANA: To wrap things up – there’s clearly no slowing down for the Hoodoo Gurus anytime soon. But beyond Under the Southern Stars festival next year, what on earth is next for you lot?
BRAD: We’ve been talking about just doing a lot of touring, I think we’re all in a good place at the moment. And I would not be a little bit surprised if we start maybe writing some songs! We might go with that? It’s been a while, our last album came out eight years ago, we started work on it nine years ago. So I think it’s about time! As we’ve already pointed out – we’re not short of songs anyway (laughs). And we’re capable of playing a bunch of songs that you’ve never heard before, so I don’t know if our audience really desires us to release an album of more songs that they’ve never heard before? But just for our own creativity, I suspect that before too long we might find ourselves in a position where we’ve got some songs kicking around and work out what we’re going to do with them.
TIANA: And then you can shock the audience with a brand new batch!
BRAD: (laughs) With more songs they’ve never heard!
TIANA: Bring it on! Thank you so much Brad for your time, and can’t wait to see what 2019 brings for the Hoodoo Gurus!
BRAD: Thanks Tiana, I’m looking forward to it! Cheers!
UNDER THE SOUTHERN STARS 2019
Tickets for all events are available now from:
Saturday 12th January, 2019
Hastings Foreshore Reserve VIC
Saturday 19th January, 2019
Broadwater Parklands, Gold Coast QLD
Sunday 20th January, 2019
Sunshine Coast Stadium, QLD
Friday 25th January, 2019
Harts Mill, Port Adelaide, SA
Saturday 26th January, 2019
Shoalhaven Turf Club, Nowra, NSW
Sunday 27th January, 2019
Westport Park, Port Macquarie, NSW
BY TIANA SPETER