The Poor are back. The hard rocking tropical storm that descended on the Australian scene from Darwin in the early 1990s with their debut album Who Cares and big riffing anthems like More Wine Waiter, Please, released their first new music in 12 years last month and hit the Cherry Bar stage in Melbourne last week. 

Payback’s a Bitch is a no-nonsense return for the Queensland four piece after a stretches of being unable to play and the departure of long-serving guitarist Julian Grynglas a few years ago. 

“That was the first song me and Dan Cox, our new guitarist, sat down and started working on,” says frontman Skenie down the line. “I just wanted to see how he could write. He was like, What do you want me to do? And I went, Just fucking play. Just play riffs, and I’ll pick the stuff out. He just started on that picking part while I was setting up my guitar, so I started playing the rhythm underneath it, we learned that part while he was coming up with different riffs, and then he came up with [the main riff] and I was like, ‘Fuck, that’s it. That’s where Gav’s gonna come in with the drums’ and it was a balls-to-the-wall sort of song.”

It certainly serves notice that The Poor is back in business. 

“We want to get back on top,” the singer says early in the interview, and he’s hopeful that with some choice editing it might even get some prime radio airplay alongside their first and biggest hit from all those years ago. It might be the third decade of the 21st Century, but Australian rock radio still has issues with certain lyrics, for some reason. 

“We’re gonna take it back in to our mixing guy and get a few words bleeped out so Triple M can play it. They won’t play it now, except on the late rotation, and we want it on drive time. They’re willing to do that but there’s a couple of words like ‘dickhead’… ‘paedophile’ is the one they’re worried about.”

Payback is the first taste of a new album The Poor has been working on piecemeal since Cox joined the band three years ago. COVID hasn’t kept them off the road completely, but it’s played havoc with their gigging roster, as it has for most touring acts. They missed out on opening for Kiss last year, among other things. 

“[We’d be] organising something and getting ready for shows, and then it gets blown out,” Skenie says. “We just go back to writing again, and taking our time recording. We’ve been doing it in bits and pieces as we’ve been able to afford it. That’s been taking up most of the chunks. Doing film clips and everything, it all takes time, and then you’ve gotta work in the meantime.”

28 years ago The Poor were close to dominating the local heavy rock scene with their debut going Top 5 and a solid reputation for hard-hitting and aggressive live shows taking them around the world with AC/DC. Yet by the end of the decade, The Poor were done. In the early 00s Skenie and drummer Gav Hansen were touring with a new band called Lump – with members of Hansen’s previous band Blackseed – until 2009 when The Poor reunited. Two albums followed – Round One (2009) and Round Two (2010), but they didn’t seem to bring the band the attention they probably should have. Nevertheless, The Poor continued a reasonably low-key existence until the departure of Grynglas. For a little while, it looked like the band might not continue without him.  

“Yes, there was,” Skenie admits, about the doubts they had in going on without the guitarist. “We always wanted to come back, but when Julian left the band that was probably four years ago, we were pretty fuckin’… you know, he’d been in the band for 25 years, so it was pretty sad to see him go. So we were thinking, if we’re going to get someone, we have to get someone who’s a brother, and a gun, and Dan’s a demon.”

Cox certainly has the goods, as his work on the new single proves, and The Poor’s status as a killer live band has never wavered. During 2019 they toured with Melbourne rockers Palace of the King and in 2020, right before COVID brought the curtain down, The Poor did east coast shows performing AC/DC’s Back in Black in full. Their next round of shows are with old friends Rose Tattoo in Queensland and NSW, and further touring is set to follow. Skenie even has his eye set on taking The Poor back to Europe later in the year. 

But first of all, there’s a long-overdue album to bring out. If Payback’s a Bitch is any indication of what’s it store, The Poor fans will not be disappointed. Skenie certainly has belief in it.

We just rolled with the punches like we always have. You don’t stick together this long without having the brotherhood and the belief in ourselves. We really think we’ve got a fucking killer album now, and we haven’t felt that way since Who Cares.”