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INTERVIEW – Ed Kuepper, August 2013

| 16 August 2013 | Reply

By Shane Pinnegar

Ed Kuepper’s name is synonymous with musical integrity, boldly blazing a trail against prevailing trends and the vagaries of the music industry and commerciality since he formed The Saints in Brisbane in 1973.

After three albums with those trailblazers he formed The Laughing Clowns and The Aints, as well as releasing many solo records. A veritable cottage industry, Kuepper heads out on tour when he feels like it, with a band in tow sometimes, sometimes solo, and recently toured Europe and North America as a member of Nick Cave’s band The Bad Seeds.

This weekend sees him in Fremantle performing “Solo and By Request”, at the Fly By Night club Friday 16th August.

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100% ROCK MAG: Hey Ed, how are you – thanks for your time today.

Ed Kuepper: Hi, thanks.

100% ROCK MAG: You’re touring around Australia ‘Solo and by request’. Is there a certain core of songs which are always requested when you do something like this?

Ed Kuepper: Wellll… there might be a few, but you’d be surprised at the range of requests. It’s actually a bit scary sometimes – I’m actually living in fear! [nervous laugh]

100% ROCK MAG: Well with such a huge catalogue, is it a nerve wracking thing for you?

Ed Kuepper: Well… it keeps me focussed [said with massive understatement]. And there may well be some things that are requested that I just have to say ‘I can’t do that’. I’ve only done one show which was entirely by request in my life, and for the most part people will call out a song you can have a shot at, [but] occasionally someone will call out some orchestrated instrumental piece I did in 1995 for a soundtrack – and obviously I’m not going to be able to play that. So you know, I humiliate those people for having the audacity to suggest something like that [chuckles] – but most of the time it works.

100% ROCK MAG: Because, you literally have dozens of albums, it’s almost inevitable that there’d be some die hard in the audience who wants to be a smart arse and request the most obscure thing…

Ed Kuepper: If it’s too obscure… well, then I’m usually impressed with their knowledge… sometimes embarrassed that I don’t [know it]… but generally it’s cool. It’s going to be a very relaxed environment. I’ve just come off a very rigid and choreographed kind of tour with The Bad Seeds, and this is going to be quite different.

100% ROCK MAG: Yeah I want to talk about that a little later but to finish up this topic, surely it must be incredibly difficult – nigh on impossible – to remember all these songs you’ve written over the years… do you have a little folder at your feet to flick through to get the chords?

Ed Kuepper: I do have something like that – it’s more likely to be the lyrics that I will forget, which means I will mumble my way through the lines I can’t recall, or repeat verses sometimes… you know, that makes it sound very unprofessional, but it works. I’m not going into it with the intention of recreating exact facsimiles of the original recordings by any means – you know, someone might call out for a song from one of the early albums, and I’m gonna do a version that I would be playing NOW. Say for instance if someone calls out for a song off a Saints album – I’m not going to play it in the way that I did in 1974. This is an acoustic show – I’m not taking distortion pedals or anything like that – I could do that but I’m not going to, they’re going to be fairly lush acoustic versions. I have a good sense of it working, you know – the response on my Facebook page has been great, and through my mailing list, so I think people kind of know the spirit that this is going to be done in.

If there’s a couple of, you know, pedantic characters down the back, that’s alright too, but for the most part it’s going to be an enjoyable night.

100% ROCK MAG: Well as you said – you can always humiliate them. You do seem like you have an acerbic wit.

Ed Kuepper: Umm – possibly [laughs slyly]

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100% ROCK MAG: How deeply do you go into rehearsals for this? Do you actually pull out the songbook and start playing a whole heap of stuff so it’s fresh in your mind, or do you just have very good recall?

Ed Kuepper: My recall is not too bad, but like anyone I do have total mental blocks sometimes. But that can happen even if I’ve totally rehearsed a set – you come up to a song and suddenly forget which key it’s in or something. It’s made more difficult because I do change keys for certain songs, depending on the arrangement I am working on at a particular point in time.

100% ROCK MAG: So you’ll be sitting there, basically, with just an acoustic guitar and a stompbox and a microphone…

Ed Kuepper: And a nice lush reverb unit too.

100% ROCK MAG:…does that leave you very exposed as a musician?

Ed Kuepper: Sure.

100% ROCK MAG: Does that add to the nerve wracking prospect?

