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INTERVIEW – James Reyne – April 2014

| 17 April 2014 | Reply

INTERVIEW – James Reyne – April 2014

James Reyne is currently halfway through another extended lap around the country, playing over a dozen gigs right across the land, and SHANE PINNEGAR caught up with him just before he headed out for the CRAWL TO NOW Tour.

Looking at his music over the past forty years (yeah – forty years!!) you might think Reyne was a pretty laconic sort of bloke – the quintessential Aussie, in some ways. Nothing can prepare you for just how laid back he is on the phone – relaxed, chatty and really not too fussed about anything, especially his past with Australian Crawl, which he variously refers to as “when I was a kid” or his “apprenticeship” in the business.

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Shane: Hey James, how are you doing?

James: Good. How are you?

Shane: Very good, indeed. Thanks for your time today. It’s much appreciated.

James: Well, thanks for speaking to me. Good on you.

Shane: You have a pretty extensive national tour starting next week – are you all raring to go?

James: Yeah, sure. You know, it’s stuff we do all the time anyway, so, yeah, always looking forward to it.

Shane: You’ve been touring for over thirty years. What is it about it that keeps you going?

James: I think, beside the fact it’s how I make my living, by and large, except for a few other things, um … I don’t know. It’s what I do, I guess. You know, I like doing it. I’m always writing songs. Every couple of years I put out a new album, so there’s always plenty of material. It’s nice to get out, it’s a great way to make a living, it’s a great way to see the country and, you know, all sorts of reasons. It’s sort of what I do, you know – it’s my job as well.

Shane: That’s not a bad way to make a living, mate, absolutely. The tour is billed as the Crawl To Now tour which is an awesome name for it, I must admit.

James: Oh, thanks.

Shane: And you’re playing a bit of everything, aren’t you? Right back from the early Australian Crawl days, right through all your solo stuff. Will audiences be surprised by the song selection, or will it be greatest hits, mainly?

James: Yeah. It will be mainly greatest hits, they’ll know most of it. We’re kind of doing a good cross-section when we play anyway, but by giving it a title, people can see it’s a good cross-section from then to now, and also allows me to slide in a couple of new ones to remind people that every couple of years I put out a new album. I mean, last year I had one out called Thirteen just to remind people I’d had thirteen solo records. But, you know, yeah, it will be mainly greatest hits. They’ll know all the stuff, pretty much.

Shane: You and the guys must be pretty pleased with the reception that the Australian Crawl re-releases got earlier this year.

James: Yeah, the guys… which guys? I don’t know which guys you’re talking about.

Shane: The rest of the Australian Crawl fellas…

James: Oh, I don’t know what they think about it. I mean, I just went, ‘Yeah, okay. Put it out,’ you know? I think what happened is that Universal bought EMI, the record company, that all the stuff was on, and I think they realised the stuff still hadn’t been released in digital format, on iTunes and that sort of thing. So they went, ‘Oh, great. This is a way we can do it.’ So… they did all the work, I can take no credit for it. The record company, Universal, they’re fantastic, and they did all the checking it out and doing all the stuff. It’s just that they always seem to take a bit of time to, you know, under all the contractual bits and pieces. But I’ve always tended to just go, ‘I don’t know. If it’s all right, it’s all right. I don’t care.’

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Shane: So you don’t look back proudly upon those days?

James: I don’t look back in any way, because I don’t… I never think about it. I honestly … It never crosses my radar. Unless I’m doing an interview like this and someone asks me about it, I never, ever even think about it. It’s not part of my life, you know? It’s just something I did when I was a kid. And, when I was an apprentice, it was my apprenticeship. So I served my apprenticeship and that was it.

Shane: Do you have any interest in possibly reforming the band for a tour this year? Next year? Whatever?

James: No. You couldn’t. There’s no way because two of them, unfortunately, aren’t with us anymore. And I honesty haven’t spoken to any of the guys for twenty-five or more years, so I have no idea. The two others, I haven’t spoken to them. I don’t know what they do. They do what they do. And you just couldn’t – it wouldn’t be the same. That’s not to say that I never say never to me going out and doing some form of something, you know? Watch this space, I guess. I don’t know.

Shane: We’ll see what happens, I guess. It sounds like you’re pretty happy doing what you do?

James: Yeah, I’m very happy, and I’m very happy doing it. And, you know, let’s just see. Let’s see what the future brings, you know? I don’t know. You could never reform the band, put it that way. That’s a definite. But that’s not to say that, you know, I couldn’t go out. I still play with John Watson, who played drums in Australian Crawl. He’s played with me, you know, he’s in my band. So, you know, we often look at each other and we go, ‘Whoa.’ We’ve known each other … We’ve been playing together twenty eight something years. No, I think it’s twenty nine … It’s nearly thirty years he and I have been playing together.

Shane: Wow.

