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INTERVIEW – Kram, Spiderbait – November 2013

| 20 November 2013 | Reply

INTERVIEW – Kram, Spiderbait – November 2013
By Shane Pinnegar

Spiderbait Kram 01
Spiderbait are back with the follow-up to their biggest album, Tonight Alright, and single, a cover of Leadbelly’s classic Black Betty (by way of seventies boogie merchants Ram Jam), a mere ten years later.

The decade long gap in between records wasn’t deliberate, insists drummer and singer Kram – Mark Maher to his Mum n’ Dad – it just kind of happened that way.

“I’ve got two kids, so I’ve been busy [with them]…” he trails off into his thoughts. “Umm… after that record we did a lot of touring, and because we had such a big number one hit with that, that does take things [and] stretches them out a bit further. And then I wanted to do a solo record so I went and did that in New York. Then not long after that we did a Greatest Hits, and we played a lot of shows for that.

“And between different bits and pieces of many different things,” he continues, slowly gathering pace, “I did the Triple J tribute tour for Nick Cave, which was really cool, and normal things I do like TV and radio and stuff, and then all of sudden someone said ‘It’s been ten years since you made a record’ and I went, ‘Oh shit!’”

He’s joking, of course, but he does stress that Spiderbait isn’t his, guitarist Whitt and bassist/singer Janet’s only iron in the fire.

“I guess what I’m saying is that playing in the band seven days a week is not really what we do. It’s just part – a massive part – of our lives. But any creative person, I think, has lots of different things going on at the same time.”

Spiderbait Kram 03

Rather than follow Tonight Alright up quickly to capitalise on the band’s heightened international profile – Black Betty went number one in Australia and was featured in a clutch of Hollywood movies and trailers, including Without A Paddle, Miss Congeniality 2, Guess Who, The Brave One, The Condemned, Smokin’ Aces and The Dukes Of Hazzard – Kram says that’s not the way Spiderbait operate.

“Well, it’s one of those things that if you do that, and the record isn’t as good or as big as your last one, then it was kind of a mistake to do it – I’ve seen that many times before. That wasn’t a strategy of ours, by the way. We’d done a lot of shows for that record, and we just really felt like a break – and we’ve always done that. In the past I think it’s happened a few times, where some people expect us to play more but instead we play less. I think that’s why we’ve been around for a long time and are happy!”

So why is now the right time for a new Spiderbait album?

“I don’t know if it’s the right time!” Kram laughs. “But it is The Time. I don’t know if there’s a right time for anything… our main motivation was just to do a great record. We haven’t done one for a long time and that was kind of the main [goal]. We actually make records because we want to write good songs and do good work! So the time came around because it took us a fair while to put together, and making it was really great, but it took us a little while to finish – but now that we are, we’re really stoked with it.”

Spiderbait - self titled CD

The self-titled album is an exercise in eclecticism – opener Straight From The Sun channels Motorhead, while the next track, It’s Beautiful, is a complete contrast with it’s uber-bright trippiness. I’m Not Your Slave is steeped in the stomping vibe of 70’s British glam, Mars is more acoustic and folky, and closer Goodbye is positively Beatlesesque. Kram agrees that he and his bandmates revel in their genre-defying refusal to be pigeon-holed.

“Yeah, yeah! I think we do absolutely revel in that,” he says enthusiastically, “that’s a good way to describe it. It’s one of those things, that in order to be… how do I put this… in music you need to feel like you’ve got YOUR THING, you need to know there’s something that you do better than anyone else… well, not better, perhaps, but to feel that there’s something that defines who you are, creatively, and if you’ve got THAT thing then you always feel like that’s a bit of an anchor for you.

“I think THAT in some ways,” he continues, “definitely on record and how we’re perceived on record, is one of our main things. There’s an element that Franc [Tetaz, the album’s producer] always likes to say, that we are not afraid. And we never looked at ourselves like that – we never felt we were genre-hopping because it was fearless or we were trying to defy convention, we just really love heaps of different music, and that’s the reason we do it!

“I mean, fuck, how many fucking bands do I hear coming out of America every year where every song sounds exactly the same? A lot of bands around the world… and in some ways people do like that – there’s nothing wrong with having that, but for me it’s not – it doesn’t make me feel excited enough. That’s why the ultimate band for this sort of thing you’re talking about is The Beatles – we’re just aspiring to do something a little bit like the greatest band of all time, I guess. If you listen to Revolver, you’ll get it… you listen to any of those later Beatles records, you’ll get that – they’re ALL like that.”

Spiderbait 01

The diversity of the album, I suggest, echoes the diversity of my record collection, generating a very real simpatico affection for the music contained therein.

“Yeah, thanks man, that’s great,” Kram says approvingly. “I mean, that’s what we were trying to do. One of the reasons why we hadn’t made a record for some time, and I think one of the things you do when you haven’t made a record for many years, is that you go, well we better make it what we want, and as good as we love. So we love it! ‘Cos who knows when we’re gonna make another one!

