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INTERVIEW – Blackie, Hard-Ons – May 2014

| 29 May 2014 | Reply

INTERVIEW – Blackie, Hard-Ons – May 2014

By Shane Pinnegar

Hard-Ons Blackie 02


Peter Black – better known as guitarist & singer Blackie of HARD-ONS, as well as a respected solo artist and member of the more experimental Nunchukka Superfly – eventually calls in for our chat about 15 minutes late. Turns out he was calling the wrong number and someone’s in for a bit of a shock.

“I left some interesting messages on the other person’s phone!” he laughs casually. Just another misadventure in a rock n’ roll story that’s been trundling on and off the rails for thirty years.

Hailing out of Punchbowl, in Sydney’s Western suburbs, Hard-Ons have spent the past three decades shocking punters, venues and parents with their unique brand of hyper-riffy, super-catchy, ultra-loud rock n’ punk n’ metal n’ roll. Thirty years is not only one hell of a career for an indie band – it’s basically a short fucking lifetime where the band have grown up parallel to their fans, heading towards middle age together.

Blackie is a laid back fella who tends not to sweat the small stuff, and his response is typically nonchalant.

“I guess so. I don’t know… do you think about it that way? Like, you’ve got some people that you’ve known for ever and you’ve seen them grow up and head into middle age?”

Well, yeah, I guess I’ve only really got a couple of friends that date so far back that we’ve been through school and everything together.

“Yeah, that’s actually the same as me, Ray and Keish,” he says, a little more thoughtfully. “We met at primary school – not just at high school but primary school. To me we just seem like the same old farts.”

Hard-Ons 30th anniversary tour 2014

Years spent in shabby rehearsal rooms and crappy bombs touring not just Australia, but also Europe and The States, seeing the best and the worst of each other, is enough to put a strain on any relationship. Blackie says that childhood friendship with his bandmates – bassist Ray Ahn and singer/drummer Keish DeSilva, who left the band in 1991 and now only performs with the band sporadically (Pete Kostic occupied the drum stool after Keish’s departure until 2011, and Murray Ruse has the post now) is key to how they’ve put up with each other for so long.

“We just know each other really well,” he explains. “So even when someone’s at their worst, the other person knows how to deal with it; either back off or offer some comfort or whatever. It’s obviously a very strong friendship bond that goes beyond… we are probably friends more than we are band mates but we’re also very musically close band mates too. I think that friendship thing is obviously a very lucky and strong aspect of it.”

When Hard-Ons burst onto the Australian indie scene with their first official gig on 20 June 1984 (at the Vulcan Hotel in Ultimo, Sydney), they were a messy bolt of lightning in an otherwise boring scene. From their debut release, 1985’s Surfin’ On My Face 7-inch single, they wilfully defied categorisation: an ultra-fast blast of furious punk energy, it also had a surf-rock vibe and some of the sweetest melodies since the 60’s girl groups like The Vandellas and The Supremes. Hyperactive, hyper-addictive blasts Girl In The Sweater and All Set To Go followed in quick succession and it seemed like there was no limitations musically for the band at that time.

“No, none whatsoever,” Blackie agrees. “Just whatever we liked, we liked. Look, I think the easiest way to explain it, is we’re a bunch of suburban kids. So when we started playing music and playing a few of the inner-city venues, we sort of couldn’t really understand the mentality of some of the crowds. It was like, ‘I’m only into this’ or, ‘I’m only into that’. We were like, Joy Division is okay, [but] they’re not fucking as good as Deep Purple. We just liked music so it didn’t matter what sort as long as it was good. But obviously you can tell from what we play that we basically like rock and roll.”

For this writer, the first time that I heard Girl In The Sweater – probably on Rage or Beatbox or a similar TV program of that era – I was hooked. The band’s stew of influences seemed to be speaking directly to me – punk attitude, metal riffs, pop melodies, pub atmosphere and a sense of humour. It was like everything I loved about music all wrapped up in one sweaty package.

Hard-Ons Girl In The Sweater 7inch

“Ah good. Well, yeah,” the guitarist continues, “I mean, you know there was loads of that stuff that really had such a massive impact on us. Everything from the Beatles to Accadacca, even when we started a lot of that hardcore started too and we even dug that shit. We loved it all – we just wanted to be a part of it. We were enthralled by it and wanted to do it too.”

