Latest release: I’m Sorry Sir, That Riff’s Been Taken (Cheersquad)Website: www.facebook.com/hardons/
Australian rock legends The Hard-Ons have always existed outside even the fringes of the mainstream. When the alternative became the mainstream in the 1990s, The Hard-Ons decided to split up for a while. That’s probably why, despite remaining both highly influential and relevant, it’s taken them 40 years to at last get some of the recognition they have long deserved as one of the most important Aussie bands of all time. Last year’s glorious I’m Sorry Sir, That Riff’s Been Taken got them into the ARIA album chart for the first time and last month they were invited to perform a tribute to Chris Bailey at the APRA Awards. As they prepare to finish off their COVID-interrupted national tour with shows in NSW and WA, we caught up with guitarist and songwriter Blackie.
It’s almost like it’s taken you your entire life to finally get some of the recognition you’ve deserved.
Yeah, I know. I’ve got a mate who tells me, “I love your solo stuff. Pity no one will dig it until you die!” And I’m like, “That’s cool, because then my son will be able to do something with it.”
It’s been an amazing year for the Hard-Ons. Getting Tim in the band, and a lot of people really not believing that was happening, and now getting nominated for some of the industry awards. That hasn’t really happened before.
No… Never! So… you know what I reckon? People love a story. It doesn’t matter how good or shit or whatever your art is in terms of the general population, if there’s a story they can latch onto, they’ll dig it. It’s fucking bizarre. The work has to be good to begin with, but there has to be a good story. People were like – What the fuck? And other people check it out, out of curiosity. It’s kinda funny.
When I spoke to Tim, he talked a lot about the mutual admiration you’ve had for each other all this time. The Hard-Ons probably gave You Am I one of their first shows back in the late 80s. For people who’ve followed your careers, to see you team up may not have been that much of a surprise.
I was actually surprised about how surprised some people were! They were like, “How’s that gonna work?” And I was like, “How’s it not going to work?” To me, in a lot of ways, it’s obvious. And Tim’s a super busy guy. We’re not saying he’s gonna be here forever and ever… I’m loving it, and if he does, it’ll be fucking phenomenal. But I don’t think about me going back as singer of the Hard-Ons. It doesn’t really appeal to me. Maybe it will later, but right now it doesn’t appeal to me. The thing I really love.. when Tim joined, the songs were already written. There was a couple that didn’t have any lyrics, and he was like, “Can I have a go?” And I said, “Sure, go for it,” and what he did was fucking unreal. But even though most of the songs were written, the way he approached them, and his vocal flourishes and harmony ideas and things like that – not just harmony ideas, but ability – he’s a way better singer than what me and Keish ever were, so he could really go a lot further with some of the vocal stuff that we tried out, than we ever have before.
The vocal variety is definitely an aspect of the album. One of the things he told me what the way you and (engineer) Lachlan Mitchell got the whip out on him to get his best performance. A lot of the songs were still very new too, weren’t they?
…I like to be a little more prepared than that. I’m always working on shit. Even now the Hard-Ons have twelve news songs that we’ve been fooling around with. It doesn’t end. People say, “How do you come up with that?” But I’m working on it every day. It’s not really a job, it’s just stuff that I do. Even now before I this interview I was in the next room demoing. I just do it all the time.
Now you’re on this tour that was meant to happen last year, then earlier this year. You’re finishing up in NSW and then in WA.
We managed to squeeze in a show or two, and I managed to do a pretty hefty solo tour. But that was easy. As soon as there was a gap, I was like, “I’m there! I’m doing it!” It’s just me and guitar, so it’s easy to get around. Like everyone else we just had to wait, and each time there was a lockdown, each one got harder and harder to take. The third wave of the pandemic was so hard, brutally, on so many people mentally, and I fully understand. It was tough. To have, one more time, everything’s gonna be shut.
And there’s still a lot of people not going to shows. One guy was telling me – who works in a venue – it’s up to 60% of pre-paid tickets not turning up. That’s a lot! We have people who are like, “I’m gonna go,” and then on the night [affects voice] “Oh no! I’m not gonna go! I’ll die!” For me it’s like, I’m like, fuck man, I’m already an old dude. I don’t give a shit. If I’m gonna die, I’d rather die out there than on my couch.
Well there does seem to be a few outbreaks happening at shows. I know someone who’s sure they got it at The Bronx last week. But if we keep letting that worry us, we’ll never get back to it. There’s a risk of any number of things happening to you at a show, really. It might not be the worst thing to happen.
