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INTERVIEW – Iva Davies, Icehouse – February 2014

| 20 February 2014 | Reply

INTERVIEW – Iva Davies, Icehouse – February 2014
By Shane Pinnegar

Iva Davies and Icehouse are heading back to Western Australia to play a dream gig on Sunday 23 March – Hotel Rottnest on Rottnest Island, 18kms off the Western Australian coast and surrounded by golden beaches and shimmering waters. Davies admits he’s excited and has been “gazing longingly” at photos of the island posted on their official Facebook page, but it’s far from the first time he’s played an idyllic or exotic location.

Icehouse - Iva Davies 01

“We played in Broome last year,” Davies recalls, “I’d been there before but a very long time ago, but the other guys hadn’t and that was amazing. I actually thought the whole concept of having a racing carnival out there was brilliant. We played a number of festivals all around the countryside in Adelaide, out of the wineries down there, in Victoria we did the Meredith Festival, we did the Deni Ute Muster, which was great fun. So, yes we have been to some fairly exotic places I must say.”

Icehouse has become a veritable Australian institution, but when they started out as Flowers, they were very much more art rock, veering into pub rock almost. Was it difficult to juggle the musical exploration with the desire for pop success?

“We walked a fine line, hopefully [erring] on the side of quality rather than disposability,” says Davies. “That was really the challenge for me because my listening wasn’t obscure but it was certainly ambitious. I was actually asked the other day what was the first album that I bought and I must have been about 16, and it was a relatively obscure Pink Floyd album called Ummagumma. I don’t know whether you know the content of it but it’s fairly challenging. It surprised me when I remembered that, I guess.

Icehouse - Flowers cover

“Then of course we went through all the punk period,” he continues, “we came out playing right at the tail end of the punk movement. We were an oddity right from the beginning because we were a kind of punk band with synthesizers, which didn’t really fit anybody’s mold 100%, but we got away with being part of that pack. We were playing with people like The Boys Next Door, which was the early version of Nick Cave’s Birthday Party, and Radio Birdman, some really quite challenging bands.

“The trick was really to never lose that edge – and there’s a fair bit of room to negotiate there because we started off as a cover’s band. Included in amongst things that were more contemporary were things that were straight out of the glam period of David Bowie and a good deal of T. Rex – which may sound odd when you put that up against something from the Sex Pistols which we were also playing. It’s basically defining, simple rock and roll so it seemed completely logical in a bizarre sort of way. It was also incredibly infectious and incredibly successful. Although I never successfully emulated writing a Marc Bolan song, [having] that kind of ‘feet in both camps’ thing, as it were, was a guiding light for me in a peculiar way.”

It was a bold and brave move, to be sure: the late 70’s and early 80’s were very tribal musically, in the same way that the 60’s were. It was so pigeon holed back then that one almost had to be a member of a particular tribe – you couldn’t like punk AND metal AND glam or anything else.

“I think what we did was,” Davies muses, “actually, we were aware of that, but we also were very, very conscientious and active about not buying into any of those camps. For example, I remember quite clearly the process of buying clothes, and of course we didn’t have any money in the early days, so everything we got, we got from Op shops in Melbourne when we were down there. If you have a look at what we’re wearing on the cover of that very first Flowers album, we were not new wave, and we were not punk, and we certainly were not new romantic – which was a terrifying fashion when it came out for me! I think by not really buying into any of the fashion statements of a particular camp, we actually carved out our own spot, which was quite interesting in hindsight I suppose.”

It must be said that fashion was pandered to some years later when Davies capitulated and bought into the ‘all Australian rockers must have a mullet’ thing in the ‘80’s…

“I did,” he exclaims wryly, “but the underlying story of that was, actually, I knew what a mullet was and I was absolutely clear that I was not growing a mullet as far as I was concerned. Mullet was a very short sides and the kind of ratty tail. I must admit that from an early age, from even my high school days – where of course I was at a fairly strict boys school – things like long hair were absolutely frowned upon. However, in spite of that I did try to grow my hair because my idol as far as hair was concerned was Robert Plant from Led Zeppelin! And eventually I did sport – around about the Code Blue period [circa 1990] – a full Robert Plant!”

Iva Davies circa 1990 with a "full Robert Plant"

Iva Davies circa 1990 with a “full Robert Plant”

What made sense in the context of the times, certainly doesn’t need to be revisited now…

“Probably not.” Davies agree.

Great Southern Land is rightly considered a bonafide Australian classic song. Davies is overwhelmed by the connection so many have to what is arguably his most well known song, with many going so far as to offer it forward as an alternative national anthem. What makes it more astonishing is that he created it so early in his career as a songwriter.

