It would probably go without saying that no one, especially not the Hoodoo Gurus, expected their tenth album to arrive in 2022.
First of all, it was in 2010 that the group’s last album, Purity of Essence, was released. Itself arriving six years after their previous record, it was their highest-charting album in 16 years, and proved that the Hoodoo Gurus were still at the top of their game. Of course, the ensuing years – though filled with plenty of live shows – were devoid of new music while the band contended with the release of longtime drummer Mark Kingsmill.
However, it was in 2019 that the Hoodoo Gurus returned with new music, sharing “Answered Prayers” just months before the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down. Though initially planned a somewhat quieter year anyway, the group were able to release a few singles (including the Donald Trump-focused “Hung Out to Dry”) as they waited for the world to return to some semblance of normalcy where they could finish their record.
Ultimately, this new album was announced back in January, with Chariot of The Gods set to arrive in March as the Hoodoo Gurus’ long-awaited tenth album.
“The last twelve months have been frustrating and nerve-racking for everyone but, for the Hoodoo Gurus, this dark cloud has had a silver lining,” Dave Faulkner said upon the record’s announcement. “Forced to rely on ourselves instead of the outside world for validation, there has been a creative rebirth within the band that has resulted in a string of singles and a new album.
“Most important of all, the musical bonds between the four of us have never been stronger,” he adds. “When the discussions are all about which songs we’re sad about having to leave off the record, that’s a damn good sign. “I’m tellin’ ya, folks, we’ve got a real spring in our step right now.”
Indeed, with a spring in their step, a new album in the world, and an upcoming 40th anniversary tour set to kick off (at long last) in early April, 2022 is looking like the Hoodoo Gurus’ year.
In anticipation of their record’s release, frontman Dave Faulkner spoke to Rolling Stone Australia about the Hoodoo Gurus’ latest album, and the long journey that got them to where they are today.
Let’s begin with the standard question: How have you been dealing with everything going on in the world? Have you been keeping safe and well these past few years?
I’ve been very tuned in to the latest news on coronavirus and virology. There’s a podcast I’ve been listening to since about February last 2020 called This Week in Virology and that’s kind of kept me slightly sane because it gives you the real medical lowdown or whatever scientific lowdown of what’s going on.
So you don’t have to kind of rely on popular media which tend to either sensationalise or basically miss important information. So, for example, I’ll read about the fact that the Omicron-specific vaccine is not that effective a couple of weeks before it gets the popular press. So I don’t have to interpret information the way everyone else does.
Well that’s the main thing, isn’t it? Staying safe and staying well-informed.
Yeah, as far as how we’ve physically been coping, it affected the recording of this album. Early on, we had to basically interrupt our rehearsal process when we were in the process of working on new songs, and not see each other for three months. And that was quite a challenging time. There was no vaccine on the horizon at that point. We were just basically wondering, you know, “Do we have to buy provisions and stay in our house in case we have the Black Death outside?”
So we weren’t sure, and as I said, we couldn’t see each other at all, and that was a slight hiccup. But apart from that, it’s been more of a nuisance than anything else and obviously for the musicians, it has been terrible. You know, no gigs. I mean, we were planning on 2020 being a sort of quiet year anyway. We wanted to work on the album and also we had the big tour planned for basically the beginning of 2021 or something – that was the plan originally; our 40th anniversary tour. But of course, it all got moved and moved and moved, and in the meantime we had the album to work on. So that kind of kept the same.
And releasing the singles rather than doing the whole process of taking three months recording and mixing it and saying goodbye, we did it staggered. That really worked in this respect, and gave us something to focus on continually for the last two years.
We’ll touch on the album more in a moment, but beforehand, I’d like to go back a few years. It was in 2010 that we received the last album from the Hoodoo Gurus, and that album itself came six years after the previous album. So after the last one, what was the plan? Were you all thinking, “Let’s do another one soon”, or was it a case of, “Let’s do this sporadically, if at all?”
Look, there was a lot going on in the band. Some of it I could go into, and some of it I don’t want to go into with so many personal things. But the very simplest thing that was one of the major things that slowed us, was that Mark Kingsmill, our drummer… Basically after the last record at some point – I’m not sure when, maybe a couple of years after, I’m not sure – he basically was working towards retiring. And we didn’t know it for a long time and we just knew that he was not interested in touring so much. He would say no to gigs and didn’t want to do pub shows or whatever, he’d only wanted the big Day on The Green-type festival shows.
“The question was, ‘Well, do we want to break up when he quits the band?'”
