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| 2 July 2023 | Reply

By Shane Pinnegar

As Dave Warner – Australia’s first punk with band Pus, OG Suburban Boy with Dave Warner’s From The Suburbs, lauded novelist and screenwriter – rehearses with (most of) the original lineup of suburban heroes From The Suburbs – Tony Durant, Paul Noonan, John Denison and Howie Johnstone – for the IT’S STILL A MUG’S GAME tour starting early July, we interrupted his frantic schedule of author tours, promoting his latest single release (Ode To Ochs) and said rehearsals to answer some probing questions about Suburban history.

Dave Warner photographed in Customs House bar at Circular Quay, NSW, on 20 February 2017 by Bleddyn Butcher

100% ROCK: Hi Dave, thankyou again for taking time out to answer some questions. We’ve done this a few times now, but there’s always new ground to explore with such a long and storied career!

The big news right now is the impending It’s Still A Mug’s Game tour, which starts in a couple of weeks. Am I correct in thinking this is going to more places than you’ve played live in recent years?

DAVE WARNER: Yes and no. I’ve been doing loads of small gigs, often libraries, but not a bunch of larger venues, at least not since Covid hit. The tour was planned for May 2020 and all states were booked except Tasmania, but we had to cancel in early March.

100% ROCK: Without giving the game away completely, what can fans expect from this tour?

DW: The idea was to do all the tracks from the Mug’s Game album with the five original album musos still left standing. Of course, we lost Johnny Leopard years back. We will also play a few of the hard-core Suburbs favourites. It will be a bit more in ya face than my last few times on the road.

100% ROCK: In your recent novel River Of Salt you wrote a song, No Good Can Come From This,  into the story, which you then released as a stand-alone single. I know you did some musical theatre in the past, but was it satisfying to finally tie up your musical and literature vocations in one project like this?

DW: It was a lot of fun, especially as I really like No Good Can Come From This. Hopefully it is fun also for readers of the novel to be able to play the song as they read that passage.


100% ROCK: You’ve just released the Ode To Phil Ochs single – a song you started some fifty years ago! Do you release now as much for your own benefit as for your fans clamouring for new material?

DW: Yes, and I think it was always that way for Suburbs songs, or Dave Warner songs. As you say I started that song as a young student after meeting Phil Ochs, but it wasn’t complete. A few months back I completed it and then Martin Cilia and I recorded it. I really like that song. It tells of my experience as a young person and is a tribute to the great Phil Ochs who tragically took his own life in 1976.

100% ROCK: With hundreds of unrecorded songs dating back to the ‘70s, how do you prioritise which you spend time and money on recording?

DW: Great question. Sometimes it is just a matter of what is the simplest or cheapest track to bring to life as I hear it in my head. Sometimes I play the songs to Martin or one of my other collaborators and a song jumps out for them, so we do that one.

100% ROCK: A couple of years ago you finally finished your wife Nicole’s album, which you’d started years before. No doubt it was very satisfying for you both to get that finished and released, despite the shows planned for the release falling by the wayside due to the pandemic. Are there any other pet projects up your sleeve which you really want to finish off?

DW: Oh yes. For a start I’m well into recording about 25 tracks, mainly unrecorded older songs but new ones too. These will be split into 2 albums, the first Dirty Windscreens, Heartache and Beer should be ready November. As the title suggests, it is a country-tinged album but as with most of my albums it’s a hybrid. It travels along that path of Zevon or Ochs, where the main thing is the attitude rather than the style.

I also want to record a coastal album in the style of Brian Wilson – of course I can’t match him but I want to experiment with those sounds.

100% ROCK: Satire and social commentary played an important role in The Suburbs career, with characters like Zongo and Derek and Sandra. How relevant do you feel these guys are nowadays?

DW: I think anybody coming to the gigs in July will find them ultra-relevant. The thing that helps satire is the self and smug certainty of the self-appointed gurus of public opinion and boy do we have that. Be prepared to be outraged as Derek, Sandra, Zongo live their lives in 2023.

