fEEDTIME: THE THREATS WERE REAL
feedtime are a criminally underrated post-punk band from the late 70s and 80s Sydney punk scene who caught the bug after seeing local bands like (Australian) X and Rose Tattoo. Their minimalist approach earned them comparisons to Wire as well as X, but feedtime recorded only a few albums before calling it quits in the late 80s. Sub Pop have now re-issued the band’s discography from 1979-1989 as The Aberrant Years and have sent them stateside to tour with new labelmates and O.G. diehard fans Mudhoney. They play this Saturday at the Echo. We caught up with Rick and Tom over a scratchy international call on speakerphone. Rick’s wife informed us that we better talk quickly since they were running out of beer. We obliged. This interview by Justin Maurer and Dimitri Coats.
We have Rick and Tom here, and we’re missing your bassist, Allen. Where is he? Riding his motorcycle around?
Rick (guitar): We like riding motorcycles—it’s jolly good fun—but that was a long time ago.
Tom (drums): He’s actually filling out his U.S. visa application. It takes three or four hours and he filled it out last night and accidentally deleted it, so he has to do it again.
Australia is home to some of the most venomous and dangerous creatures in the world—how did this affect your music?
R: Hell, I think humans are the most dangerous creatures, so you’re wrong about that. We’ve been talking about snake bites that are horribly nasty. A friend of mine recently got bitten by a brown snake and he was too far away to get any help, so he just went back to the farm and waited to die. But the snake didn’t inject him with any venom so he lived. Which is pretty good, isn’t it?
Brown snakes are among the most dangerous, aren’t they?
R: Various creatures—we have a spider … you know black widows? We have a spider here like that whose bite will have you dead within a couple of hours.
T: Not that many people get bitten.
R: But crocodiles—people go for a swim to have some fun, and they just grab your neck and that’s the end of it. You’ve got to be really careful, like when you go into bear country in the States. You think you can outrun them but you can’t, and if you run into the wrong one you’re a goner.
I’ve always been shocked how obscure feedtime is. With all the attention surrounding the Sub Pop reissue, do you think your music will finally get the respect it deserves?
R: (Laughs) Well, it would be nice if people get to hear it. If people like it or don’t like it is completely up to them.
What things that weren’t music inspired you to play music?
R: Riding a motorbike for me. I went for a ride on the bike and I had to fire up the motor and it wouldn’t start, and I wore a full-faced helmet in those days. Finally I started it up, and a rhythm just started and then stopped in my head as I rode and I couldn’t remember anymore. Finally I got a tape recorder and patched it in my jacket with a microphone up inside my helmet by my mouth and started shouting the rhythm and that’s how a lot of our songs got started.
Based on a lot of your artwork and titles like ‘I Wanna Ride,’ ‘Highway’ and Cooper-S, there seems to be a strong connection to cars and motorcycles. Where does that come from? Is this the spirit of Mad Max?
T: Australia is a big place and there’s not many people in it. And we all live in the city but if you go anywhere you end up driving long distances, and I like it. It’s great sometimes just driving.
R: A lot of people say we’re good driving music. I used to drive a couple of thousand of miles a week, and it was terrific for me. Sometimes if there’s a great song or rhythm in my head and I almost drive off the road, that can be a problem for me.
What do you drive now?
R: I’ve got no transport at all—I actually had a head-on collision a few years ago, and some of the people in the accident became paraplegic, and so I thought it was a good sign to stop for a while.
Who was more powerful live—Rose Tattoo or X?
T: I did see X back in the day, and they were pretty hard to beat.
R: I can’t answer that over the phone.
How about Radio Birdman?
R: They weren’t my thing. They were more pop-ism influenced. A lot of people liked them, but I didn’t respond to them at all.
We hear about the early Australian punk scene and how violent it was, and you actually had two drummers leave the band due to threats of violence. Were the threats real?
R: The threats were real and the violence was quite real too.
T: There’s a lot of people suddenly in love with the punk stuff, but at the time there were some people that reacted badly to it, and it was quite easy to stir up trouble. It offended and shocked some people, and if that was your idea of a good time, then you knew where to go.