I was the last to get it. I actually got it at the fucking APRA Awards! But it was worth it. And for me it wasn’t that brutal. I got a real pisseasy one. Even today I tried to buy some guitar shit off a friend of mine, and he’s “Oh dude, I caught it off my son, and for two weeks I haven’t been able to lift my head.” So I guess the real shitty version is still out there. Mine was really easy. The only thing that was crap for me was that it lasted too long.
Being at the APRA Awards must have been quite amazing, especially when you were approached to do the Chris Bailey tribute on the night.
That was really awesome. Obviously the Saints for us were a band – not just musically, but also spiritually – that were really important to us. There was a lot of things that band did, even besides the music, that were real influential on our band. Just the fact that they… a lot of people got caught up in the fashion side of punk, which we always thought was kind of dicky. So just to hear the Saints talk about when they went to the UK and based themselves there for a little while and did shows, and their record label was saying they had a stylist coming in to help them look better, and they were like – fuck off! All that sort of shit was, for us, really empowering. Here’s a band that relies solely on their music, their craft. On their material, as opposed to anything else. These guys are just awesome on every fucking level.
It was a pretty powerful tribute, not only seeing you guys play that song, but also that you had a brass section, which is, I guess, something you’ve never done before.
They said they’d provide us with a brass section, and we just thought, that could be amazing! And it was. And knowing… their records are just part of our DNA, so it wasn’t that difficult to learn. I guess if I’m going to talk about the two big guitar players that really influenced me in the early years of how I play, it was basically Brian James of The Damned and Ed Kuepper from The Saints. I tried to ape those two guys. And just behind those guys, Pete Shelley and Steve Jones, as well. How I played guitar was trying to ape those guys. To be asked to honour [Chris Bailey] like that, it was really lovely.
It was the first night you’ve really been honoured like that yourself, too, so it was a big night, wasn’t it?
Yeah it was. It was funny… and fun! Shitloads of fun.
So where do you take the Hard-Ons after these eight shows you’ve got coming up?
I think after this… I really wanna do some more solo shit. Nunchukka Superfly is also trying out a couple of different drummers. We’re really itching to play again, as well. It’s hard to say, but there’ll always be something.
Tim’s probably got a heavy schedule too. I was surprised that he seems to have spent more time on the road with the Hard-Ons lately than with You Am I.
I think he’s going overseas with You Am I pretty soon. And Hard-Ons are booked to go overseas, as well, but it’s not going to be until next year. I kind of leave what we’re doing next to the others, because I do all the writing. So I’m here doing that shit, and really, rehearsing whenever the guys can get together and jamming out tunes. I just take it as it comes along.
I don’t know what I expected from it, because you never know what to expect from a Hard-Ons album, really, but the new album is pants-shittingly good!
I was really happy and excited by it. Recording that album was super quick. We did the whole thing in five days, and then mixing took six days. But it was a blast. I can’t wait… the new stuff we’ve got, I’m fucking outrageously excited by it. I want to go back into it as soon as we can. It’s just a bummer how long this shit takes. It’s not just booking studios and getting everyone together. You’ve gotta be realistic – we’re Aussies. In Australia, very few people can live off their music. So we’ve all got day jobs as well, kids and mortgages and stuff like that. It’s also balancing that, and getting into the music. Pushing it along as hard as we can, while still keeping a roof over our heads.
It is important to keep hold of those things. You’ve often got so many balls in the air, it must be hard to juggle it all.
Yeah, yeah. Fully. Sometimes our friends from overseas will be like, “You guys must be rolling in it!” [laughs] Rolling in what?
Well I heard Albo at Bluesfest saying he’d develop an arts policy when he became PM, so let’s hope he gets some wheels turning on that now.
Yeah… you know, this is something that really stuck with me. When I drove a cab, I couldn’t really listen to music a lot because I was working and I had to focus, so I listened to talkback radio a lot. One day there was a dude talking about China, and Chairman Mao, saying that his dictatorship was the most brutal so far… apparently he was killing so many people that even Stalin was telling him to ease up. I’m not big on my history, so it was fascinating and bloodcurdling as well. But one of the things that stuck with me was… one of the things he tried to do was say that people don’t need music or art. They don’t need music, films or shit like that, but he had to reintroduce it because society didn’t work. He couldn’t get anything to happen. So that was like, far out! So whether people think it or not, we need art. The way human minds work, whether it’s our Netflix, stories, art… all that kind of shit, visual shit – us, as a species, we fucking need it. Our society needs it. So he had to reintroduce art, and of course he did it his way. All that propaganda art. Visually it’s fucking gorgeous. Obviously it comes from a dark place. But… you fucking cunts! You need our band! [laughs] Whether you think so, or not!