Andrew Stafford interview

Whether he likes it or not, Andrew Stafford will always be a seminal figure in the Brisbane music scene. Stafford’s first book Pig City should be in any Oz music fans library. It’s a key and important text on the history of music from Brisbane, with combining the temper and the mood of the time, and while some amazing music come out of the place, it also had to deal with the swine that was Bjelke-Petersen and his corrupt Police force. Stafford in 2019 released his second book Something to Believe In, his life story, which is brave, touching and heartbreaking, but an all round must read. Some of the bands Andrew discovered when he was growing up I also adored and can see where he’s coming from, others not so much, but even the bands that touched Andrew and not me, I still see where he’s coming from as a fellow music nerd, and at the end of the day, its goes back to the phrase, its all bout the music man.

Munster:  Your second book Something to Believe In came out in 2019, its your life story  as a music writer and fan as well your all the happenings of your life from start to present as well as throwing in songs that shaped who you are, where did the idea come from?

Andrew: there were a couple of books that got started, the first of those failed projects a great amount of work went into and it and had to be shelved, but I may go back to that. With this project there was no decision to do it, it was an accident, and there was no plan for an autobiography until it started pouring out of me. There was compulsion there and that was drawn from a few difficult years that is detailed in the book.

Munster: and where did the idea come from to have the sections where you wrote about a key song in your life?

Andrew: amusingly I didn’t have enough material for a book so it came from there (laughs).

Munster: Now there no holding back in how you tell your story, you’re very honest and upfront, I interviewed Dolores San Miguel who wrote her life story a few years back and she compared it to vomiting, in the sense that she wanted it all out in the open. Was that how you approached this book?

Andrew: I think there was an element of that I think that’s what made it such a compelling thing to do not so much something I did by choice. I guess there was an element of curvatures, it was very therapeutic it had been a rough few years. I think these are the truest projects the ones that grab hold and you and won’t let go. There was no offer or contract to write a book, it felt purgative I guess.  

Munster: You’re ex wife in the book is not named, and you mention some aspects of your relationship but overall you don’t go into too much detail, and while I don’t know her I think she would be pleased with her portrayal as little information is given about her, how important was that to you, portraying those closest to you?

Andrew: Hugely important. I mean I gave them immunity out of respect, except for my partner of the late 90s Andria who I remain close friend with and had no problem being named. My ex-wife, while she’s a singer/songwriter she’s a very private person and at that stage things where pretty fresh for us. I did talk to her about it and decided to leave her name out. I have nothing but respect and fondness for her, of course its extremely sad how it panned out, these things always are, but that’s not for other people to know about. I tried to tread, and going back to the last question I tried to tread a fine line between radical transparency which was kind of a mantra I had and too much information, and there’s a fine line between those things. Going into why the marriage didn’t succeed would have been too much information and disrespectful, I didn’t want to hurt anybody else and there’s always potential of that writing about your life

Munster: Did you learn anything about yourself while writing the book?

Andrew: I learned in terms of what’s portrayed there wasn’t much that surprised me. I was aware, and there was stuff left out that I questioned whether that should be left in or out. In terms of myself it was more off the page. I gave myself a tick and a pat on the back  for my own resilience in a way because I passed through a difficult period of life.  Lost my confidence I lost a marriage and my mental health unravelled. But I’m still standing as Elton John would say and I thought that was worth celebrating, and I’ve become a better person for having gone through that and coming through the other side.

Munster: which music writers were influences for you?

Andrew: I was particular influenced by a bunch of early music writers. Paul Nelson who was a contributing editor to Rolling Stone for many years in the late 70s and early 80s. going back to the early 60s he edited a magazine called Sing Out which was attached to the Folk Movement and he abandoned that when Dylan when electric because he was so angry at the folkies that turned on Dylan. So he saw what was happening in rock n roll and where rock n roll was heading. And the other was also fairly early, a guy called Paul Williams who started Crawdaddy, he was influenced and wrote many books on Dylan. What I liked about those writers they were unselfconscious, not trying to be cool in anyway, they weren’t gonzo writers like Lester Bangs they wrote in plane spoken terms and very venerable how the music I loved moved them In the case of Williams he wrote melodically, there was a way he wrote, that I could hear a piece of music after he had written about it and be like yeah he nailed it. I could hear the music he was writing about before I heard it. And I’ve tried to do the same.

Munster: I know a few people in Melbourne who are from Brisbane, and they all said they could not wait to get out. You were born and raised in Melbourne and now live in Queensland, what keeps you there?

