QRO spoke with Hoodoo Gurus frontman Dave Faulkner the day after a great show in Foxboro, MA whilst on his train ride from Boston to Philadelphia. As well as getting an insight into the longevity of the band in its 30th year, Faulkner discussed the new album Purity of Essence and their alternative existence as psychedelic rockers The Persian Rugs.
QRO: The Hoodoo Gurus has survived longer than most bands – knocking on the door of a 3oth Anniversary – what’s the key your longevity?
Dave Faulkner: The Hoodoo Gurus will have existed in one form or other for 30 years come this New Year’s Eve. The first incarnation of the band formed on New Years and lasted about a year. Our lead guitarist Brad Shepherd joined soon after and the current version has been un-changed for a very long time now – well over 20 years. I still do it after all this time because I enjoy what we do and think we still manage to create something worth listening to.
As a band we do what we do, but we always try to bring something new to it and do the best we can with each record. I guess the machine that is the Hoodoo Gurus was built for the long haul, like a sports car on the road. Maybe like a muscle car. [laughs]
QRO: Do you have any big events planned to mark the band’s 30th Anniversary?
DF: There’s nothing definite as yet. I have some ideas, one of which is on a pretty grand scale so I need to see if we can make it work. But yeah, we’d like to do something special to acknowledge our persistence at this. I just can’t announce what it is yet.
QRO: Your new album Purity of Essence reveals more with each listen and really sounds like the four of you in a room playing. Boasting 16 songs it’s longer and somewhat more musically eclectic than most previous Gurus albums. Was this a conscious decision?
DF: Well that’s how it came together really. The four of us got together and hammered out a group of songs as we always do. In the past though, we have tended to try to keep the selection for the album to songs that fitted together by a common style or a theme. So what we have created in this record is full of energy and optimistic sounding. This time we just let it go where is wanted. That to me is what you find on a lot of debut albums where there’s a whole new landscape that didn’t exist before that just seems to be limitless.
We definitely did not set out to do it that way, but we had over 20 songs and narrowed it down to 16. One of the best things about it for me is that we took time to develop more songs in areas territories that we may have left out before. So a song like "The Stars Look Down" which is very different for us and for me lyrically was able to be included and I’m very excited about that.
QRO: The title of the new album is ‘Purity of Essence‘. This struck me as very untypical of a title for one of your albums until the penny dropped that there is a Dr. Strangelove connection?
DF: Of course – Dr. Strangelove has always been one of our favorite films, so we chose it from that perspective. But it goes deeper than that. We’ve broken away from how we used to make albums with this record. In the past we used to drop songs that were a bit different from the focus we wanted for the record and used them as b-sides.
The title choice was a bit ironic really. We decided to be a bit cheeky and suggest that this is our essence rather than calling it a potpourri of songs, which it in some ways is – it’s all the parts of what we are musically in one album.
Interestingly, Dr. Strangelove also had an influence of the line-up of the band. Back in the late 80s when we auditioned new bass players, we played with Rick Grossman and thought he was a great player, but then we had to see how he would fit into the personal and cultural dynamic of the band. We asked what his favorite film was and he said Dr. Strangelove, so we basically knew he’d be a fit from then.
QRO: The song "Only In America" seems to be a statement of the ridiculous contrasts that you can find here. What’s your take on the country you’re currently touring and have you seen much of a change in your visits over the years.
DF: [laughs] I thought this one might come up. Well the things that I sing about in the song are all pretty well known and no secret. I guess I have never tried to hide that I’m not a big fan of televangelists or religious extremists. Some of the verses could maybe get interpreted as negative, but the chorus is almost an anthem to America’s uniqueness.
I’m amazed by this vast country and the diversity what happens here. You can only be in awe of the great machine that is America and how it all manages to work. It’s anything goes aspect has always fascinated me as an outsider. The song was mixed by American producer Ed Stasium in Colorado and I asked him if it was going too far, but he had no problems with the content. I do hope to play it on this tour, but it’s a tricky one to sing and I’ve just got over a throat bug I got in France so it hasn’t been debuted live yet.
QRO: As a band, your love of the Ramones has been well documented. Who are your biggest musical inspirations aside from the Ramones?
DF: We are all very broad and eclectic in our taste and tend to diverge and meet in many different areas of music. But having said that, there’s nothing that anyone in the band likes that I hate, so we get to pull from a very wide range of influences. There’s stuff that some of the guys are passionate about that may not be my cup of tea, but that’s alright. It’s hard to really quantify it.
The crucial thing at this point in time is not even about what’s in our record collections and what we can find in common and agree to play together. It’s actually the fact that anything we try together develops its own persona that is either a natural fit or just seems wrong for us. And that defines it way more than anything we may set out to do intellectually beforehand.
QRO: You have more than your fair share of amusing observational lyrics over the years. "I Hope It Makes You Happy", a tale of addiction to cosmetic surgery, being a good example on the latest album. How important is everyday humor to you in your music and where do you come from as a lyricist?
