Dave Warner is something of an enigma. An enigma wrapped in a riddle wrapped in a sausage roll wrapper maybe. He’s a truly iconoclastic Aussie singer-songwriter and performer, yet one whose music is deeply entrenched in Aussie iconography. And while his name is closely aligned with the pub rock sounds that infiltrated Australia’s suburbs in the late 70s and early 80s, his influences are anything but mainstream and his songs anything but straight ahead rock songs.
Of course Dave and his band – the fabulously-named Dave Warner’s From the Suburbs - appear on Festival’s new compilation The Glory Days of Aussie Pub Rock Vol.2 with the sneeringly great "Nothing to Lose", which followed up his only real hit "Just A Suburban Boy", which featured on Glory Days Vol.1. But to really understand Warner’s music, you have to dig deeper and listen to the actual albums, starting with his first one Mug’s Game, with its 13 minute title track that sounds like Sky Saxon & The Seeds relocated from 1960s Sunset Strip to 1970s Subiaco Oval, and the vulgar and rip snorting 1978 live album Free Kicks, with early songs like "Hot Crotch" and "Girls Wank" and a cover of the Troggs hilariously lame "Yella In Me". You’ve also got to hear the track "Half Time at the Football", which includes a knowing rough approximation of the misty-eyed line of “Suburban trees, suburban speed and it smells like heaven” from Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers’ pre-punk anthem "Roadrunner". The song flips Richman’s loner romanticism onto its back and reveals what really went on in the suburbs of Dave’s mind.
Dave Warner’s From The Suburbs – 1978 - ‘ Just A Suburban Boy’
Dave Warner’s From the Suburbs - 2017 - ‘I’m On Facebook But Where’s My Friends’
Dave Warner’s From the Suburbs ‘Nothing to Lose‘
All of Dave’s albums are available direct from the man himself. That includes a 2CD set comprising the pre-Mug’s Game live recordings that originally helped gain him notoriety when released on cassette in 78, and, a 2cd edition of Mug's game with an added album length session recorded in London in '76. Excitingly there's also a brand new album – his first in 35 years – called When.
Dave himself reckons When is ‘the natural successor to Mug’s Game, and if you like his old stuff it really is a must-hear. It’s as rocking and witty as anything he’s ever done, and features performances from a bunch of guests and friends including members of Skyhooks, Midnight Oil, Mental As Anything, Weddings, Parties, Anything as well as legendary guitarist Kevin Borich. And the track "Snapchat" shows he’s still happy to keep the language ‘colourful’ when the mood takes him. Dave talks about the song on his blog: “It shouldn’t amaze me, but it does, that some of the most mind blowing technology is in the hands of cave-men." “Hmm, what will I do with this amazing tool that can send pictures of anything around the world at the touch of a button. I KNOW! I’ll photograph my genitals!!!” I have no doubt that when primitive man first discovered he could draw with charcoal, the first thing he drew was a picture of his phallus.“
You can catch Dave as he launches When around the country in March & April (see below for dates or check out Dave’s website for more details).
To whet your appetite, check out this exclusive new I Like Your Old Stuff interview in which Dave talks about the early days and the new album.
ILYOS: In some ways From the Suburbs seemed like the quintessential late ‘70s pub rock band, but you very much had a punk attitude. Indeed you were punk before punk. Can you tell us a bit about your notorious but never-recorded previous band Pus?
DW: I finished school in 1970 and started at UWA doing an Arts degree. All through high school I’d played in garage bands with my friends, trying to write songs and dreaming of one day playing live in a concert or pub. By 1972 my ideas had firmed up into a desire to play anti-image music (Zappa, Fugs, Bonzos being big influences) but also to use all music that had affected me – Brit 60s (Who, Troggs, Kinks) and even torch singers – Julie London. By 1972-3 I’d written a number of songs. ‘Girls Wank’, ‘Suburban Boy’ and ‘Hot Crotch’ all made it into the Suburbs repertoire but were played in Pus. I’d never seen The Stooges but I’d read about Iggy’s act and so my Pus performance included smashing mic stands and generally going wild. Also gobbing onto the high ceilings of the Perth pubs. This was actually a way of clearing my mouth because cigarette smoke affected me so badly. We didn’t think of ourselves as “punk” but that was our attitude – anti all the big cool bands of the time and back to the garage. I dissolved Pus in 1975 to head overseas seeking fame and fortune.
