Dave Graney is for me the best dressed man in Oz music and easily one of the five best front men to ever grace a microphone. His style, voice, attitude and fashion are complete one of too anyone else past or present, he’s a performer tailor made for 1920s American vaudeville. With long term partner Clare Moore Dave is still performing most weekends round the country and still continues to pump out original and interesting music never living off past glories. Last year saw the release of his second autobiographical book Workshy: My life as a Bludge, a follow up to 2011s excellent 1001 Australian Nights
Munster: Workshy is your third book and second autobiographical book after 1001 Australian Nights, this one you talk about life as a working muso and the day jobs you had, what was the idea to base the book around that?
Dave: I thought I’d write about all the little jobs I had to have to be a musician, I thought that was a interesting approach to talk about being a musician, it was mainly thinking about work. We have this conservative government that’s always demonising people who are unemployed and Centrelink used to be a thing to help people, now it’s a thing to frustrate people, it’s not supposed to work, in the conservative view its meant to make them get off their arse and get a job, but there are also a lack of jobs around and soon people will have to have a universal base income. All these thoughts where going through my mind and people talk about the gig economy things like that but they never ask musicians, it’s as if they treat musos as silly dreamers and hostages set up to fail, and I started to think that musicians got to all these places before everyone else, like we have no union we’re totally isolated from each other we’re totally competing against each other all the time, we’re very expendable there’s always another one coming along, and if we don’t succeed in someone else’s terms we’re failures and all that sort of stuff, its always someone else’s terms what a success is and the best musicians operate to their own levels of what a success is. But they never ask musicians about that, what it’s like, what is a gig economy? But the strength musicians have, is they might go through times where to all intense and purposing there doing something else like working a job in an expensive city. They’ll always be musicians and that makes them stronger as people. It’s what they want to do and what they want to do is what they think they are, so I wanted to write about that sort of thing it’s called my life as a bludge just as a fuck you to those conservative types, I really hate them and I hope they get there arse kicked pretty soon in Australia at least. It was pretty fun thinking of all the dumb jobs I’ve had and how terrible I was working in an office and dealing with people. People asking me what I did and wanting to know, this is then 80s, people wanting to know about you, eventually I had to say yeah I’m in a band, then you had to go through this interrogation which band do you play in I’ve never heard of you, people go through it all the time and I thought it would be funny to talk about. And at the time it seemed like musicians where treated more seriously. So it wasn’t something that anyone just did and it was quite shocking if you said what you were doing, and also the reaction that you are a fucking wanker was much stronger and who the fuck do you think you are, so that was interesting to me. And finally I wanted to write about making my own work and what it was like. Our old bass player Adele Pickvance, her uncle once said why don’t you just write a pop song and have a song on the radio and have a hit, why don’t you do that. And it sounds really simple and it is, and it should be that simple. The music business at its best is that kind of place that it’s silly and simple, and rock music really can be played by anyone some songs sound fucking great, if someone’s been playing for two weeks like Roadrunner by the Modern Lovers. You know they sound great if it’s by people that can make some dynamics, but it can be played very easily. I was thinking of all this and I came from a scene where you had to write your own material, your own story, and I thought that’s what you had to do and if you didn’t you’re a phony. Then I had a moment working in an actually music business and it was more full of people in the 90s than it was by the end of the 90s, many record shops and labels with lots of people working for them talking to each other going out to those shops talking to booking agency’s heaps of people talking, and the internet got rid of all that. It gave freedom in other ways technology wise but it took away most of the business
Munster: Melbourne has proud reputation as a great live music scene but very few musicians I know actually make a living from music, do you think that’s a disgrace?
Dave: I don’t think it’s a disgrace, our old friend Conway Savage used to always say it’s never been easy why do people think its easy to be a musicians. And if you want to do your own thing its going to be harder. And it depends on how you want to live. Most people’s idea of a successful musician is someone who has a hit and retires. People who think why is Bob Dylan still touring? Why is Madonna still making music? Its like annoying in a way. It turns back to who the fuck do they think you are? So it’s an endless kind of challenge to the performer. In some ways that’s interesting. Other places are harder than Melbourne, Sydney or Brisbane, I think Melbourne has a very strong music culture. Often the voices you hear are in moments of despair and anguish and there full of joyousness but when you’re happy you really express it. But all that talk of Melbourne being in the best music city’s is often club owners, cheerleaders of alcohol business who love top trumpet that kind of stuff, it’s not perfect but it’s quite good.
