Rob Griffiths (Little Murders/The Fiction) interview

Melbourne’s premier powerpop/mod rock band Little Murders last year celebrated their 40th anniversary and the release of their new LP Dromana-Rama. Frontman and songwriter Rob Griffiths has kept the band going through several line up changes, releasing some of the best powerpop ever come from this country. With Little Murders still going strong  and now Robs pre Little Murders Band the Fiction also reformed, having recently toured Japan, Rob has no plans on slowing down.  Rob very kindly invited me to his place for a chat. After our chat he played me some demos he was working on. Even after 40 years of making music he is still at the top of his game and can still pump out a song like it’s nothing

Munster: going back to your early days, you were born in the UK?

Rob: I was born in Coventry in 1956, we lived in Blackpool when I was younger, and we left in 1965, and we were part of those ten pound poms. So we came over to Nunawading and lived on the Hostel on Rooks Road, in the Nissan huts, we had a family of six or seven in a round hut in a  small apartment.

Munster: Mod culture is something very important to you and Little Murders have been described at Melbourne primer Mod band, was something you discovered when you were still in the UK?

Rob: no I left when I was 8, so I knew about the Stones and the Beatles. A girl down the street had a Rolling Stones shirt and vest ensemble, she was a bit older so I was aware of pop music. Anyone growing up in England is really aware of pop music, it’s engraved into us. Like Top of the Pops and the charts, you always knew who was on top of the charts even as a kid. And when we came here, the hostel, its families, a lot of kids. If you have four families, you’re talking 16 kids. So you can imagine being in a hostel for a year and a half, all these English and Scottish people just came over, you can see how bands like the Easybeats started , it was a melting pot, well not a melting pot, a British Isle thing but all that music that came out, and they were all aware of pop music I think your basic Australian music scene was built in those hostels. And we had the radio on all the time. But with the mod thing, no.. because when I left it probably hadn’t started yet, it was all still the Beatles and the Stones, and the Merseybeats and Gerry and the Pacemakers.

Munster: what kind of music where you listening to before pre punk and mod culture?

Rob: I was into the Monkees. I was a having a big argument with someone about how the Monkees were miles better than the Beatles and some of their songs are. And that argument that they didn’t play their own instruments was shit. I always thought Mickey had a great voice, and there a great band. Then it got a bit heavier. I was into John Lennon,  that sound the Beatles had in the late 60s, to this day I can’t understand how the sounds out of a record can be so powerful. Then came along T Rex, that was my movement into the glam area, I loved T Rex Garry Glitter and Sweet. It was the sound of the my high school days, all those 45 records. Then of course Bowie came along and changed everything. So I guess I followed the same trajectory from a lot of musicians from my era where they went from glam to punk.

Munster: so Little Murders started in 79 and that was pretty much straight after the Fiction?

Rob: Yes. We played 8 or 9 gigs as the Fiction. The band slipped away but I went back to the Fiction and asked them to record a single with me. I was impressed by the Buzzcocks, and bands like that, I was really into the Spiral Scratch EP. I wanted to go further because I had no money, and a friend of mine Stuart had a 4 track TEAC, I said I have this idea, a bit of a hippy idea lets go to the country and record. So we took the Fiction to St Andrews and we recorded these basic tracks and me and Stuart finished the rest in St Kilda. I enjoyed it, but Rob had gone into International Exiles and  Vic didn’t want to do it anymore. Only Ken wanted to keep going. The Fiction without Rob didn’t make sense so I started Little Murders and that’s where it began. I always tell young bands, listen first of all go and record then start playing. So you have something I can’t see the point in playing for nothing. Even a tape or something. With the Fiction I was always giving out cassettes of our first or second rehearsal, then 40 years later it came out. So Little Murders played their first gig at Bruce Milne’s 21st, which was a rough gig, with Phillip Brophy on drums and Clint Small. Our first proper gig was launching the single Things were Different at the Champion Hotel in August

Munster: was that a Fiction song?

Rob: no I gave it to the band for that recording session Take Me I’m yours was one we used to do. When we first did Things Were Different it had an acoustic guitar at the start. So it was the change over from the Fiction to Little Murders, Things Were Different was the changeover.