If you describe a band has having punk and pop elements nowadays, you’re instantly evoking thoughts of Green Day, Blink 182 or Good Charlotte – Hard-Ons predated them all and were a million miles removed from what became known as pop punk five or ten years later. Blackie remains unmoved by that wave of ultra-successful bands.

“You know… I don’t see a similar theme. Each new generation has their new ideology and things like that. I find for starters, I don’t even know what Good Charlotte sound like, never heard them. I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but… sometimes you do, so yeah, I have no idea what they sound like.

“Green Day; you know, I’ve heard the odd song or 2. I don’t think it’s like us because we had many aspects of what we liked. I think of Green Day as a little bit more focused on one type of sound. Maybe because they’re successful they probably feel the need to stick with one type of sound, but we never have. We sort of just do what we do.”

Hard-Ons Blackie 01

It wasn’t long before Blackie started experimenting with feedback and noise, incorporating more metal riffs into the Hard-Ons sonic attack. As the band’s sound evolved, their attitude stayed exactly the same, and they enjoyed a run of SEVENTEEN consecutive Number 1 singles on the Australian Alternative charts (most featuring amazing and sometimes borderline offensive [to some] cartoonish covers drawn by Ahn), from the metal psych-out (and signature cue for Blackie to go wild on his axe) Suck & Swallow, to their AC/DC collaboration with the mighty Henry Rollins, to later walls of noise Crazy, Crazy Eyes and She’s A Dish. Despite the dramatic evolution, Blackie says they never considered a name change, even after they returned from a five year hiatus in 1998, and Keish again left the band in 2001.

“I would like to think [we evolved],” he says. “but no, because I think even from our first record we’ve had sort of straight ahead pop with quite elaborate metal. You know there’s a song on the first album, I forgot the name, you know the one… I know how it goes but I forgot the title. Fucking studio! I’m working on the new record so my head’s all over the place.

“You know there was some out and out pop and then there was also Made To Love You which was almost prog-metal. So no, we feel we’ve done that sort of shit from day one. For our album there was obviously a little bit of, ‘this is who we are, this is what we like and this is what we want to do.’ So you know there might be times when we focus on it, it just depends what mood you’re in. Sometimes you’re feeling melodic and other times you’re feeling abrasive… whatever.”

Hard-Ons with Henry Rollins

Hard-Ons with Henry Rollins

The band’s national 30th Anniversary tour will see them focussing on their first decade, and fans were invited to vote online for which songs they want to hear, with anything being fair game from the popular singles to deeper album cuts and rare b-sides. At the time of talking Blackie hadn’t had a chance to tally up the votes.

“I have to be honest with you: I haven’t looked, which sounds a little bit selfish, but for the last nearly two months I’ve really been focusing on this new record, so I’m waiting for this record to be finished which it shall be early this evening and then tomorrow I’m going to do a little bit more solo recording. Then I’m going to have a clean slate and see what people are asking for and start playing it. But I’m pretty sure it’s going to be across the board.

“So don’t think I’m not paying anyone any attention, you know – I am. Obviously it’s our first record in a while so I want it to be special so I really had my head buried in rock and roll sand.”

Since then the band have announced, through their Facebook page, that fans had been voting for a list of songs that read like a double best of track listing –

Where Did She Come From, Girl In The Sweater, I Heard Her Call my Name, Just Being With You, I Do I Do I Do, Raining, Don’t Wanna See You Cry, Wog Food, What Am I Supposed To Do, Missing You Missing Me, Stop Crying, Made To Love You, Fuck Society, Dull, Think About You Every Day, Sit Beside You, Ache To Touch You, Something About You, Get Away, It’s Cold Outside, Feast On Flesh, On And On, Rejected, Kill Your Mum, Simple Love, She’s A Dish, Me Or You, Let There Be Rock, Suck And Swallow, All Set To Go.

There won’t be a Hard-Ons fan alive who wouldn’t be thrilled with that as a set list.

