Rob Wellington Interview

I first met Rob a few years ago on the St Kilda music walking tour. With a mutual interest of punk and Collingwood we hit it off very early. He has one of the most interesting CVs I know. Played with the Fiction at the birth of Punk, went onto form International Exiles, as well as directing video clips for some of some of this country’s biggest pop acts, still played on Rage today. These days he’s still making video clips with his students at RMIT, plays in the Peptides, the Originals and the newly reformed Fiction. Always love seeing Rob play guitar and love watching the Pies games with him. We meet for lunch at the Claypots branch in the city, with the lovely Cario looking after us.

Rob: hoping to get some shows in the UK with the Fiction. To show them punk didn’t just happen there. Jay who used to run the reggae club over there, did that documentary on punk and there having a discussion about New York and London, and I’m like actually there was a third leg in that story. I went to a conversation at Bakehouse, they had Ed Kuepper, I never had a chance to talk to him and had a nice chat to him back stage, and if you got something interesting to talk about he’ll talk back. I asked him if he’d seen his documentary, and he said he’s sick of hearing that that punk only happened in New York and London, when it was an international thing

Munster: what gets me is when they always bang on about New York when the west coast gets over looked, you think of all the bands that came from there, Dead Kennedys, the Weirdos, the Germs, and Texas with MDC and the Dicks.

Rob: and Death, from Detroit. We were all committed with the same, David Bowie wasn’t a local thing it was an international thing. And he attracted all the freaks as he had the “I don’t give a fuck what you think rock n roll is about this is what I’m doing”. When Bowie went to American and Danny Fields introduced him to Iggy Pop and Lou Reed we were all like, there joining the dots. These guys are weird freaks as well, there out toeing the line. That was an international thing not just a London and New York thing. In Melbourne you can feel it. I saw the Boys Next Door doing a Sensational Alex Harvey song, then the next week Mick had left because he was sick of doing covers and wanted to do originals. Then they through Micks right and they started writing songs and did punk rock.

Munster: AND all those cities had a different sound when it came to punk.

Rob: Yeah we had the Melbourne sound. It’s not a genre its very eclectic, everything from La Femme to the little bands, people screaming and hitting tea pots to full on rock bands and pop bands like the Models. We supported it all, we’d just rock up and think great, what the hells going on here, this is interesting. It was very healthy. There was Essendon Airport, all these weird bands, you walk in there’s a band doing funky jazz, and the Go Betweens doing sweet pop music, then Hunter’s and Collectors smashing an oil tin on stage, it was fantastic. Where else, aside from New York has an open scene like that .New Orlins has that, that culture of everything from jazz to Arcadian zydeco, and the blues and the whole gamut of genres they had, but it seems very purist and traditional and based on technicalities and puerility, where’s in Melbourne if it makes people jump up and down it’s good, don’t have to sing or be in tune, get up and entertain. Thats healthy it opens the door its not guarded, there’s no hinges on the door and it’s a free-for-all, if you got the balls, as long as you’re not an imitator and you’re not boring people will go and see you. Out of that idea you have this importance on originality and creative integrity. That’s how people like Rowland can happen, and Nick who couldn’t really sing. Because you realise it was original and different

I’ve always messed around with animation.

Munster: how long you been teaching for?

Rob: about seven years, when I was in year 12 I went I went to Huntingdale Tech, a school in south east suburbs. I had a super 8 camera and I would shoot stuff for my dad and he would get me to edit his travel films for his business overseas, shot everything on Super 8 and cut it together. I had a stop motion button, so animating the plastic plane going over the map. Then I started doing hand held clock motion. Like jump up in the air and edit it to make it look like I’m flying. I used the same technique in Big on Love (the models) my first film clip. My dad couldn’t afford to send me to Campbell Grammar anymore. So he said where do you want to go, and I said somewhere where I can do art. Bless em they said yes. You didn’t have to show up to class and you could smoke in between class, not that I smoked then. I did TV and film, had an absolute ball. Film class is fantastic because they had been studding for years so they been filming and gone through all this super 8 stuff. So second week I was there I was shooting 16mm film, thinking this is cool this is what I want to do, and set me on the path of wanting to be a filmmaker.

Munster: and I guess having started with super 8 and still working you would have seen all kinds of change

Rob: I was doing film clips in the mid 80s Big on Love being the first. Living with Sean Kelly in East St Kilda, we’re watching Countdown as you do, I thought this film clip is shit I could do a better job. Sean said yeah, I said yeah piss easy. So he said alright you can do our next clip being Big on Love. So I checked how the snicked sound, they were shooting God Bless America next week so I tagged along to see how they did everything, until they used this inker reel to reel which is like crystal sphinx meaning they play the speed of the film and the track where in sync, your average cassette player at the time wasn’t playing perfectly. I had a Walkman when it came out and it had a crystal, so the crystal holsters at a particular frequency so they could lock the electric motor to that frequency, so it will turn in to an exact amount of revels per second. Sussed out how they did it, and got nominated for best performance. They had to act and play so they had to two roles

Munster: so you did do better than the Countdown Clips?