Munster: When Little Murders came out in the 70s what did the punks think of it, did the punkaudience like what you were doing?

Rob: well yes, we hit the ground running,. We weren’t a mod band when we started we were a punk band. The songs we did were fast, a bit Buzzcocky, kind of what the Fiction sound now. I was interested in 60s music and always wanted the band to dress up 60s style. I wasn’t going post punk I was going more Buzzcocks, I liked Generation X and that way. We put the record out and I had a holiday booked for England. I took the train from the airport, and you can go straight to Piccadilly Circus, and our holiday was there, the Regent Palace Hotel, sadly not there anymore. I came out of the station and there was a record shop just down the road, and I don’t know if I dropped my bags in, and they were playing Green Onions by Booker T and the MGs, and there were two girls there dressed in black and white dancing in a record shop. And it was something I’ve never seen before, it’s like going to Japan, blows your mind. These people are really into it. And I’ve read about Mods but coming into contact with it was really, a direction I wanted to go. I was interested in it and wanted to go that way. When I got back the guys kinda wanted to go along with it, which I supposed they did .. kind of (laughs). So Clint left and we got Stuart and he liked dressing up in suits. So we became a mod band but we didn’t change songs or change name we just, it was funny because all my friends at the time where become mods. One started a fanzine, one started a club. It was funny looking back we all became mods at the same time. So when I came back one thing I learned was, I went to see a band called the Purple Hearts in Edinburgh, and I saw the Clash at Lancaster University. One thing I found was they had DJs while the band played. Back in Melbourne we played with weird bands that didn’t suite us at all. So we went to the said we’ll just have the bands and DJs, so we started mod discos, so we worked together to create this scene

Munster:  How big a scene was it?

Rob: it seemed big at the time. When it first started if you saw someone dressed like a mod you’d go and talk to them. You’d tell them about our disco, given them a Little Murders handout letting em know what was going on. It was the same thing with punk in 1977 you looked out for people because you knew everybody. When someone you didn’t know would show up you’d think where did they come from? It was the same with the Mod scene. People started buying scooters from, I think South Melbourne council sold all there rabbit scooters. So there was this scene, I suppose when it started there was 30 to 50, but it grew, and pretty fast.

There was a night at the Ballroom and heaps of Sydney people came down, there was hundreds there. It was a scene but turned on itself pretty quick. It kept going, with bands like the Squad and they still had clubs going. But the people I was with were no longer part of it. Little Murders kept playing, because we kept getting bigger all the time, we went to Sydney and got on Premier Artists. We became a band that could pull enough people to prop up another band. We got sent to the suburbs to play with bands like  Dragon when they were on the way down before they went back up. So we could pull 50-100, so we became that big middle band, and consistent, people would always come to our gigs. So we left the city area the only city venues we played was the Jump Club, and the Venue in St Kilda. Most of the time we were out. In 1982-83 sometimes we played six nights a week. I have one worksheet where we played three times on a Friday. We do things like the Continental in Sorrento and then play the Jump Club. I can’t imagine that today but that’s how things where done. And we were lucky we had that following were we could do that, and became a semi-professional band.

Munster: So with the Fiction reforming and Little Murders still going strong do you feel your more in demand than ever?

Rob: No not really, it doesn’t feel like that as I’m really enjoying it. Because I love writing and writing for a purpose, I write all the time, and when it’s for a purpose it’s not demanding. Doing the LPs and gigs there’s plenty of spare time, even though I could do it all the time. I find it, I never find it demanding as I love it too much. Like those little films I make, or writing on Facebook about songs. I suppose I have that need to do something, if I’m watching TV I might be enjoying it, but I feel like I’m wasting my time. I feel I could be writing a song or editing my book.

Munster: How many people can claim they were in Little Murders?

Rob: I think I had the numbers once, I think I put it on Facebook. I think was in the 30s. It’s funny when you think about it. Some I forgot were in the band. Craig Pilkington the producer was the bass player for a while. There was an LP where we had all the names once. 30 something I think. But they always come back, Rod Hayward left and came back. Mick Barclay left and came back, Danny McDonald left and came back. It fluctuates and we all seem to have good mood of sound, the Little Murders sound, but I think that’s how I write. But I also write for the Fiction.  In Little Murders we have harmonies, more jingle jangle.