And we weren’t sure what his reasoning was, but it did manifest itself in that we were turning down a lot of work, and it seemed like he was kind of just wanting to do the ones that were with the most money for the least playing in some regard [laughs]. And those gigs, they’re kind of cushier, because it’s an outdoor gig and you’ve got your own dressing rooms and stuff. And it’s just it’s just more comfortable, these sort of big shows. And we just thought that was what it was, that basically he didn’t want to do the heavy grift of playing a sweaty pub with a crappy dressing room, and also playing longer sets – because in those pub shows, you do tend to play more songs along the show. Some of these festival shows your set is, by necessity, shorter because you have a larger bill.
So for whatever reason, it just seemed like he wanted to play less, and then it turned out that the reason was that he wanted to retire, and he actually was kind of over the whole thing and touring everything. And so part of that was that he didn’t want to do a record either. Because he knew that you do a record, you’ve got to do all those type shows and kind of get the word out.
So he didn’t want to kind of, in a sense, be dishonest with us and lead us down the garden path and make a record then not promote it. So he was doing what he thought was the right thing for himself, and we kind of eventually found out that was his plan and the question was, “Well, do we want to break up when he quits the band?”
We’d always kind of say that if one of us leaves, that will be the end of the band because there’s a certain kind of dynamic that you can’t just replicate by putting someone else in that position. We’ve realised this now after many years. We had a couple of line-up changes very early on, and when you’re young, you kind of take it for granted that that’s what you do. But as we’ve been so stable for so long, it was a huge rupture within us to deal with that. And we’re thinking like, “Well, do we want to keep going without Mark? Let’s just maybe knock it on the head? Let’s just take what we can have and then maybe fade away gracefully at that point.”
But we kind of got a bit of a hunger after a while to make a record, and Mark didn’t want to do it. But basically, he did sort of retire and we got Nik [Rieth] in the band, and Nik was with us for about 18 months, I think. We were playing, but it just wasn’t quite gelling. And then Mark, for some reason, he kind of – absence makes the heart grow fonder – decided he actually wouldn’t mind playing again. And also, I do believe he did some renovations at home that cost him a whole lot more money – as they always do – than expected. So he thought maybe a little bit of extra money in the bank wouldn’t hurt. So he decided he’d come back and play some shows, and we ended up playing about for another 10 months with Matt.
And then that really was the moment when it was like, “Well, will we break up, or will we keep going?” We kind of weren’t sure about it when Mark left the first time, whether it was working with Nik, and we were like, “What are we going to do?” And it was like, “You know, what the hell, let’s just let’s do it.” We just wanted to play music still, and we had a passion for it, and it just seemed like the wrong thing to do, just to kind of let Mark decide our fate. Nothing against Mark, but we just thought, “Well, no, I’ve other ideas”, and we all felt the same.
So we tried a lot of different drummers and none of them worked out. And, you know, some well-known people, and it was funny, we just ended up going, “You know what? Nik was the right guy.” So we’ve got Nik back again, and that probably was about two years ago, maybe three years ago. So it’s taken us a while to get around Nik being back in the band before we finally got around to start to do some work towards recording. So at the end of 2019, we did “Answered Prayers” and that began this whole process.
What was the initial sort of plan then? You were saying the Hoodoo Gurus were planning for 2020 to be more of a relaxing year, so was the plan then to basically treat 2020 as a recording year and then release an album soon after? Because I guess it would be fair to say that COVID wasn’t something you’d planned for.
Exactly. We had three months, suddenly, in March when we suddenly weren’t allowed to see each other. We had already done “Answered Prayers”, and it was a bit of an experiment. We were going to do a record, but it was like, “Well, it’s one thing to play with Mick and do the old songs live and think that this is working well. It’s another thing to create new work with someone and to see if that’s going to be a fruitful relationship.”
So “Answered Prayers” was a really big moment, and it was also a very big moment for me as a songwriter. It’s a very dark subject. It’s about, basically, an emotionally abusive relationship, and the person singing is the abuser. So it’s quite a very dark lyric. And that person is kind of gaslighting the person they’re talking to, who is basically their partner they’re abusing, or controlling. And they say horrible things like, “I don’t want you, I want your money.” I’s obviously someone who’s making another person feel like they’re valueless and they only want what they can get from them.
So it’s a really horrible song to sing, in a sense, but I wanted to do that because I wanted to take away that perspective of me singing about someone else and going, “Aren’t they a bad person?” Which takes away the superiority of me saying, “I can see how bad they are by writing these things about them.” And it kind of takes away the immediacy of it.
