“…you get to a certain point in your career, in your life, I’m always putting out records every couple of years, I had one out last year. I don’t know I think I just got to the point that enough people had said it to me over a enough amount of time and I said let me just think about it, I thought you know what I’ll give it a go, this is me just giving it a go and see what happens.”
From release: The name James Reyne conjures up images of one of Australia’s most accomplished and revered performers – co-founder and front man of legendary Australian rock band Australian Crawl, one-time “super group” member with Company of Strangers circa 1992, and enormously successful solo artist with a string of hits under his belt.
James’s output in recent years has been prolific, his solo career producing a wealth of fine material to satiate even the most ardent fans, including last year’s long player, ‘Thirteen’. Now, following countless requests at live shows and online, James is ready to take these fans on a journey; The Basement performances will feature songs selected from throughout his career, over twenty albums representing an extensive catalogue.
We sat down with James Reyne to chat about the upcoming ‘A Crawl To Now’ shows in Sydney, the concept behind them and the possible future, as well as some great stories about the past. It’s always great to talk to a legend of the Australian music industry and we give you James Reyne…
We’re here to talk about ‘A Crawl To Now’ which is a great name by the way…
Thanks very much, I can’t take credit for it… but I liked it when I heard it and thought ‘that sounds good’…
So how did you come up with the concept of these two upcoming shows at the Basement in Sydney?
Well it was suggested to me by my Sydney agent Tony Grace that said why don’t you do something like this, a crawl to now because we thought unfortunately with two members of the band not with us anymore you could never reform the band really, and over the years so many people, you wouldn’t believe the amount of stuff of ‘why don’t you do…?’ and I’ve resisted and resisted and I thought why don’t I just dip my toe in the water and just see? So this is a way to do it, Tony suggested call it ‘A Crawl To Now’ do a couple of acoustic shows at The Basement in Sydney and see what happens. So he said we should also embrace everything, so that’s why we’ll have the two sets, the first set will be solo stuff, a lot of people do ask for newer stuff, a bit of Company of Strangers maybe, just things that people, just stuff… then we’ll have an interval, and the second set will be an hour and it will be all Australian Crawl.
What was the idea of doing these as an acoustic trio rather than a full band?
Purely the economics of it, and also it’s The Basement, so it’s a good way of just doing it gently, but again just to dip the toe in the water rather than bring the whole band up and rehearse the hell out of it, so but, if it works, we’ll certainly be thinking about doing something on a bigger scale.
Are you planning on reworking any of your classics or is it a case of hear them as we know them kind of thing?
Yeah, you’ll hear them as you know them, in an acoustic version. If I’m a fan of somebody and I go and see them and they do a swing version of the hit, I just say ‘no’ you want to hear it as you know it, you want to hear all the bits and the hooks, so no we won’t change it.
So in the future we’re not going to hear a heavy metal version of ‘Reckless’ or anything like that?
No, unless some heavy metal band wants to do it?
It’s something you haven’t really tackled before, so how important was it for you at this point to go back into the Australian Crawl catalogue to do these shows?
I don’t know, I think when is the time? It’s almost osmosis, you get to a certain point in your career, in your life, I’m always putting out records every couple of years, I had one out last year. I don’t know I think I just got to the point that enough people had said it to me over a enough amount of time and I said let me just think about it, I thought you know what? I’ll give it a go, this is me just giving it a go and see what happens. I mean a lot of these songs, the Australian Crawl stuff, I do some of them in my set because we do shows all the time, but I’ve never really, really comprehensively gone, right oh, let’s go and do these things…
Are there any you’re looking forward to playing again?
A few of them I’m in anticipation of seeing how they’ll sound and how they’re received, just to do them and see is this any good really or is this just a piece of crap?
Do you still get enjoyment of playing songs you’ve been singing for, well a long time?
Some of them, yes, but you go through periods where you might get sick of them and you might retire them and then you bring them back, the ones that we do I’ve always found something in them that I enjoy doing.
Hard question, but do you have a favourite song to play live?
Oh usually some of the newer ones, there’s a song of mine called ‘Rainbow’s Dead End’ that I like playing, that was on two albums ago an album called ‘Speedboats for Breakfast’. There are some that I do enjoy playing, I find things in them and think, ooh this isn’t too bad and be as subjective as I could be.
I am guilty, I do own the cassingle of ‘House of Cards’, any chance you can that one for me?
Wow… probably not acoustically, I tell you, what I have done is I got a list of songs and I narrowed it down to the ones you go ‘OK I could possibly approach playing these songs’ and I’ve got seventy eight… so if you count it as fourteen, fifteen, sixteen songs makes an hour set, so whatever that into seventy eight goes, so we’re not going to do a five hour set. When we go out with a band, possibly, but acoustically it’s ‘meh’ there’s nothing there… Next time definitely.
You mentioned there could be plans to take this show around Australia, but would you keep it the same style in acoustic mode or would you take the band out?
If it works and we do it properly we’ll definitely take it out as a band scale and try and get some good production. I think it would really work well as a full band thing, and you know a great light show and all that sort of stuff, and just market it well and have some merchandise that reflects it and a bit of a reflection of then but now and that sort of stuff. The potential for it is really good but I don’t want to go out half assed and blow it. Like ‘Yes we’re doing major stadiums…’ and no one turns up going ‘who cares’ and eight people are there.
