Music man John Turnbull talks to Aussie rock legend Dave Gleeson from the Screaming Jets about touring, losing band members and 25 years of rock ’n roll.
Independent Australia: Thanks for your time today, Dave. You’re about to embark on a 25th Anniversary tour with The Screaming Jets, but I’d like to start by going back to the beginning. Can you tell me about Aspect?
DG: Oh yeah, mate. That was our apprenticeship.
Our first gig was a high school dance, and it just grew out of that. By the time we’d finished high school, when we were 17, we were doing three or four gigs a week, and when that band finished up we had a PA and had done over 300 gigs.
IA: Were you doing original songs back then or was it just covers?
DG: No, we pretty much started writing originals at the beginning.
Grant Walmsley had songs right from the outset that he’d written, one that I remember was called ‘The Gruntstramental’, because his nickname was Grunt.
It was one of those things, you never told the publicans in Newcastle that you did your own songs, and you’d never tell the crowd. If you said ‘here’s one of our songs’ you’d see them sort of lose interest and head towards the bar, but if you threw an original in between LA Woman and Boney Maroney, then no one knew any different.
IA: Are there any Aspect songs in the 25th Anniversary set?
DG: Nah… There are a couple of songs that I still really rate, mostly written by Grant, but it was just one of those things that we just sort of moved on from.
In fact, Paul Woseen joined the band for the last eight or so shows, so it was basically Paul, Grant and myself that formed the nucleus of the new band when Aspect split up.
IA: It’s a little hard to believe that Better came out over 20 years ago. I remember when the song was big, Sydney DJ Doug Mulray would always follow the song with a sting ‘better get a bucket’. Was there a feud between him and the band or was it all in jest?
DG: No, I always loved Uncle Doug and his offbeat sense of humour. He was always very supportive of us, the times we went in and interviewed with him he was a big fan of the band.
But it’s sort of a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ sort of thing, you know?
If you’ve got a hit on the radio everybody tells you that they’re sick of hearing that song, but if a new single doesn’t get radio play they’re all like: ‘What happened mate? New single no good?’
That’s rock n’ roll, baby.
IA: Triple M was an early supporter of the band, and I understand that you’ve been doing some work with the network over the past few years.
DG: Yeah, Triple M in Adelaide. I do a little thing there at midday and I’ve actually been involved with radio since almost the very beginning.
Our manager when we were in Aspect had a radio show on community station 2NURFM in Newcastle and that radio station continues to this day.
And then, when I was about 26, I worked at Triple M in Sydney filling in for the late, great Jon Kennedy, better known as Ratso. It’s great to have an outlet to divest all of this useless information I’ve picked up over the years about music.
IA: You supported The Angels on one of your first tours back in 1990, and now you’re their lead singer. Can you tell me a bit about that relationship?
DG: When we first started touring with The Angels, their crew were the most hardcore in the country. They had a reputation for going hard, all the time.
We had an eight week tour lined up with them all around the country and we asked if we could put our stage gear in their truck. They told us to stick it up our butts, so we had to buy our own truck that cost us $27,000. That was back when we had nothing, we had to borrow the money off a mate who had just received a compo claim through. I hope we paid him back…
But flash forward a lot of years and I went and saw John and Rick play in The Brewster Brothers, and they said they had some demos that they’d been working on and asked if I wanted to have a warble and I said no worries.
It kinda grew out of that.
John and Rick were so excited to be in the studio, along with Chris Bailey, god rest his soul, they felt like this was a real continuance of The Angels.
A bit of argy-bargy went on with former members and I hear that there was a lot of traffic on social media, but they might as well have screamed that at a wall, because I don’t do social media.
I could care less what Joe Nobody thinks of me — I don’t care what he does. I think you’ll find that people start dropping off social media in droves, now that the celebrities are arcing up about it, because we follow the celebrities lead, for some reason…
IA: I interviewed John Brewster a couple of weeks ago and he was very complemintary about you…
DG: That’s fucking awesome. They’re good blokes to work with.
IA: The Screaming Jets are often considered the quintessential Aussie band, but you spent a couple of years living in the UK in the early nineties…
DG: We basically spent between ’91 and ’94 doing three months in England, three months in the States and then back here for a few months.
Sadly, we lost our international record deal after the second album came out, which was a bit of a debacle really.
We signed to rooART records, which was an independent label run by Chris Murphy, who was manager of INXS at the time. That deal was through Warners in Australia and Polygram worldwide and we went around the world and basically blew the doors off wherever we went. We had the guy who signed Metallica come to a gig in Germany and he sent us a box of Dom Perignon. So we did all of this great work overseas, then we came back to Australia to find that Chris Murphy had done a shifty sideways deal to move INXS and rooART records to Warners.