And I felt the same way when I wrote “Hung Out to Dry” about Trump. I wanted to make it about me talking to Donald Trump and saying, “I fucking hate you”, rather than me saying “We fucking hate him“. And people can say, “Oh, you’re a bit of a snob”, or “You’re feeling superior”, y’know? So that’s me saying, “No, I’m not talking to you, you can think what you like about Trump. I’m talking to him. I think he’s a fuckwit, and I’m going to tell him to his face in this song.” And it just takes away that distance.
So that first-person narrative in the case of both songs was quite important. I mean, I’ve done that before. It’s not unusual, but the other thing about “Answered Prayers” for me was the lyrics. They came out really quickly and I virtually didn’t have to change anything up. I wrote the first draft that was pretty much as you hear it. I don’t even know if I changed anything. And it was kind of the power of the lyrics, as dark and as horrible as what the subject matter was, it was very, very powerful. And you know, I was just going, “God you’ve still got some energy in that songwriting. You’re not just a spent force. You can actually just put some melody, put some words and make this, this kind of a slap in the face.”
So that was really, for me, a watershed as a writer. I was kind of impressed by the power of that song, as simple as it is.
But I’ve lost my point [laughs], which was, as soon ase did that, it really kind of like, “OK, let’s go do the next single now that we’ve released that.” We started rehearsing and I wrote “Carry On” and “Get Out of Dodge” right then. And we went to the rehearsal and it sounded great. And we’re going, “These like singles! Let’s record this one, one of these next.” We booked time, we had the whole thing set up, and then bang – we had to shut everything down and not see each other. And it basically was biting your nails and sitting tight at home, hoping there’d be some daylight sometime soon.
What was the thought at that point? A lot of artists realised they had to pivot in that situation, so were the Hoodoo Gurus at the time basically saying, “All right, let’s try and do things remotely”? Or is it much more that you work better in person, in the studio?
We can only work together, and that’s just how it is. We’re a rock band, and we all really rely on that dynamic of, in a sense, our parts inspiring each other, and just the way it sounds together. As a writer, I’ve always written a lot of the things the other guys play. I have ideas for riffs or drum parts or bass parts; I’ll have all those things. But they also adapt when you’re working with the person and you’re in the room and they come up with their own ideas as well. So I could dictate arrangements and email them out and have them changed online, but it’s just not right. You lose that musical interaction you usually have. It’s just lost through technology and it’s not the same thing.
When did things really finish up with the album? I would assume then everything took a lot longer than you planned previously, so the whole process must have been drawn out a lot more.
It was. The album was basically ready around about the middle of last year, and we were planning on releasing in October, because we had the tour planned again for October and November last year. And the only thing that was a slight problem was that vinyl was going to take a lot longer. Everyone knows that the vinyl factories are overcommitted or whatever; everyone’s just queuing up for a year or two sometimes to get vinyl.
That was one thing, and we were saying. “OK, well, that’s fine. We’ll have to just live with that.” But as it happened once again, COVID, the delta and whatever stopped everything in its tracks again, and we had to cancel the tour and move it to this year. So we said, “What the hell, let’s release the album then as well.” So we delayed the album but it also the vinyl would be ready as well, which was a bonus. So that was relatively minor compared to what we’d been through [laughs].
Speaking of the vinyl edition of the album, I did notice that there are a few extra tracks on the vinyl version. What was the thought there? Was it more of a way to entice fans to grab the physical version rather than digital?
Well, for us, we hope that will work [laughs], but we haven’t got many of them anyway, so it’s not going to change our fortune if we sell the vinyl or don’t. It’s a collector’s item, no matter what. No, it’s more the fact that we love analogue technology, we also love vinyl, and that’s probably our preferred format anyway, just to have a physical album in our hands. I still collect CDs, for example. So that’s going to disappear, probably, but it won’t mean that I won’t be very happy to have CDs in my collection. I love them.
But the vinyl, when we went to press it, we figured out it was 14 songs – well 13, really; the first songs and an introduction – which is just too long for one vinyl album. So we realised we had to have two albums and then it became like, “Well, it’s too short for two vinyl albums, so let’s chuck on some extra songs,” which meant that it was four songs each side, which is great. It’s going to be a good quality pressing.
We actually had it with the last album, Purity of Essence, which wasn’t released on vinyl anyway until a couple of years afterwards. Spain, there was a label there that wanted to release it as a vinyl edition. And again, that had 16 songs on it. So there was a precedent for having a double vinyl with four songs a side. So it was kind of like, basically; “That worked before, let’s do it again.”
