Spiderbait

Silent Uproar: The album has done quite well there in Australia; do you think that success will carry over the US and other parts of the world?

Janet: It’s really hard to know because some things that are successful here don’t necessarily translate there and then those situations also happen in reverse. Something like the Jet record where it hit in America before it happened in Australia. I’ve never seen the band or really know much about them until it was successful over there.

So it’s really hard to know. We don’t have a language barrier which is one thing in our favor and we worked with an American producer whether that means an American sound by definition or not, but who knows…it’s in the hands of the gods whoever they may be.

SU: Is it being released in the UK and other parts of the world at the same time as in the US or has it already released elsewhere?

Janet: It’s about the same time all around the world and lots of territories all over western Europe so we are curious to see what places it makes it and whether the language is an issue or not.

SU: We’ve talked to a lot of bands especially in France or Scotland where there is a language difference. It’s funny though because they write songs in English naturally so it doesn’t end up being an issue.

Janet: Yeah its funny isn’t it?

SU: I know here in the US, a single like ‘Fucking Awesome’ would never make it past the sensors. Do tunes like that get commercial radio play in Australia?

Janet: Yeah it does actually. I think that the censorship isn’t as strict as it is in the States here and I did notice that. We probably don’t have the restrictions and all the stickering restrictions. I’m not sure why, but we have less censorship here.

SU: We even have FBI stickers now on the back of CD’s saying that if you download the files onto the computer you are breaking federal laws and can be arrested.

Janet: That’s terrifying! Wow, that’s amazing getting the whole legal procession in the music.

SU: Why the US and why now? You have been around for a while and put out quite a few albums. Why with this one are you trying to see if it will work over here?

Janet: I guess I’ve always hoped to get over and play there. We had played there on a few occasions but haven’t had a release in the States. For some reason this record connected with the record label and they picked it up. The timing was good because there was this whole rock scene happening on a global level and it was a happy coincidence that we had been tinkering with rock for a while. We hung around long enough for it to come around (laughs). Its trendy music over there at the moment. I think there always has been on an underground level but maybe with the Vines and Jet maybe it’s reaching more of the mainstream conscious.

SU: I think people here are looking for something new too and a lot of what we hear through commercial radio starts to sound the same after a while because it’s all filtered through the same media. But when you hear bands coming from overseas you kind of hear a different sound.

Janet: Maybe that fits in with the censorship there when people are put through those filters.

SU: This is your 6th album right?

Janet: Yeah I think it is (laughs)

SU: Is it still just as easy to write fresh new songs or has it become more of a struggle to not just rehash the same types of songs?

Janet: We went through phrases of really struggling; we had a really big record in Australia in about ’96. Writing the record after that with the pressure and the expectations made it quite a horrendous process. I think on this record we really stripped it down to basics. We gone over to the UK the year before and because we were doing it cheaply we just took the 3 instruments and took drumsticks and hired drums over there and two guitars. So you couldn’t rely on anything like sampling or triggering or any technology. We really enjoyed just stripping it back to the 3 piece and keeping it simple.

I think the songwriting that flowed on that tour led to this record and led to a simplification of the whole process. Before that we had the luxury of having a successful record and we indulged our songwriting and more instrumentation, studio extravagants and got that out of our system. We just went back to the simple way of touring and writing songs really easily again.

SU: Cool, I read several articles from the Australian press that basically said your last two albums weren’t commercial successes compared to the earlier ones. How did you rebound from that and maintain the enthusiasm of working on a new record?

Janet: I suppose we’ve always enjoyed playing and in Australia there’s such a tiny amount people. There are only twenty million people which are the equivalent to one of your states I suppose, California. So the touring isn’t that demanding compared to bands in the States. We never really got to the point, which I think a lot of bands do when they tour solidly, of killing each other (laughs). We could tour Australia comfortably and then kick back and live pretty modestly and enjoy our friendship.

Which I think was crucial surviving for so long and keeping ourselves enthused about it. We all grew up in a small town and we’ve all known each other since we were little kids. We have a lot of family history and we can fight successfully (laughs) without taking it too personally.