Rob: Yeah. That was a hit, so I walked into Michael Gudinski’s office, and I said I want, $10000, $2000 for myself and $8000 for everything else. He said I’ll give you nine grand, I said ok (laughs). And he was wrapped with that. He got me to do a Kids from the Kitchen clip which wasn’t very good. I assumed musicians could act, but they couldn’t I was lucky with the Models. They did Barbados with Richard Lowenstein, and they didn’t treat James very well they felt insulted, so they said ok get Rob to do the next one. They wanted to do something like the Eurythmics clip just be yourself tonight, and they did Out of Mind Out of Sight, that was my second clip that came out and went to number one. If it hasn’t been for INXS I would have won all the awards, always coming second (laughs). Cause INXS where killing it at that time. Next thing I’m doing Whispering Jack and everybody

Munster: so the Models was your big break behind the scenes?

Rob: lot of people where really impressed with the Models, particular as it was my fist clip. Was kind of like Eraserhead before Eraserhead. Kind of weird, what the fucks going on here? There’s a story but nothing to do with the song. What the hells this guy thinking? But it was intriguing and made you want to watch it again, every time you watch it there’s a little joke hidden. And the performances where great, James Freud in Barbados, he did that as a joke.

Munster: so they thought it was a rehearsal?

Rob: yeah, I said that’s it, move on, James said no I was mucking about. I said that’s perfect. Which really impressed the crew, because I hired all these old pros, cranky old farts, they said we were good, we smashed it out, shot it in a day, running round like a lunatic, was exhausted at the end of the day. It set me on the pattern of the way I could, what I learned was, because it was my first clip I wanted to make it work, so I storyboarded it, did pre-production, spent two weeks working my arse off before the shoot, making sure every shoot was great. So on the day people would say what are we doing for the next shot, and as I storyboarded it I had it all set out, and the crew was relived the director was on top of it. . I started getting bored with clips, so I wanted to get back to animation.  I was pissed off with traditional ways, because I did the animated film at school, I got a grant and after a year I only got 30 seconds. And when I filmed it the little bird was getting smaller and I wanted it flat. And because it took so long to see what I had done the traditional methods, you needed experience and a whole team, so the image computer came out in the late 80s, that could do animation. I was more interested in the Apple and was hoping that would hang around longer. I took out a 20,000 loan for a Macintosh, crazy. And I brought a Macintosh 2 the first colour mac. With a whopping 64 megabytes of RAM and 257 megabyte hard drive. And brought this program called video X 2 and it had this gismo where you could digitise video. Kind of a matchbox size in one bit. I figured out how you could take a part of a video, digitise it and reanimated it in this software. I did a video for DO RE MI called King of Moomba I kind of proved the process. Then I got more ambitious. I did a video that was completely animated, was filmed then animated it with software, took six weeks sitting there digitizing it.

Munster: And that was just you?

Rob: Me and my sister and a mate Peter who was a roadie for Men and Work, also crazy for machinists. He went to a conference, took a VHS of the two clips showed them to someone who was doing a speaking tour for Apple, she said you’re the first people in the world to do this. He said do we win a prize. She said how you would like to come and work for us at Appel US. He jumped on the phone and asked if I wanna come. We did three years, I was prototyping, we were working on digital video big time.  And they were saying how it will work on the screen, press play and stuff. So the innovations you see now they didn’t exists. So that gave us a beautiful lush on shades of grey gorgeous interface and we kind of faked it to look like the video worked, so we packed it all in animation showed it to users and then took their feedback and came back and told us they didn’t like it was too complicated and couldn’t understand it. They told us the users don’t get it, they need to look at it and click on it and work it out. We got thought the User central design process. When I came back to Australia, I combined what I learned with film clips and Apple started making multi media and CD Roms. Because of the way I learned how to design, I was making all these things that won awards and came under budget. So the first one was for Film Australia, they asked what I wanted to do next. They asked if I wanted to do a project Lady Tile with this guy’s who’s a member of the Mabo family and famous documentary maker, I was like fuck yeah. Paul Keating at the time was pm and had the creative nation funding so there was all this money for multimedia as it was called then. I was always not worrying about money.