ILYOS: I recently read the 1979 paperback about you – there were obviously not many bands on the scene even after punk hit who were so well versed in the Fugs, who are contanstly referenced. How did you discover them, and what were other musical inspirations?
DW: In my high-school years my friends and I avidly devoured rock magazines and books. There were hardly any rock TV shows, very little film showing contemporary acts, and little radio airplay for “underground” acts, so it was all through reading about rock. That’s how I got onto the Mothers, Fugs et al. In 1967 on a school trip, I found a copy of the Fugs First album in a record shop in Adelaide. Then in 1971 in my first year at Uni I found Golden Filth in a second hand bin at Discurios in Claremont. My other favourite bands were those Brit acts I mentioned and the San Francisco hippy-trippy bands – particularly Country Joe and the Fish and The Doors. A big influence for me was Johnny Johnstone, older brother of Howie (Suburbs long time drummer). Johnny and his mates were in various Perth bands playing blues, jug and folk and not only were they top musicians but Johnny always had a Melody Maker or NME or the latest album. He “educated” me in areas of music I knew little about – Blues and Jazz especially.
Dave’s faves the Fugs 'I Couldn't Get High'
ILYOS: In the ‘60s you played in standard R&B garage bands. What did you think of the blues and boogies bands that proliferated in the ‘70s?
DW: Well, I don’t think I ever really played in any R’n’B bands. I was too young and not a good enough musician (still aren’t). But from time to time a bunch of us would do some party or church hall just to play and then it was a matter of finding songs everybody knew or could work out. When I tried to get Pus going though, it was difficult. Very difficult. Not many musos shared a vision of wearing costumes and singing social commentary, original material. Most of the boogie bands I really enjoyed but they were samey. In Perth there was a band called Bayina that morphed into Bakery: they were an excellent band that went beyond “boogie”.
ILYOS: You were in London in’76, before you formed From the Suburbs. I assume you had some first hand experience with punk while you were there? What did you think of it? What did you think of Australian punk when it hit – you would have heard the Saints assumedly?
DW: I left the UK in June of 76 just before punk broke and I saw no punk bands there at all. In fact, the reason I left was probably much the same reason as the reason the punk movement took hold. London especially was moribund musically at that time. There was no new direction and the better bands who hadn’t really made it were all trying to sound Californian. 10cc and Ferry, Queen etc had come through in the wave just before and they were brilliant but I couldn’t play that stuff. I lived in Brixton and spent most of time listening to reggae and watching reggae performers. By the time I had the Suburbs up and running, Nick Lowe and all these other people kicked into New Wave or Punk. I think I first saw The Saints on Countdown via their clip. Certainly on TV. I thought they were really good – they reminded me of some of those great Aus bands of the 60s like The Cherokees, but I wanted to try another level, to find something absolutely totally unique that nobody else had ever done anywhere. The Victims were a dynamic punk band, really exciting live, but like most of the Eastern States punk bands too derivative to progress.
ILYOS: I believe some of Perth’s young punks had been Pus fans too- including the Victims James Baker of later Scientists and hoodoo gurus fame?
DW: Well, they certainly came to our gigs and James I think would pogo to our cover of “I’m A Little Airplane” and ‘Sidewalk Surfin’. But we had a really big range of musical styles within what I termed “suburban rock” and there were plenty of my songs that didn’t appeal to their tastes.
Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers ‘I’m A Little Airplane’
ILYOS: You certainly shared some of the same influences as the early punk bands including the Modern Lovers - there’s a nod to ‘Roadrunner’ in ‘Half Time at the Football’ (although your take on suburban life if very different to Jonathan Richman’s!) - and the Seeds, who I can hear in ‘Mug’s Game’.
DW: I reckon Jonathan Richman’s take isn't that different to mine, in the corner of the nobody and nerd. I was aware of the Seeds but had hardly heard them. I think ‘Mug’s Game’ is much more a child of Fugs' I Couldn't Get High and Nothing (and the Pus barnstormer Throbbing Knob) and Doors, Country Joe which had strong portable organ texture.
