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HARD-ONS ‘Dons party


Sydney punk/pop/hardcore legends Hard-Ons are making their way to Western Australia for their first shows with their new vocalist Tim Rogers of You Am I. It was a meeting of minds and limbs when the band (bassist Ray Ahn, guitarist Blackie, drummer Murray Ruse and Rogers) released I’m Sorry Sir That Riff’s Taken in 2021 and Hard-Ons will wrap up touring for the album with four shows in WA – at Prince of Wales, Bunbury, on Thursday, August 4; Amplifier Bar on Friday, August 5; Indian Ocean Hotel on Saturday, August 6; and Mojo’s Bar on Sunday, August 7. Quality support at these gigs comes from Leeches, Ocean Drive, Seawitch, The Secret Buttons, Rinehearts and The Shakeys. BOB GORDON caught up with Tim Rogers for a chat about The ‘Dons, The Long Game and the guilty pleasure that is instant coffee. 

From what I’ve seen on social media, your shows fronting Hard-Ons have been all denim shorts and sweaty tattooed flesh, and they look rollicking. What’s it been like for you?

It’s been a physical workout (laughs) I can tell you that much. The physicality of it is different, just not having a guitar it makes things a little different physically. It’s actually liberating and was initially terrifying. And occasionally still terrifying. More because I want to not let down my mates, who I love, but more often than anything it’s just pure joy.

Many guitarists who are frontmen aren’t necessarily comfortable singing without an instrument. From previous tours with The Bamboos and various guest appearances you’ve always seemed very comfortable and assured out front as a guitar-less lead singer…

I’m not sure… I like dancing more than most things. And having an instrument around you, it’s just dancing in a way with a guitar around your neck. For a little while there I’d pre-plan shows and what would happen but then when we played our first show, at a little pub in Woy Woy, when the music started any thought of pre-planning went out the window and I was pretty overcome by what was going on. It’s a really exciting feeling onstage to have that power behind you and that you’re just the throat behind it. So I just started moving and I didn’t seem to get in Blackie’s way or Ray’s way or Murray’s way and so it just continued like that.

I guess I was a little conscious of the audience to start with and I hope they’re having a good time but I’m kind of lost in my own reverie, really. I love these songs, whether they’re old ‘Dons songs or new ones. My job is kind of there to live out my teenage fantasies, really.

Last year when I heard you were teaming up with Hard-Ons it reminded me of that lyric from Pizza Guy (off You Am I’s 1995 album, Hi-Fi Way): “Nineteen to twenty two/ Just Nick, Jaimme, red wine and you/ Into the Datsun and go/ To another Massappeal show.” The whole thing harks back to your early years in Sydney and being a fan back in the day.

Apart from being a fan, myself, my brother and my best mate Nick Tischler started a band and our first three songs were Hard-Ons songs and then there were a couple of Aerosmith songs that we tried.

But the bigger deal for us was that when we finally got to play with them – maybe our sixth or seventh show – they helped us with gear and asked us if we wanted to borrow anything. We all helped with the load-out and that sort of shattered a couple of myths for me that there were these necessary hierarchies in that scene.

I think anyone will tell you, I mean, they look after their gear, but they are so encouraging and helpful to other performers that they like. And even if they don’t, they’ll still help out. That’s just their spirit. They realised that if you try and develop unnecessary hierarchies, it doesn’t help the show at all. It just makes backstage and onstage and afterwards quite uncomfortable. You know, they really live for the shows and for recording and realised – as well as I realised maybe a little too late – that if you just try and make it good for everybody then that’s going to elevate your own experience. It doesn’t have to have these unnecessary hierarchies that just make it a drag for everybody.

And that still happens, be it festivals or little shows, a bit of one-upsmanship and a bit of chest-beating and it’s such a drag. It’s really unnecessary. And so in 1991 when we first played together, they were the first band that showed us. Musically, we weren’t part of a scene with them but they let us at least hang around in the corridor.

Are there older Hard-Ons songs that get you thinking, “I can’t believe I’m actually singing this here?”

Oh yeah! I think in WA maybe we’ll play some really old songs just for the hell of it because I think it’s been so long since the band’s been over there. We haven’t been playing a lot of older songs on the tour so far. Only because I gave them a wish list of about 70 songs that I wanted to do, and they tended to be from the last seven records because they’ve superseded the early ones as my favourites and I just think they’re better records.

So there’s that and Murray as well. He’s been in the band for about 10 years but he’s a fan as well and he grew up listening to the band and we get together because we share rooms together and say, “hey, why don’t we play this one off Love Is A Battlefield Of Wounded Hearts (1989) or this one off Peel Me Like An Egg (2014), or this one off Yummy! (1990).” We’re the kids and I’ll ask Uncle Ray and Uncle Blackie “is it okay if we play this tune tonight?” (laughs).

You’ve got to love the long game, don’t you? When you consider Ray’s amazing history as a poster artist and also that when Dave Faulkner and James Baker reformed The Victims, they got him to play bass…

Yeah, Ray to anyone who knows him, is a one of a kind character in a very different way than Blackie is like no one else I’ve ever met in my life, in the same way that Murray’s like no one else I’ve ever met in my life. With Ray, his enthusiasm and his opinions… they’re not flippant. There’s nothing flippant about it. He’s an extremely funny guy, they all are, but it’s well thought out. For all their, in inverted commas, sort of ‘dumbness’ particularly early on it was just kind of funny and kind of prosaic, but it was never stupid, and it was never ignorant. And over time they’ve been the same people, but it’s just sharpened somewhat with experience and with life experience in particular.