We had the “Hung Out to Dry” song, which wasn’t on the digital album, which probably should have been, now that I think about it. But anyway, we’d planned on leaving it off because we thought, we kind of hoped, that Trump would be a spent force and we wouldn’t have to think about him any more. We don’t really like thinking about that arsehole. That’s one reason we thought we’d leave it off, and we had other songs we wanted to put on anyway as well. So the fact we could put it on the vinyl album was great.
And we had these two covers that we recorded actually for quite different reasons. One was for you at a New York radio station. They asked if they could get a live track and we actually did it virtually live in the studio – just did a little bit of an overdub in the backing vocals. That’s “I Wanna Be Your Man”.
And we were also approached to do a [Bob] Dylan cover for a Dylan tribute album, which I don’t know if that’s going ahead. But we recorded it anyway because we were in the studio, and we found a song we thought would be really cool to do, just like we did with “I Wanna Be Your Man”. So we did a pretty damn good version, and I thought, “Well, let’s chuck it on the record.”
I was going to mention “Hung Out to Dry”, actually, because it was released as a single. But you’re right, Trump is no longer in office, so it sort of isn’t relevant anymore, in a way.
I hope that those criminal charges will stick and he will be just disallowed from running for President again. But I mean, he’s not going anywhere, sadly. It’s just horrible. At the very worst, he’s going to be a media figure and a polarising figure for years to come. So the dickhead’s still out there and still grifting off people.
Looking at the record itself, it is in fact a great album, and it doesn’t feel like it’s been 12 years between records. What do you chalk this inconsistency up to? Is it just how well the Hoodoo Gurus work together, or is it more of a case of having been in it long enough to know what works?
Any calculation, like having some kind of intellectual process that can steer you in a direction, doesn’t work. As far as the energy of it feeling fresh, that is something that only can be done by the band itself firing as a creative unit. As a songwriter, anyone could do a bad version of the song. So a good version of the song is down to the people doing it and the way they react and work with each other.
That’s an intuitive thing, and it’s also that we all have a passion for music, we’re fans of music, and so we bring that focus and that imagination to what we’re doing. The songs that work are because that’s where our creative juices are all flowing in the same direction. The ones that don’t work, maybe there’s a failure to connect or something in that sort of way.
But by and large, most songs work. You just decide, like,”This song sounds like when the band’s playing, and this one sounds like it is kind of unique and a bit more compelling. That one sounds like it could be on a B-side.” We kind of do that where we sort of label things as being what the Hoodoo Gurus would have done. “That song reminds me of this or that era,” or, “That song we’ve done before”. Some of them just feel like that and we go, “Well, we won’t record that on, because that’s that we’ve got better ones that we’ve done like that before. These are the ones that say something new to us and we feel fresh on.”
“We just make Hoodoo Gurus music. And that’s why we’re still here. No one’s taken that off us, they haven’t done it better, and they can’t. They can only do their own music better, but they can’t do us better than us.”
But now, even though you’re thinking this album sounds like us and feels like a continuation, there are some unique wrinkles on there. A song like the title track, for example, there’s nothing like that in our past. “World of Pain”, for example. Yes, they’re all from the rock genre [laughs], and we are a rock band, so those things are going to unite and make you go, “Well, it’s of its kind”.
Years ago, Mental As Anything said something which I always thought was a fantastic quote – and I’ve requoted it many times myself – which is where they describe their own music. They said, “After a while, when you were a band, you become in a sense your own genre.” And he said, “Mental As Anything, we’re kind of like Elvis movies,” [laughs].
Elvis movies are a certain kind of movie. There’s no one else that makes Elvis movies, but Elvis. They’re kind of cheesy, they’re kind of fun, they kind of have a bit of the rock and roll, whatever, but they are a genre. I kind of feel like we’re that way, too; we just make Hoodoo Gurus music. And that’s why we’re still here. No one’s taken that off us, they haven’t done it better, and they can’t. They can only do their own music better, but they can’t do us better than us.
I believe I was reading how you all said that creative bonds between you all have never been stronger, and that definitely makes sense after listening to this record. It is indeed Hoodoo Gurus at their purest, but with some of those aforementioned unique wrinkles that set it apart from anyone else.
I mean, it’s kind of a dark album in a few places. Someone else mentioned it to me, they said, “Itt sounds like you’ve been having a bit of a hard time, Dave” [laughs]. There’s some songs about disappointed friendships. “My Imaginary Friend” is a pretty dark song about basically a very strong friendship that’s just suddenly nonexistent. And then “Answered Prayers”, of course. “Don’t Try to Save My Soul” is kind of about, “Damn the torpedos, fuck it, I’m just going to do my own life and not care about if other people think it’s fucked or good.”