“I’m not saying this is gonna be our last record, but if you don’t make a new one for ten years, you go ‘Fuck – we’re gonna have to really start a new one as soon as I get off the phone or it’s gonna take another fifteen years to do it, you know!’ So we really wanted to make it something we were all proud of – and this is why I wanted to include songs like Mars on there, just to show every single side of the band collectively and individually, and to tell the story of what these three people are, really. Which is essentially three kids from a small country town who just fell into this world and now this is what they do for a living, and it defines them in Australian culture. It’s a massive trip for us, I gotta tell you… in a good way! But a trip!”

Despite their wilfulness to experiment and explore musically, Kram insists that with all three band members prolific and eclectic writers, there’s still an approval process to decide if a song falls inside or outside of the umbrella of the band.

“There is actually very much a distinction,” he says, “which is kinda weird when you consider the premise of what we’re talking about! Sometimes it’s ‘Nah that’s a Kram song, you should do that on your next solo record’, or sometimes it’s ‘Nah we should try to give this to someone else.’ And that’s something I’ve sorta started doing, is writing for other people and collaborating with other artists. I’ve written songs with – just in the past couple of years – Lisa Mitchell, Bertie Blackman, Muscles – lots of different writers.

“But [for Spiderbait] it sorta has to be something where we all look at each other and go ‘yeah that totally works with us’… but what makes that decision work and why… “ he again trails off, unable to explain.

“I’d love you to be in the room one day and actually hear us making that decision,” he laughs, “and we’d go ‘can you tell us why we agreed to that song and not that song?’ ‘cos it’s quite bizarre – but it’s quite defined, and Franc was actually a big part of that decision making. A song like Get Bent, for some reason it’s very, very US – even though we’ve never done a song like that before, you know. I don’t know why – I don’t know how [the decision making process] works, but it does.”

Spiderbait 02

The rock n’ roll wasteland is littered with bands who started off as friends and ended up hating each other’s guts after years of touring, but Spiderbait have avoided that fate by following one very simple rule.

“Through not doing years of touring, basically!” Kram laughs. “I’m serious though! And this is my counter argument to the question ‘you had a number one single why didn’t you go to America for two years?’ Well, I wouldn’t be here talking to you now if we did.

“A very similar thing happened when we did Ivy [Ivy & The Big Apples, released in 1997, contained breakout singles Buy Me A Pony and Calypso] – our biggest successes have come kind of when we were at the end of our tether, and if it didn’t work we probably would have broken up because we’d had it, we’d worked our arses off and our spirits were frayed. And then in both situations we had a massive hit that kind of made us so happy and relaxed.

“The last thing that we wanted to do was then go out and try to conquer the world, because we realised what sort of band we are, and we’re the type of band who needs to take breaks, and have a life outside of what’s going on, and know when to play and when not to play. And that’s really, I think, been a big factor in us staying friends, and also the fact that we generally share everything pretty much equally, and we have that common ground in our background of the small town where we all come from that I guess is a bit of a rock for us to go back to in our minds and in our souls. It’s weird – I think sometimes if you burn the candle, you burn brightly but you might not last as long, so it’s up to you…”

Spiderbait 03

Having Franc Tetaz produce the record after his big success winning a Grammy award for Somebody That I Used To Know by Gotye and featuring Kimbra, may not have been an obvious choice, but Kram says his background in electronic music proved the right stuff for Spiderbait.

“I think it was really beneficial for tracks like I’m Not Your Slave,” he muses, “I think where Franc and rock meet, glam is the zone, so he’s in his element in that sound. The other stuff that was a bit more heavy, I think he sort of found himself going back, in a way, to where he used to be when he started, and in other ways looking forward. So I think it was as much a challenge for him as it was for anyone, because I know with Bertie [Blackman]’s record, and Kimbra and Wally [De Backer, aka Gotye] and Architecture [In Helsinki], they all have this similar[sound], lots of sampling, lots of hi-fi quality sounds.

“One of the great things about Franc is that he is a great lover of low-fi, very much like me, and for some songs he’d go ‘nah let’s just use the demo and we’ll just add bits to it, ‘cos it sounds fucking awesome’ – his thing is always about vibe and performance, that’s the main thing. The other great thing about him that he really was great for us was lyrics, and he really encouraged us to go deep into the lyrics and really make them as good as they can be, and I think lyrically this record is probably our strongest one we’ve ever done, and I think that’s largely due to him.”

Whilst there’s no plans to play live this year other than the Meredith Music Festival in Victoria in mid-December, Kram thinks they’ll be on the road a lot more in 2014.

