PC: I'm talking with Brad Shepherd, lead guitarist from ARIA Hall of Fame inductees Hoodoo Gurus. Brad, thanks very much for talking to me today.
Brad Shepherd: Thank you sir! Thanks for having me along.
PC: No worries. I guess one thing a Hall of Fame induction often means is that you've been able to cut it in the music business for quite a long time, and this is certainly the case with the Gurus. How big a thing is a recognition such as that for a band? After all the ups and downs along the way?
Brad: ARIA have predominantly given us a wide berth anyway... You know, it's what they say about politicians, hookers and ugly buildings, if you stick around long enough, you'll get some sort of recognition! And I suspect that was probably the case with us. It was a while ago now I must admit, I don't sit around thinking "I'm in the ARIA Hall of Fame"! It's nice for your family, it's nice for your parents who worry themselves sick when you start playing guitar in a rock band instead of going to university. For me, that's more what it was about, for my wife, my daughter, it's kind of a big deal for them. My reward is being on a stage with the Hoodoo Gurus, and being confident in myself that we created some magic that night, and if the audience agrees with us, then that's even better. That means more than kudos from record company guys.
PC: Cool. Rick Grossman, your bass player, he doesn't give you any shit about the fact that he's been inducted into the Hall twice (he was with Divinyls from 82-87), as opposed to the rest of the guys' once?
Brad: He always gives us shit about that whenever it's mentioned! He'll be the first to tell you that only he and Gary Young from Daddy Cool (and Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons) are the only two to have been inducted twice, just the pair of them.
PC: Very exclusive club!
Brad: Yeah, he certainly lets me know at every opportunity!
PC: As you would. Last year you released Gold Watch, a best of album, how did you go about selecting songs for it after 30 years in the game?
Brad: Essentially they selected themselves, it's a bunch of singles. We had done a broader retrospective in the past that had some album cuts, singles, it was more about live favourites actually, even though they were the studio versions, called Ampology. But the Gold Watch one was just a collection of our singles. We've been around long enough, that we couldn't actually squeeze all our singles onto one disc, we had to leave a couple of them off. We had a couple of singles that haven't become live favourites, so they were left off Ampology, but almost all of our singles, the A-sides of our singles, I still think in terms of vinyl, got compiled down to one CD for Gold Watch.
Brad: I particularly like In The Echo Chamber off the first album, it's really fun to play, we don't play it that much, it's kind of a god-awful din and it does tend to put some people off-side a bit, but on occasion we include it in our set. But then I actually really love playing Crackin' Up as well, from our last album Purity of Essence. I still like playing Tojo, we always get a kick out of that. Miss Freelove '69 is always a rave-up, that's always fun. It's complicated for me to play that, so if I've acquitted myself admirably on the evening, then it's odds-on that I'm going to have a good night.
PC: Some songs on Gold Watch, like Miss Freelove '69, apparently Dave said took a year to write, what makes you stick with a song for so long, when countless others must've been discarded?
Brad: I was unaware that that song had taken him a year to write. Often lyrics are the last thing to fall into place, we're still editing and tailoring those lyrics when we're in the studio, recording the tunes, and there's often fine-tuning involved in that. Certainly the lyrical content of that song related to a party, that he had at his place, it was essentially a document of that evening - I was there. So maybe he had the musical portion of it kicking around for a year or so, but then he was inspired by the events of that evening to knock a lyric together. As I recall, it was only a short time after this party he had at his old flat, that he presented the song. And I remember him being quite excited about the lyrics to it. That part of it happened pretty quickly. So it's my assumption therefore that he had the music kicking around for a year or so and didn't quite know where to go with it, and all of a sudden he had some inspiration.
PC: A big night can do that.
Brad: (Laughs) If you can remember it! It was right on the edge that night too, a couple more drinks and no one would've remembered anything!
PC: Too much sake! I remember listening to Take 40 Australia back in the day and Miss Freelove off Kinky was about to be played, and Dave was quoted using the "Kinky is when you use the whole chicken" joke. How important has a sense of humour been in the band's journey thus far?
Brad: Are you from the country??!!
PC: Um, yes. Is it that obvious?!
Brad: I thought it was more about poddy calves for country lads! I haven't heard that one! That's funny. At the time Kinky came out we were particularly enamoured with the film Blazing Saddles, so that's where the album title came from.
Had we not had sick senses of humour... Well, you can imagine if you removed the humour element from the Hoodoo Gurus, it would be a completely different band right from the get-go. The whole first album is just peppered with bizarre pop culture references that would never have appeared if we were a humourless bunch. We do have a bemused outlook on the entire world actually (laughs). It's really what gets us through this life. If we couldn't see the humour in our society, then we'd all be in the loony bin!