Over the past couple of years, it’s been really difficult for those guys and for a lot of other people as well. A lot of stuff that I don’t understand, but I hear stories and so, added to that enthusiasm and that rabid love of making music is an extra determination that everything almost got taken away from and everything still might be taken away from us and we’re determined to enjoy this to the absolute fullest.

And so with that, those guys are timeless, they don’t age. I mean, they’re so much fitter and healthier than I am. And they still play with as much energy as they did when they were 16. If it’s someone like Dave, and James or myself who look at that and go, “oh, we’ve got to lift our game.” I haven’t spoken to David about it, but I’m pretty sure when Ray walked in and played with them, you’ve got to lift your game, you know? You can’t slack off for a second. They’re going to be pushing you.

They kind of engender timelessness and agelessness and doing it with grace and with humour. Hearing Ray talk about poster art and any art with those guys – film or books – they’ve got it. It’s aesthetic; there’s no headphones in the van on the drives. Someone’s always talking and it’s rarely me. I’m just sitting back just to all the stories and the education.

Is it longevity that gives you the drive and confidence to do things that 20 years ago as a young guy in a band, you would never have left the corners of your own frontier to do?

Sillily enough, when I was a kid, I thought there was this and this. I thought the Grateful Dead were the enemy and I fucking love the Grateful Dead now, even though some of it’s fucking awful.

I thought that there were tribes and if you like this, you couldn’t like that. You Am I and The ‘Dons played a show together a couple of weeks ago in Melbourne and we were sharing a dressing room and it was really was like, you know, the whole ‘family’ thing gets beaten around a bit but it really was.

I mean Rusty (Russell Hopkinson, drums) was in Hard-Ons in 1990 and Andy (Kent, bass) worked with Ray before and Davey’s (Lane, guitar) very close friends with Ray and Blackie and Murray and his wife are very dear friends of myself and my missus. We’re in this dressing room together and I’m thinking, ‘this is family.’ It was really special.

The talk could go from whatever we were reading or just current events to music. It wasn’t necessarily hard rock or death metal. It was just whatever goes. I mean having Russell Hopkinson and Ray Ahn in a tiny room. You know, we were trying to be pandemic aware, but no, everyone’s just… you couldn’t get a word in. Davey and I are arm in arm having a beer in the corner and just watching this and going, “Christ, this is like watching the great Greek philosophers go at it in ancient Athens.”

Russell’s Facebook page always has posts of vinyl record labels, it’s just what he’s listening to but it’s always like a great lesson in music history…

Well, we were in New York, two weeks ago and he was showing us these photos from record fairs way out in Brooklyn and way, way up Long Island and Davey and I are doing what we do. We’re looking at these photos and thinking, “yeah, maybe we should go exploring,” but we were just having a good time.

At one time I thought maybe because I’m not a record collector at all, that I felt a little out of the loop. But we don’t need to all be the same in the group. Now that’s Rusty’s thing and he’s the professor, the swinging professor who has not only a deep knowledge, but deep love and he’ll dance to those records. It’s not just a scientific or librarian thing with him. That’s his love and his passion and I just sort of feed off that. I don’t need to match that because my passions are elsewhere, and it took a while to realise that that we don’t all need to have the same aesthetic. You throw it all into the pot, and that’s what makes your little gang special, and our partners and our families. It’s very similar to Hard-Ons, just with different experiences.

I think there was a perception that maybe the way that You Am I toured was pretty cushy… and it has cushy elements, I’m not left wanting for a drink or for a sandwich, but when we go overseas, that’s all kind of thrown out the window. So when touring with the ‘Dons, I think there was a little box to be ticked to pretty much tour the same way, you know? As long as the talk’s up, there’s a sanga somewhere in the day and there’s a car stereo, everything’s fine. The rest is gravy.

Speaking of Russell’s Facebook page, there was a photo of you all when you were in New York. It was obviously an Italian restaurant that you were all very happy to get back to. Ruby (Tim’s daughter who lives in New York) was sitting next to you and the whole band’s around. It was a slightly blurry photo but the look on your face was very happy indeed.

It’d been three years since I saw her, and we played a couple of songs on stage with the band together with her. It was very emotional, very quick. It was only five days, maybe six days over there. And then away again, which is you know, it’s heart-wrenching but wonderful to see as I know, with your kids, these wonderful young humans really navigating the world so well and with such intelligence and empathy. I just spoke to her this morning and yeah, you know, just wonderful, and I despair at what’s going on elsewhere for teenagers and early 20-year-olds.

I did a TV series this week with a bunch of young actors, teenagers, and they were just such wonderful kids. Really savvy and smart. Definitely more so than when I was a kid. I guess they have to be because adults are acting like such fuckwits that they have to step up and show us how to live and how to be empathetic and intelligent.

Are there plans with yourself and Hard-Ons, or is it an organic arrangement?

No, in December we start the new record, possibly in Tasmania.  I’m making a Twin Set record in two weeks, here in the country where we live.

I think the Hard-Ons record starts in early December in Tasmania. Blackie’s got about 20 new songs and so we’ll start narrowing those down. I’m pretty sure there’ll be some late nights in WA hotel rooms listening to those demos and working them out. And from what I’ve heard it will be a really different record to the last one but being Blackie he’s already thinking about the record after that.

He’s a machine – a beautiful, muscular, healthy machine full of caffeine and vigour. The only argument we’ve had was when my missus Alice and I mentioned that we don’t mind instant coffee and Blackie almost threw us out of the band room.

That’s life in Hard-Ons world. Just don’t offer him instant coffee and the gig will go ahead.

There’s a lot to be said for Moccona, I feel…

I’m all for ya. I fear of Blackie hearing about this, but I’m right with you. I even accept International Roast now and then.

 

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