[laughs] But I was never into being overly mysterious or esoteric in my lyrics. I’m not into making people guess or make multiple interpretations of what I am writing about and that’s probably simply because those are the kind of lyrics I like and am drawn to by other artists.
I suppose I may have sacrificed exploring my more poetic side as a result of that over the years, but then again, on this album I have allowed myself to be more subtle on a song like "The Stars Look Down". But you’re right – I do like to have a lighter side to many of the lyrics that I write, but never to the point that it’s throwaway or meaningless. There always has to be something clever or witty in there to make it worthwhile.
QRO: A couple of years ago you were included in ‘Who’s Who in Australia’. How did that come about?
DF: Well a few years ago we were finally inducted into the ARIA Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Australia after being ignored by them for most of our career. So the Australian equivalent of the Grammy’s finally acknowledged the Hoodoo Gurus contribution to Australian music. Now we’re in there next to the Bee Gees and AC/DC and the Easybeats and a few other Aussie legends. It was funny after ARIA pretty much ignored us throughout our career and in the end seemed to reward us for sheer bloody mindedness and sticking at it.
Automatically as part of that process, I got into ‘Who’s Who’. I think they wrote to them and said I was now in the Hall of Fame and was therefore a somebody. It’s surely not because of me going to red carpet events and being seen around town. [laughs]
QRO: From 1998 to 2003, the Hoodoo Gurus effectively ceased to be. During that time you re-grouped, but under the name The Persian Rugs and recorded and EP and an album. Was that a deliberate attempt not to fall back on your past success?
DF: To be honest we didn’t purposely set out to re-group that way. I had done an electronic collaboration with Kim Salmon called Antenna immediately after the Gurus split. Then I was working on some new material with Gurus guitarist Brad Shepherd and those were the people we immediately gravitated as a rhythm section having worked with Mark and Rick for so long.
I had this idea for a psychedelic band, which became the Persian Rugs, and he called up Mark Kingsmill to play drums and before we knew it you had three quarters of the Hoodoo Gurus. Then we asked Rick because we thought it would be an insult to him not to. He joined for a while, but was too busy with other ongoing projects at the time.
The musical intention and everything else about it was in no way related to the Hoodoo Gurus.
The only aspect may have been that during our time in the Hoodoo Gurus we had often been described, quite facilely I thought, as being like a 60s band. So this was my own way of saying, "Here you go, this is what I sound like when I try to do 60s music". Even with the same people in the band as it turned out. And it’s not the same music at all as it turned out. Yes there were reference points and the Gurus had that influence in them, but there was a whole lot more to it at than that. It was satisfying to be able to give my musical answer to that thing that had always irked me in our reviews in the past.
QRO: I was amused to notice recently that The Persian Rugs contributed a song to a tribute album covering the Hoodoo Gurus debut album Stoneage Romeos. What was the story behind that?
DF: Well we were together as the Persian Rugs at the time and got approached to do it and thought it would be fun. The hard thing was trying not to make it sound like the Hoodoo Gurus, as we were all ex-members. In the end we managed to make it sound like the Persian Rugs.
The Persian Rugs did have a different soul. It was a bit like learning a new language with the new band. We deliberately flew in the face of expectations by choosing the song Be My Guru. We changed the lyrics from "I’m a Guru – I’m a Hoodoo Guru" to "I’m a rug man; I’m a Persian rug man." I hope we can make another record in that guise sometime in the future.
QRO: Is there one defining moment or element that symbolizes what makes you proudest of your time with the Hoodoo Gurus?
DF: Gee – there are a whole lot of things really. I guess the fact that we are still here and that it’s still real. We’ve had different people trying to bury us for different reasons over the years, but we’ve always done our own thing and soldiered on regardless. I think that the fact that we are this far down the track time wise and still have something pretty good to offer is a great achievement.
It’s easy for a band to come out with one or two albums and then run out of puff. I feel strongly that we have had a very good level of consistency through our career and not just for the sake of it. We still have something to say and that’s part of the mix with our music. We’re not just wasting our time. In fact I love our last three albums most of all out of our whole catalogue. I think Blue Cave is a good companion piece to Purity of Essence. Those two albums are kindred spirits whereas Mach Schau was us clearing the pipes and getting a head steam to release all this energy after our break. It ended up a bit more harsh and brutal, but there are still some great songs on there.
QRO: You seem quite content overall. Are there any lingering regrets?
DF: I can think of lots of mistakes that we’ve made and people have made on our behalf, but the fact of the matter is that we have had a pretty good time doing what we do and managed to still keep ourselves relevant even if that’s only to our own small minds. [laughs]
Not saying that they did, but the pressures of all of that might have compromised what we ended up doing. I can’t regret the way it’s gone, although it might be nice to have had the millions of dollars that might have flowed my way. [laughs]
We’ve had a very successful pop career in Australia and we are very fortunate to be one of those bands that a lot of other bands wish they were. So it can’t be denied that we’ve had a measure of success and acclaim and a lot of people don’t get anything near that. Overall I’m very happy about how things have gone. I love the music we’ve made and the lives we’ve led and all of those things.