“It is extraordinary,” he says, “It’s more extraordinary for me because right from the beginning people reacted to it in a way that I didn’t see coming at all. I remember very clearly the process of writing it. More clearly than probably most of the songs that I’ve written because I knew it was a very dangerous thing to take on, so I took the task very, very, very seriously. You’ve got to remember at that point really I’d only written the ten songs that were on the Flowers album, so it was not as if I was incredibly practiced or skilled. I came back from that first international tour and my job was to write the difficult second follow up album to the Flowers album, and Great Southern Land was the first song that I wrote.

“I’d brought back with me technology that was quite new, which was an affordable eight track and a thing called the Linn Drum Machine, which emulated a drum kit fairly well. For the first time I could actually produce quite convincing demo’s. When I took that tape to the record company, everybody was gob smacked and I just didn’t see it coming at all.”

Coincidentally, the week before this interview my wife and I watched Young Einstein on DVD – being English, she’d never seen it, so I thought I’d give her a bit of culture so to speak. The scene featuring panoramic shots of Australia mixed with some comic scenes whilst Great Southern Land plays still holds up really, really well – unlike, possibly, some of the other scenes in the movie.

“I must admit,” he recalls, “it was one of those things that I kind of agreed to and possibly with a bit of quick reflection I thought, ‘oh no, I shouldn’t have done that.’ Strangely enough it’s an incredibly commented-on usage of the song and I had no idea that Young Einstein had the reach that it did. I really never regarded it in the same category as Picnic At Hanging Rock or Mad Max, but an incredible number of people comment on it.”

Icehouse released a new live album in January, recorded at a series of 2013 shows where they performed the Icehouse set in reggae style, of all things, under the title Dubhouse. Davies says it was nothing but fun for him and the band.

Icehouse - Dubhouse cover

“That was actually right at the end of last year and it came out of a completely mad idea, but it was such incredible fun. It came out of a conversation I had about an incident in 1983. At that time we were touring in Europe. It was summer and we had a number one song with Hey Little Girl, it was a very high profile period of my life when I was doing millions of interviews, and there was a lot of pressure on me. We were on a tour, which was really a set of big German summer festivals. There were a lot of people, 20 thousand, and 30 thousand people at these festivals, and the strangest line up of acts you’d ever seen, because the Germans are not selective in terms of trying to keep a theme going through their festivals!

“We had John McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. We had Robert Palmer and we had Crosby, Stills & Nash, somebody like Iron Maiden, a metal band,” he laughs, “and believe it or not, Peter Tosh – [who was] of course a founding member of Bob Marley’s Wailers. I was standing by the side of the stage with our bass player watching Peter Tosh and his band. It was a big band – nine or so guys I think it was, and I said to Guy Pratt, who was our bass player at the time, ‘see the guy at the back doing the, chukka, chukka, chukka, on the guitar, he’s probably really stoned out of his mind – I want HIS job.’ Because there was absolutely no pressure on him whatsoever.

“So, it was a joke at the time, but when I told this person last year about that conversation, they said, ‘Well why don’t you do it?’ I thought about it and thought ‘that’s completely mad and I know a lot of people won’t get it,’ but that’s exactly what we did.

“We turned the entire classic set into reggae arrangements, rebadged ourselves Dubhouse and played one tiny little room in Melbourne called the Esplanade Hotel – it’s a very famous hotel, and another tiny little room in Sydney called the Oxford Arts Factory, and recorded that, and the album you are alluding to, which only came out a couple of weeks ago, is the live recording of it.

“We actually bumped up the size of the band as well so we could have a brass section and another guest vocalist so it was an eight piece. And on occasion, when my son joined us for one of the songs to play lead guitar, it was nine pieces, as he reminds me.”

It sounds like great fun, and apparently Davies has incorporated a couple of those different arrangements into the band’s regular set.


“Yeah,” he concurs before elaborating, “it was a very broad interpretation of reggae, I’ve got to say. Some things turned into ska songs, some things turned into more classic reggae, some things turned into blue beat, and a couple of them went further I guess, in so much as they’re almost Caribbean, very cruisey. It’s those two songs that we actually have imported into our classic set. They’re such fun to play and I think very surprising, for a crowd that hasn’t been following this stuff, how it’s exercised. I think people are really enjoying it and it’s very interesting now in the year of Facebook, I can see the feedback immediately on things like that.

“Well the whole idea [was to have fun] and it was, it was enormous fun, and you’ll get the vibe from the CD because it’s the entire show. It’s the entire evening, and you can really hear what’s going on. It really was basically our Christmas party. That was what it was all about.”

Having done the reggae thing is there any other genre Davies would be interested to explore?