“I’m not sure yet. I think we’ll wait and see when the record comes out and take it from there. We’ve got plans to do a tour next year – we haven’t put it together [yet] but we’ll definitely go out and play. We’re playing a few shows in the next couple of months, but not much more than Meredith – which is kind of the one of those festivals that we did many years ago and we thought we would launch the album there in Victoria. But I think next year we’ll play a lot more shows.”

2014 also has the distinction of being the 25th anniversary of the band, an amazing feat which is far from lost on the hirsute drummer.

“Yeah, it’s a trip,” he says, a little in awe despite himself. “Totally. It’s really great.”

Spiderbait Kram 04

To a whole generation of Australians Spiderbait were the soundtrack to their social lives, so it’s a headrush for fans who grew up with the band as much as it is for the band themselves, that when they first started we were all… well, young!

There’s a deep intake of breath down the phone line before Kram answers.

“Well, it’s weird,” he says thoughfully, “we feel like it’s bizarre and awesome and weird and not very common, I guess, to be a band as long as we have and still be, I guess, a successful band. But it’s something we’re really proud of – I guess it’s a testament to the band’s longevity that I’m sitting here talking to you!

“I don’t think we ever had any aspirations for this thing to be our career – we don’t make music to conquer the world, we do it ‘cos we love it and we feel a creative compulsion to do so, and playing live shows is sort of like a communal event for us. It reignites our excitement for the music, in some ways. Making records is very much… you sort of make records to make them as good as they can be so once you’re gone you leave something that’s half decent behind you.

“I guess the best way we look at our time in the business is that it all seems the same to us. I know the scene is very different now and everyone is getting music online, and bands are coming and going online faster than the eye can see – careers are being broken and then destroyed. I mean, it’s all very fast now. We sort of exist in our own time and our own space, and I don’t think we know how to do it any other way.”

Talk of the new record and their Silver Anniversary inevitably turns to how Spiderbait will be commemorating the milestone, but Kram is typically casual about the whole shebang.

“They’re making a documentary about us at the moment, this is interesting.” He says as if he were reading a shopping list or the paper. “We had a film crew with us for the making of the album and stuff, and it’s taking a bit of time to put together, so if anything for the anniversary of the band, we’ll probably do that.

“As far as retrospective recordings go,” he elaborates, “we’ll probably do that too. We haven’t actually been thinking about it too much – we’ve just been thinking about the record. I guess that tells you a bit about where our heads are at! We exist from day to day – that’s how I live my life, really, I don’t really look beyond tomorrow [or] look too far back in the past… though when I do it’s always a worthwhile and rewarding exercise.”

Spiderbait Kram 05

Kram says that after a shade less than twenty five years in the band and in the public eye, whilst he has tried to mature musically, it’s staying in shape physically that is more of a priority.

“In some ways I’d like to think that you’re trying to improve your songwriting, your song selection, your abilities as a musician… [but] the main thing I always try to look for as you get a bit older is, have you still got the energy? And that’s very much a live thing. If I play live, and I can feel like I’m sort of at the top of my game, and I’m not getting sort of blown away by younger bands performances, or whoever’s playing, then I’m comfortable… and I still feel very much that way, because it’s such a big part of our show, the physical element of the band and stuff.

“But you inevitably do change a bit,” he says, thoughtful again. “I think your perspective and your headspace might change, because you look back – this is lyrically speaking in particular – and you kind of look back on your whole career. And this is, in a way, why we chose the album to be self titled, because in a way it’s sort of a retrospective of the band, like the story of the whole band – but in the same way it feels a bit like a debut record as well, because it’s been so long since we’ve done one. So it’s sort of all those things.”

To finish on a hypothetical note, I wonder aloud which record Kram would like to be a part of making, if he could magically go to any point in time.

“Ahhh… shit! Ahh… that Stones record [Exile On Main Street] in the chateau in France sounds like fun!” he laughs. “What else? Oh there’s so many! Shit! I mean, there’s ones like… didn’t Black Sabbath make one of their records in a dark hole in Birmingham somewhere? So that might not be so much fun. I dunno – it’s a question of whether you wanna have a good time or witness something really historical!

“It’d probably be just sitting in a corner of the room when Bob Dylan made Times Are A Changing, you know, or one of those early acoustic records. Because I, in the last few years – probably many years now – have really gotten into that style of music. It’s another reason I wanted to put Mars on the record, because when you’re a rock performer and you’re used to this massive energy that comes from the guitars, and the drums, and the crowd and the bass, and everything’s so big – the only way you can kind of get higher than that is by stripping things back and having this rawness and simplicity. And it’s somehow even more powerful, so maybe it would be that…”

Either that or make all your amps one louder…

“Yeah!” he laughs excitedly, “Go the other way like in Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, the band Disaster Area who had to do their gig on one planet and project it onto another otherwise it’d destroy people’s brains!”

There’s an idea for the band’s 25th anniversary shows!


An edited version of this interview originally appeared in X-Press Magazine’s 13 November 2013 issue HERE

Category: Interviews

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