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| 3 February 2015 | Reply

By Shane Pinnegar

Shortly after the release of their killer EP The Last Great Hope, we got Electric Mary’s laconic lead singer on the line to discuss the release, the European tour they were about to embark upon, and where the band goes from here. Little did we know, the answers to those questions would encompass a much wider overview of the music industry in Australia, and the problems a band of Electric Mary’s standing face from day to day.

It’s no secret that this writer rates Electric Mary as hands down the best live rock band in this country over the past few years. They’re authentic, ball-tearing, and take no prisoners. They have the songs, the attitude, the sound. What they don’t have is the backing of an industry full of ulterior motives and hidden agendas – as we shall discover.

Electric Mary - Rusty Brown 01
100% ROCK: Congratulations on The Last Great Hope EP – it’s a fucking ball tearer!

Rusty: Oh, thanks mate. We had a great time making it and just by the response of people, it seems to be going off really well inside their rock n’ roll DNA – they’re loving it.

100% ROCK: Can you clear up, what does the title of the EP refer to? Because you could take it a couple of different ways…

Rusty: ‘The last great hope’ is actually a throwaway line that a journalist used in England when reviewing our last album. At the end of the review he said, ‘are these guys the last great hope?’ So we read that and we had a bit of a chuckle to ourselves, and said, ‘oh, what a great title for an album!’ So Alex, our bass player, was doing the artwork, he came up with the Mary Magdalene holding the guitar and we were trying to come up with names, and he said, ‘what about, The Last Great Hope?’ And, so I started picturing Mary and rock n’ roll, you know, rock n’ roll fading a little bit, religion fading a bit. So Mary’s got the guitar and she’s holding it out and saying, ‘well, I’m outta here so let’s see what rock n’ roll can do.’

100% ROCK: Nice, that’s cool and I love that it ties right in with the cover as well.

Rusty: Yeah.

100% ROCK: Now, I know that you named the band Electric Mary after Mary Campbell, who managed the Electric Lady studios in New York. You met her in the early 2000s, I believe. And now the lead track off the EP is also about her, Sweet Mary C. Was that song written way back when or is this a new composition?

Rusty: It’s brand new. I wrote that on a little road trip to country New South Wales, actually. A friend of ours has a cabin off of the Murray River. I actually stayed there for a couple of days and it was the very first song I wrote [there]. I grabbed the guitar out of the car, went into the room, made sure everything was going on, pressed record and started playing and… honestly, when you hear people say, ‘I wrote that song in five minutes’? Well, maybe it was eight minutes, but it didn’t take very long. It just came out, and I just started singing these words. And I knew what I was saying because Mary had been sick and I have been talking to her maybe a week before that. I reckon she was on my mind, and I reckon that I just started saying it. As I was writing stuff I was thinking, ‘I kind of know what I’m saying here. I want to tell the story about how I met her.’ and, you know, I have told the story many times, but not in a song.

Yeah, that’s what it is: sweet Mary Campbell is Sweet Mary C. She’s chuffed with the song, actually.

Electric Mary - The Last Great Hope EP cover

100% ROCK: Well, I was going to ask; how does she feel about knowing she inspired not only the band name, but a brand new song?

Rusty: Ah yeah, she loves it man. We’ve stayed in contact ever since that in 2003. The band lived with her for a month and then a couple of weeks another time in 2010 I think, with her and her husband – they live just outside of New York. She had a great old house and we stayed there and we wrote tunes, recorded in another studio that she’s running at the moment. Yeah, so we’re still in contact.

100% ROCK: A special lady, hey?

Rusty: A fantastic lady. I mean, her stories, absolutely, should be in a book. That’s real 100% truth, but her stories should be in a book.

100% ROCK: Did you get a chance to record in Electric Ladyland yourself?

Rusty: No, we didn’t. It actually closed down for a while.

100% ROCK: Yeah, they refurbed it, didn’t they?

Rusty: Yeah, they got new owners again, and they’ve asked her back a couple of times but she just… I don’t know. I think that the old owner and her just had a special bond, and the people in there she worked … I mean, there was also Electric Dave, so everyone there who works there is ‘Electric’-somebody.

So there is Electric Dave and she’s Electric Mary. And, yeah, mate, she just stuck it out where she was. I think she’s actually since moved to another studio, The Barber Shop, which I did visit in New York, as well, where Jeff Buckley’s first album Grace was mixed. It’s a great little studio, too.

100% ROCK: You had a couple of line-up changes recently, through 2013-14. Drummer Venom, especially, seemed a pretty integral part of Electric Mary. Was it a blow to lose him and the other guys?

Rusty: Well, Venom and I have been together for about 17 years now; he was, and is, a big part of our history. He just decided with a few chats we were having that it kind of wasn’t going the way he wanted it to go anymore. We sat around on our hands for a while not knowing what to do, then he said, ‘I’m just going to opt out of this.’ [sadly] I then sat around for another two weeks and got back to him and said, ‘well, I’m going to keep going.’ So, yeah, that’s where it is. And Irwin left in about 2010. He headed over to New York, and then he moved to L.A., then he moved to Sweden. He’s actually doing this tour with us because Brett can’t make it, unfortunately. So, Irwin’s back on board for this tour of the U.K. and Europe.

