What's the most Australian thing you do
A cult band? What a banal, naive question. Of course the HARD-ONS are a cult band. Damn it, the HARD-ONS have made music history in more than a decade and a half. They are regarded as pioneers of pop punk and, alongside a handful of other Australian bands, have managed to make a name for themselves beyond the country's borders, which, like a seal of quality, stands for some of the most beautiful pop songs in the history of punk rock. Now, after a break of more than 5 years, the HARD-ONS are back - and they have lost nothing, absolutely nothing of what has always distinguished them. And if you look at the trio today, in all subjectivity, with all imaginable prejudices, you get the impression that time has stood still. And that certainly applies not least to the appearance of the "old men" who are still far from being. Is the Australian Sun Inhibiting the Process of Aging? Is there another, much more exciting secret? Maybe we would know more now, if we had guitarist and singer Blackie - Ray (bass) and Keish (drums & vocals) enjoyed themselves otherwise - also asked these questions. But there were more important things to clarify ...
I guess you have to assume that you don't know that many people anymore, because your last tour and record was in the early nineties. Could you perhaps provide a historical summary for people who do not know you from before?
Phew, really? Alright We started the band when we were still in school, played for 15 years and then split up. Even shorter?
Uh ... What was your background when you founded the HARD-ONS, what kind of music did you listen to?
Lots of sixties punk, but of course all the seventies punk bands too. That ranged from MC5 and STOOGES to the BEATLES. We were kids, when we saw the SEX PISTOLS on TV we were absolutely flabbergasted: then we knew we had to stick with this punk thing.
What kind of scene background did you start the band against?
When we started with the HARD-ONS, the scene in Australia was completely screwed. It was a scene with third generation England punk bands, very trend and fashion conscious and you absolutely had to wear the right clothes - studded leather jackets of course - to belong. Plus, this punk scene was pretty racist.
Yeah, just take bands like EXPLOITED, which many in Australia emulated. The fans of these bands were just dumb idiots, they didn't like the fact that there was a band with us in which three different skin colors were represented and the outfit - we wore sneakers and shorts and had no short hair - nothing at all had to do with them. We didn't care a bit about the prevailing "punk uniform" code - and we weren't interested in the punk bands of the time such as EXPLOITED. Instead, we'd hang out in record stores, really listen to every record in the store, and try to find people who liked the same music as we did. I mean, you know what it is like when you're just starting to listen to music: you discover something that you like, but you don't know your way around and then try to find as much as possible that sounds similar. When you've bought all of those records, you go a step further, try to find out which records these bands have heard, and so you keep fighting - until one day you find out that your record collection contains 5,000 discs ...
Would you call yourself a record collector?
I do believe that I am a collector, if not a fanatical one. I collect music rather than records, you see?
The HARD-ONS: When did you go on tour in Europe for the first time?
Phew, I can't remember, but I think it was '88 or '89.
Back then you were absolutely omnipresent: you were pretty well known in this country at the end of the eighties, your records sold very well, you were on tour all the time, and it was probably the heyday of the HARD-ONS.
Yes, that's how I see it too. The years before that were okay too, but we really played everywhere in Australia and just wanted to look something new. When we were here in Europe for the first time, it was an interesting experience to only drive an hour and be in a completely different city. In Australia it would be a day trip. We then toured here once or twice every year.
But you've also been to Japan and the USA.
We were pretty damn hip in Japan, that was great. In the US it was a regional thing and it's very hard to get established there. You're treated like shit as a band, but we've been there a couple of times, but in the end we were fed up with losing money every time. Even now our old label there, Taang !, asked us if we didn't want to tour, but we don't do that to ourselves.
If I remember correctly, you were always mentioned in the same breath as bands like ALL and CHEMICAL PEOPLE, although hardly anyone remembers the latter today.
Of course I can't judge how people saw us, but even if I see parallels to ALL and CHEMICAL PEOPLE and I like both bands, I don't think that we can really be compared musically. We are Australians and have our own sound - and at least that was the case back then, whereas today many bands in Australia are copying what they know from the USA. When we started we were compared to the RAMONES, but also to Australian bands like the SAINTS and BIRTHDAY PARTY. And then it was almost a shock when we heard the DESCENDENTS for the first time: "Fuck, there is a band in America that does the same thing as us, it sounds like us!".
So you played pop-punk long before this style got really big.
