Coming in cold
Not very many people in the Northern Hemisphere have heard of Powderfinger, but people in Australia seemingly want to like them. So, on the eve of their mini-tour of Ireland and Britain, Greg Hughes spoke to lead singer, and all round nice bloke, Bernard, to find out what Powderfinger is?
Having travelled around Australia with Powderfinger playing in my ears, and after seeing them live in The Palace in Melbourne, I could not turn up a chance to meet them in person and try to find out a little more about the band. They've been together since '92, when they were formed in Brisbane Australia, but they have known each other for longer.
"J.C [guitars] and Hogg [Bass] went to school together and they formed the band with a different drummer. Then I met Ian at University, we were both doing subjects together, got chatting, ended up jamming together, and he didn't want to sing anymore, so I got forced into it. I'd never done this before, I mean this is the only band I have ever been in."
Bernard didn't have any expectation that the band would come so far. "Well I never expected to be sitting in a fucking pub in Ireland talking to someone about rock and roll." And Bernard likes his first real pint of Guinness.
The band's name comes from a Neil Young song, but to listen to Powderfinger, it's very hard to say they sound like any other. "Well, we all have interests, its pretty varied for us. JC and Hogg come from bands like The Cure and Joy Division; Coggs [drums] is more sort of punk, like Radio Birdman, whereas I was more into melodic stuff like The Beatles. But all of us agree on U2."
The first introduction that I had to Powderfinger was while travelling from Ayres Rock to Darwin. The band's third album, "Internationalist", graced my CD player for the whole of my travels. It's a very melodic, but essentially rock, album. It's a bit of an emotional rollercoaster though. "One of the things we noticed about that album is that it's kinda schizophrenic, whereas with our new album, 'Odyssey Number Five', we tried to make it flow as an album. We wanted to make a piece of music that you don't get jolted out of the position you are in in your head, when you're listening to it."
The Australian music awards, the ARIAs, unsurprisingly voted "Internationalist" their best album last year. "The whole ARIA awards thing and the whole system of music in Australia has really changed throughout the 90s, so that bands like us could be in a position to be nominated for those sorts of things. We never considered that we would be the type of band that would be winning awards and all that sort of shit, it's pretty fucking weird."
That's a very modest answer, but to be voted best album in any country, and to have sales of well over 280,000, it must be good. "Yeah it's great, but they're not the sort of things that we pay a lot of attention to. We're primarily interested in writing good songs. We have never been driven by fashion in music, we just want to hone our craft as songwriters and just get better at that."
Because bands like Powderfinger and Silverchair are based in Australia, people from Ireland, Europe and America don't really ever get to hear how good they are. A lot bands find it frustrating being limited to one country. "I suppose so, but a lot of that is record company politics and all that sort of shit. With 'Internationalist', we really thought we would get a release in the UK and maybe the US. But the label we were on, Polygram, got bought by Universal and then they just went and dropped 200 bands in America. So, it wasn't a good time for us to get our first release. There is so much political bullshit involved having people in the record company that are motivated to try and get the idea across. We're coming in cold and, well, we just hope that people connect with our music."
With all the fame and awards that came with "Internationalist", there has, of course, been pressure on the band to follow it up. "There was, but we've never really been that concerned with what other people think, which goes back to what I was saying about the ARIAs and stuff. It's all great, but we just go 'thanks'. I mean, all that stuff lives in our manager's toilet. So, with the pressure, we put it on ourselves to improve our level of song-writing and how good we can be."
"Odyssey Number Five" is that follow-up and Bernard said that it is the best record they've made, "even better than 'Internationalist'". The first single off the album is 'My Happiness', but the album is full of classic cuts like 'The Metre', 'These Days' and 'Like a Dog'. "It's essentially rock, really melodic though, its an even more emotional record than 'Internationalist' in terms of being more honest lyrically, and not being as self-conscious about talking about things that make you happy or things that really piss you off."
The band managed to pull off a major coup with the inclusion of 'My Kind of Scene' on the "Mission Impossible II" soundtrack. For once, their nationality was a bonus in getting them international attention. "We got asked to do it. Apparently Tom Cruise is a bit of a control freak and, as everyone knows, married to Aussie Nicole Kidman. He was executive producer of the film and soundtrack. Supposedly, he heard our music and liked it, contacted us and asked if we had any songs that we would like to submit. We said sure, why not, and they chose one. I mean friends of mine are listening to it on soundposts in music stores in London going 'how weird is this?'"
They teamed up with producer Nick DiDia, who has worked with the likes of Pearl Jam, Rage Against the Machine, and Korn, for "Odyssey Number Five". "Yeah, Nick is really great, he's really cool. We did 'Internationalist' with him as well and we have a really good relationship with him, he's such a relaxed guy."
So, after four albums, "Parables for Wooden Ears", "Double Allergic", "Internationalist", and now "Odyssey Number Five", sold out tours, awards coming out of their ears, now a tour of Ireland and Britain, things just keep getting better for Powderfinger. "Yeah, it's great. The last few years have been fantastic for us, we've had a great time and we have great goodwill in Australia. We think people wanna like our band. I suppose it's because we really did concentrate on writing good songs and, at the end of the day, that's what it comes down to. If we make music that doesn't have to be tied down to a certain era and the quality of the songs is good enough, then we should be able to stand up to time."
For those who could not get tickets for their recent sell-out gigs this side of the globe, you may not have to wait too long to see them. "Odyssey Number Five" is due for release in Ireland and Britain in February or March next year, and a tour will hopefully follow and catching this band live is very much recommended.
by Greg Hughes