Latest release: Bitter Pill (Dinner For Wolves)Website: www.thescreamingjets.com.au

Australian music legends The Screaming Jets should have been celebrating 31 years of hard rocking this year with another big tour through the Autumn and winter. They soon found themselves getting together over Zoom, getting on the beers instead of on the road when touring suddenly became untenable. Out of those idle sessions, however, came the idea for their latest release, the five track EP Bitter Pill that features updated versions of fan classics the guys were able to put together in isolation from each other. A few days after releasing the tracks to Spotify, we got on the phone with Dave Gleeson for a casual chat about old times, riding the final wave of the great Aussie Pub Rock era and recording “that” song again.

We’re talking with you about Bitter Pill today, as that’s really the only thing you’ve been able to do for a while. It’s no co-incidence that the songs you’ve chosen for this are the downbeat ones, is it?

Absolutely. It all came about when we were having Zoom sessions on a Thursday. And they were just drinking sessions for an hour, and then someone came up with the idea that we should be recording. Because that’s what we were supposed to be doing. We were supposed to be recording a new album. We were thinking about doing new songs, but that was going to be difficult in the climate because we have to be in a room together and nut things out. So we decided to pick some songs that were a bit indicative of the time, but also that have grown a bit over the time. Things like Sad Song that didn’t have a lead break in it when we released it all those years ago, and Friend of Mine that didn’t have Pauly (Woseen) singing lead vocals on it. Stuff like that. So we knew there were different kind of approaches we could do with those particular songs and we knew them intimately, so we weren’t going to be hunting around for verses and chords and stuff like that. So it was something we thought we could approach and suck it and see, and see how the technology went for us.

Helping Hand is the oldest song on there, and that’s changed a lot. But you copped a lot of flak when you did Shivers originally, and now you’ve changed it up again. So, again, now there’s going to be people out there who will be like, “Man, you’ve fucked this song up more!”

I know the lyrics are different, but I’m so used to singing those lyrics now they’re kind of mine. I’ve said this before, change a word, get a third used to be the old ethos when you were songwriting with people. Unfortunately I didn’t get to hit Rowland S Howard up for any money. But people just love that song. It’s just become as a synonymous song with the Jets. It’s only the purists… people still come up to me and say, I love that song, when did you write that?  

Ha, well that’s kind of sad. Rowland’s no longer with us, and he probably didn’t make a lot of money from that song, and it’s really become part of Australian music history.

I met Ollie Olsen. He’s a friend of my wife from years ago, so I rock up to meet her in Melbourne when the Jets are there on tour, and she says, I’m with a friend. So I’m sitting there and she says, ‘This is Ollie’. I’m looking at him and thinking, That’s Ollie Olsen. He must be looking at me going, Look at this knucklehead. Because I’m a mainstream rocker who wears no shirt, tatts all over the joint… we had a few chats and stuff and the Shivers thing came up. I said, ‘I don’t know how that came across,’ and he said ‘Mate, Rowland never made so much money out of it!’ So we at least made him some money from it, because I don’t think the Boys Next Door had a massive commercial hit with it. 

Cover songs can help the original artist like that often. As long as there’s respect for the song and for the artist, I don’t think you can really go wrong.

That’s exactly right. I fell in love with that song the first time I heard it on the Dogs in Space soundtrack. I didn’t even know who did it, I just thought it was an amazing song. When we first recorded it, the people at rooArt Records – because they were all indie, alternative – they were all looking down their nose at us. ‘How dare you? How daaare youuu?’ Actually, it saved our second album. Our second album Tear of Thought came out, we released three singles, all of which had multi, tens of thousand dollar film clips. The guy who was over there to do those film clips, we had a chat one night and he said he loved that song and I had a idea about filming someone jumping off a bridge into the water, and they started toying around with the idea and threw the video clip in for nothing. I think it cost us 300 grand for three video clips, and they threw that one in for nothing out of the goodness of their heart, God bless ‘em! And that was the first hit off that album! Once that happened, we were in England and our record company said, you’ve finally got some traction on this album, have you got another single? And we said Helping Hand and they said, ‘What are you talking about? That’s terrible.’ Then on the first three singles we sold about 25,000 copies. With those two singles tacked on, we sold about 120,000 copies, so it certainly gave us the success on the second album that we thought we were going to miss out on.