Oh yeah, sure! When we started we were the first band in Australia to play that sound. And the reactions to it have been either very enthusiastic or hostile from day one. It was new, some liked it, others thought it utterly shit. That didn't bother me, and I liked playing in front of both groups of people - it was not uncommon for the people who didn't like it to outnumber them. Any kind of reaction is good, and it's probably better if someone boos you than if someone yawns.
Leap in time: at the beginning of the nineties you broke up. How so?
Because after all these years we didn't feel like doing this kind of music anymore. The last HARD-ONS record in 1993 was already very different from the previous ones and that was the direction we wanted to go. We were very happy with it, the record was noisier and more experimental, but it turned out that people didn't want to hear that. The usual reaction "No, that's not the HARD-ONS!", And we thought, if people don't allow us to make this change and don't want to hear us, then we'll change right away and dissolve. So the main reason for breaking up was our disappointment that people expected us to play the same music year in and year out. But that was never our goal! A lack of creativity was definitely not the problem: I had hundreds of ideas for new songs, but none of them sounded like the HARD-ONS.
Listen to my other band NUNCHAKA SUPERFLY and you will know. By the way, when the interview comes out, our album should finally be out. And to be honest: when the HARD-ONS dissolved, it was absolutely fantastic for me. We immediately had new bands and kept making music. In addition to NUNCHAKA SUPERFLY, I've recorded another CD in the last few years, just me and another guy, and that sounds like music from a soundtrack.
What did the other two do after the HARD-ONS ended?
Ray played with me at NUNCHAKA SUPERFLY and also had a second band with the drummer of NUNCHAKA SUPERFLY and his brother, who played the saxophone. Keish formed a band called MALIBU STACEY, which sounded a lot like BLUE ÖYSTER CULT. As for NUNCHAKA SUPERFLY, it's a band with no melodies. Okay, now we have a few melodies, but when I started the band that was my top priority: no melodies! After all, I had been doing melodic things for so long, I just didn't feel like doing it anymore.
With NUNCHAKA SUPERFLY you were never able to build on the success of the HARD-ONS, and I guess very few HARD-ONS fans will have heard of the successor band at all. So it was a descent for you first, wasn't it?
Yes, that is right. It wasn't easy with the band either because we had so many line-up changes. To be precise, several people told me I was an asshole and they didn't feel like doing anything to me ... Well, after all these years with the HARD-ONS I was just used to this band: we were three friends, we knew us for years and always somehow got along. But when I did something with other people, it was a real shock for me to work with people who wanted to bring in their own ego. So I was always looking for new people, especially a singer, and in the end I decided to sing myself. In my opinion, a singer is not a musician either, but a guy who wants to become famous.
How did you come up with the idea to reactivate the HARD-ONS again?
The answer will surprise you: because at that point we had all three bands that were fun and we were very happy musically. Nevertheless, songs kept popping up both for me and Keish that were or should be 100% HARD-ONS songs. We talked about it and then decided to just jam together again just to see how it goes. It worked, we had twelve new songs, so we thought we'd just try again.
So you could still endure each other even after the end of the HARD-ONS.
Sure, we've always remained friends. Our bands played together and we didn't split up at the time.
How were the reactions in Australia to your reunion? As far as I know you were the absolute punk heroes there at the time and one of the most famous bands in the country, also abroad.
As with any reunion, of course you always have complainers who are just waiting to take you apart. So, of course, there were a few negative reactions, we were accused of playing again for the money, they said we weren't as good as we were before, we were old men now, and so on. The other part of the reactions was rather enthusiastic. Well, we expected that, and in the end it was and is exciting for us to prove ourselves. In any case, we are well aware that five years is a long time and that we first have to earn new, young fans again: sometimes the kids come to our shows because of the opening act, see each other, are enthusiastic and ask if we already have one Have the record out ... We think we're just as good as before, if not a little better, because we've worked with so many different musicians and styles in the meantime that we can now try other things with the HARD-ONS, and more play much tighter. Think about it, before the split we only had the HARD-ONS for an eternity, never played with other people, apart from the recordings with Henry Rollins and Jerry A. from POISON IDEA. When we played with other musicians, it was a revelation, it seemed to me as if I had been blind all the years before.
How did you come into contact with Rollins at the time?
Our manager did Rollins' tours in Australia, Rollins liked the HARD-ONS and when we asked him if we could do something together, he liked the idea.
How long has the band been together again?
Since the beginning of '98. But it's no longer a full-time job like it used to be. We also have our other bands.
Have the old fans returned with you?
Yes, at least in part. Many are now in their thirties like us, some show up at the concerts, but many are no longer interested in music. The fact is that for many people music only plays a role for a few years in their youth. Then they turn to other things. But of course there are people who have remained loyal to us over the years, who also come to NUNCHAKA SUPERFLY concerts.