Munster: you mentioned before there is no union for musicians…
Dave: there is an old one but it’s more a guild and it’s more for sympathy orchestra people.
Munster: in terms of union or government assistance is anyone overseas doing something we can copy?
Dave: I think there might be one in France where if they play a certain number of shows a year they can qualify for something like the dole, just a base income, as long as they can prove they have been an active musician and they have some history. That would be really good in Workshy I mentioned how easy it was to be on the dole in the late 70s. I left school and had a few factory jobs, but I just didn’t want to work but I saw that as my right. It was half wanting to party, partying was also part of learning to write and play songs just be in a music world, it was quite unrealistic I didn’t learn guitar till I was 18, so I saw the dole as an arts grant. And no one denied people the dole or anything you didn’t need to prove you were looking for work all you had to do was send the fortnightly paperwork you could even mail it from a different city. It was a different county back then and I wanted to write about that. People admired, if you got an easy ride, it’s a deeply Australian thing I think, if someone has a easy job or a stroke of luck fucking good on em (laughs)
Munster: you mentioned in the book you had a few office jobs and it sounds like you were actually really good at it.
Dave: Too good, I tried to avoid all the questioning about who I was and what I did outside of work by just disappearing in the work, just being unavailable and being invisible, but doing the work too well I became more annoying (laughs)
Munster: is there anything you miss about the 9-5 world?
Dave: of course the regular money I haven’t had that in years. I quite enjoy some of the simple pleasures people might find a bit boring, like on a spring day early morning getting a coffee in the city. The way people talk with each other, up until the early 90s I was doing data entry work, and a lot of musicians and actors where drifting in and out of that role. It was like dumb work that didn’t require much, I love that kind of work where my mind can wonder and I had a job I didn’t need to focus and could also write songs while I was there. And I was getting paid as well, I had a think I would always pay for rehearsals and everyone got paid in my band. Me and Clare Moore had that kind of way that’s how you have a band, you weren’t asking people for favours all the time, everyone always got paid, might not be much but was a regular thing.
Munster: the work you just described sounds like my work, I don’t need to work hard and can do my own thing like this interview right now, I’m meant to be counting letters now.
Dave (laughs) It was funny I met Wreckless Eric the other day and he famously had a job as a lemonade tester and I knew about it and for years I just imagined him sitting in a room sipping lemonade but he was describing it to me as 15,000 bottles just rattling around. He had to test the chemicals and the pressure if the gas and sounded like too much pressure. I do like hearing about musicians and what their day jobs are. Henry Rollins famously worked in an ice cream store, one of my favourite musicians Vic Godard from the Subway Sect worked in a post office which I think he still does. Jah Wobble drove a tube train Rod Stewart was a gravedigger.
Munster: Captain Sensible cleaned toilets in a theatre that Ray Scabies was a usher in.
Dave: (laughs) that’s the kind of thing that makes you think nothing can be worse.
Munster: you mentioned the title my life as a bludge is a fuck you to the conservatives but also for me an oxymoron as you and Clare Moore always busy.
Dave: I think if you’re a musician, if you work out a way to operate to be flexible or something, some people make all these barriers, the sound to be perfect or the audience to be quiet. There all good things but it’s never going to that always. If they refuse to play unless those situations are there that’s a right for their own back. But performing music is very enjoyable so I’m very sceptical sometimes about whether it work at all. Its work, like lifting gear but there’s some groups who seem quite conceptual. Like they don’t actually perform, its seems to me, what are the Eddy Current Suppression Ring? What do they do? (laughs). There one best live act in Melbourne in a year when they did no performance. What is that? (laughs). there lucky to be in that band. I have friends that had a band that would only meet on the internet once a year at 5am on some chatroom of ebay or something. But I’m told lots of people like em so good on em.