I want to jump back to 1987, a time when there was a renewed success from classic Australian front men gone solo, Farnham, Barnsey, Braithwaite and more, were you somewhat nervous in taking the leap into your own solo territory at the time?
I didn’t even think about it, my mind doesn’t really work like that, I’d wanted to be doing what I was doing about two or three years earlier, not in a bad way, I was positively looking to the future and this I could see that the end of this is in sight, the end is nigh, and in a lot of bands there is just the logical progression, you grow up in the path a bit, it’s just a logical human thing to do, which we did and I just wanted to keep doing what I was doing and I was writing a lot of songs and, no I just thought this was a natural thing. When I went to America I had a bunch of demos and I left Australia, I thought I’m getting out of here and I’ll head to America and just let fate take a hand and if I end up playing music, great, or if I end up working in a greengrocers in Peabody, Idaho, then so be it. It just so happened that within two weeks I had management there, because I had a couple of names, mainly ex-pat Australians, I had two meeting and I took my demos in there and my second meeting I got a manager out of it, they said we’re interested, leave it with us we’ll see what we can do, and they got me a record deal, so in that sense fate took a hand. But no, I never thought about it, I tend not to think about it, I’m not a great planner, I just go, oh we’ll see if this happens…
‘Fall of Rome’ was a great start too…
Thank you, yeah, it worked really well over here which was great, and it was just great to play but I was just happy to be out of the band format, nothing against the people in the band, don’t get me wrong, they’re lovely and that was all cool, but me, probably not a great team player *laughs*.
So it was time for the end of Australian Crawl back then was it?
Oh yeah, that was well and truly time, I mean we knew we were going to split probably eighteen months before we announced it, we knew it was over, and we went out and wanted to walk away not owing a cent, wanted to walk away with no debts or not owing anybody any money or any trucking company so that they come calling in twenty years or any of that sort of stuff. So we went out on the road and made sure we owed no money to anybody. Bands… you put a bunch of mates together and it’s like ‘Let’s go and see the world together’ and it’s us against the world and then certainly bands that have some success, one person’s writing more songs and they’re going to make more money and it starts to put a little wedge, and one guy gets more attention and there’s another wedge and you just naturally grow up as human beings, and someone falls desperately in love and there’s another wedge. Just little wedges, just natural human developments and peoples psyche and natural growth and it happens…
So, ‘Reckless’ is thirty years old this year, what are your memories of when that was released, was that the one that really took off the most?
That’s the highest charting actual single, we always had albums at number one, we never had a number one single, we had singles that did well and were played on radio, but we had the kind of fan base that would buy our albums, they weren’t rushing out and buying the singles, radio would play it, but ‘Reckless’ was the first single we had that ever went number 1, so I guess for that reason. I guess there are some songs that carry this cache over the years for no apparent reason, and it may not be a better song than any other particular song but certain songs just gather a certain cache, it was just one of those things, it was like ‘Boys Light Up’ it was never a big single or anything, I don’t think it even charted, it got banned. In those days you wanted it to get banned because then you knew the song was going to do well.
On new music, ‘Thirteen’ has been out for a while now, have you been working on new material for a new album?
Always, I’m always writing songs. When I’m at home and the mood takes me I’m writing, always fiddling around with something.
So can we expect something new soon?
Oh yeah, maybe next year I’ll start thinking about it, it’s sort of organic, you get to a point where you go I‘ve got a few songs and I’d like to start, I don’t record at home, I’m technically an idiot, but I have a friend that lives around the corner who is very good at that stuff, so we may start messing around with some stuff and we’ll see what comes of it. I’ve got a few ideas of what I might want to do, but see a lot of it you got to a lot of effort and expense to make these albums and the current climate the way it is, it’s very frustrating to go to all this effort and blood, sweat and tears, and I’m always writing songs because I like doing it and it’s what I do and it’s the way my brain works, but to make these things and to stick them out and to have people just go ‘yeah but anyway let’s talk about Australian Crawl’ it’s like come on, I’m not dissing the past, but… so often it’s self-defeating a lot of the time, but I’m definitely going to make a new record.
I did want to ask, well a mate did and I don’t mean to offend, but what did you think of the parodies back in the day by the D-Generation…?
I thought that was a good one, I thought it was funny and I thought at that stage I was surprised I was included as the four other people on it were pretty major stars, and here was me and I was nowhere near that league in terms of commercial success, there was Kylie, Barnes and LRB were top ten in America, Farnham and little me, so that was good, in a backhanded way that was a compliment, it was good. It was very funny.
So, 2014 is around the corner, so do you have plans for the year or are you waiting to see what happens with this first?
Just dip the toe in the water, looking forward to it, it’ll be great, but if it works we definitely think about upping the ante and doing something with it for sure. What that is specifically I don’t know, but I quite like the idea of starting like this and just letting it grow and say well this worked and let’s do this and I want to be realistic about it, I don’t want to go and overblow myself, or go over reach. It’s definitely one of those things that you think there’s something in the potential of this, whether it’s a full blown show ‘You’ll never see Australian Crawl but this is the next best thing…’ and it’s a three million hour show…
Or seventy eight songs…
*laughs* Seventy eight songs and you’ll know them all…
Latest Release: Thirteen (out now)
Don’t miss A CRAWL TO NOW: 2 exclusive shows
FRI 1ST AND SAT 2ND NOVEMBER – THE BASEMENT, SYDNEY
Tickets from The Basement: – 02 9251 2797 – www.thebasement.com.au