And what about the bands you played with back then?
Ha, they are reforming too! A month and a half ago I was at MEANIES, they’re back! Unfortunately they have a new guitarist who plays a little cleaner, but otherwise they were good as usual.
What about new HARD-ONS songs?
We recorded six songs the other day but we're only half happy with them, so we'll fix that after this tour. But we've already written enough songs for a new album, but let's wait and see what we think of in the near future and then tackle a new album.
Would you say that you have changed musically?
I think so, and so do a lot of other people. We'd sound like our last '93 album just came out. But I can reassure people: all the noisy stuff on this record is a thing of the past, we won't do that again. We now have our other bands to satisfy our cravings in this regard. We only want to make "pop" with the HARD-ONS, because we ultimately see the HARD-ONS as a pop band.
What is it like to be beaten with a name like THE HARD-ONS ("hard-on" means something like "erect penis" ...)? I mean at seventeen or eighteen you can do that, but as a grown man over thirty ...?
You know, you get used to everything. Sometimes it annoyed us, of course, because the name was really a curse, because there were always people who were more interested in the damn name than in the music. But what should we do? Rename us? No! We came up with the name when we were fourteen and never thought we would ever be so famous.
Are you still or are you part of the Australian punk scene again today?
Not really. Sure, there is a punk scene, but I think it sucks. A lot of bands sound pretty New York-esque, and I'm not into that at all. Personally, I'm not particularly interested in punk rock any more, which might have something to do with the fact that I'm "old" ... You have just heard everything, and as far as bands like PENNYWISE or OFFSPRING are concerned, it's not punk rock . Such music doesn't inspire me, no, bands like MELVINS or JESUS LIZARD are my thing. Anyway, this whole scene thing has never interested me, and I hated it in the past and now hate it when people make me responsible for the "punk scene" and tell me what to do and what not to do.
Then what does punk mean to you? Is it a mindset?
When I discovered punk back then, I liked the fact that it meant that everyone can do whatever they want. The music is right at the top, and then there is certain content right at the bottom. Punk rock meant freedom to me, and as a lifestyle it meant not having to worry about everything. It didn't matter what you look like, what your job is, whether you are man or woman or gay or whatever. Punks were outsiders, and that's where I felt good because at school I was always an outsider too. As a child you still really think about it, it bothered you, but when I was punk it didn't matter anymore. And the music was so overwhelming that the rest out there didn't matter anyway. The PISTOLS, THE DAMNED, BIRTHDAY PARTY, I knew again why I was alive! I still have this feeling today, music still means so much to me, this feeling is getting stronger every day and I love discovering new music. But it's not exciting to discover BLINK 182, but John Zorn. Or Krautrock like FAUST. Music, that's the point, is the most important thing in life for me now as it was then.
Australian bands, especially old heroes like early AC / DC, THE SAINTS, RADIO BIRDMAN or ROSE TATTOO have been enjoying growing popularity again recently. Do you have an explanation for that?
No, but it's interesting that while Australian bands are generally quite popular with other bands and musicians, the audience doesn't follow suit. Unlike England or the USA, Australia doesn't have such a huge media machine, and that has something to do with the fact that a band rarely gets really big. And just take a look at England, they have the most shitty bands, honestly they only have rubbish to offer: if I only think of SUEDE or OASIS, we think badly. But the English media make such a fuss about their bands that the rest of the world falls for it and thinks they're great too. And America is not much better there: because it is the oh so great and strong America, everyone seems to like everything that comes from there ... Australia, on the other hand, has always been the country in the ass of the world that you sometimes forget . Our bands have been very influential, of course, without anyone recognizing it.When people talk about punk in the seventies, they come up with the SEX PISTOLS, but the SAINTS had been around a lot longer and they were better. Or check out how much BIRTHDAY PARTY have influenced the English music scene. Or the SCIENTISTS: every band from Seattle seemed to adore the SCIENTISTS, MUDHONEY were even an absolute copy of them. Well, Australia never got any credit for that. But fate probably connects Australia with Germany and Krautrock: bands like CAN and FAUST have never received the recognition they deserve.
Joachim Hiller, Tom Van Laak
© by Ox-Fanzine - Issue # 36 III 1999 and
© by Ox-Fanzine - Issue # 42 March / April / May 2001 and Ox
© by Ox-Fanzine - Issue # 52 September / October / November 2003 and André Bohnensack
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