Interview: Grinspoon

Published in Drum Media (WA) | 04.09.12 | Issue # 308


“New Grinspoon album BLACK RABBIT blasting,” Russell Crowe tweeted. If Black Rabbits– slang for bad habits – is good enough for Crowe, it’s good enough for you. Grinspoon guitarist Pat Davern tells Daniel Cribb the release is a claim to fame, rather than admission of guilt.

It’s been 14 years since Grinspoon released their smashing debut Guide To Better Living, and some people think that their best days are behind them – hell, even guitarist Pat Davern admits their previous two records, Alibis & Other Lies (2007) and Six To Midnight (2009), fell slightly short of what they were hoping. But Black Rabbit, the band’s seventh studio album, signals a change in the right direction. They’ve stopped writing music to try and impress and have just started writing what feels right for them, even if that means something a little further from the heavier sounds they made a name for themselves with.

In the week leading up to the album’s release, Davern and co. have a hectic promotional schedule, one that leaves little room for rest. An appearance on The Footy Show is followed up the next morning when they play Federation Square for Sunrise, the first song at 7.30am. “We’ll just stay up all night,” Davern explains of the game plan.

“Well, I figure we’re doing the Grand Final Footy Show the night before and that’ll probably finish off at about 11pm, and then we’ll go to the after party. They’re putting us up at the Crown Casino, so I guess me and the drummer, Chriso, will keep at the tables until 4am and then we have to be back for a 5am lobby call to 6am soundcheck. I’ve got the night planned out,” he tells. “I’m a bit more of an NRL fan, but Joe [Hansen, bass] and Phil [Jamieson, vocals] are huge Swanny fans (an AFL Grand Final win and album release on the same weekend – Jesus, that must have been one hell of a Monday morning hangover), so they’ll be stoked [to play The Footy Show]. But I’m more of an NRL guy, so Sunday’s more my day.”

The luck continues, with Davern’s team, The Melbourne Storm, cleaning up at the NRL Grand Final. The hangover the band are more than likely still recovering from suits the themes surrounding Black Rabbits. Grinspoon have been known to cause a stir with their bad habits over the years – from teen wars with Powderfinger through to substance abuse that almost tore the band apart, they’ve made a name for themselves out of them. When asked what bad habits stand out for him, Davern’s brain goes into overdrive and almost explodes as he traces back to the origins of the band and the slew of bad habits along the way.

“We’re well beyond that now, and it’s kind of cathartic getting to a point where you don’t have to worry about that kind of stuff anymore. We probably had a bit of an inferiority complex when we first started out as a band. We were never particularly cool and all that kind of stuff and I think we wanted that and jumped up and down, doing some dumb shit.”

After their first few albums they had Australian audiences where they wanted them, but as their sound began to evolve into a different beast – more poppy – the band began to fear they were changing too much and fans may lose interest. After trying to recreate the sounds of their earlier days on Alibis… and Six To Midnight with little success, they realised that they had to stop living in the past.

“I still like Six To Midnight a lot – it’s a pretty brutal, pretty heavy rock record – but I think we went in to make that record with the belief that Grinspoon was a heavy rock band, [and] we’re gonna have to do a heavy rock record because that’s what we did when we first started, and that’s what we should be doing now. To be honest with you, it didn’t really work out that way, you know…we thought that was the right thing to do at the time, to please us and please our fans. We thought that’s what they wanted to hear from a Grinspoon record. But maybe our fans are more interested in what we’re doing rather than what we think they want us to be doing, so that’s what we tried to achieve with this record.”

The final product is an album that flows organically and actually feels like a band comfortable with what they’re doing. Despite its effortless flow and impressive cameos from friends Scott Russo (Unwritten Law), Chris Cheney (The Living End) and Tim Rogers (You Am I), the album didn’t come together with such grace.

“A lot of stuff got thrown in the can. We have A&R really heavily on this record,” Davern reveals. Usually a record company having their finger in the pie would be considered a bad thing, but without it, the new Grinners album probably wouldn’t have happened. “There was a lot of quality control from management and the record company as far as what was going into making this record and how we were going to go about doing it. We had a lot of writing sessions, a lot of songs got thrown out, a lot of songs got re-arranged, and a lot of conversations had to be made between different members of the band. If you’ve had a pretty unsuccessful sixth record you really have to take stock and think about where it’s all heading. Everyone in the band didn’t even know if it was going to happen, but I think the process of actually coming up with some good material and starting to really enjoy what we were doing turned that around. [In] Grinspoon, it’s pretty hard for us to agree on one thing, let along agree on a whole album.

“I think over the years we’ve kind of left the same page and we all have to get back on to it to find some focus and enjoy what we’re doing and do something good. It feels to me like, I don’t know… It might be a crazy thing to say after 16 years, but it feels to me almost like this is a little bit of a starting again. We’ve found something that we like doing and I think we’re going to get better at doing it, and it’s an exciting time.”

Daniel Cribb