I see it as more defiant, but there’s also a hint of negativity. “Carry On”, of course, is about basically trying to plough on despite all the opposition that you’re getting and interference in your affairs, or lack of acknowledgement for what you’re doing and what good you’re doing.
It is an album that has come out of some struggling, but funnily enough, not because of COVID which everyone presumes would be the case. It wasn’t because I was sitting by myself at home and thinking about my life and writing songs and having summed up things that I’ve done wrong or things that are going badly for me. It wasn’t like that, either. It’s just that these are the things around me right now. Donald Trump, for example. They’re in the air and the things that are within his immediate, personal things or societal things.
Even the title track, I’m not sure if you picked up on what that’s about. But it’s a hopefully horrific sci-fi story about an alien invasion of Earth. And basically, we’re being hunted to extermination by this superior race. But the song, there’s a subtext to it which you know people can get or not get, it doesn’t really matter. But my ambition when writing a song was to sneak one by people and have them kind of identify with the human beings and to have this superior technology come in and basically wipe out the civilisation.
Because that’s happened in the past in this very country, and I guess it would have been a sci-fi back then to the Australian Aboriginal people when the Europeans arrived in their fancy vessels with their muskets and cannons and their diseases. So it’s a metaphor for that, and in fact, I used the line “guns, germs, and steel” in the first chorus, which is a book all about European colonialisation and how they subjugated indigenous peoples all over world.
And everyone always presumes because they’re a superior culture and superior civilisation, the primitive one had to give way to advanced society and manners and superior philosophy. But it wasn’t about that at all. It was about diseases, it was about technology, and basically, people that hadn’t required these technologies, they’d managed to survive quite happily for thousands and thousands of years; tens of thousands. But they couldn’t compete or couldn’t hold back against this devastating influx.
And I wanted people that are maybe kind of callous about that, thinking now like, “That happened so long ago, that’s not my problem, why should I care? Why are the Aboriginal people still unhappy? And why aren’t they getting with the programme and now being civilised and just like me? Why should I feel guilty?”, I kind of wanted to give those people a way of – without realising it – identifying with the plight of how it would have been to be there in the Aboriginal person’s shoes at that time.
Once the album is out, you’re going to tour in April. Of course, fingers crossed that COVID doesn’t take over and ruin things. But my question is, what is the focus of the tour going to be? Because time-wise, it feels like it should focus on the album, but a 40th anniversary tour feels like it should be retrospective celebration of the Hoodoo Gurus.
Well, basically, we’re going to try and do the wisdom of Solomon [laughs] and cut that baby several times and not have it die. I’m thinking about leaving out a couple of songs that we play and some of the quite popular singles so we can perhaps play a few lesser-travelled songs from our past and then still have room for the newer songs that we want to play as well. And we are going to be playing a long-ish set. I haven’t written the set out yet, but I’ve already got some controversial omissions that I’m planning, and given that we are going to be playing longer anyway, there’s going to be room for more songs.
But basically, yes, we are going to do all three things at once. We’re going to play obviously the hits that we have to play. Songs like “1000 Miles Away”, “What’s My Scene?”, and the sort of song that, if we didn’t play them, a general audience-member would say they felt slightly shortchanged. Because of course, that is the Hoodoo Gurus. We understand that.
But at the same time, there are diehard fans who are sick of us playing all those hits as well [laughs]. So we want to give them – the trainspotters, or whatever you want to call it – a deep dive into the catalogue, and we’ll do a bit of that. So we’ll bring out songs that they wouldn’t expect to hear that are sort of fan favourites or whatever you want to call it. Songs that have a certain kind of character that have been part of our personality as well that we don’t get to show all the time. And then, of course, new songs, we play it all.
Hoodoo Gurus’ Chariot of The Gods is out today.
Hoodoo Gurus – 40th Anniversary Tour
With very special guests The Dandy Warhols
Saturday, April 2nd (Postponed)
Belvoir Amphitheatre, Perth, WA
Tuesday, April 5th
Adelaide Entertainment Centre Theatre, Adelaide, SA
Wednesday, April 6th
Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Melbourne, VIC
Saturday, April 9th (New Show)
Hobart City Hall, Hobart, TAS
Tuesday, April 12th (Sold Out)
Hordern Pavilion, Sydney, NSW
Wednesday, April 13th
Hordern Pavilion, Sydney, NSW
Thursday, April 14th
Riverstage, Brisbane, QLD