Andrew: well a few aspects, family, work. I’m now for better or worse identified with Brisbane. Whether I want to be or not (laughs). Brisbane has a strange push pull effect and I have a love hate relationship with the place myself. I’m in the strange position in that I’ve written a book about Brisbane and I don/t get published north of the Tweed River. Having said that the book is published through University of Queensland Press so not entirely true, this is a one paper state and I don’t write for the Courier Mail. It’s a strange position to be in. And I think the ambivalence towards Brisbane is best captured in the song Electrical Storm by Ed Kuepper.

Munster: Pig City is your best known work. In Something to Believe In you mentioned Grant McLennan told you that Pig City went around the tour van with the Go Betweens, and while they liked it they had their own perceptive on the time and place portrayed in Pig City, how was the book received in Queensland?

Andrew: really polarizing, and that’s the reason why I have a love hate relationship with it. I think the best reviews, and the people that understood it best strangely enough, came from Victoria, Melbourne in particular. And I’m from Melbourne and I think there was an outside sensibility I brought to Pig City and I wasn’t a Queenslander myself and there was resentment from some quarters of the, particular the older Brisbane music scene that I was not one of them. One particular musician saying you stole our past from us you dickhead (laughs). That gives you the sense of the polarizing nature of it. And anger in some quarters, but it was received very polarizing in Queensland. Everybody wanted their five minutes in the sun, most people that objected to the book tended to object on the basis they weren’t in it. And it was never meant to be an encyclopaedia of music in Brisbane, it was meant to be a book on Brisbane itself and how to effect change and how it affected the whole city. And that’s clearly spelt out in the introduction. But sometimes people overlook that to get to the index to see if there in the book. Having said that I wouldn’t have a career if it wasn’t for that book. It took a life of its own a long time ago it was the subject of an art instillation at Fortitude Valley Station was a concert in 2007 that the Saints headlined I have many reasons to be grateful, that the book had the impact it did and is still in print which is a miracle for what is a niche topic and I am very proud of it. I had reason to pick it up for the first time in years and it felt like someone else wrote it, and from that perspective I thought this is pretty good (laughs)

Image result for andrew stafford something to believe in

Munster: I did at first think it was odd a book about a certain time of Queensland was written by someone who wasn’t there and before his time but looking back, I think they fact you weren’t there gave you an outsiders perspective, meaning you wouldn’t play favourites and you would write history as history, not your own or someone else’s telling of it.

Andrew: it gave me the distance that was useful because distance gives you perspective and I was trying to write a book for a national audience as opposed to a local Queensland one. That’s where that proclaim thing came from, I wanted it to have residence on a national level and I think time has validated that.

Munster: one of the songs you mentioned in Something to Believe In that shaped you was by the Onyas, and you mentioned you regretted not writing about what you called the Toilet scene in Brisbane.

Andrew: (laughs) Yes well that would have been a step into that field that wouldn’t have worked national. I understand why I didn’t run with that but I loved that scene, and the ultimate manifestation of that scene was HITs who I went on tour with to Europe in 2012 they were several steps above that scenes noble beginnings let’s put it that way. I loved the Onyas they were one of several bands I would have loved to cover but I didn’t cover for the reasons above. Having said that they have done very well and have an international profile so maybe I got that wrong. But one that always makes me laugh, some people come up and say why did you include Savage Garden and I’m like they sold 40 million records. I was trying to write history not rewrite it.

Munster: Its funny you mentioned that as I once interviewed Tamara from HITs in a toilet once

Andrew: one of the world’s great humans Tamara

Munster: And she told me Brisbane is basically a family BBQ in terms of its size, and Rich Stanley basically told me the Onyas would play to the same 20 people and the move to Melbourne was inevitable, has things picked up or is it still a family BBQ?

Andrew: I stepped back from the last few years, since the Beetle Bar closed I took a step back. The experience at a bar like the Beetle Bar was very similar to when the Saints played in Club 76 in 1976/77 which basically playing to 150-200 true believers if that. A small number of people that had that core audience with a band playing who wold be more popular overseas

Playing to 150-200 true believers if that, you’re talking a very small number of people who would be more popular than they are overseas then are here and it remains the case, its why the Saints left for England finding a bigger audience that would appreciate it, that’s what Birdman and the Go Between did as well. They realized if they wanted an audience for their art they had to go where the action was . Brisbane still has a way of punching above its weight in terms of the music it producers but the feeling is still low. It’s become a clique that you don’t have to move from Brisbane to have an impact, on one hand that’s true but I remember Robert Forster saying all bands should actually leave and go overseas. That’s why the McLennan Fellowships exists. Basically test yourself and be in a bigger pod, have more culture experiences expand your personal horizon and your heart should improve accordingly. Art is a variance experience, the broader your experience the more we have to give to others

Munster: In Something to Believe in you mentioned you interviewed Dean Ween, what did you say to him that pissed him off?