100% ROCK: The late, great Johnny Leopard is particularly missed, of course. When embarking on a Suburbs tour with the rest of the old gang, is it important to you to pay tribute to your fallen friend?

DW: We pay tribute to Johnny every time we get together. We loved him, and for me he was a partner in crime. We disagreed on lots of things, but we just fitted together perfectly when we worked.

100% ROCK: You’ve collaborated with Tony Durant and Martin Cilia for many years now. Is it possible for you to describe the chemistry there, the bond you share as musicians?

DW: From the first time I played my songs to Tony in 1976 in London, he got them. He came up with the perfect lines to enhance the song. So what Leppo was on stage for me, Tony is when we work through nascent songs. Martin is just a consummate guitarist who can take any of my songs in any style and start to shape them with me into an end product.

100% ROCK: You’ve been a songwriter, musician, author for your entire adult life. Was a creative career your childhood vision?

DW: From the age of twelve I wanted to write books but I knew I wouldn’t be able to do that as a teen, so I went to my next great love, music.

100% ROCK: Any creative person struggles with imposter syndrome – many never publishing a song or a story because they simply don’t think themselves good enough. You’ve always had the confidence to put your work out there, from a very young age, and through changing times when your music was not the flavour of the week, so to speak. Can you define firstly where that confidence initially came from?

DW: It might seem I am always confident but often I have been full of doubt. The thing that works for me is that I don’t want to die wondering. I want to try to bring to life every idea I have because it excites me, and as much as I hate failure, and criticism can hurt, I feel compelled to have a go at it. It’s almost like the creative work is demanding I do my best to realise it.

100% ROCK: …and then how you felt capable to keep at it when crowds diminished, sales ebbed and flowed, and your own interests diversified?

DW: In 1981 after I released what I still think is a very good album, This Is My Planet, and it got no airplay and was slammed in Rolling Stone Magazine, I’d had enough. I was coughing blood every night – the cigarette smoke in venues was literally killing me. So, I gave away the idea of being a rock star. I never liked the repetition of gig after gig anyway. It is very confronting to turn your hand to something else. Fortunately mates like Tony and Johnny helped, and my fabulous hard core of about 400 fans. But it’s not easy, like waving a wand and it happens. It’s more Combat than Bewitched.

100% ROCK: Between your books and music, you’re obviously making a living – is that a struggle at times when being heard above the tsunami of static out there is so difficult?

DW: Oh, definitely. I wouldn’t be able to make a living and support a family off my music and books. Only television paid a big enough wage for that. My books aren’t released overseas (except for one German edition) and I never had a proper album release internationally. I envy bands who can travel overseas and play gigs to fans. I would have loved that. And yes, it’s impossible to be heard for an old guy like me on apps like Spotify.

100% ROCK: Do you have any tips on getting your product/projects noticed on social media – or do you have a broad enough fanbase that marketing directly to them is enough?

DW: I post regularly on social media in the wild hope that I’ll make a new fan, and that fan will bring another fan. It seems my peers who know my music really only do FB – they’re too old for other apps. Book people – women in particular – seem to engage on Instagram. Nutcases and tweens react to my Tik Tok posts that I often do just for a laugh.

100% ROCK: Do you get many younger fans discovering your music, possibly through their parents’ records or whatever?

DW: A few but nowhere near as many as I would like. I think if the Suburbs got invited to some big outdoor events we might. At my age you need somebody to do the breakthrough article or TV series that says, ‘you’re hip’. You know, if Courtney Barnett, for instance, raved about me, maybe I would get some fans. Young people though don’t get satire so I could also be burned at the stake.

100% ROCK: If you were never to write another word, release another song or publish another book, what do you think your legacy would be? Despite being rudely snubbed by some music so-called historians, will Dave Warner be remembered as an important player in Australian music and/or literature?

DW: [There’s] no chance of being remembered by literary types, but I hope people will enjoy my books for years to come. Maybe some fresh rock history will look at tracks like African Summer, Half Time At The Football, etc and see they are really unique and value that. Most likely though my legacy will die out with the last of the hard-core fans.