Rusty Brown - Electric Mary

100% ROCK: In a position like that, is it hard to find a replacement band member to someone like Venom who’s been there for so long and is so synonymous with the band and then, when someone comes in like that, not change the character of the band?

Rusty: Yeah, look, you’re totally right. Venom has his thing and we’re known for that; it’s part of our sound, part of our swagger. We tried out three or four guys but the guy who came in, I had a feeling that he would be right. It’s a different kind of drumming. Venom, he had his feel and he had great fills. He was your, kind of, Ginger Baker/Ian Paice type drummer. Whereas Davey is more along the Bonzo kind of drummer, where it’s all about swing and feel and rhythm. So, I knew it would work because it’s a risk-based band, ‘everything’s on the one’ kind of thing. It’s really good, [we’re] really enjoying it. He’s been accepted great by the fans.

100% ROCK: I’m not blowing smoke up your ass here but I honestly believe Electric Mary’s about the best live, hard-rock band in Australia right now. Why don’t we see promoters, and even mainstream radio taking more of a chance on the band?

Rusty: Look, I think they will try now because we’ve started to use a PR company. The band is self-managed and self-financed. So when I say “self-managed,” I probably just answered your question, didn’t I? [laughs]

Because, no-one wants to deal with the band, that’s the problem. I mean, I’ve asked many people would they be interested in the band and they kind of just look at me and say that, ‘You’re already doing it, so I don’t understand what I’m going to do.’ I say, ‘yeah, yeah, we’re doing it but we want to climb three or four more rungs up the ladder and we can’t do it because we don’t have the knowledge.’ We have the stage thing and the recording thing down, but we don’t have the managerial skills to step to the next level. But, while we don’t have a manager, we have to keep doing it. Does that make sense?

100% ROCK: Absolutely. My concern as a rock fan is: you’ve got all these Days On The Green concerts and Blues-n-Roots festivals, and all this sort of stuff; and there’s a lot of ‘80s and ‘90s classic rock acts that do these things over and over again. Not to be insensitive to any of them, but in 10 or so years a lot of them are going to be retired, some of them will pass on… Promoters are being quite short-sighted in that they’re not grooming the next level of headliners; and I think if you wanted to throw a dart at the Australian rock dart-board, you guys have got to be up there as one of the few bands who have the presence to manage a big stage like that. But, you need to get the exposure to the people at large for them to know you a bit more and that sort of thing. That’s the hard part, I guess.

Rusty: Well, look, it depends on where we sit in the scheme of things. Now, I spoke to -I’ve forgotten his name now, I think he manages Grinspoon and he manages some other bands. I tried to see if we could get some shows with him. He manages Airbourne as well and he said to me, ‘look, with no disrespect to you guys at all, but you’re an older band and because we’re a Triple-J type band, we use those types of bands as supports.’ Even though it twinged a little bit with my ego, I actually appreciated what he was saying because he was telling the truth.

We’re not a Triple-J band, so why would a Grinspoon, or a… I mean, who are the rock bands? We’ve played in South Africa with Powderfinger and they made us play an hour after they had finished because they said, ‘you’re not the type of band we usually get to support us.’ So we had to play an hour after they finished. I was greatly disappointed with that because they were splitting up 3 months later, you know, so it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter to them. You know The Living End? They’re not going to take a band like us on the road. Grinspoon… who else? Maybe a Shihad might, but they kind of lean towards Triple-J as well. You know, who’s the best band for us to play with? Barnesy? Baby Animals?

Electric Mary 02

100% ROCK: Well, I think they would be a good double. At King’s Park and the wineries and things; but whether you can sell that to people, that’s another question. I mean, I wonder how much of this is the headliners being a bit too shy to follow a band that is as good live as you are.

Rusty: Pfffft… yeah… see, I don’t believe in that because we’re just there to make the whole evening a great thing. We did a show for PRS Guitars in Maryland – how funny is that? Maryland – Stevensville in America, and there are some great people on there. Bernie Marsden was on there, so I met him. He wrote Here I Go Again, and a couple of [other] hits by Whitesnake. I said, ‘I’d love you to come and watch us because I’ve been a Deep Purple & Whitesnake fan and I’m guessing you know a lot of what you’ve done is in my DNA, and you’ll see it in the band, I guess and that doesn’t mean I’m copying, it means that means a lot.’

So he comes and watches us. He said, ‘you guys are great.’ We started talking about Deep Purple and Alice Cooper and all the bands we’ve played with, because Alice Cooper was great but Deep Purple wasn’t so forthcoming. And he said, ‘you’re going to struggle supporting those bands.’ I said, ‘yeah, I’d love to go overseas and support some of those bands.’ He said, ‘I don’t think it’ll happen; you’re too good.’ I said, ‘what do you mean?’ He said, ‘you don’t understand, as they get older their egos get bigger because their audiences get smaller and they have to keep clinging on to whatever it is. They’re not going to have a band as good as you play before them.’