Being labelmates of X on Aberrant records, did you consider them the godfathers of the whole Sydney scene?
R: Forming up, we had been going for a while and went and saw X—we saw the drummer throw down his drum things and I thought, ‘This is not for me!’ They were the godfathers, but some people say that we wouldn’t exist without X and I beg to differ. No—I don’t beg at all, actually.
What’s the greatest Australian punk album of all time?
T: I don’t know that much of it, but I’d have to go with X Aspirations as one really powerful record. A lot of those bands didn’t sustain whole records, but you had these great singles that were really short, sharp singles. Nothing stuck with me as far as Australian punk bands from back then. I saw a few. Every band had their night when they were pretty good, but I don’t know if it held up.
R: I’m not trying to be unhelpful, but we were stuck in our own little continuum back then.
In your early lineup, you guys covered X, Rolling Stones and Flipper. Was the song ‘Ha Ha’ off your first album in 1985 a tribute to Flipper’s ‘Ha Ha Ha’?
R: No! A friend of ours named Sean used to record us everything, and he recorded us a live version of Flipper, and that’s the version we used to cover.
Being from Sydney, how did you hear about bluesmen like the Blind Willies and Mississippi Freds?
R: Well, that was my problem. There was a guy playing in Sydney at the time—a bit of a fruit, but he was real into Leadbelly and he played ragtime guitar, slide and stuff. He’d just sit there, put his hat on and get up and start singing. It was really good. He played stuff like Blind Boy Fuller and Blind Blake, which was real different culturally for us. He was such a great master and eventually I just submitted to the stuff.
The song ‘All Down’ is amazingly grim. Who is Rhino and what is that song about?
T: ‘Rhino’ is Carla, who is my wife and has been for about 30 years.
Before the band’s hiatus in 1989, Rick, you were quoted as saying, ‘I got to the point where I would either kill myself or commit murder.’ What did you mean?
R: I was trying to create a person who was more personable!
T: The way I sort of see it is … the first time around for me it was a way of getting things out of our system. I had a lot of crap in my system which was why I was intense and haphazard at the time. People change. I didn’t need it that often, and that’s why it stopped pretty much.
Anywhere in America you are looking forward to on your tour?
T: Beerland in Austin sounds pretty good to me. My wife and I went on a long holiday in America. We went to Nashville and Memphis and I really liked that part of America—driving around small towns. A lot of it was similar to small-town Australia. I like it as a place. Familiar yet different.
It’ll be an interesting climate with the Republican primaries going on.
T: It sounds a bit weird, but we have the same weirdness here. Right-wing politics, talk radio, and then more populist kind of things. You have that weirdness everywhere. People like them try and get ahold of stuff.
How did it feel to listen to Wire for the first time after being compared to a band you’d never heard?
T: I was certainly aware of Wire back then—a couple that they do, like ‘Practice Makes Perfect.’ Interestingly enough they came out here about a year ago, I went to see them and I didn’t like them at all. I can sort of see some similarities in trying to keep it simple though.
Here in the States we are inundated with Crocodile Dundee and ads for Foster’s Beer and Outback Steak House. What do you think about those representatives of Australian culture?
T: Funny thing about all of those movies is it’s all of these hard-living bush people portrayed, but we’re one of the most urbanized countries in the world—90 percent of people live in large cities and 95 percent of people near the coast. We’d like to think that we’re all rugged bush guys that kill crocodiles for the fun of it, but I think the reality is more like a bunch of nancy boys sitting around drinking coffee in a cafe in Sydney.
I have heard that the Australian hangover cure is champagne and orange juice with roast chicken for breakfast. Is this true?
T: I’ll give it a go tomorrow.
L.A. RECORD + BLUNDERTOWN PRESENT FEEDTIME WITH JON WAYNE, THE LAMPS AND DEAD MEAT ON SAT., APRIL 7, AT THE ECHO, 1822 SUNSET BLVD., ECHO PARK. 5 PM / $10-$12 / ALL AGES. ATTHEECHO.COM. FEEDTIME’S THE ABERRANT YEARS IS AVAILABLE NOW FROM SUB POP.