SU: Do you care at all about the commercial side of it. I know you have to make money and you have to live off it, but does the band define success by albums sales or by how happy you are with the final product?

Janet: I suppose it’s a combination of the two. You have to be realistic about it and if you do want to keep doing this you have put a little money in the bank and pay rent. All the people around you in the industry, that’s the gauge that they use, these sales. That’s not why you do it; you try to make the best record you can.

Here in Australia the government is much more interested in the welfare state I suppose and when you come out of a University a lot of people would collect the “dulf”; it’s like the English system. Almost everyone in a band would go on the “dulf” for the year and become a really good musicians and it’s quite the luxury. I don’t know if you have that in the states or not.

SU: I’ve talked to other bands in different countries and they’ve talked about the government giving lots of grants and things to allow bands to pursue music. Maybe it’s the same as you were talking about, but they were wording it a little differently. Basically talking about how the government would support the arts and throw some money into it.

Janet: Especially in New Zealand. There you can develop as a songwriter and a musician and not necessarily become commercially viable for a couple of years at least. And they give you money to assist you in touring overseas. I know in Europe and other countries like that, they are much more artistically minded. It’s important to getting you on your feet.

SU: You really seem to have combined a wide variety of styles on this record, I mean the touch of pop is still there, but there is an overall more raw rock feel to it. Is this sound just another evolution of the band or was it something you strived for?

Janet: On each record that we’ve made people have both been surprised and said “Oh well that sounds nothing like their last record.” Or they’ve thought “That’s more inventive, that’s interesting, and I like that.” You win some you lose some. On this one it was a conscious thing to keep it pretty raw and enjoy those real raucous sounds and concentrate on the playing and capturing the perfect take. It wasn’t about moving the drums, the snare, into the perfect place, it was very much like get the right one with the right energy and the best take like you would hear a band live.

This record is the most focuses record we’ve had. Every other record we’ve had, we’ve tried everything. We threw a little bit country, we tried funk, we went in all sorts of different directions, and this one is the least kind of schizophrenic record that we’ve done.

SU: When recording, how do you decide who will take the lead vocals in a song? Do you both write songs and then naturally sing your songs, or do you ever write songs for each other to sing?

Janet: It hasn’t been that tough for us because there are 3 songwriters in the band. We’ve always been pretty in agreement with what sounds best beyond whose song it is. As it’s demoed and we listen to 30 songs and we whittle it down to 12. Everyone pretty much comes to the same conclusion of what’s the better sounding song.

SU: I’m sure that’s helped with the band staying together for this long because if you’re always trying to fight about it each time I’d imagine it would get pretty stressful to record.

Janet: That’s what I hear from a lot of bands, yeah.

SU: What are the 3 things that make Australia the best place in the world to live?

Janet: I suppose the climate (laughs), we don’t have those hellish winters and blizzards. We have that temperate and semi-tropical climate. The beaches are amazing, if you are into outdoorsy stuff. Basically we have a country that is as big as continental USA, but we have a twentieth of the people. So we have more space, if you’re into space (laughs)

SU: It’d be a nice change (laughs).

Janet: I think a lot of Europeans come out here and think they can cycle and they’ll be a little town every few miles and out in the desert there’s nothing for 11 hours of driving. Although you guys have desert like that, you pretty much have everything in one country, it’s quite an amazing place. I suppose that Australians are very friendly and they aren’t critical. We don’t have gun ownership problems.

SU: The impression I get is a more laid back feeling. That’s a generalization but…

Janet: No people do say that from the outside. I think that I noticed it when I toured Japan, they gave us an itinerary of 9:02 – get in lift, 9:04 meet in lobby, 9:05…we were kind of wandered down and I found this incredibly annoying because we weren’t very focused. I’m sure there are some focused Australians, but…

SU: You just finished a national Australian tour, how did it go?

Janet: It was fantastic. We went to some regional areas, and they get very regional in Australia. So we do some driving up through Western Australia which is a massive state and has a lot of desert in there. It was a 16 hour drive between towns and had to do it in the day because at night the kangaroos come out and you risk hitting a kangaroo and totaling your car.