Hard-Ons Blackie 03

Blackie keeps himself busy – in addition to the Thirtieth Anniversary Hard-Ons tour and their new album, he’s working on a follow-up to last year’s No Dangerous Gods In Tunnel solo disc, and also released a Nunchukka Superfly album last year after several years away. His solo acoustic gig as part of the Hoodoo Gurus-curated Dig It Up Festival in Sydney in April 2013 was so full no-one could move. The guitarist says it “was a tough gig, [but] it was so cool.” With so many different pots on the boil, it might seem like he’s juggling projects.

“No, I think it’s just the older I get, the more challenges I want because the more I’m loving music, the more I’m digging it, the more I want to do, the more I want to attempt,” he explains. “And yeah, you know I’m just lucky that I do get a lot of ideas and there are times, like, Ray’s just had a baby, so I can’t always ring him at 4 in the morning and go, ‘I got the fucking best riff.’ So you know the solo thing is great because I can just do it by myself at home – ‘I’ve got the best… oh, I’m yelling at myself.’ [laughs] You know, I just pick up the guitar and bash away.

Hard-Ons Motorhead logo

“I enjoy all aspects of it and Nunchukka, we put that album out and are still sort of semi-touring on it and later on in the year we want to focus on a new record as well. We’ve got nearly 20 new tracks. We just write music, we just keep playing. Yeah we’re doing a 30th tour and it’s awesome but it’s just one of the things that we’re doing. I just want to do loads.”

After Keish left the band in 2001 Blackie – who had always sung backing vocals to the drummer – took over the lead vocal duties, but as a special treat for fans Keish is back to sing on this tour, echoing the arrangement for the band’s 21st Anniversary tour.

“He’s laying a bunch of backing vocals on the new record too,” Blackie says, animatedly. “It was awesome, totally. It was so much fun having him in and as the engineer was saying, he was like, ‘you two guys have obviously sung together for so long, your voices really blend together well.’”

I wonder if there was any bad blood to clear, after liner notes on the band’s recent reissues series have seen both Blackie and bassist Ray Anh write about their frustrations touring with a sometimes reluctant De Silva, and with him leaving the band more than once.

“Yeah, look that happened once or twice,” Blackie sighs, “I know he went through some personal shit and that’s fair enough. I know deep down he occasionally still thinks, ‘oh, what if…’ but we’ve never not been friends and you know how it is with friends – you occasionally have tiffs. But we’ve never not been mates.

“And the other thing, Keish plays acoustically as well, so me and him have played a bunch of shows together too. It’s not that strange us doing this. It might seem it to people but you know we even did a gig not long ago, where me and Keish played acoustically and Ray did stand-up. That was like our own version of a reunion!

“I talked to Ray, ‘you know, we should take that on the road, it’d be shit loads of fun, you know. people might keep yelling out all night for Hard-Ons songs, but you know, you’ll have to shut them down with your witty retorts in your stand-up.’”

Hard-Ons 2012

The Hard-Ons reissue series has seen their iconic Smell My Finger, Dickcheese and Love Is A Battlefield Of Wounded Hearts albums already reissued through Citadel Records with a tsunami of singles, b-sides, fan club-only tracks, demos, live recordings, unpublished photos, essays and pretty much everything else bar the kitchen sink. They’re glorious packages – manna from heaven for Hard-Ons fans, and redefine pretty much what a reissue has the potential to be. Blackie’s hoping that the next record in the series, Yummy, will be ready to go for this tour.

Hard-Ons Yummy cover

“I think so, yeah. That will be the second last one. We obviously want to do deluxe re-issues of all the early records because none of them are available anymore, so we just wanted to make them all available. And while we had the opportunity to re-issue them [we wanted to do it] as best as we could, with tons of bonus tracks and liner notes. You know, Ray is digging up shitloads of unseen photos and art and stuff. Basically, all the good stuff that we get off on.

“You know, we get giddy when Buzzcocks did it a little while ago, it was exciting hearing demo versions of their songs. And I don’t have the money at the moment but Small Faces have deluxe-ly re-issued all their back catalogue and I’m like, ‘fuck, I want that!’ That looks so awesome, I fucking need that. So we just wanted to do the same.”