“I’ve had dabbles in various things,” replies Davies. “I co-wrote with a guy from the dance community, in around about 2000, which resulted in what I believe was a great song, but in the genre of trance. My audience has less tolerance than you might imagine for straying from the classic Icehouse sound, and in a strange sort of way, when I’m left to my own devices, by complete osmosis, everything I touch turns into something that sounds like Icehouse.

“It’s quite a peculiar thing. I’ve been guilty of doing that too on a couple of production jobs that I’ve done. I’ve done very little producing over the years, [because] inevitably I end up inflicting my sound on people!”

Davies spent quite a few years off the road, with rumours circulating that he was suffering severe stage fright when he did play as recently as 2012. He agrees that he’s enjoying touring considerably more now.

“I think I am – and partly because we’ve crossed generations now. For example we did Homebake in Sydney, which the promoter warned me a second before I was about to step onto the stage, ‘Oh by the way this is a festival for 20 year olds’, which of course was terrifying, considering that he had instructed us to mainly play our very first album, which was 30 years old!

“About four songs in, my bass player nudged me and said, ‘are you checking out how many of these 18-year olds are singing all the lyrics?’ Sure enough the crowd sang the entire set from beginning to end, which was extraordinary. So, I guess in a peculiar way having arrived at that grand old age of now being fashionable again, just because we’re old, is very enjoyable indeed.” He laughs.

Davies has stated in previous interviews that he often feels that he has two audiences – the one from the Flowers album and the more pop audience from the Man Of Colours days. It seems, having seen Icehouse in 2012, that he’s found a way to reconcile those two potentially disparate groups.

Icehouse - Man Of Colours cover

“I think part of that would be contributed by the same thing that’s brought 20-year olds to it,” he says, “in fact not only 20-year olds but, believe it or not, 10-year olds and 13-year olds. That is the fact we are now living in an age where it is possible to access music going back generations and generations. So, it doesn’t surprise me in a way because people who joined the camp as it were, on Man Of Colours, have now been able to go back with easy access to explore some of those earlier albums and that seems to be what people have done.

“Similarly people who were university students when the Flowers album came out of course lived through the later albums along the way. There’s sort of a very clear development to my ears going from album to album to album. You can almost hear the technology evolving as well. There is a kind of a thread to it.”

The new Dubhouse live album joins 2011’s double retrospective release White Heat in the Icehouse discography, but their last all-new album was Big Wheel in 1993 (1995’s Berlin was a combination of covers and soundtrack music). Davies has stated in interviews that there’s nothing in the vaults, despite rumours persisting of an original album that remains unfinished called Bi-polar Poems. He is quick to quash any hope that that project will see the light of day as a completed work.

“Well, Bi-polar Poems was primarily written between 1997 and 1999,” he explains, “which for me is very old news. Various bits of it are finished and some are not. I’ve had this discussion with Keith – our manager, and co-founder of Flowers – it belongs to a period I really don’t want to revisit in a way, so I’m not unhappy that some of it has leaked out via the Internet and so on and so forth.

“There is certainly no plan to put it out as an official release. So, I guess you could probably say some of it’s in the vault. Certainly some of those songs are yet to see the light of day and I have them well hidden here,” he says with a protective laugh, “but we may well let those go as well, but I don’t think it warrants a commercial release.”

Icehouse - Iva Davies 02

So, is it harder to approach releasing new material when you have such a legacy to live up to?

“Well…” he says, pausing, before answering with a laugh, “I haven’t really set myself the task, so I don’t really know.”

There’s no doubt that new Icehouse material would be extremely welcomed by many, such is their legacy as pop rock maestros, but is Davies likely to release new material again, considering he keeps himself pretty busy doing soundtracks and what-not. Does he feel the imperative to write another pop song?

“’Almost’ is the correct answer to that, I think,” he chuckles. “I should explain that a bit better – while I’m in a touring mode, which is what we’re doing at the moment, my whole writing brain never, ever was turned on. It was always thus. I had very clear blocks of, ‘I am now writing’, and then the next block would be, ‘I am not writing anymore, we are now performing’. The two don’t overlap in any way, shape or form.

“While that’s the case I don’t even think about writing anything. Having said that, about two weeks ago, I replaced and upgraded my Protools system, which is the first time I’ve done that since 2007, which is a very long time. I’m now staring – as we speak – at a massive iMac with limitless possibilities on it that I haven’t yet explored. So, I guess that’s getting one step – and a fairly large step – closer towards actually making a start on it.”
Buy tickets for Icehouse live on Rottnest Island here:

And Hillarys ferry & ticket packages here:

And Barrack Street or Fremantle ferries here:


Category: Interviews

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