SU: Are there any plans to come to the US to tour in support of the records release here?

Janet: Oh I hope so, but nothing set in stone at this stage. We really enjoy traveling over there, we recorded over there in northern California, and we had a great time.

SU: If you could tour the US with any band of your choice, which would it be?

Janet: That’s too hard (laughs) way too hard. It is funny many of the American punk bands of the late 80’s had a big impression on most Australian rock bands. The Dead Kennedy’s came out here once and influenced many people. I don’t think they even exist anymore do they? I think they are still suing each other (laughs). That is just too hard; there are too many bands to pluck just one.

SU: I know you went to LA to record the album and worked with Sylvia Massy Shivy. What made you choose to work with her?

Janet: The record label had dealt with her before and our connection at the record label said that we would really like working with her as her attitude is very similar to ours. She’s also based in this small town, called Weed, so we’re all from a small town. We wouldn’t go mad living there for 2 months. So we had a telephone conference with her and we got a show reel of her stuff and we loved the stuff she’d done. When we spoke to her and said we don’t want to work for 24 hours a day and we aren’t insanely precious about having everything perfect. We just want to record it live and get the energy and the perfect take each time. And she said, “Great, I love it.” We thought she’d be much more ferocious and perfectionist and she wasn’t. She was really into the energy idea. So we did it there.

SU: Do you think working with her had an influence on the way the songs turned out or did you know what you wanted when you went in there?

Janet: We kind of said this is what we want and she said she loved it. She made it perfect. She really took that vision and got it right. Along the way we were sending her demos and she was having a part in contributing to that song or this song. Her involvement was right from the start. She had a big influence on the record and I loved her working method. You know…”there’s no point in stressing, you guys play golf, lay back, and I’ll get this done and we’ll have a big hearty meal at the end of the day.” We loved her for that.

SU: I know that you have pretty strong feminist views; Not meaning that as an insult just meaning that you have voiced your opinion in the past…

Janet: Have I? Hmm… (laughs)

SU: Do you feel that female fronted bands are judged on a different set of standards than their male counterparts?

Janet: That depends on the individual band. The thing about us is we aren’t really fronted, but if anything the drummer is the front person if that’s even possible. I guess the way that we all started playing music was our drummer was actually a really great musician who was accepted into the Conservatory of Music in Melbourne and was going to be a music teacher or be in a symphony orchestra or something like that. The guitarist had never played before and we were all friends and he was keen to play with us.

I think that was the best thing about how this band this started. It wasn’t’ about how super ‘musicianship’, it was about fun and social contact. The Melbourne music scene was bubbling away in the 90’s and it was very inclusive and when women played music there was no hierarchy of music or gender issues. It was just everyone got on stage and had a go, but it wasn’t until later when we hit the mainstream that the gender politics thing kicked in and people started asking me about it. Before that I hadn’t even considered it (laughs).

SU: I think it may not be as much as an issue there, but I think you can definitely see it here especially with the major record labels and just the way the media views things. It’s often not enough for a female fronted band for the music to be good, it’s also gotta be about the look. They are judged on different levels than a male band.

Janet: I guess for me I loved some of the women musicians when I was growing up like Tina Weymouth in Talking Heads and people like that who weren’t dolling themselves up, it was just about the music. As much as the record company could push that sort of stuff, if the general public doesn’t accept it than that makes all the difference doesn’t it?

SU: Alright, when you look at bands with just one female member, you will find that she is either the bass player or the singer. What do you think it is that draws women to the bass?

Janet: The way it happened with us, it was kind of the last instrument left, the drums were already taken and the guitarist said, “I want the guitar.” So I was stuck with the bass, but I was ok with it. It’s silly because it’s the heaviest guitar of them all.

I’m sure there is some sort of comparison with boys wanting to show off in front of people and stuff. It does seem to be a bit of a trend, Sonic Youth I suppose. There are a lot of bands in Australia there is a similar situation as well.