A solo career and a couple of bands is enough to keep anyone busy, but it’s not enough to pay the bills nowadays, and Blackie has worked as a Sydney taxi driver for a bunch of years. Almost exactly two years ago he was jumped by a couple of young teenagers, resulting in a life-threatening fractured skull. Fans leapt to support the guitarist and ease the medical bill burden, which remains ongoing as he says the dizzy spells still haven’t completely stopped.

“About 95%… It still comes back every now and then, but thankfully it’s getting less and less.”

I’d imagine that would have made it hard to get back in the cab and head out picking up fares again? It’s just another thing for Blackie to take in his stride though.

“No it was really easy,” he said, denying that he was nervous of a repeat of the incident. “No, not at all. It just taught me a lesson. They were kids so I wasn’t paying attention, and there was two kids; a boy and a girl. I didn’t even pay attention to the girl – so I’m dealing with the guy, he was a just a little shrimp and he hit me so I grabbed him and while I’m grabbing him I had no idea that the girl would hit me in the back with a skateboard.

“So I woke up in the hospital like, ‘fuck, how did I get here?’ It was only later that the cops told me how I got there. But no, it just taught me a lesson. It doesn’t matter if someone is 8 or 80, any whiff of danger and I’ll deal with it however the situation sees fit.

“It could [have gone a lot worse],” says Blackie. “It was touch and go for a while but I’m okay and you know, once again I can’t say thanks enough for everyone’s support. It was pretty amazing.”

Ray once described the band as being “three migrant kids in the pub – a black guy and a Croatian guy and an Asian guy.” Did they go out of your way to shit-stir people or did that just happen naturally, because they got into all sorts of crazy fucking shit over the years.

Hard-Ons All Set To Go cover

“Yeah – and I think that just happened naturally,” he laughs. “We get loads of people saying, ‘why aren’t you political enough?’ Or ‘why aren’t you fucking trooping the racism flag enough?’ ‘why aren’t you this enough – why aren’t you that enough?’ It’s like, man, us existing is fucking enough. We’re not overtly political because for the most part I think when it comes to music we’re purists. It’s music first, nothing else comes into it. I know a lot of political bands, although they might have really awesome messages and I’m glad some of them are around, for the most part the music is dreadful because it’s secondary to their message and that’s just the way they want to be. We don’t. We’re 100% into the music, everything else is secondary.
“Us carrying on and every now and then the shit-stirring and stuff… a) that’s just the way we are and b) I just love taking the piss and you know, there’s a lot of people in rock and roll who really take themselves too seriously. It’s many faceted – I could go on and on about why we behave the way we do.

“And the other thing,” he continues, “there’s a certain aspect that you have to act cool to make it. I know to me personally, anything that strives to be cool is immediately fucking dog shit. Once again its like, ‘oh wow, so your striving to be cool.’ It’s basically like saying you couldn’t give flying fuck about what you’re doing. You’re basically giving a fuck about how you’re perceived and that’s just musically incorrect.”

Do they feel like “trailblazers”, as Jello Biafra of The Dead Kennedys once called them?

“Probably, I guess so,” Blackie says, perhaps a little bemused that his band should be lauded so strongly by one of his own influences, before railing against the instant gratification generation. “Once again it’s not something we think about. We just do what we do. The only thing I’m sort of conscious of really is just being the best band we could possibly be. Someone even asked me a little while ago, ‘how would you define success?’ And I was like, ‘well why would you even give a fuck about success?’ You know, there are heaps of bands out there who are like, ‘I want to be successful, I want this, I want that.’ It’s like, ‘well why don’t you start by thinking I want to be good? I want to be in a fucking good band.’ Now people don’t do that as much these days…”

Hard-Ons 30th Anniversary WA Tour Dates

Friday May 30 – Prince of Wales, Bunbury (18+)

Saturday May 31 – Augusta Margaret River Football Club, Margaret River (18+)

Sunday June 1 – Railway Hotel, Nth Fremantle (18+)

Monday June 2 – Astor Theatre, Perth (18+) – “Astor Rocks”


This interview was originally published in edited form in X-Press Magazine’s 28 May 2014 issue



Category: Interviews

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