Ed Kuepper: Well, I’m not sure. When it works it works great. I haven’t done very many solo shows for a long time but I used to do them – I started doing them in the 90’s. More sort of around Europe and a little bit in North America, and they just worked really well.

100% ROCK MAG: I can only really think of one artist who has as prolific a back catalogue and as eclectic a back catalogue, AND like yourself is or was almost relentless in reinventing his music – and that’s Frank Zappa. Is the urge to create and reinvent stuff that you’ve done in the past something of an imperative inside you?

Ed Kuepper: I think it needs to be done because I think as a working musician I sort of refused to fall into a situation where one recording is kind of the definitive version of the song, maybe. It may well be, but I keep trying to find some other way of approaching it, and I think in some ways it’s an odd thing to do, especially in rock music. I think a lot of people buy a record, then they like to hear that song or that record played live the way it’s on the record – and I don’t really do that. So I sort of approach it in a sort of a jazz way – not that I do jazz versions, but I approach it in the sense that a song is the top line, and you can change the chords under it, and you can change the melody and even the words if you like, and it still stays that song. And I guess that’s what a lot of jazz players do, and I think that’s where your Frank Zappa comparison is kind of accurate – he did a lot of that. [He] went a lot further, in so much as he recorded parts of his old albums, and remixed them and that phase that he went through in the 80’s where he redid Hot Rats [and other albums] – well, he redid parts of them… quite bizarre actually [laughs]. That’s what I like to do, it’s not that I don’t feel nostalgia – I do. I do look back on times in the past and think ‘that was really great’. But I also like to think that the music is kind of alive, and you know, ‘okay, I’m playing tonight, this is the way it’s going to be, and it might be the only time you hear it like this!’

100% ROCK MAG: That makes it a little bit more special.

Ed Kuepper: Well, hopefully people get that – not everyone does, I understand that. But I’m doing that for myself and for people who kind of like [it]. Otherwise what’s the point in playing live, in a lot of ways?

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100% ROCK MAG: Is there a musical style you haven’t explored that you’d like to?

Ed Kuepper: I try to not think in terms of picking a genre and working [inside] it. I draw on just about anything that takes my fancy, I suppose, but it’s not like I go out thinking ‘I’m going to be a dub reggae guy tonight’ or something. Whereas I may well listen to a King Tubby album and think ‘that’s a great little thing there – I wouldn’t mind incorporating something like that into my next record.’ But I wouldn’t – I’d remain myself rather than become a sort of genre artist. I might do something that has a country music inflection – I listen to a lot of stuff and I draw on a lot of stuff, but I don’t easily think that I’m categorised as anything other than what I am.

100% ROCK MAG: So we won’t expect ‘Ed Kuepper Goes Mariachi’ any time soon?

Ed Kuepper: Well I do just avoid the genres. There may well be… I’m not sure if I’ve done something remotely like that, but if something kind of fitted some music that caught my ear, I wouldn’t have any hesitation doing so. But I wouldn’t like the fact that it was a mariachi style to be the predominant aspect of it – I’d like to make it my own in the process. But that’s it – I draw on anything I like, and I always have.

100% ROCK MAG: It must be nice to have that creative freedom where you can do that…

Ed Kuepper: Well anyone can do it. It’s not like it’s my exclusive right. If you’re a musician you can draw on whatever you like. I mean – you should!

100% ROCK MAG: A lot of people don’t feel they can though. They tie themselves to record labels or they compromise what they’re doing for what they think their fans will buy…

Ed Kuepper: Yeah that’s a decision that’s up to them, I guess. I mean, having said that I like to be as open to things as possible, there are times when it also pays to be very exclusive and – I don’t listen to other things when I’m working on my own music. And that’s basically because I don’t want to be sullied! [laughs] Or alternatively get depressed – ‘oh that’s so good, I’ll never be that good!’ It kind’ve clutters the thing up a little bit, so it’s great to kind of exclude things as well. I just think that, whatever works for you. I wouldn’t expect other people to necessarily work in the same way but I think probably more people do than let on – I just like to be fairly open about it.

100% ROCK MAG: I would imagine it would work the other way as well – when you hear something so unutterably bad, that you know is going to sell a million copies, and you just think ‘why are people buying that crap?’

Ed Kuepper: Well, I do think that, you know. Actually there’s so much of that stuff around that I just sort of filter it [out]. The problem when you hear really bad things is that you kind of think ‘well I’m so much better than that’, and then you get a false sense of security which is probably not all that great either.