Munster: You mentioned Danny McDonald who is back in Little Murders, he’s an amazing songwriter in his own right, does he contribute his own songs?

Rob: he’s doing his own stuff so he’s just playing guitar but we don’t do his songs. But I did offer but he’s happy not to. I have offered to do other people’s songs. I find it hard to sing other people’s songs. We don’t do many covers. I’m happy to. I can go off and take a rest as I don’t play guitar anymore. But I guess that’s not gonna happen. It would be like Ram Jam the Black Betty video. The lead singer has the tambourine but he didn’t sing that song so he just looks silly. Anyway Danny brings that jangle to the group.

Munster: I remember seeing you guys at lyrebird and you played Things Will be Different and you described at your almost hit. Did it chart?

Rob: didn’t chart, just sold well. When we say hit we had a lot of interest. We had talks with labels but nothing came of it. Same thing with take me I’m yours and Things Will be Different. I have all these clippings from Stage 1 in England, we wanted to release it on Bomp with Greg Shaw. And like a lot of things nothing happened. She Lets Me Know was number 1 at RRR for six weeks, four weeks number 1 at PBS. But nothing really came of it. Just more gigs.

Munster: So you had a lot of hype?

Rob: yeah I guess so. Its funny certain things get through that you don’t understand. But who knows the workings. Which bands are big and not big. And some people write great songs that go nowhere. I was reading an article about My Pal by God, but there’s a lot more Australian songs up there. When I was younger I heard the Masters Apprentices Turn Up Your Radio I thought why isn’t this a worldwide hit. The Easbybeats why they only had one hit I’ll never understand. Sorry, she’s so fine these songs are so good and well produced and went nowhere. Again it’s who you know. In the 70s I used to read the NME and I’d read all these glam songs and I thought why these songs aren’t released over here? But that’s one benefit of today there so much great music around the world old and new and its so much more available.

Munster: I guess it’s the same with the Fiction tape that came out a few years back, those little surprises that keep me going back to the record shop.

Rob: and I’ve been picking up records from the Cha Cha Chas, there singles are great and Plastic Section. Great Melbourne bands. Different styles but it works. I was listening to Mr Teenage there another really good band

Munster: when I first met you, you told me Molly wanted you on Countdown but he couldn’t because of the name. Was that true?

Rob: What he said was, he didn’t like the name, but the main thing was because we were on Au Go Go records, this is not a talent show. We had to be on a big label. As I said we were RRR song of the week for six weeks, and he said no it’s not a talent show. It’s a bit shitty as it could have changed things. Who knows? But then the Stranglers were on Countdown so that’s something

Image may contain: 2 people, including Rob Griffiths, people standing and indoor

Munster: and Iggy Pop drugged off his tits

Rob: I guess we were saved by non-success. If we had success I wouldn’t be writing songs now. I’d be doing fabulous 80s nights. I like those guys but never liked that idea. It allows you to do your own path. It all worked out so it’s fine

Munster: Moving on to the 80s, you guys took a break from Little Murders in the mid 80s.

Rob: we kind of packed it all in in 1984 at the Venetian Room, we packed the room, it felt like we weren’t going anywhere and what happened was we played a gig and while we were playing we used to hire gear and someone stole all the gear. So we had to keep paying the rent on his PA and then we had to hire a new PA so we were a professional band getting paid, then we had no money because of the PA, which was just bad finance could have worked out better. Then we got rid of our manager and got in Paul Kelly’s manager, still no pay. Rod left, then we talked changed the name, thought maybe it stopped us doing anything. Someone suggested the Bleeding Hearts, after a while we thought that was a stupid idea. Our manager, at our next band meeting had a whole stack of posters with Bleeding Hearts. He gone ahead and thought the change was a good thing. We thought that would upset so many people, because that was Martin Armiger band.

