By Matt Reekie
Long-lasting Lismore legends Grinspoon are hoping their latest effort, Black Rabbits, will lead to a new golden age. By Matt Reekie.
Oh no, we think we’ve offended Grinspoon. The band has gathered in the back room of Sydney’s Hollywood Hotel, straight off the plane on a press trip to promote their forthcoming album, Black Rabbits. Quite innocently, we ask Phil Jamieson (vocals), Joe Hansen (bass), Pat Davern (guitar) and Kris Hopes (drums) if there is one particular period from the past 17 years that they could collectively agree was the golden age of Grinspoon, and suddenly the room explodes into uproar.
“Is this a eulogy?” cries Phil over the clamour of his bandmates, cursing me and feigning outrage. As the dust begins to settle on this awkward scene, the frontman goes on to explain that the band have actually enjoyed several golden ages, with another hopefully just around the corner.
“There was a nice time around ‘97, when Guide To Better Living was doing really well,” Phil says. “There was a really nice time around 2002, when New Detention was doing well. There was a great time in 2005, when we released Thrills... That was awesome. It got a bit dusty after that, and then we kinda came back. So there’s been a few golden periods, but you’ve always got to believe that the best is ahead.”
“Yeah,” says Joe. “When you’re on the verge of releasing your seventh record, you don’t really think about that golden moment.”
Kris turns to Joe: “So are you basically saying, ‘shit question’?”
“Yeah, shit question,” replies Joe.
A bit of jocular back-and-forth is to be expected when talking to a bunch of larrikins like Grinspoon. And hey, maybe they’ve got a right to feel aggrieved at my alleged inference that their golden age has already been and gone? But if nothing else, what their reaction shows is just how strongly they believe in Black Rabbits. Which, to be quite honest, didn’t seem to be the case on 2009’s Six To Midnight, an album that spun its wheels in familiar riff rock terrain.
Grinspoon have put everything into this latest one, and, understandably, they don’t want to see it overlooked.
“A lot of bands tread water when they get to their seventh album, we tried not to do that,” says Phil. “We think we’ve done our best. Y’know, like at the school swimming carnival, you just do your best. So hopefully people like this record, and if they don’t, well, fuck it.”
Black Rabbits sees Grinspoon entering a brave new world of melody, with advance single “Passerby” a none-too-subtle indicator of the album’s stadium-sized ambitions. But it’s not as if they’ve completely abandoned their roots. Riff-based rock numbers like “Emergency”, “Branded” and “Battleground”, even a certified pop anthem like “Final Reward”, all feature their share of hard and heavy guitars.
“This album is probably a bit less sweaty male, but then again our last album was very sweaty male,” concedes Phil. “But we really didn’t think about it that way; we just made the music we wanted to make. It wasn’t a conscious decision to go, ‘We need less sweaty males to look at.’ Although it is kinda nice.”
Believing strongly in this latest batch of tunes, the quartet splashed the cash to head Stateside and record at The Bank Studios in Burbank with producer Dave Schiffman (Weezer, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Bronx), who they’d made contact with earlier in the year when he was in Byron working with Melbourne rockers Redcoats.
Grinspoon pulled a similar move back in ‘04, when they made Thrills, Kills And Sunday Pills with big time LA producer Howard Benson. However, the Dave Schiffman experience proved to be quite different to the Howard
“Not even fucking close,” reckons Kris.
“Dave is an awesome guy,” offers Pat. “Not to say that Howard didn’t have his good points, but he was difficult to work with at times. It was his way or the highway, whereas Dave actually wanted our input.”
“He’s a bit of a purist, though,” says Joe. “He doesn’t like to put something on just to throw something at the track. So if you wanted to get an idea through you had to convince him that it should be on there.”
“He had a 13-hour day work ethic,” adds Phil. “There were no long lunches or rack parties, it was just heads down. And I think he produced a great sounding record.”
Black Rabbits dropped in late September, but Grinners will forgo any lengthy bouts of touring until next year, kicking off with their main stage appearances at Big Day Out. For now, they are happy to let the new songs percolate with fans and hopefully by January they’ll have a clear picture of what to include in a live set already chockers with favourites.
“We’re trying to work out what to play in our 60-minute slot in between Against Me! and Band Of Horses,” says Phil. “Firstly, we’ll see how Black Rabbits is received, then we’ll have a better idea of what’s going to work. We don’t look at it in a cynical way. We’ve got good songs that we wrote 15 years ago that we still like playing. If we didn’t like playing them, we wouldn’t.”
“You can understand why Kroeger and the Nickelback boys have to play for two-and-a-half hours,” says Kris sarcastically. “It’s just so hard when you’ve got so many top songs!”
Grinspoon are proud of the past, but that doesn’t mean they have to stay stuck in it. Black Rabbits is a springboard to a bright future, perhaps even a new golden age.
“When we first started in ‘96 there was a bunch of bands we didn’t like, just as I’m sure there’s a bunch of young bands that hate us now,” says Phil. “I remember there was all these old bands still putting out records and I’d be like, ‘Will youse just fuck off!’ So now, all we’re trying to do is make something that doesn’t feel like it’s just filling a gap. We’re trying to make music that moves people.”
is out now on Universal