Brad: Good Lord that would take me more time than we have today. I think that's one of the great secrets of the Hoodoo Gurus, is that we're all massive music nerds, and even though we're in our 50's, we still actively seek out new music that might inspire us. I should say at this stage I've reached a point of diminishing returns! But it doesn't stop me from doing what I've often done anyway, and that is to be a kind of sonic archaeologist, that you keep digging back into the past to find things that may be of interest to you, if there's nothing current on the horizon. I discovered jazz through that, and country music, things that have certainly been very influential to me.
What am I listening to at the moment? I'm listening to a lot of glam rock, I've gone back to that, lots of Roxy Music, Bowie and T-Rex, I'm listening to a lot of that stuff at the moment. That stuff was clearly evident on the first album, there's plenty of glam rock going on there. The Hoodoo Gurus existed for a year or two before I joined and it was one of the great things that I loved about them, that there was this glam rock thing going on. The era in Sydney at the time had the shadow of Radio Birdman looming large, British glam rock was not that evident in what bands did, and it was kind of uncool at that time. Everything was New Wave, New Romantic kind of stuff going on. So, that was a thrill to me, that I could hear Suzi Quatro and Gary Glitter in what the Gurus were doing. I jumped at the chance when they offered me the opportunity to join the ranks.
I listened to Joe Cocker this morning, a compilation called Cocker Happy which is a compilation of his first couple of albums, and a Sloan album called Navy Blues. Sloan are a band from Canada who've been around for donkeys years, who do a great power pop thing, kind of in the realm of what the Gurus do or maybe Redd Kross. I'm also subjected to what my daughter listens to these days, when I'm running her to school. I may have to sit through Skrillex, and I kind of enjoy that I must admit, it's so mad that it arouses my curiosity!
PC: Fair enough. So how did you come to decide that music was the thing that you wanted to make a career out of?
Brad: It kind of chooses you. My experience was, it was tapping me on the shoulder all through the 1970's, I grew up in Brisbane and it was a different time and place then. You know, there are music colleges that you can go to now and do kind of a TAFE course on how to be a contemporary musician, no such thing existed when I was a kid. So, you're at high school and your friends are thinking they're going to be lawyers or doctors or whatever, architects, dentists this kind of thing. I was torn, I didn't really know how to become a musician, it sort of seeps into your sub-conscious, but I didn't know how to go about it. I was stumbling through the darkness really, playing in high school bands and you meet other people, if you're lucky you meet other people that dig the same stuff that you do, and I just had some lucky breaks in many regards. I was a fanatic, I walked around with my guitar and could play reasonably well by the time I was in my late teens, but on top of that I just got some lucky breaks. I've never had a plan B! Music is a powerful motivating force in my life, there's not much else that can touch it, for me.
PC: How would you spend an ideal day?
Brad: I could get some sleep! Maybe that might be it, I don't know. Going for a coffee with Grossman down at the beach, that's a good start! If I go up to JB Hi-fi, and they have in stock some rare film that I've wanted, that's a good day.
PC: I hear you're off overseas next week, before playing Adelaide on the June long weekend, can you tell me about that trip?
Brad: It's one of these things that come out of the blue on occasion, and it's like a private event for Toyota, believe it or not, where they have an annual event, they reward their sales people who've gone particularly well that year, and they treat them to a holiday, essentially. They have some sort of wing ding in an exotic location, different location each year and this year it's in Cape Town in South Africa. For some reason that I do not understand, even though it's an international event, people are coming from all over the world to this thing, that the entertainment side of things is handled in Australia. So we were approached to see if we wanted to do it, and they are paying us particularly well, so a couple of days in Cape Town sounded like a fun thing to do! It'll be in and out for me, I've actually been there before, the other guys are going to stick around and have a bit of a safari, but I'm only there for 3 days.
PC: Sounds good. After such a long career, what can the band still offer fans, and what does the future hold?
Brad: Well, who knows what the future holds, but certainly what we offer is something that is becoming increasingly rare, is that we're a kick-arse rock 'n' roll band. Your opportunity to see that sort of fiery rock 'n' roll, you'd be hard pressed anywhere in the world to find something real and authentic in this day and age. It's always been hard actually, a lot of bands say that they're rock 'n' roll bands, but they mostly suck! I find that is more often the case these days, but we're the real deal. There's only one way to get to where we are, and that is to play together thousands of shows around the world for the last 30 years, and that in itself is entirely unique. There aren't too many bands that can say that.
PC: Absolutely. All right, we'll wrap it up there. Thanks again Brad.
Brad: Thanks Paul. Very nice chatting with you sir!
PC: It's been an absolute pleasure. Safe travels to South Africa and we'll see you in Adelaide.
Brad: Cheers mate. You bet.
Hoodoo Gurus play at The Gov on the 9th of June with Lime Spiders - tickets available here
Interview by Paul Chivell