Rod left, we played our last gig, and then we got all these offers for gigs, so we thought we’d do three more. POW the Jump Club and the Venue. Made a bit of money which we didn’t see. All finished, then the X Men manager approached us, the X Men loved Little Murders, Brian Mannix in the Countdown magazine said we were one of his favourite bands. So they took over, so me and the bass player took over half of Paul Kelly’s band, Tim Bronson and Greg Martin. Didn’t work out. I still had these mod/ clash ideas, and Tim took his shirt off. And we played to lots of people I thought this is good, where talking 1985 the Stop LP was about to come out, and our manager said well its not, not enough people coming. We were getting 300 people but was not enough for what we should be

Munster: bands would kill to get 300 people these days

Rob: (laughs): I know. Actually it was 500 but it still wasn’t enough. Anyway my friend Ronnie started a club Rubber Soul, I had tons of 60s singles so I became a DJ, then when I made some money I went and recorded with Little Murders. We were Pretty Green first but went back to Little Murders. As I always do. One day I’ll get the Fiction to record as Little Murders (laughs). We had a break but its funny breaks in the 80s and 90s are not the same when you’re young. For example we supported the Buzzcocks in 2003, our next gig was at the Tote in 2009. So we didn’t feel like anything. You get to a point were times not an issue anymore. I guess that why You Am I can play and then not play for another two years. In the old days the Beatles where recording for eight years, its nuts. The Clash 77-82 these are legendary things, doesn’t feel like 40 years.

Munster: Dig for Plenty is my favourite LP of yours that was kind of a comeback record after a few years off….

Rob: we did Stuff Like This in 96, First Light in 98 and We Should Be Home By Now in 2001. Dig for Plenty was more a band effort where First Light and Home was more writing songs and getting the band to play it. These some great songs on those albums on First Light, White Night Black Day which is our opening track. Dig for Plenty was a powerpop album, the band had been rehearsing for two years, and specifically guitar rock playing around loose and mucking around. It came after Stop Plus Singles. Dig for Plenty is one of my favourite records. And great cover. Someone brought it just for the cover. I said don’t you like the music? He said I never played it. We did a short run of vinyl, just ten and there all gone, including one in America. So watch out they’ll be collectors’ items.

Munster: despite the break were you still writing?

Rob: yes, I’ve never stopped, but without making an LP, you never finish it or have that end product. I’d do demos and put em on Bandcamp. But because you don’t finish them they’re always around. There’s a band in USA called the Eddies I sent some of my stuff for them to finish them off and they’ve recorded two of my songs, they did Stranger in the House which is a great song. I was in the states last year and they were recording one of my songs called Show Me which was a nice little song. But I would write and send out songs, to keep doing something. I also did some solo stuff, me and an electric guitar. One I did it with acoustic in Sydney.Then I met Mick Baty from Off The Hip and he offered to release something. Funny how things work out

Munster: you mentioned before you ran a club, tell us about that

Rob: yes I started it in 1990 I was at a place called Rubber Soul friends of mine were out on Friday night at the Union Hotel they called Alternative, so they asked if I wanted to take over the Saturday night.  So I did, started pretty quietly then Nirvana released Teen Spirit and I think that changed peoples perception of the alternative scene, you know people in the suburbs were interested. At the same time we could play there and play any music we wanted. We gave out cheap drinks, so we were getting 25, 30 if lucky, then we got 400.

When I started my record label Swerve, you had to form a company to do the label because it was a proper business. I called it Nevermind, as it had the Nirvana reference and Never mind the Bollocks. They were two things that changed my life. Not that I’m a lover of Nirvana, but for what they did, it meant people like you or me could go to clubs because they were playing the music we liked. The Sex pistols. I was playing in a folk band in Bayswater then that came out and changed my life. I don’t think there sound changed things, it was still the old sound, I feel Buzzcocks changed things, but it was the idea of the Sex Pistols I liked. Before that it was Queen, it wasn’t that long since I saw Roxy Music in 73 at festival hall. I feel Virginia Plain was as much a game changer as the Pistols. But there’s always something there’s always good music even thought it might look quiet. I used to be aware of the charts what’s happening. But it’s good to be where we are listen to the bands we like.

Munster: Little Murders last year celebrated 40 years what are you most proud of?

