Local legend Dave Warner – The Boy From Bicton – releases When, his first Dave Warner’s From The Suburbs album in 25 years this week, with two special home-coming shows alongside Mental As Anything on Friday, March 17 at The Charles Hotel, and Saturday, March 18 at The Fly By Night. SHANE PINNEGAR called the singer and novelist to find out why now was the right time to release When.
Of the album’s twelve tracks, a handful are brand new, while the rest were written between 1972 and the late ‘90s, but never recorded or released. Guests on the record include former From The Suburbs alumni Tony Durant and John Dennison, as well as former Skyhooks bassist Greg Macainsh, Martin Cilia from The Atlantics, Greedy Smith of Mental As Anything, legendary guitarist Kevin Borich, Midnight Oil’s Jim Moginie, and local Loaded Dice member Dick Haynes and Fingerprints fella Bill Breare.
You’ve said you didn’t record for many years because you felt like you didn’t have much to say. What changed to inspire recording a whole album?
Well, one of the things was, I had time. When I was doing other stuff – especially when the kids were younger – I was doing a lot of television and I didn’t have the time to do [new music]. The television stuff started to drop off, the kids got older so they needed me less than what they had done, in a sense. It coincided with a couple of the other guys having some time to do things too.
The other thing was just the songs just came to me. I’d got five songs and I had those songs in my head and just wanted to record them. I suppose that was the biggest difference. They were about things that I thought were important, [like] where we are in life at the moment, or where I am in life and where lots of people are. The world is changing very rapidly and so all that kind of stuff is I guess the fodder for what started it.
Once I’d started to work on the new songs I then started to think, “well what are the other songs that I’ve got that I feel have something to contribute, but I never recorded, or that could fit in contextually and thematically with the album that I want to do.” That’s how it all came about in the end.
The album is titled When. No question mark, just the word. It conjures up multiple meanings. What was your insight into coming up with that name?
Very perspicacious there, Shane – that is exactly the point of the album. Originally I was thinking of calling it something like Where Am I. The more that I worked on the songs, it became much more about the idea of being surrounded by a fast-evolving world and what’s my role in this as a guy who’s now hit 60?
It became an album whose central theme was time and how time manifests with us, and how we evolve with time. When then became the perfect word, because I thought, “you know the great thing about When is it’s totally dependent on the context so you can have when I did this or when I will do this.”
You’ve always been a student of Australian identity. Could it be that with adopting more and more international culture our own identity is being diluted?
Well it’s certainly changing. “What is Australian identity?” is always up for grabs and it reminds me of that line from my own song, Suburban Rock, where Australian identity was supposed to be people in the outback and stuff, and I was trying to torpedo that myth because I felt that, no, our identity was much more about laminex tables and football and American TV shows.
I think that what you’re saying in a sense – which is right – is that it’s a lot harder to find something that is particularly Australian compared to anywhere else. Should it be of a concern? Most people don’t seem to think so. I find it a little bit sad that in a way that stuff is slipping away, [but] that might just be my age, that it was a particularly identifiable time. When I was growing up as a young person, 95% of Australians shared the same experiences and same culture, and I could do a song like Mug’s Game and everyone kind of got it.
95% of the people got Suburban Boy. That’s not possible now. It’s just like anything, it’s like language. It just evolves and gets changed, but it would be nice to think that there’s still a place for music that’s fun, but is thinking, is satirical, makes a comment on where we are in our lives whether you’re 17 or 77.
With so many elements out there in society who want to keep our society and culture somewhat traditional, manifesting in some very ugly ways, I was wondering if anyone has attempted to use your music in a negative way that you’re not comfortable with?
Not yet. I just think I’m not well enough known for that. The nature of the world at the moment is that it’s extremely… there’s a lot of division in all sorts of areas, a lot of political division and… so far I’m not aware of [my music] being used negatively – but look, who knows? You can’t prescribe things for other people. It’s a lesson I learned a long time ago. It doesn’t matter what you do or what you think, or whatever, people will take their own stuff from it and you’re fairly powerless about that.
Lead single I’m On Facebook But Where’s My Friends? is classic Dave Warner’s From The Suburbs – it comes on like the son of Suburban Boy.
Yeah, and that’s exactly what I wanted. I didn’t set out saying, ‘oh, I need a Suburban Boy, so therefore I’m going to do this song.’ I looked back on it and went, ‘well yeah, it’s the Suburban Boy track of the album.’ Suburban Boy makes a statement about where I [was] at that time, and Facebook does the same thing.
Snapchat is another one which skewers the facile world of the internet. Did you hesitate about making the lyrics so in your face, or does skewering a vulgar subject deserve a few vulgar words?
Look, I shouldn’t really say anything because that is the perfect answer to it! You’ve actually analysed it and said it in one. Here’s the thing: I did the song, it’s obviously coming from the point of view of a [character].. when I was doing it I thought, “this song needs to be vulgar, in your face, because that’s the person who’s singing it.” A couple of my fellow musos said to me, “do you think this is going too far? It could be more clever,” but in the end I had to stick with my veracity: this character is the sort of person who sits down in his bedroom, surrounded by these pizza boxes and takes photos of his dick and sends them off to the stratosphere. They’re not going to be particularly witty or clever – [but] I can be witty or clever by parodying what they’re doing.
With a great response to the album and gigs around the country to launch the new tracks, are people finally understanding that we need The Suburbs more than ever?
I’ve got a new album to play, and I can still play the old stuff and I’ll still get a kick out of those, it works really well. It’d be nice to get around the country and do these songs. As you say, hopefully people might decide that I could be the suburban saviour!