I said, ‘but that’s crazy – we’re there just to play and warm up the audience and make it a great night,’ which is exactly what Alice Cooper said to us: ‘you guys are great, you lift the audience up. I go out there and just go ‘bang.’ He said, ‘I’ve played with bands that take the audience so far down, I can’t even win my own audience back.’ He said that to us. And he said, ‘you know, you’ve got to stay in contact with my manager.’ And [his manager] was standing there with us, and he’s tugging on Alice’s shirt going, ‘okay Alice, got to go on now, got to go on.’ They’re just not interested – it wasn’t Alice Cooper, he was a genuine guy – he was great. But their manager is thinking, ‘It ain’t going to happen Alice’. I don’t say that in an egomaniacal way, because you were just pointing it out.

But I’ve had people actually say that and I’m like, ‘really? I’d just like to play man. I just want to play.’ I mean, we played with Deep Purple, most of those people wouldn’t know us, they’re 55-60 years old. We got a standing ovation in Canberra and a standing ovation in Adelaide for a 30-minute support band set, who no one knew in 2010, they just simply didn’t know us, and I think that’s what Bernie Marsden was trying to say. They’re just not going to have you on, you know?

Electric Mary 03

100% ROCK: You’re too much of a threat, but it’s a catch-22, isn’t it? You’re stuck in that little middle ground where you can’t get a wider fan base into the mainstream because no one is going to give you the opportunity, but you’re not going to get the opportunity unless you already have it – so it’s a fucking killer.

Rusty: The only way you can do it is pay them, pay to play. So we’d have to go overseas, or even here if somebody toured here, and pay the promoter to let us on the bill. If you had a record company, it’s not uncommon – if you had a record company and they have a $50,000 promotional budget, or even $25,000, that they might offer that $25,000 to the promoter to put them on a 3 or 4 week tour, because why wouldn’t they?

100% ROCK: All right, well, you’d better go and buy a lotto ticket, mate.

Rusty: [laughs] I’ve got two in my drawer now.

100% ROCK: There you go, there you go. So how’s the band’s profile over in Europe? I mean, you’ve got this 16 date tour coming up very shortly; you leave this week…

Rusty: This Saturday, yeah. It’s really good, man, really good. Again, that was born out of doing some shows with Whitesnake in 2009. And the first gig we played [over there] was to about 15 people, yeah, just a little café and then you get another one from there and suddenly, as we were about to leave the guy asked me – someone from Germany hasn’t come in, could you play here, and that was to about 3 or 4 hundred people – and they weren’t expecting us ‘cos they’d come to see this other band.

So that was really good and out of that we played Hellfest in 2010 which was fantastic. We took Nathan Cavaleri on the road with us, then. Funny that Irwin should be coming on the road to Europe with us – he’s never played there, oh, yeah, he played Whitesnake the first time. But he’s never really done a long tour with us because we’ve taken 4 different guitarists. We had Irwin, then we had Nathan Cavaleri, then we had Glenn Proudfoot, then we had Brett Wood and now we’ve gone back. So this is our 6th time in Europe.

100% ROCK: Wow you just have to win them over one at a time, eh?

Rusty: Yeah. So look, it’s really good. There’s a place in Spain where we’re playing two shows this time. We sold out one last time and they asked us to stay and do two in a row, so that’s great.

100% ROCK: Excellent.

Rusty: Yeah, it’s fantastic.

100% ROCK: That’s great. Will you be doing a full Australian tour, including Perth, again? It’s been a couple of years.

Rusty: Yeah, we had a meeting a couple of weeks ago with an agent and he’s definitely talking about Perth but he was talking more about the March area in 2015. Yeah, look, when we get home we’ll do 4 or 5 shows here and then it will be 2015 before you know it. We haven’t been to Sydney, Perth, Adelaide, Queensland – anywhere, for quite a while; at least [a couple of] years. And we really want to do this, especially with this EP getting such great reviews and we just hope they continue – Triple M has played it at night, a little bit [and to their credit have continued to do so since – Editor]. Regional radio seems to have cottoned onto it. And I’m hoping we’re going to come back with an even bigger story from Europe so that we can build in our own country. Which it’s kind of a shame that you need to go over there to build in your own country, but that’s just how it works.

Electric Mary 01

100% ROCK: Well, you wouldn’t be the first Australian band to have to do that, would you? [laughs]

Rusty: No, no, no.

100% ROCK: Awesome man, well look, that’s great. We can only hope that you get the EP sold and you get bigger and bigger gigs and that you finally crack through that bloody golden ceiling that they say they put over the top of you.

Rusty: Yeah [laughs] it doesn’t seem so golden to me – more, black plastic.

100% ROCK: [laughs] The gaffer tape ceiling. Awesome man, thanks for your time.

Rusty: Yeah, no problem, thank you. Thanks for your support.

Category: Interviews

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Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE

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