ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, NOV. 29, 1985
By Steve Newton
One of the wildest rock and roll sounds to come up from Down Under recently is that of the Hoodoo Gurus. Just last year the Aussie foursome released their debut album, Stoneage Romeos, a thoroughly rocking blend of pop/punk, Merseybeat, and psychedelia–all slapped on a two-guitar base that smokes. Songs like “Leilani”–“the torrid saga of a native girl tossing herself into a volcano”–and “Tojo”–“a lyrical parallel drawn between a cyclone that hit Darwin in 1975 and the Japanese Navy attack on that city in 1942”–established the Gurus’ penchant for offbeat themes, and they became cult faves in their homeland.
Stoneage Romeos was voted best debut album of 1984 at the annual Australian Music Awards, but aside from garnering extensive campus/alternative airplay across the U.S. and Canada, the record didn’t make the Hoodoo Gurus known to North America’s rock-loving masses. With the relase of a new LP, Mars Needs Guitars, and the video/single “Bittersweet”, that popularity shouldn’t be a long way off.
The Hoodoo Gurus are lead guitarist Brad Shepherd, bassist Clyde Bramley, drummer Mark Kingsmill, and lead vocalist/guitarist Dave Faulkner, the group’s founder and chief songwriter. The Straight contacted Faulkner in L.A. recently, and asked him about the new LP, his unusual tunes, and the Australian music scene today.
In the beginning the Hoodoo Gurus played without a bassist; just three guitars and drums.
Yeah, we were called Les Hoodoo Gurus then. It gave it a sort of “French Colonial” accent, you know [laughs].
That’s different a band with no bass.
Yesh, it was more by accident than by design. We’d had other bands that we liked–like the Cramps, and the Rezillos–that didn’t have a bass player in their lineups, and it didn’t seem to affect them. And there was the Dead Boys–apparently when they started they never had a bass player either. So it was more a case of “Well if they can do it, so can we.”
But after a year of playing like that we’d gone as far as we could with that sound, and we just didn’t like the lack of punch in the bottom end. It was like the drums doing all the work and the guitars scratching away on the surface. They just sort of got in the way of each other. So when we had a lineup change, and two guitarists left, we had a choice to add bass for the first time.
What’s this about you opening for a singing dog?
Oh that’s like a gag thing we did. There’s a show in Australia, something like Johnny Carson, and a friend of a friend had this act where he had this dog that sang, you know just basically howled while he sang along. Like a lot of dogs do that. So for a joke we just sort of said “We’ll be your backing band one night.” We did it more for the laugh of being on the program, rather than for any great career move [chuckles].
Didn’t a record contract come out of that?
Well Les Hoodoo Gurus didn’t have a record contract, but the Hoodoo Gurus did. It wasn’t because of the singing dog–I don’t think anyone saw us actually. We were in darkness in the background, and you could only see our haircuts [laughs].
Your debut single, “Leilani”, was about a native girl sacrificing herself to a volcano…
Basically, yeah, to appease the volcano’s spirit.
…and your following tunes like “Tojo” and “I Was a Kamakaze Pilot” had pretty offbeat themes as well. Are unusual themes something that the band deliberately tries to use?
Well, not really. Those particular songs, they were just things that tickled my fancy when I wrote them, and so that’s how they came out. It’s not a search for the offbeat by any stretch of the imagination, you know. We don’t really think that “bizarre” is necessarily fertile ground.
Did the band get criticized at all in Australia for the lyrics of “Dig It Up”, which deals with teen necrophilia?
No, not yet. I don’t think many people that would want to critiize us have actually sat down and listened to it. I mean, I thnk we’ve got worse than that around.
But I don’t think it’s that bad. It’s obviously a joke. No one would really believe that I would go out exhuming old girlfriends.
Last January you toured a bit with Lou Reed. How did that pairing come about?
Well, we’re pretty popular in Australia! So it was a fairly mutual-benefit thing. We got quite a good fee, plus it allowed us to establish a rapport with our audience again, because we had been touring here in the States.
Are the band members fans of Lou Reed?
Oh yeah, come on. The Velvet Underground? And his new solo stuff is great.
What was he like to tour with, as a person?
We had no contact at all [laughs]. Lou is in cotton wall–I don’t think he wants to know about rock and roll at all, really. He just wants to get the show over with and get back to the hotel. And he was even isolated from the rest of his group a lot of the time by his manager and so forth. It was like everyone was so concerned about Lou’s mental state that it was a bit of a joke really.
Have you seen his Honda commercials yet?
He’s promoting Honda scooters.
Oh yeah. I think I saw a photo in a music magazine. Did he do one on TV?
Yeah, as well.
Great [chuckles], that’ll be good.
Was your new album titled after that cornball sci-fi movie Mars Needs Women?
So are the band members interested in American junk culture?
Uh, we’re interested in anything, you know, any sort of junk culture, not just American. We’ve got our own down in Australia we can draw on quite frequently, as you can see from a song like “Tojo”.
But, yeah, that movie is really a bad movie. I’ve seen it, but I don’t think Brad’s seen it–he wrote the song. The title was well known so we sort of parodied that. And it sort of sums up neatly what we’re trying to say with our instruments, if nothing else.
What are the most exciting bands coming out of Australia these days, as far as you’re concerned?
Well the obvious ones that you would have heard of that are really good are like INXS, Mental as Anything. And of the smaller bands that you might come to hear about, there are the Hudson Creepers, and the Dyed Pretty, who are a great band.
My favourite tune so far on Mars Needs Guitars is “Hayride to Hell”.
[Laughs] You gotta sick mind.
Is that like a parody of AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell”?
Well that’s the only similarity, yeah, just that. It’s like another gag title that’s spurned a whole song. Spawned, not spurned [laughs].
How is the album doing in Australia?
Well it went gold in three weeks, so we were really pleased. Cause our first album, Stoneage Romeos, went gold after 18 months. That went gold about the same time as our new album, within about a week of each other, so it was pretty funny.
There’s a couple of “thanks you’s” on the back of the new album that I wanted to ask you about. You’ve got a thank you to Beef Jerky.
Yup. You know who Beef Jerky is?
That’s something you eat isn’t it?
No no no–it’s a character that Jethro Bodine played in The Beverly Hillbillies, you know, Ed Baer Junior. In one episode Jethro has a friend called Dash Riprock, who was a Hollywood movie star like Rip Torn or someone like Tab Hunter. And Jethro wanted to be a movie star because he thought it would be a good way of getting chicks. So he gets this persona for himself, Beef Jerky. He’s a real klutz.
There’s also a thank you to Chuck Barris. Did you get The Gong Show back in Australia?
Yeah, it was only on for a little while unfortunately. It’s a great program.
Did the Hoodoo Gurus want to be on it?
Well we’d probably get gonged pretty quickly, but we’d loved to have been on it, like the Unknown Comic. He just toured Australia recently.
He’s still going?
Yeah, apparently. He’s still really funny. He does some sick stuff. Like twisting the bag around his head and saying he’s Linda Blair [laughs].