James: And I knew him when I was a kid, and we did a tour with Willie Nelson in New Zealand. It was us and Willie Nelson and The Little River Band, I think, and we were really young. And we never had … I don’t think we’d ever been out of Australia. And I remember Willie’s drummer, who was called Satan or something, I remember him telling us… ‘We played with Willie for twenty-eight years.’ I remember then, going, ‘That’s impossible. That is unbelievable. Wow.’ And now John and I have played together for [the same] time.

Shane: You’ve zigged and zagged all over the place, musically. A bit of rock here, some country there, you’ve done the singer-songwriter thing, almost folky-rock at some point. You did the Elvis album, T.C.B., a couple of years ago. Do you like going in different directions so you can stretch yourself musically and vocally? Is that what it’s all about for you?

James: Yeah, I think so. If something appeals at the time, I’ll just go and I’ll do it, if it’s possible to do and it seems like it’s fun and interesting, I’ll certainly do it. And I think it’s also the more I do it, I’ve got better, you know? I certainly call myself a singer. I wouldn’t have called myself a singer when I was younger, but I’m certainly … I think I’m a singer now, and I keep working on it. I’m definitely a better singer, certainly. Definitely a better songwriter. Definitely a better … I’m better because it’s a craft, and I’ve done this craft now for thirty-plus years, so… You know, you do anything for that long and you … You’re smarter and you try to learn from it. You can only get better, you figure, whether you’re making coffee tables or being a singer.

Shane: Totally.

James: Or brain surgery, or whatever you’re doing.

Shane: I remember Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols saying as much when they reformed in the nineties. They said, ‘Are you sounding better?’ and he answered, ‘Well, yeah, man. We’ve had twenty years to practice.’

James: That’s exactly right.

Shane: How faithfully do your fan base follow you when you do something left-of-center and go in a different direction than they might expect?

James: It depends. It depends how out of and far away from what they would expect of me. Yeah, the T.C.B. thing was great fun and I worked with some fantastic people, especially Charles Fisher, who produced it. And it was financed by Michael Gudinski and Liberation, Mushroom Liberation, which was really nice of them. And, you know, I think we made a really good record, considering what it was. But I don’t think people … A lot of people just don’t … they go, ‘Oh, what is he doing?’ It’s a bit of a left turn, and they don’t quite [get it.] So it didn’t really work, commercially. But it worked for me because I had a great time doing it, and it was a little bit, sort of a challenge, that we entered into, and we kind of did a good job with it, I think.

We didn’t make idiots of ourselves, you know. We started off almost laughing about it, going, ‘This is so presumptuous, trying to do Elvis Presley songs.’ But we looked at it like, the biggest mistake you can make is to try and be Elvis, so obviously we weren’t going to do that. You just try and do good versions of good songs.

Shane: I thought it sounded really cool. It sounded like you guys were having fun.

James: Yeah, we did. We put a good band together and we just had a good time. I mean, we worked with some people we always wanted to. Vika Bull came and sang, which is great because she’s a fantastic singer, and, you know, we just had a great time doing it.

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Shane: Going right back to Australian Crawl days, you’re always going to be associated with summer and sun and beaches and babes and songs about them. It must be hard to shake that?

James: [Laughing] I guess. I can’t think of one song we wrote about… Ohhh… maybe a couple, yeah, I guess. Well, yeah, that was certainly the image that we had. [But] that’s the kind of people we were. We grew up on the coast, you know? We grew up in a suburb that was near the coast, so we were affected by the coastal surf culture. That was part of our upbringing, so you can’t kind of escape your upbringing. That was fun, you know? And it’s a good thing. So it was what we were naturally anyway. So, I guess, as you grow up, you move away from those things, but that’s all right.

Shane: I believe you did the Crawl To Now show at The Basement in Sydney originally mid-last year?

James: Yeah.

Shane: And you recorded that, is that right?

James: No, we didn’t record it. We just did it. We turned up at the Basement in Sydney and, it worked really well, so we thought, ‘Let’s go and do some more.’ It’s an acoustic show, I have to tell you that. It’s an acoustic show.

Shane: Yeah.

James: So it’s me, Brett Kingman, who has played with me forever. I mean, Brett’s played with me for twenty-five years. So me and Brett on acoustic guitar and singing. And Brett’s sister Tracy Kingman singing. Three voices, two guitars – an acoustic set. It works well. Really well. I think the Basement can hold about two hundred and fifty, three hundred people. So it works really well in that sort of environment, so that’s the kind of places we’ll be doing. And we’ll probably just go out and do it quietly and see how we go.

Shane: You haven’t played some of those Australian Crawl songs in a while I believe. Was it surprising to revisit the arrangements of them and also to get your head around where you were when you wrote them?