100% ROCK MAG: You’ve been described by some as “The most famous Australian musician you’ve never heard of”. Is there still a yearning or hunger inside you to change that perception, and to reach a wider audience?

Ed Kuepper: Well it’s funny you know. I’m starting to think that I probably should be up there with Barnesy and Farnesy – we should be brothers in arms and I should be a household name. But it’s probably not going to happen, so I’m just probably resigned to that. If they call – I’ll be there!

100% ROCK MAG: [laughs] I don’t recall seeing any photos of you in the 80’s with a mullet, so that probably excludes you from that clique!

Ed Kuepper: No – you can quote me on this – I WAS in fact THE only Australian musician in the 80’s who did not have a mullet! [laughs] I think there should be a thing in the Guinness Book Of Records acknowledging that…

100% ROCK MAG: [also laughing] Yeah we’ll have to get Wikipedia to add that to your profile

Ed Kuepper: I think so, I think so [chuckles]

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100% ROCK MAG: You’re working on a new album apparently. When is that likely to see the light of day?

Ed Kuepper: There’s no release date as yet – it will probably come out after Christmas. I started putting bits and pieces together then decided that I’d actually just like to get out and play a little bit to loosen up and possibly explore an approach that I’m going to use on this new record – or part of an approach, via these shows. Even if I don’t play any of these new songs, I think I’m going to approach the older songs in the direction I want to take this new record.

100% ROCK MAG: Interesting. So as you mentioned earlier – you’ve recently toured America and Europe with Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. I imagine that would be a radically different process to the way you normally tour?

Ed Kuepper: Well yeah, it’s also different when you’re playing in someone else’s band. They’re a fairly large band internationally, so you do travel in comfort – which I have a distinct liking for. And… look, it had it’s moments.

100% ROCK MAG: Does that mean you’re officially a Bad Seed now – will you be recording with them on their next album?

Ed Kuepper: Ahhhh… I don’t think I’ll be doing that much more [with them]. I was going to be playing on the last record and that didn’t end up happening, and when I heard the record I thought, ‘wow – there are some things on the record that are kind’ve similar to my 90’s instrumental albums’, and I thought… ‘hmm, seems a bit strange really…’ They work in a different… The Bad Seeds is a band that barely exists any more, they get together to do sort of certain runs… so I don’t know – my focus is on myself as a solo artist again. I think it’s what I enjoy doing the most, and something that I have as much control over as I possibly can.

100% ROCK MAG: Going back to your very early days with The Saints, it’s very ironic that the whole punk scene that you helped to create, which was about searching for musical knowledge starting off not being particularly proficient instrumentalists – it quickly became a parody of itself. Do you harbour any animosity towards being lumped into that “punk” scene?

Ed Kuepper: For a while I was quite outspoken about trying to distance myself, but then I gave up. It just seemed like every new person who discovered The Saints saw them as a punk band. The fact of the matter is that The Saints started in 1973 when I was in high school, and I asked Bailey and Ivor to join my band. I had some songs – and they did. And that was three or four years before punk as a scene, so I just thought the whole punk thing was very much a UK statement – some people make a New York connection with punk, that was the same word but there was a difference there. I wouldn’t object to the word punk in 1973 – it was around [with a] slightly different meaning – it referred to more of a 60’s garage band. But as an artist I felt very little in common with the UK 1977 and onwards punk bands – in fact most I felt no real linkage with them at all.

100% ROCK MAG: Over thirty years, and dozens of records, and styles of music…

Ed Kuepper: It has been hasn’t it! [laughs]

100% ROCK MAG:…and all these reinventions and explorations you’ve undergone – at the risk of getting a bit zen, have you been searching for a kind of purity and truth in your music, and have you found it?

Ed Kuepper: I think I found it at times, and then I think I haven’t, so I keep looking for it. I think a sense of purity in music is a really great thing if you can find it, but I don’t know – perfection in music is sort of like perfection in life, I’m not sure it really exists… but you get little snippets!

100% ROCK MAG: So, fleetingly?

Ed Kuepper: Yeah, I think so. It’s like film – I can’t think of a perfect film. I can think of films that have minutes and minutes of absolute beauty or that are powerful, but is the whole film perfect? No, it goes on too long or it has a crappy ending – the same thing happens with albums.

100% ROCK MAG: It’s been fantastic to talk with you – thanks very much

Ed Kuepper: Thankyou.


Category: Interviews

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Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE

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