I remember that album coming out and it wasn’t really getting the support, and then those two singles came out about a year or something later and everyone was going out buying the album all of a sudden.

Yeah it was about ten months. It was most fortuitous. We got back from overseas after a couple of shit tours, and Richie Lara left the band and we got Jimi Hocking on board and we went on a twelve month tour after that in between recording a bit more. It’s funny wehen you look back on those things. You remember things that happened!

A lot of people would say that the Screaming Jets aren’t a particularly political band, but you’ve always been a pretty astute social commentator. That comes out in a lot of your songs – maybe not politics so much, but definitie social issues, and that’s the case for a lot of Australian pub rock bands. And I say that with the most respect because the Jets were one of the bands that rode the last wave of Australian pub rock before it died off. I remember seeing you guys at Camden Tavern – CTs at Camden – and hanging out with you a bit after the show, so I remember you having a rant during that show about how we were all doomed and that the environment is fucked and that we shouldn’t have children anymore because we’re bringing them into a shitty world. I kind of felt that way myself back then, and now 25 years or so later, it’s all coming true mate!

Hahaha yes, sadly! I always have a rant. Early on, I think I used to get a little bit too cranky, and that turns people off. So now I’ll still have a crack at something, so I’ll say it with a bit of a smile on my face, or whatever.  But I’m so glad there wasn’t social media back when I started, mate! It would have been a very short career for me!  

I can still remember stories like, “Dave Gleeson’s just been thrown off a plane for being drunk”, or something and to me that was like, ‘What? A rock star got drunk? Why is that news?’

Hahaha, there’s been a few times when I got too pissed to be on stage, and the next day I’d get in trouble and I’d be like, ‘Mate, I’m in a rock band! What are you talking about? This is what we do!’

You’ve had a pretty incredible career for an Australian rock band. YOu’ve had those highs and those lows, and you’re still going after all this time. And you’re all still fairly young blokes so you could probably keep going for quite a while after this too.

Look mate, it’s been really inspiring being in The Angels and being on the Red Hot Summer Tours and everything. Like you were saying about us riding the last wave, we were about ten years behind Aussie Crawl and INXS and all those Aussie bands. We started in 89, so we were on the last wave of that stuff, but I get to hang out with James Reyne and Russell Morris and Daryl Braithwaite, and I met John Farnham once, and John and Rick (Brewster)… John’s 71 years old, so he’s nearly twenty years older than me, and that inspires me! At least I know what I’m doing for the next 20 years!

Just a little about the Angels now, even though I know we’re talking about the Jets, but I have to address the elephant in the room with regards to the way some fans feel about the re-recording of all the old albums. I spoke to John about this a few months ago and he said it was a way to renew the legacy a bit and share it directly with the younger guys in the band. You’re the vocalist, you’ve had to step into the shoes of a pretty legendary figure. What’s it like for you to go in and re-record those albums and do all those songs?

Those three albums, No Exit, Face to Face and Dark Room, I know every song on them. Probably after that I drop off a bit with my knowledge. I guess Beyond Salvation, I know most of the songs on that. Those were three albums that happened when I was between 12 and 16 and they were very important albums to me. There’s been a few times when they’ve had to pull me up and say, ‘What are you singing there?’ And I’d say, ‘Put him aboard a wild wild wind’, and they’d say, ‘That’s not the words!’ But I’ve been signing those words for thirty fucking years! But listen, John and Rick are the musical directors of the band, and I totally understand they love playing with myself and Sam and Nick and they get a real energy out of it , and they wrote the songs, along with Doc, and it’s up to them to do what they want with them, and I’m more than happy to be a part of it. The crowds we’ve been getting over the last 5 or 6 years are testament to the fact that people love the songs. They’ve come to realize that if they want to see any semblance of the Angels, then it’s gonna have to be with me out front! 2011, I think, we started off, and we must have done 300 gigs in that time. 

I’d say you’ve pretty much nailed the part after that length of time.

Yeah… but just on Doc, when I was kid I was in absolute reverence of Doc. He was menacing and mystical and said those cool things between songs and we toured with The Angels in the early days and I’d watch Doc intently for maybe 40 of the 60 gigs we did with them, every part of every song, and try to learn a little bit by osmosis!