Rob: I’m not dead (laughs). I’m proud of all the records, all the albums and single, I’ve been happy making music and getting it out there. I was proud we got the Mod thing going in 1979 also the fact today I went to the post office, to send Little Murders CDs to Switzerland. And before Christmas I sent copies to France, Finland, Washington, and these people, I sell a few each month but they buy the whole set, they buy one and they then buy the rest. I got a letter from a guy in Edinburgh, he said thanks for the Little Murders music. He said it sounds like music he thought he heard before but it’s new. I’m not sure if he’s saying I’m stealing other people’s music (laughs). And I write back how you hear of us and they’ll say my big brother bought it home.

Its funny being in the situation, people know us, if you asked me 12 years ago I would think people would forget us. When we went to Japan people asked for photos was signed people fighting over the records. They’d do paper scissors rock to see who was gonna get the last single. People in Japan know the whole history of the band. Rob Wellington, someone came up to him and they knew he was in a band called the Obsessions with Rowland S Howard. They never played a gig. In Japan you might be playing to the same amount of people but you wouldn’t know it, they just love you they walk up to the front first of all, no one up the back.

Muster: that’s very Un Melbourne

Rob: I know. But people are starting to move forward the last couple of Fiction gigs. Japan really invigorates you, as to why you do it. And those letters, how does someone from Finland find out. I guess it’s all right to be like that.

Munster: And also you have not one but two documentaries in the works.

Rob: one about the Fiction one about Little Murders. The LM is done by a friend Matt. Its about resilience, you know we’ve never had any record company support never had any money behind us. We only had one record that was paid for and that was Au Go Go. She lets me know, which cost $3000 in 1984. Everything else we paid for ourselves. The label almost went bust. Would have been sad as we would have missed out on the Scientists. We run the band on a smell of an oily rag of non-success, but we keep coming. So that’s a reliance, and we keep going being over 60 and touring Japan. The Fiction one is by a friend of our bass player Adam and just about the Fiction and another 40 years. The senior citizens group fund could fund it, could do a tour of the all the old peoples home. When you think about it these homes are full of people that are 80, they were there when the Beatles where round, now I’m into Amyl and the Sniffers so rock n roll never goes away, they’re out there somewhere, and you don’t feel any different, I’m 63 but I don’t feel any different

Munster: you also mentioned a book you’re working on?

Rob: I’ve been writing a book, just a biography on my point of view of the Melbourne scene. So Little Murders Fiction Subway and Lizard Lounge so I can do the bands, I suppose the important thing to talk about is the bands we played with. With the mod thing we played with the Boys Next Door at Hearts in Nicolson Street in Carlton. They were all in suits as you see on some of their covers later on. I did an article I did with Clint Walker, I said when they went on stage looked at them I thought we looked like a pack of gardeners compared to them. So stuff like that. A bit of gossip that’s not too nasty

Munster: sounds good and it sounds important as there’s no Melbourne version of Please Kill Me and Melbourne’s worthy of one

Rob: yeah and we do the first chapter which is all the David Copperfield stuff, then straight into 1976. The Sex Pistols on Countdown and Nick Cave in  Ashburton playing in a church and Teenage Radio Stars and Le Femme.

Munster: You got two bands on the go, can you write a song with one specific band in mind or do you write a song and figure out which band will take it later?

Rob: somethings I write doesn’t sound for either, I like to muck around and do experimental stuff. Usually I try and focus, I do sometime go straight and write Fiction stuff or Little Murders. And you treat it like a project get your mind set. For example if I’m writing Fiction stuff I might be listening to the Buzzcocks or the Undertones, with Little Murders it might be Flaming Groovies. There’s a cross over point, Teenage Fanclub or Big Star. So there the two sides. And there’s the bit inbetween which is the Kinks. Kinks is where I wished I got to in my life. They had you Really Got Me and Waterloo Sunset, they went from there to there. I wish I could do that.

Munster:  do you have a  favourite Fall LP?

Rob: I like there best of with Victoria (Rob exits into house and pulls out vinyl copy of A Asides)

Munster: ah that’s a ripper comp.

Rob: I love this listen to it all the time. Hit the North, that was in Birdman by the Fiction. I got this at the Lizard Lounge, they used to give us free records. I said does it come in CD? They said no CDs cost too much… have the record. Things have changed hey?

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