The Hoodoo Gurus’ Brad Shepherd talks Aussie rock and Magnum Cum Louder

hoodoo

By Steve Newton

Twenty-five years ago today–on November 5, 1989–the Hoodoo Gurus played the first of two shows at Vancouver’s 86 Street Music Hall.

I’d been a fan of the Aussie guitar-rockers since their Stoneage Romeos debut album of ’84. They wrote catchy, jangley tunes; didn’t take themselves too seriously.

They were a lotta fun, and apparently original members Dave Faulkner and Brad Shepherd are still at it.

Good on ’em!

This interview is kinda interesting in that it took place right after the Loma Prieta earthquake in San Francisco that killed 63 people and injured over 3700. I’d forgotten all about that disaster until I dug up this old article for some nostalgic jollies.

Here’s the story that appeared in the November 3-10 issue of the Georgia Straight newspaper under the headline Gurus Keeping Volume Up.

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The day afer the San Francisco earthquake, Hoodoo Gurus guitarist Brad Shepherd called the Georgia Straight from Oxford, Mississippi. His band was scheduled to play the city by the bay in two weeks, and he wasn’t even sure if the venue they were booked into was still standing. Although he was miles away from quake territory, he was a little shaken up.

“I’ve got a couple of friends there,” he said, “and I’m a bit worried about them. It’s like nobody knows whether the worst is over or not. I was just watching CNN, and they’re expecting after-shocks. It’s very scary.”

Shepherd’s fretting over the Frisco disaster was understandable, and also a smidgen ironic since his band has been known to shake the foundations of a building or two itself. On the back cover of the band’s latest album, Magnum Cum Louder, is the message PLAY LOUD. And that’s just what the foursome from Sydney, Australia, has been doing in various countries for the past few weeks. They just finished a six-week tour of Europe, and Shepherd says it was the best one yet.

“It was very good indeed, actually. It seems like our new record company [BMG] has kind of…I don’t know whether it’s got to do with the company or just the fact that we tour so hard–it’s probably both–but we seem to have finally established some sort of profile. All the shows have been pretty well-attended.”

Attendance isn’t looking bad for the band’s two-night stand at 86 Street this Sunday and Monday (November 5 and 6) either. Although their sets will be sprinkled with typically offbeat tracks from past albums Stoneage RomeosMars Needs Guitars, and Blow Your Cool, the Hoodoos will be focusing on the new album, which Shepherd feels is somewhat of a departure from their previous one.

“For the last album the record company really put a lot of pressure on us to turn out a hit album–we were in the most expensive studio in Australia, with a well-known producer and stuff. But it didn’t feel comfortable to us. So this time it was just the four of us locked in a room with an engineer, and no guest stars, no nothin’. We produced it ourselves, and it was completely our project. So it’s very representative of us as people. It’s a really human-sounding record, to me.”

Although Shepherd is happy with the way Magnum Cum Louder was made, he admits that it hasn’t been a huge success in the band’s homeland–even though it’s gone gold there. As a matter of fact, it’s selling better per capita in the States than in Australia these days.

“Maybe the climate is just kind of weird for the Hoodoo Gurus in Australia at the moment. The country’s kind of in the grip of a really bogus teen market–the biggest selling bands are like Transvision Vamp, and Kylie Minogue, and Jason Donovan, and a guy called Johnny Diesel, who is kind of like this cute kid trying to pretend he’s John Cougar and James Dean. A lot of the rock bands that Australia is famous for are not really getting much action.”

Image-wise, the Hoodoo Gurus don’t think much of the macho heavy-leather approach that is so popular with bands today, going instead for a mild psychedelic ’60s retro look. The wacky cover art that adorns Magnum Cum Louder is indicative of that approach.

“It was just kind of a joke on these bands like Poison and Guns N’ Roses, and the macho, posturing, ‘I’m-more-tattered-than-you’ vibe. I was just doodling one day, and I thought the album would have this goofy-looking skull with granny glasses and a turban–hoodoo gurus, you know. I handed it to Richard Allen, who does all our covers. He’s actually a good artist; I just doodle.”

As well as original Hoodoo Gurus tunes, local fans can expect the unexpected when it comes to the band’s live cover tunes. They like to mix things up a bit, says Shepherd.

“We’ve been trying to do anything from ‘Smoke on the Water’ to ABBA’s ‘S.O.S.’. And we did ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ the other night, because we were in Alabama. So we’re wont to do anything.”

Shepherd wouldn’t say for sure whether they’d do Nazareth’s “Vancouver Shakedown” as a tribute to this town, but he does promise that the group has turned into a thoroughly rockin’ unit since it’s newest member, bassist Rick Grossman, joined last year.

“Rick’s kind of legendary in Australia,” said Shepherd. “For rock and roll bass playing, he is the guy to get. He’s not really into finger-popping or anything. He’s just got his bass slung down pretty low, and he just powers along. He’s kind of like John Entwistle or something–his sound is akin to a 747 taking off. He and [drummer] Mark [Kingsmill] are locked in totally, and I’m kind of a rhythmic player anyway, so it’s awesome, if I may say so myself.”

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