ILYOS: Did you ever hear the Dictators from suburban New York? Their first album ‘Go Girl Crazy’ was from 1975. They would’ve herd the Fugs for sure.
DW: Johnny Leopard loved the Dictators and we had a cheap home copy cassette that mangled after a few plays - I only vaguely recall them, their sound not the words which were a fuzz on the dull heads of the tape player.
Dave Warner’s From the Suburbs ‘ Mug’s Game’
ILYOS: So, the whole ‘suburban’ angle – what inspired that? And the sport thing – footy, and then later on with ‘Wimbledon’, tennis.
DW: I mentioned before being influenced by books and magazines. Around 1970 I avidly read people like Nik Cohn and Greil Marcus and of course Frank Zappa interviews and more than once the point was made that really good music comes from an artist reflecting their world: whether it’s The Beach Boys Southern California or The Who, London in the 60s. This really hit home to me. I understood that for my music to have veracity and power it needed to be born out of the mundane, seemingly artistically devoid earth of our Australian laminex table, footy yelling lifestyles. This may seem simple now but THEN this was anathema to anybody who thought they were creating ‘art’. Aus musicians were writing great songs about other places and other people (Arkansas Grass, St Louis) but all we had was ‘Coal Man’ or ‘Mean Pair Of Jeans’. When I was alone in London I was able to coalesce all these ideas into a single unifying theme – my music would be of and about the un-cool suburban lifestyle 91% of Australian young people lived. Nowadays it’s de rigueur to have rock musos on footy shows but back then there was a trench dividing the two worlds: art on one side and footy on the other. It was an artistic taboo to combine the two and I broke it with Suburban Boy, Half Time at the Football etc. The great disappointment for me is that so many lazy critics wrote my music off as “Ockker”. It was anything but Ockker. My song Oklahoma starts with a line from King Lear and swings into a few bars of Rogers and Hammerstein, hardly Ockker. Of course if you’re going to satirise those attitudes your song protagonist might have to display them. My music was always about and for all those ordinary guys and girls who hated the Pinto man and didn’t want to go get pissed and throw up. But sometimes you’d despair: I recall the record company wanting to do a launch with meat pies and “Holden cars.”
As for “Wimbledon”, that song is all about my frustration and anger at the time, of not getting what I considered a fair go on commercial radio and other outlets. I was pissed off with un-original artists getting played and feted for copying music someone else had done better somewhere else five years before. The song yearns for an objective measure like a tennis match.
Dave Warner - Wimbledon
ILYOS: The first whole cover photo – you at the pub table with beer and chips, which, when you see the full panned-out shot on the inside, shows that you’re actually in an art gallery, like an exhibition – is brilliant. Your idea?
DW: Yes. It goes back to what I said earlier: that once I became the “suburban boy” and made that statement I was simultaneously art and the object of it. The back cover though was the late Johnny Leopard’s idea. Johnny said let’s get our parents and dress them in the same stage costumes as we wear. It was a hoot. Paul Noonan’s parents weren’t around so my Nanna filled in as his Mum the hippy and Tony Durant was back in the UK so the photographer, Phil Murray stood in for him.
ILYOS: From the Suburb’s obviously became a big deal in Perth quite quickly – how do you account for that?
DW: I’d been one of those punters watching bands year in, year out. I knew what I wanted to see and figured other kids would want to see what I wanted. Pus gave me a bit of momentum but we rehearsed very hard for around four months with something like fifty songs, mostly original, so we could play five gigs a week of three hours without repeating too many of the songs. And of course I’d like to think the songs were powerful because they reflected these kids’ lives but the visual aspect was no less important. Anybody who saw Leopard play knows he was visually riveting and John Dennison and Haydn Pickersgill and Stuart Davies-Slate were fine musicians with a sense of humour.
ILYOS: When you decided to hit east coast, why Melbourne over Sydney? Were you already in touch with Gudinski? Melbourne was obviously becoming the arts and fashion capital of the country, but I figure you weren’t hanging out with young Nick Cave… RAM In Sydney was always very supportive.