100% ROCK: Obviously, it’s important that your music and your shows were integral to many people’s lives. Do those collective memories matter as much as a mention in a documentary such as Something In The Water, or appearances at festivals celebrating West Australian or Australian music?

DW: Oh, connecting with fans is in the end much more important than public wider recognition. I’ve had mates of a fan dying in Darwin hold the phone out to me at the Charles Hotel so I could dedicate a song, I’ve had kids of hard-core East Fremantle supporters ask for my songs so they could be played at funerals, and on happier notes had people play my music loud every Anzac Day!

But what irks with those other things is that they are ignorant. They put out a false truth and people don’t know better. Lots of people hate my music and always have, but whether you love or hate the Village People you can at least acknowledge they were important to disco!

100% ROCK: The recent WA Day concert inexplicably featured Mark Seymour and Amy Shark as headliners – both acts with no West Aussie ties at all. Do you agree that there were many, many acts – including yourself – who should have been on the bill ahead of anyone from out of state?

DW: Yes of course. Nothing against Mark or Amy, but why not have them headline a concert at a different time. It was that kind of frustration that led me to create The Monster’s Back, fifty years ago.

100% ROCK: Last time we spoke we took a deep dive into the wonderful A Million Miles From Home – one of my favourite songs of yours, and one which meant a lot to me as I travelled through Europe in the ‘90s. I’d like to delve into another of your important tracks now, if you don’t mind… Half Time At The Football. What were the origins of this one?

DW: I could take a week… In short, I wanted to create a four-dimensional song that was almost like watching a live play, except that the audience was part of the cast. And I wanted to create something in music that was like a Thomas Pynchon novel being performed live. I wanted to insult, delight, and have fun but at the same time render a typical suburban Saturday afternoon. And I don’t know how it evolved. I wish I could go back to the first time I explained it to The Suburbs. But I didn’t know myself how it would turn out. I just had this idea of a repetitive riff and a verbal barrage.



100% ROCK: In the ‘80s you released an updated version of Half Time At The Football on the Meanwhile In The Suburbs EP which you recorded with Skyhooks songwriter and bass guitarist Greg Macainsh. It seems only fitting that you and Greg worked together – boasting a similarly anarchic and acerbic songwriting talent.

DW: I loved Skyhooks and admired Greg’s writing and when we got to know one another if was remarkable how similar our attitudes were. Both of us are what I’d call conceptual songwriters – the concept of what the song will explore is the rock on which the song is built, not the musical refrain – although that remains very important.

100% ROCK: Ironically this ‘80s version of the song featured the exact synth and drum machine sounds which another song on the EP, Music Shit, was in part railing against. Are you happy with the production all these years later?

DW: Well yes, for what we were working with. It was just Greg with an 8-track in his bedroom, so that limited what we had at our disposal. And Music Shit is not so much railing against drum machines etc but the paucity of ideas in songs of that time. The project was deliberately small scale, so I guess I’m happy with it.

100% ROCK: Listening to this one again today, I still laugh out loud at the idea of Kylie & John Farnham being brought together to “hump for Australia”. Some artists resent their ‘jokier’ work as they get older and strive to be appreciated as so-called ‘serious’ musicians – is the comedy as important as the music, to you?

DW: Comedy is harder to write than serious stuff, any writer knows that, or should know that. And yes, I’ve always loved humour, satire and so on. Zappa, Bonzo Dog, The Fugs, Phil Ochs all operated in that territory. But I also like the idea of stripping any pretension away: I like novelty songs – Purple People Eater was a favourite as a kid – so I don’t have a problem with Kookaburra Girl or Gavin Miller’s Shorts sitting alongside the likes of Put On Earth, or Campus Days in my catalogue. I love many, many styles of music. I’d like to be the Flann O’Brien of rock as much as the Thomas Pynchon.

100% ROCK: Thankyou so much for your time. Can’t wait to see you at The Charles and relive some great times and make some new memories.

DW: Looking forward to it!!


Category: Interviews

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Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE

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