Munster: You’ve presented Banana Lounge Broadcasting on RRR for a few years now, you mentioned in Workshy you wonder if that’s actually work. How much prep goes into the show?
Dave: On the Morning of the show or just before the show. I’m lucky I work with really good people on the panel, Andrew Delany he’s really great the station gives me a lot of leeway, it’s very spontaneous.
Munster: In your two books you mentioned all the books and authors that influenced you, in Workshy you had a list that went for a few pages of all the books you read in London in the 70s, one of the last books mentioned was Elvis: What Happened? Tell us about that book.
Dave: I used to read lots of books about Elvis and lots of them came out, he had his entourage of Memphis buddies, I think that was by Sonny West, Elvis just sat around with buddies he had from Memphis lots of which he knew since he was a teenager and they were all on his payroll just to sit around with him. And they were real insiders, it must ave been one of those books, and they were all trying to cash in at the end. He had another girlfriend after Priscila and she wrote a book too. I find Elvis as a person always very interesting, people see him as a comical figure but he was fucking amazing and most of his music except for the film stuff is brilliant. And he had that funny manager that never let him tour outside of American, he never played Europe. His manager wasn’t an American citizen and was frightened he wouldn’t let back in if he went overseas.
Munster: for me, Elvis never wrote any of his own songs and he had great people round him so I don’t know if I’d call him a genius but I love that voice and you could tell he gave it his all and was very passionate about every song he sang.
Dave: I think that era of people interoperating songs was really great, we have a friend Margret Roadknight who’s a folk jazz singer, she’s in her 70s now and she’s never written any songs she interprets songs of other people it’s really great. Buddy Holly and the Beatles brought that in that an artist writes their own songs and it’s not always the best. Other people did that, the Who with Townsend writing and Daltrey singing, and Radio Birdman with Tek. Elvis was interesting too because when people would demo there songs people would impersonate him to try and get him to do their songs. His fame was, I don’t know like Charlie Caplan just unpalatable just how big he was.
Munster: you got into details of your days playing junior footy in Mt Gambier, and was told by a mate you were actually a pretty good player.
Dave: (laughs) that’s probably just some bullshit I told someone. Everyone was good when there a kid really it’s a fun game just before that age when people have growth spurts. I don’t know how much fun it would be now. Our old guitarist in the Coral Snakes Rob Heyward his son was, well he is a young footballer, and elite clubs can start to look at the you players then the investigate the parents background as well to see what they’re getting into.
Munster: last time I interviewed you I mentioned a few times you’re not an RSL Act, but that I mean if you were on the radio and they said Daves gonna sing a song I would have no idea what it is because you’re not someone who lives on the back catalogue, wheres if it was Daryl Braithwaite he’s pretty much singing Horses and that’s it, I loved in Workshy the story where a guy approached you and asked if you were “going to sing that song of yours” and he got his mate to confront you, what’s your take on that, you do Some old stuff in your set when you play live but you seem like someone that wants to focus on the newer material.
Dave: I kinda think about that. Comparable people who trust them of what they stand for and what they wanna deliver I have a few songs people associate with me Rock n Roll is where I hide is that particular song, but it’s this six seven minute song and its more musical dynamic as much as the lyrics, I can do it solo on an acoustic guitar but took me a long time to master. I have a few like Feeling Kinda Sporty or Your Just too Hip Baby there all from that era. After that there’s My Sticky weights a ton. I wrote about that in 1001 Australia nights where I come out at the grand final and sing that and make everybody cry for being a turd for ruining the situation. I’d like to be like that but I fucked up along the way somewhere.
Munster: You and Clare Moore recently were part of the 16 Lovers Way gig at the art centre where you played the songs off that particular Go Betweens LP. In 1001 Australian Nighst you referred to Robert and Grant as funny but not in a haha way, I loved that LP and the backstory behind it, what did that LP mean to you?