DW: Most Perth bands went to Melbourne. I knew the guys from Sid Rumpo and they were able to tell me about the lie of the land. Then Peter Grace (an associate of Gudinski’s) who was working in Perth radio saw us and sang our praises and the next thing I got a phone call from Michael saying he was interested. When we broke, around ‘77 early ‘78, there weren’t that many Sydney gigs but in fact Sydney loved us. Double J had a lot to do with that: Ted Robinson, Chris Winter et al. Sydney gigs really exploded from about ‘79.
ILYOS: You did seem to make friends on Melbourne scene - Dr Pepper, Skyhooks etc. And of course you have a continued relationship with Greg Macainsh.
DW: Dr Pepper and Keith Glass (who together ran the hugely influential Archie & Jugheads record shop, lter to morph into Missing Link - DL) discovered my live bootleg tape and flogged it to death. They were super promoters for me. Our first tour of Sydney we supported the Hooks. I didn’t really know Greg and I don’t think we had any more communication than a nod but from the first time I heard Living In the 70s I knew that what was driving us in our music (I was in Pus then) were almost identical forces. Eventually I wrote to Greg – I think it was after the Hooks broke up – and just said please don’t stop writing. We became friends and as you say still are and we wrote a song, Old Guitars, on the new album.
ILYOS: Half the first album and all second album recorded live – why?
DW: Because I paid for them with my own money and did a lease deal with Mushroom and that’s all the money I had. Even though I’d moved something like 3000 live tapes proving there was a strong demand for the band Mushroom were only prepared to offer me the usual royalty rate for an unproven band. Wizard were interested too but their offer was worse than Mushroom’s, so it was always just a lease deal. I also figured that ‘Mug’s Game’ (the song) at least, needed to be done live to create best affect. The good thing about the lease deal was that it meant I always owned the tracks, the negative was that Mushroom – well Michael I suppose - had a lot less to lose and consequently we were always the poor relation in terms of dollar spend and promotion. Having said that, the Mushroom and Festival staff, including MG, were sensational in getting behind us.
ILYOS: One question I have to ask – what did you think when you heard London band the Members’ song ‘The Sound of the Suburbs’ in 1979?
DW: Oh that's a funny story - because Laurie Dunn (later set up Massive Records here) was with Virgin and he heard and loved The Suburbs in Melbourne in 79. He claimed he tried to sign me to Virgin without success and sent me a letter on Virgin letterhead saying basically in a jokey tone "oh I couldn't sign you but your idea was so good I've ripped it off with Sounds of the Suburbs' - (and one other track - Sweet Suburbia?) And he actually sent me copies of the singles. Gudinski wanted me to sue them - I think we called from MG's office and we did put the wind up Laurie but only as a prank - of course I couldn't care about that, to me they were a pale imitation of the real thing.
ILYOS: So who were some of your favourite bands of the whole pub rock era?
DW: Always loved The Angels, tight rock band with great lyrics. Skyhooks of course, brilliant shows and songs. Split Enz and Mental as Anything were truly original and always entertaining, Chisel and the Oils were frighteningly good live and Weddings Parties, just loved them. The Bushwackers were fab, Sports and Ol ’55 fun. Victims were a great punk band and my Perth pals Loaded Dice were a terrific live band and Paul Madigan underrated.
ILYOS: As punk and new wave faded the band’s popularity faded. What did you think of the ‘80s musically?
DW: Thought the ‘80s was interesting early with lots of acts sprouting but the late ‘80s were the pits. The industry had become an “INDUSTRY” boring and complacent with a handful of FM programmers, one TV show and a couple of promoters controlling everything that was going to be played and become popular. As the pub scene started to shrink all the little points of difference disappeared – the Jimmy and the Boys, the Madigans. The power to determine who was good and what we listened to went out of the hands of the fans who could decide for themselves what they wanted to make successful and went back to control of a cadre. It was pretty depressing actually.