James: [pauses] Yeah, it was. Well, not surprising. I think, you know, you see … I went back and looked at a couple of them, went, ‘Oh, my goodness.’ I mean, you know, ‘Jesus.’ They all seem like novelty songs to me, to be honest. All of them – every single Australian Crawl song sounds like a novelty song to me. So it just seemed like we were learning a bunch of novelty songs. A couple of them more novelty than others, but, you know, we were young. We were just learning. So sometimes you surprise yourself. ‘Oh, that was good.’ All of the ideas were very simple ideas, but some of them were quite… you think, ‘Oh, that wasn’t a bad idea.’ But this is not an Australian Crawl show. This is just, like, some of the stuff. It’s just a good cross-section of everything from then to now.

Shane: You’ve made a lot more music post-Australian Crawl, than you did with the band.

James: Yeah, about ten times more.

Shane: Yeah. So it must be interesting because there’s always going to be a certain percentage of people in the room who only know you from the Australian Crawl hits.

James: Yeah, and the solo ones. They seem to put it all under one umbrella, you know. You play Fall Of Rome, Slave, Hammerhead, Motor’s Too Fast, One More River, you know, those kind of songs, and they’ll know them. They’ll sing along loudly, and with great gusto. They stick it under one big thing, you know?

Shane: Does it get annoying to constantly hear people calling out for Boys Light Up or whatever?

James: No, I don’t mind, if it’s in the right moment. But if you’re in the middle of [something else], you know, people often call out in the middle of some quiet moment, ‘Play Boys Light Up!’ But that means that they’re just an idiot – that’s annoying.

Shane: There’s plenty of them out there.

James: Oh, there are. Believe me. There are also plenty of nice people. For every idiot, there are about ten really nice people, I have to say. I’ve learned that. A lot of idiots out there, but for every idiot, there are at least ten nice people.

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Shane: I’d hope the ratio is a little more in favour of us nice guys… [Laughing]

James: Oh, it certainly is. It certainly is. And people who know how to behave. But, you know, there’s certainly a lot of fools out there.

Shane: Totally. You were bestowed the Order of Australia in January. That was pretty radical.

James: Yeah, it was. That was radical, yeah. It was a very big surprise, but I was sort of chuffed, you know. Whoa!

Shane: Absolutely. If Tony Abbott has his way, you might be Sir James in a few years.

James: This is… bloody Abbott… of course Abbott comes out with this ‘Bunyip Aristocracy’. Ahhh good old Tony… It seems like an odd thing to do after all this time. But it’s just paying lip service…

Shane: I don’t know. ‘Arise, Sir James.’ It has a ring to it.

James: No, I love it. Oh, it would be great! I’m lucky enough to know quite a few teenagers at this point in my life, [Reyne has a 14 year old daughter] and I tell them, ‘You’ve got to call me ‘Sir James’ or ‘Lord Jim’.’ [laughs] I try and make them. But, of course, they have no respect for me whatsoever.

Shane: [Laughing] Of course not! Going back to the early days, I have to ask if this story is true: I remember reading somewhere that you said in an interview, that when you did that that first appearance on Countdown with your wrists in casts, it went down really, really well, and some bright spark at the record company turned around and said, ‘Hey, you should keep those casts on all the time. It’s a really great gimmick.’?

James: Ohhh, probably. Yeah, they said stuff like that all the time. The only thing I remember with those things is, I remember saying ‘a) people are going to think this is a gimmick, and b) the good side is, if nothing ever happens from here on in, at least we’ll be recognised everywhere we go in Australia as the band with the lead singer with his arms in plaster. There is that, and at least they’ll remember us.’ So it was a blessing and a curse. And that was ’78 or ‘79, and people still talk about it, so, you know…

Shane: Funny. Finally, a hypothetical for you.

James: Yeah…?

Shane: If you could magically go back in time and be part of the recording of any one record in history, which would you choose to visit?

James: Probably One For My Baby And One More For The Road, with Frank Sinatra singing, because that is one of the greatest vocals I’ve ever heard.

Shane: Fantastic. Awesome, mate. Look, than you so much for your time.

James: Thank you very much.
Friday 4th Wrestpoint, Hobart, TAS
Saturday 5th Country Club, Launceston, TAS
Friday 11th Flying Saucer Club, Caulfield, VIC
Saturday 12th Royal Theatre, Castlemaine, VIC
Sunday 13th Caravan Club, Oakleigh, VIC
Thursday 17th Lizottes, Newcastle, NSW
Friday 18th The Basement, Sydney, NSW
Saturday 19th Lizottes, Dee Why, NSW
Sunday 20th Lizottes, Kincumber, NSW
Wednesday 30th Friends Restaurant, Perth, WA
Thursday 1st The Deck Restaurant, Busselton, WA
Friday 2nd Charles Hotel, Perth, WA
Sunday 4th Boab Tavern, Wycombe, WA
Friday 9th Norwood Hotel, Adelaide, SA
Saturday 10th Goolwa Aquatic Centre ‘Concert Club’, Goolwa, SA


Category: Interviews

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