Dave: well I was pretty unfamiliar with that LP I didn’t know any of the songs I just picked a few that I knew and remembered from there live shows. One of them Dive for your memory was from that LP and another was Twin Rays of lightning was from another LP, then they asked me to do another one. Was great I really enjoyed it. Like a lot of people from that period I saw them more live, I was more close to them and saw than live as opposed to listening to their records. The Triffids are the same I like them, both of them there LPs are touched by 80s production and I find them hard to listen to but the same songs when they played them live they were great, they were both great humans.
Munster: in a 1001 Australian Night you dropped the word Jobber which I was excited about, are you a wrestling fan?
Munster: you know the wrestling term?
Dave: didn’t know
Munster: in wrestling it meant job guy and was a guy that would only be on TV and would always lose just to put over the stars.
Dave: hmm not sure what the context I used it in. Did you like the movie They Live with Rowdy Roddy Piper?
Munster: love it.
Dave: what kind of wrestler was he was he a jobber?
Munster: no not at all he was a star.
Dave: (laughs) don’t know much about that.
Munster: I interviewed Penny Ikinger recently and asked her about her contribution to the Salmon LP, and asked her about Kim asking her to play and she mentioned how all the parts were written for all the performers, what was that like, as opposed to show us what you got it was here’s what your playing?
Dave: I loved it, it was funny, Kim getting everyone together, everyone really liked it, Kim got everyone together and he insisted on everyone using small amps and all this and we all got together and learned it. It was a bit like a sporting team we all had roles me and Penny where kind of the rhythm section. Ash Naylor and Anton where like the flash forwards doing the twiddle stuff. Was fun, Kim was often late as he had to put his kids to bed. It was like Stockholm syndrome when someone is held captive by someone, Matt Walker came in at the end and we were flabbergasted when he said “hey Kim how bout I do it like this”, where like oh god. But everyone was on board and intrigued by the idea and willing to go where Kim wanted to go.
Munster: do you think you have another book in you?
Dave: it would be good to have three memoirs in the series but not sure how I would go about it (laughs).
Munster: Mark E Smith in his book mentioned every few months he would try and write a song that can be entered for England in Eurovision but said he couldn’t do it as writing a hit song was a skill he didn’t have. Writing songs is obviously a skill but is writing hit songs a whole different skill?
Dave: I don’t know, who knows? It’s tough. I don’t know that world, I don’t know how hits come about anymore. It used to be lots of radio play but I don’t know if that happens anymore. It used to be a world of people with quite specific ideas which is pop in a way, now it’s about niche marketing and people desperately writing songs for formats. Working at RRR I get CDs from artists and always the first few tracks, and I only really listen to Australian music, they all have their JJJ songs and there all horrible, you need to let the CDs go for a while and by track 5 or 6 the artist has relax and doing what they actually do, the ones where there trying to have a hit are horrible. But having said that I have a lot of vinyl and I love people trying to have hits people selling out I find that very interesting. Like when disco was big, everyone went disco, all these people America, the Grateful Dead, Barbra Streisand, the Rolling Stones, KISS they all just went disco, Roy Orbison tried to have disco hits and some of the results were pretty amazing. People worry about selling out and all those conceptual ideas, I think it’s great when people bust out of there little niche good on em (laughs)
Munster: what’s up next?
Dave: Just mixing a mistLY album I want to put out two albums next year, we’re going to do a mistLY album and an album just me and Clare that’s more kind of less drums and bass a more different approach to the songs, might be quieter or just guitar chords, or guitar and keys. The mistLY lp is done just mixing it. There’s a few seven minute tracks, really sprolling type groves, there’s some great songs and different version as well, I wanted to record different takes, not doing a perfect version jut different takes, about four or five will have alternative versions. The other album will be weirder in different ways.
Munster: to finish on, as mentioned I loved reading your books and reading the books and authors that inspired you, so what have you been reading this year that you recommend?
Dave: the Australian author Jane Lawson did a great book called Out of the Wreck this year which I enjoyed, it’s about a shipwreck in South east South Australia, it has a ghostly presence, some kind of animal spirit that survives like a ghost. Otherwise been reading Doris Lessing and Ralph Ellison a 40s black author read his book the Invisible Man and a book of his short stories, and I’m trying to get through all the novels of James Joyce that should keep me bust for the next six months (laughs)
Workshy out now via Affirm Press