So, then, we basically lost every contact that we had throughout the international music community, but we fought like hell to secure another world tour where we were able to talk to some people from Warners, and that’s how we found out we were persona non grata with Polygram, so that really knocked our ability to go to the next level on the head.
So yeah, we did spend a bit of time trying to break overseas, but in the end I’m an Aussie bloke and we’re an Aussie band.
I was saying to someone the other day if you’re an American and you make lots of money you buy a house in New York and a house in LA, whereas if I go to America and make a lot of money I don’t want to buy a place over there, I’m going to buy a place over here. And if I buy a place over here I want to enjoy it, you know?
So you’ve either got to bite the bullet and become an American band, basically immerse yourself in the culture, or you can stay true to your roots and be an Australian band. But as long as we’re still in the game I think we’ve always got a crack at it.
IA: The band has been through some ups and downs over the years and you’ve lost a few band members along the way. Do you still speak to any of them?
DG: Yeah, I still talk to Richard Lara now and again and Izzy Osmanovic is playing a gig with us up in Darwin, because our guitarist Scotty Kingman has got some work in the States at that point. I haven’t spoken to Grant Walmsley in a long time, but that’s the way it goes, you know? We can’t all be friends.
IA: You were the first band to release an album via webcast back in 1995. How useful has the Internet been to the band?
DG: Probably not as useful as it could have been! [Laughs]
Fortunately Jimi Hocking is pretty into it, so he’s keeping stuff updated on the website. We’re really just trying to work our way into that new age now, because people download more now than they buy albums.
We’re planning to release a new album next year and I really want to release it on vinyl rather than go down the iTunes route, but it is what it is.
With all of these things like Spotify, I want to make it easy for us to connect directly with our fans, and I guess social media is an important part of that.
The band never ran our own fan club — it was always run by a fan who was kind of at arm’s length. But now that fans have this direct route to the band, I have no interest in telling people what I’m cooking for my kids for tea. I couldn’t care less about what people think of what I do, apart from when I’m on stage or in the studio.
I’m about to go and do stuff on my farm — people don’t need to know that shit. I love the feedback on the music, but I don’t want people to assume they have a personal relationship with me because that’s unrealistic.
IA: What are your thoughts on reality TV talent shows?
DG: I think surely they’ve run their course, at least in Australia.
In America, they can maybe squeeze a couple more seasons out of Idol, but they’ve got 300 million people over there and we’ve got 20-something million. Eventually you’re going to hit the bottom of the talent pool.
The other thing is, those shows are not about music any more, if they ever were. It’s all about having a great backstory, whether it’s a speech impediment or a disabled brother… it’s just ridiculous. I ended up writing a letter to the producers of The Voice Kids because it fine for adults, I even enjoyed the first series of The Voice, knew quite a few people who had been in the business for a few years. But they’re adults, you know? They can make an informed decision.
But, kids? Very few places in the world is a kid able to decide what is best for them, and something like this that could seriously impact their lives before they’re 18. And what are they going to get out of it? So a 12 year old wins The Voice Kids and goes where? Maybe a tour of Westfields? You sound like a kid singing so nobody is going to buy your records. I think the whole concept has eaten itself.
IA: You mentioned the idea of releasing the new album on vinyl as well as digitally; how do you feel about internet piracy?
DG: That’s one of the things that has come about with this internet age — it’s let the genie out of the bottle, and once the genie is out you can’t put it back in.
We have a full generation of young people who think it’s okay to take music and not pay for it. Unfortunately, that’s a mindset that people are in now, where if they can get music for nothing, they will.
Back in the day, you wanted to support the bands you liked, it wasn’t all about you. It was about your band, your team, your family. Now it’s all about you.
My concept is to never release another song, then play gigs where you sing only songs that you’ve never recorded before (laughs). There’s a concept! All the hipsters will be sipping their lattes and going “yeah, man…”
IA: The Jets were always known as a hard living band and you were a massive party monster in the early days. You were famously quoted as saying you expected to be dead by 30… what happened?
DG: Thankfully, that prediction didn’t come true (laughs)! Look, you say that sort of thing when you’re young and going hard. I often tell my wife that if it wasn’t for her I would have been dead long ago. I think I got that off Homer Simpson.
[Homer voice] ‘Look at me! It’s only been four hours! In another six hours I’ll be dead!’
So, I’ll have to credit my wife with changing that about me. I met her when I was about 24 or 25, and she changed the course of my life. If I had have been dead by the time I was 30, I wouldn’t have my two beautiful kids.
The dead know one thing: it is better to live.
IA: Thanks very much for your time today, Dave.
DG: No worries John, it’s been an absolute pleasure.
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