Munster: so you never worried about work

Rob: yeah never even thought about it, there was times I thought what am I gonna do now

Munster all that money you got from Gudinski few people would get that today

Rob: no. you can get up to 100 grand, my budgets where 20 grand. If a band had 5 grand I’d do a one shot clip which is fun. Usually there 20. Out of mind out of sight was 20 as was you’re the voice. Funky town was 10. If id know now, and they didn’t know either, John Farnham, started with Sadie the Cleaning lady, then he did the LRB so now he’s back in Australia kind of yesterday’s news, then he’s back to number 1 again, so you never know.

Munster: you mentioned you were writing a TV series where’s that at

Rob: I don’t know if its gonna happen. If you’re not a name it’s very hard

Munster: even with your background

Rob: but not in drama. Its all what have you done for me lately? When I was a kid I did a lot of graphic novels. When me and Fred get together we always talk comics. I used to draw a lot. I did graphic art and wrote for Howl, the school magazine, I did Malcom Frazer as a dragon over the body of Gough Whitlam. And these centre spreads, all these abstract images. And it was all very analogue in those days. No computers, where talking 75-76. I was doing photography shooting and acting in films. So I was thinking we can do it as a graphic novel, then a film maker can read it and shoot it. I’ve got an artist friend in Castlemaine who I’ve worked a lot with. Not sure if I should ask her or see if I can draw it myself. I don’t want to teach too much, an afternoon a week is enough to pay the bills. With the band I get enough scraps I can pop along, produce music and make a graphic novel. I briefly had a corporate job, and that wasn’t for me. Making decisions based on politics not practicality. I understand why they need to do that but I want no part of it. That’s why I love the film industry. You can make a film or you can’t. Your either a good DRP or you’re not. You can cut a film or you can’t. If you mess up someone’s film your probably not gonna last long. So the people that are in it, there talented and grateful to be making a living doing what they do. And that’s a very pleasant way to live. As with music, so many lively people sure there’s the occasional dickhead like in any place. But I get to hang out with Fred, Carl who’s funny as fuck, and Mick who’s funny as fuck. Doesn’t open is mouth much and when he does it’s an insult but again funny as fuck. And Elizabeth who’s gorgeous. And with Angela too. And the Fiction to. I’ve known Adam since 1979, he was the original bass player in international exiles and ALs one of his dearest mates who’s a sweetheart as well. We had Andrew Nunns play with is, he plays guitar in USER. He played with Lime Spiders on a European tour. He also has a band called Black Heart Death Pot, takes you right back to late 60s psychedelic pop with meat to em. He filled in for Al, and Andrew played exactly like the record. He was nailing every song like it was on the record. He always filled in for Richard of the Underground Lovers, one of the best gentleman. I feel so lucky to live in Melbourne and have this incredible scene, like what are we gonna do tonight? There’s three gigs on, all within tram distance.

Munster: and what’s happening in Sydney?  Tell us about the Japan tour

Rob:  We only had 30 minutes to play each night and there’s a 10 minute turn over for the next band. That’s something we picked up, just get it done. We do a song then bang straight into the next. No one was waiting around the audience knew they had a four second window to clap that’s why they go nuts during the song. They want the band to not only be good but let the band know there good and let them know they appreciate how good they are. It’s the healthies music scene I’ve seen outside of Melbourne, there’s a lot of things they do we can learn from. The idea of building venues into basements of apartment buildings. All underground no outside noise. It’s installed totally, and they have restaurants and offices, then apartments in the building and they can’t hear. You gotta go you’d love it. We’re going back for the Halloween festival its garage rock heaven, you’d have a ball. They provide all the amps, so you just bring your guitar do sound check and have a snack and come back. All the other bands are there watching all the other bands. Because they know them or haven’t seen them yet and are keen. And because you just have your guitar when the show finishes at 11 all the bands go out and have dinner swap CDs and chat. The pink tiles we did a show with them in Nagaretama. I saw this girl with a school uniform and went up to her and said ah AC/DC Divinyls really cool, she looked at me like what’s he going on about she knew I was in a band eventually the other guitarists come over and I said its really cool and iconic in Australia. And he’s like no she’s just come from school. We’re in the same class (laughs). There was this cool band called the Butters, kinda a Breeders Pixies element. They did this thing the whole band did 24 bars on bass and drums just pulsing super tight so it was hypnotic. Bands like Sonic Youth, just in the stage smashing this chord and it was like that. And the people are so nice. We got a note from the hotel saying how much they loved us and hoped we came back. Penny tells this story how she was traveling with this band and the guitarist leaves his guitar on the train, they went to the hotel they called the police and they went in and the guitar was there.

Munster: and how are our beloved Pies gonna do this year?

Rob: who the fuck knows. We played well last year but fell over at the end last year. You know hopefully you can make the eight and hope you have the A lister’s in the team to pull off a win, its all down to injuries, the teams are pretty even. I’m just looking forward to it

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