Andrew: (laughs) it was when 12 Golden Country Greats came out. I simply don’t remember but I made some off handed remark and treated the band like a joke. And they are a very funny band but they were deadly serious about what they were doing and I was underestimating them treating them like a gag when there was more to them.

Munster: You also mention in the book your time as a football writer, how did you go during that period where you pretty much had to have the match report straight after the game?

Andrew: I was a pretty slow writer and lost a bit of confidence in what I was doing and took me time to chip anything out but with football writing I was thrown in the deep end and because you have to file copy so quickly there was no time for thinking so I swam for my life and tried to keep my head above water. When I saw the result the next day I could see it was alright and the world would move on and stop being so precious. If the occasional mistake got through so be it. It was freeing to write so quickly and this book was written very quickly too. In those early Patreon day’s, I didn’t realise I was writing a book. But from March 2018, it took two months to write the bulk of the book. Two months writing and nine months editing.

Munster: 2019 was a staller year for the Brisbane Lions, a very long time in the wilderness they came back and where almost the story of the season, while the Suns are still a laughing stock here in Melbourne. You’re from Melbourne but live in Queensland so what’s your take on it? Can the Suns be saved or is it time to move on?

Andrew: certainly the interest is here but its relatively soft and we saw that in the long decline in crowd for the Lions over a decade of underachievement and failure then this year they got some wins on the board and they started to sell out and became the hottest ticket in down. Which was unheard of since the glory days. With the Suns there are a number of teams on the Gold Coast at QAFL and NIFAL level, it’s one of the disappointments of the Suns they haven’t tapped into that grassroots level of support because there is that support from the AFL on the Gold Coast. Unfortunately, the Gold Coast is a place where major sporting franchises have a bad history. I think I used the line it’s the Bermuda Triangle of Australia sport teams just disappear. But on top of win/loss ratio it’s been a failure so far overall and they have a massive player attention issues, despite Zac Smith returning from Geelong, when they started in the computation in 2011, only four players from that teams are still there. That itself is a terrible failure of culture and retention. I was pleased to see Ben King had resigned he’s an A grade talent. Whether it’s a failure or not at this early stage, and I think the record speaks for itself, but the concessions that have been granted shows there here for the long haul. I know Victorians are saying they should back up and move to Tassie, well look the AFL is not in the business of admitting its wrong we know that. But the fact they got the concessions shows there here for the long run, and it will be a decades long run project to make this work, but the AFL is prepared to make a massive investment to get it on its feet and establish it in the competition. So there not folding up any time soon it might be a failed experiment for now but there not giving up anytime soon. And I’m not editorializing I’m just observing what the AFL is doing.

Munster: birdwatching is another keen interest of yours, do you still get out there?

Andrew: yeah not getting out as much as I would like but it’s still an enduring passion of my life. Someone observed in the book because people found it interesting the fascination with rock n roll and birdwatching. Someone observed watching birds is a quiet mutative pastime and rock n roll is very cathartic. I wrote about it as at its best it’s a transit experience and a way to get outside of yourself. For me it’s a very physical activity. People like Peter Garret Jello Biafra James Brown Rob Younger, they taught me rock n roll is a very physical activity and I feel the same with bird watching. It’s quite different walking around trying to find birds so it’s two sides of the coin

Munster: You have spoken a bit about Patreon and how that’s a great outlet for you to get your work out and also you can go straight to the consumer as opposed to getting hired by newspapers or magazines, what do you see for the future of print? Will it stick around or are its days numbered?

Andrew: I’m assuming because you can do this you have an another full time job and this is a hobby for you, but this is how I earn my living. I can’t imagine doing anything else, so I need to make money from it, simple as that. I’ve done it for 25 years and I think I’m pretty good at it I think worth it. Patreon is about a quarter of my income, one of the interesting things I found being a fulltime free-lance journalist was a difficult trigger to pull because I wasn’t sure if I could succeed without other work. The redundancy’s that hit the industries, all the music writers were gone, there can’t be more than 3 or 4 full time music writers. Which for me meant there was work to be had, outlets at the Guardian need specialist content. So there was new opportunity’s, so I’m lucky I went back to it when I did as there was more work about. Where’s I would have struggled years ago when there was more writers.

Munster: What’s next?

Andrew: I’m waiting for that story I have to tell then necessary as opposed to write a book and sign a contract. I see writers write a book then sign for the second. Good for them but I’m happy to wait. Creatively it was a great experience, was a very intense experience to write very quickly I’m hoping it will come back again

Munster:  Give us your favourite Fall LP?

Andrew: I’m a dabbler not a committed Fan because that’s a big rabbit hole to Go down. My favourite LP is This Nations Saving Grace and favourite song Wings

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