ILYOS: At some point in the ‘80s you retired from music and started writing crime novels and soaps? That true to say? Have did you get your foot in those doors. You also wrote the Mushroom 25 Anniversary book…
DW: After the fourth album ‘This Is My Planet’ got kicked in the guts – no radio support apart from Tasmania! and a panning from Rolling Stone’s Ed St John – I figured it was pointless continuing at that level. I thought it was my best album to that point and in fact still play a large number of those songs live. I’d worked on the ideas for it with Kim Fowley and I think it is a bold album that cut through a lot of the bullshit of the time. But for all that it didn’t do enough and the smoke from the pubs was literally killing me – I was coughing blood and couldn’t walk up a hill - and I’m a non-smoker. So I thought I’d turn my attention to other forms of writing and less onerous performing. I started doing comedy with Johnny Leopard, then wrote some little musicals and finally ventured into novels, which had been my dream. I continued to write songs and occasionally play but it was a smaller part of my creative world. I spent the best part of a decade writing television and film, honing my craft and earning enough to pay a mortgage. All of these creative disciplines require hard work and each is rewarding in a different way.
ILYOS: So tell us about your new album, when you conceived it, started writing it, recording it etc. who plays on it, special guests …
DW: The album has been literally 40 years in the making. About three years ago I got the bug to write songs again, not just songs for a stage show or somebody else but BIG thematic songs with something for me to say. I found that the songs were generally about how somebody of my age and background was trying to find their place in an ever changing world, a world that seemed to have very different values from my youth. ‘I’m On Facebook But Where’s My Friends‘ was the first song that popped into my head because I saw even people my age getting distraught about FB posts. At this age one also thinks a lot about death and destiny: ‘San Tropez’ and ‘Jim Morrison Came To My Window’ are the result. Then ‘Snapchat’ about the absurdity of people using amazing technology to photograph their genitals. But there were other songs I’d written over the years that I loved, played but not recorded, or not recorded how I wanted and so there is one of my earliest songs ‘Vignettes’, completely untouched, and then ‘Wimbledon’ – updated with the version I always heard in my head. There’s a trademark Warner monologue ‘Woman Who Drowned’ from the early 90s and ‘Old Guitars’ ‘with Greg that gave me a chance to put Martin Cilia, Kevin Borich and David Briggs on the one track.
The personnel are exceptional: my long term collaborators Tony Durant –who played on the first ‘Suburban Boy’ demo in London 40 years ago – Martin Cilia and Lloyd Gyi, Greg Macainsh, John Dennison and my wife Nicole who have all played live with me for thirty years. Augmenting them the wonderful Greedy Smith and James Gillard, Kevin Borich an old pal, Jim Moginie whose studio we used, Mick Thomas and Mark Wallace, David Briggs and old Perth pals Dick Haynes (of Loaded Dice) and Bill Beare.
Dave’s mate Dick Haynes up front of Perth pub legends Loaded Dice – check them out on ‘The Glory Days of Aussie Pub Rock Vol.1’
ILYOS: To finish – can you give us a list of you 10 fave songs, and 10 fave artists? Doesn’t need to e Australian or tied to any particular era…
DW: My favourite songs: Waterloo Sunset (Kinks), Dolphins (Tim Buckley), Slum Goddess (Fugs), God Only Knows (Beach Boys), I Had Too Much To Dream (Electric Prunes), Joan of Arc (Leonard Cohen), Carlton (Skyhooks), I Should Care (Julie London), Who Needs The Peace Corps (Mothers of Invention), Pleasures of the Harbour (Phil Ochs)
Favourite artists: Bob Dylan, Beach Boys, Frank Zappa – Mothers, Bob Marley, Elvis Costello, Fugs, Doors, Lindisfarne, Skyhooks, Kinks
Dave Warner’s From The Suburbs – 1981 – ‘Half Time At The Football‘ (Caution: audio NSFW in the slightest!)
Dave Warner’s From The Suburbs ‘Snapchat’ (Caution: audio NSFW in the slightest!)
FRI MAR 17 CHARLES HOTEL, North Perth with Mental as Anything
SAT MAR 18 FLY BY NIGHT CLUB, Fremantle with Mental as Anything
SAT APR 22 CARAVAN CLUB Oakleigh, Melbourne with Guitar Method.
SUN APR 23 EDINBURGH CASTLE, Adelaide, with Protools and The Chairmen.