SU: The way I actually heard about you guys was through following Regurgitator over the years. I know you released a Happyland record some time ago now, will there ever be a Happyland comeback?

Janet: A Happyland comeback? (laughs) Is it was just the one off thing, just a bit of fun when we had time off from our respective bands. The way that the momentum is going on this stuff overseas and Europe I can’t imagine I’ll have a lot of time to deal with anything like that. We are always doing other kind of projects. I really like doing girlie pop stuff, it doesn’t seem to connect on a mainstream level, but I still am such a big fan. I grew up with The Go-Go’s and all those kind of bands which I really dug. So I’ll probably do something like that again in the future, yeah.

SU: I imagine it’s nice to have outlets to do different kinds of things.

Janet: Yeah it’s nice to sort of get away.

SU: Well are you into politics at all?

Janet: Yeah you can’t really avoid it. It’s hard not to be because it is stuff that is deciding your future so it’s kind of important.

SU: What do you think of your government getting involved in the Iraqi conflict?

Janet: That was very disappointing; I think we had a big march in Melbourne. There were over 100,000 people marching in the streets of Melbourne that day. We thought they are going to apply more diplomatic pressure and we were keen to see that happen and suddenly all hell broke loose. It was very unexpected, a little unnecessary, and a little sad.

SU: Coming from someone outside of our country (The United States), what is your opinion on George W Bush? Do you think he’s inherently evil or do you think he’s just a product of a corrupt system?

Janet: It’s hard to comment, you must get sick of people from outside your country commenting as if they know the situation.

SU: The sad part is that you probably know as much about it as we do. It’s not like we hear that much more.

Janet: I think that’s changing though isn’t it? I mean it sounds if people are demanding more information.

SU: I think people are getting more involved since things have taken such a bad turn.

Janet: It had to get to this point before something like that happened.

SU: Especially with musicians. We are finding a lot of organizations to get musicians involved, pushing people to get involved and use that platform they have and the attention of the kids that they have and turn them towards politics.

Janet: It’s hard to imagine that you wouldn’t be interested in something that would affect you directly like that. We hear things like more people voted on American Idol than they did vote on the last election. So we only hear the sort of salacious things about American politics. We don’t understand a lot of the workings. There’s no doubt that people are feeling a sense of, it’s a little bit scary out there, with what has happened. With the plane that was supposed to fly out of Sydney and fly to LA and somebody wrote Bob on an airsick back and it was turned around halfway because somebody thought it said Bomb. The paranoia and panic and it’s kind of icky.

SU: It is definitely a crappy situation.

Janet: I don’t know how we can backpedal out of it, it’s almost like we’ve gone too far already.

SU: It’s sad for us because you talk to people from other countries and you feel a sense of responsibility for what the government has done, even though you have no control over it, it’s still this perception of American politics.

Janet: You are also getting some aggression I suppose. Considering from what we’ve read, he (GW Bush) was elected illegally. It must be difficult. You hear things that America is being swept into this one force and not considered a people with different voices. I suppose that the Michael Moore film (Fahrenheit 9/11) is having a huge impact as well over there. Whether you accept what he says or whatever his agenda is, it show there is another voice I suppose.

SU: If nothing else, it’s getting people to pay attention. If people disagree then you know they are at least paying attention enough to disagree. The last thing I’ll ask, if you had to put Spiderbait on a musical timeline with one end being just getting started and the other end being ready to throw in the towel, where would put the band in that timeline?

Janet: (Laughs), in this moment? We are always ready to throw in the towel. It’s hard. We didn’t expect to be doing what we are doing now, when we started it was just something we did on the weekends. I couldn’t believe when people first came to our shows and we didn’t know who they were. They weren’t our friends; that was a big milestone. Then we printed 500 copies of a single and I remember thinking, “500 people, they can’t all be my mom.” That was a big moment.

SU: You were checking her closet to see how many copies she had?

Janet: You never know, you never know. So yeah everything is a bit of a bonus and working as a musician in a crowded field is quite an honor and it’s quite an amazing situation to be in.

Aug 5 2004