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Thanks to 'Sound As Ever', the '90s Will Last Forever

From humble beginnings, 'Sound As Ever' spawned a community which revels in the bygone era of the '90s music scene, and shows no sign of slowing down.

To paraphrase a quote frequently attributed to Charles Fleischer: “If you remember the ’90s, you really weren’t there.” Though that statement might be one rooted in tongue-in-cheek humour, it was a very real inability to remember moments from the decade that led to the creation of one of this year’s biggest local success stories – the Sound As Ever (Australian Indie 90-99) Facebook page.

It was in February – the evening of the 15th, to be precise – that renowned radio host, TV personality, journalist, and ’90s staple Jane Gazzo found herself thinking back to those unsung Aussie icons who made the decade great.

“I was actually writing a piece on David McComb from The Triffids,” Gazzo recalls. “There was this real need, or want from my end moreso, because we lost him in the ’90s, and I thought, ‘Well, what was he doing in the ’90s?’ I was trying to find information on the Australian music scene in the ’90s and what David might have been doing, and I was reaching a dead end.

“So I looked at a couple of Australian music books I had, and apart from the usual suspects – that is, the bands that really made it big in the Australian music scene – I was having trouble finding information about those second-tier bands who were around in the ’90s and then disbanded around the start of the new decade.”

For anyone who has tried to research bands – especially Australian bands – from that era, this is an all-too common roadblock. With countless groups and artists rising to varying degrees of prominence over two decades ago, only those who managed to make a big enough splash have succeeded in having their histories immortalised.

After all, it was an era when the internet was in its infancy, and social media as we know it today was still years off. As a result, there are countless songs, albums, gigs, and musicians that have had their legacies lost along the way. Realising a need to correct this mistake, Gazzo tapped “one of the biggest music nerds” she knows, Popboomerang label founder Scott Thurling to help in her search for information.

“I said, ‘Is there an Australian ’90s Facebook page or website?’, and Scott went, ‘No, but if there was I would totally be part of it’,” Gazzo recalls. “I said, ‘Right, I’m going to start one right now.’

“It was Saturday night, I’d had a couple of reds, I had the house to myself, and I just put one together. I had no idea that it would become the thing that is has grown into today.”

“I met Jane years ago when she had a band in the ’90s called Rubher,” Thurling recalls of the era, “and I was the first one to join up to their mailing list, which is very geeky. So I was just a ’90s music tragic; saw all the bands, collected all the CDs and posters.”

Together, the pair hashed out a plan to create a group where fans of Australian music in the ’90s could congregate and celebrate their shared love of the bygone era. Adopting the name from You Am I’s seminal debut album, and utilising an image of Fitzroy’s Punters Club as a cover photo, the Sound As Ever (Australian Indie 90-99) page was born.

“Things went really fast. We brainstormed names on the spot. I can’t remember the other ones, but Sound As Ever was the one that made [Jane] go, ‘That’s it, stop talking’,” Thurling recalls. “She launched the site that night, and things just exploded.”

“My first post was on Tlot Tlot because I was a massive Tlot Tlot fan, and I used the Punters Club as the kind of logo, because that was literally my university of life, growing up in Melbourne on Brunswick Street,” Gazzo explains.

“I woke up the next morning and there was something like 150 people who had joined based on the strength of a Tlot Tlot post. Then I went, ‘Oh my God, this is crazy. Let’s talk about Mr. Floppy next…’ Suddenly, I had a place to talk about all these bands where it wouldn’t get shunned or get just one like on my personal page.”

Before long, the fans had flocked to the group, and posts surrounding music and artists of the era soon came in thick and fast. At the time of writing, the group has 14,581 members, and shows no signs of slowing down.

Supporters were recalling memories of their first gigs, memorable shows they saw at long-forgotten venues, and sharing ticket stubs and posters from bands and artists that felt more like ancient history than a semi-popular outfit.

“I thought it was a travesty that there was no documentation on the Australian music scene,” Gazzo says. “It kind of makes sense in a way, because we didn’t have the internet, and everyone has kept so many things – especially like people in my age group.

“I mean, I kept everything from my triple j and 3RRR and Recovery days under my bed and in boxes and archives up in the attic. I found that when I’d get them out of storage and put them on my regular Facebook page, I’d get one or two likes from the people involved in those bands, and we’d have a bit of discussion, but it would peter out.

“For people like Scott and myself, those days shaped our identity, shaped us into who we are today, and I couldn’t believe there was nowhere for this music to be celebrated, to share those stories. So what we found was that the page was very quickly embraced, which I didn’t expect, and then when the first lockdown came in, a lot of people in that age group had time on their hands and started fossicking through their archives.

“What we’re discovering is that people are coming out of the woodwork and helping to piece together that very special time in music.”

“What we’re discovering is that people are coming out of the woodwork and helping to piece together that very special time in music.”

While the memories have been one of the most special parts of the group’s existence, Gazzo explains that it’s the stories and connections that have emerged as a result of fans using the page that resonate the most.

“I managed, just on the strength of this page, to do a piece for Tone Deaf on the best Australian ’90s covers and I got that inspiration from [Sound As Ever],” she explains. “Then there was the guy who posted pictures of his leopard jacket which had been around the entire music scene, which Double J then wrote a piece on.

“It’s been really interesting to see people say “Are you the same such-and-such who used to go to The Arthouse in 1992?” and seeing people connecting with each other again, and hearing their hilarious stories. And all the live music photos as well, and the posters, the poster art, and the t-shirts, there’s so much to this page.”

“People told their friends, and suggested members, and things like that,” Thurling adds. “It just shows that we’re sort of at that time, well you call it the ”90s revival’, when people are feeling a bit nostalgic, and a lot of those bands are still going, which is great.”

“I think it just shows that the music is in you forever, so it’s been great that there’s so many passionate people out there still. A lot of the people on the site are listening to new music and supporting the bands that are still going, but it just tapped into their memories and their excitement of that times. People link that to friendships, and relationships, and travel, and there’s a lot of emotions for a lot people.”

The famous leopard skin jacket post from Justin Barwick on 'Sound As Ever'

The famous leopard skin jacket post from Justin Barwick on Sound As Ever (Photo: Sound As Ever/Facebook)

One of the biggest differences between a group such as Sound As Ever and another Facebook page that exists to remember a bygone era is the rules which it lives by. While it’s easy for groups to exist as a means for lovers of rock music to share their favourite triple j staple by the likes of Grinspoon or Silverchair, it’s the desire to spark a conversation that sets this humble page apart from the rest.

“I think what we instigated from the very outset was, ‘Please don’t post anything unless you have a story’. That’s in the rules,” Gazzo explains. “‘If you remember it, share it’; that’s the first rule of Sound As Ever, because we don’t just want people saying ‘Hey it’s Friday, here’s a clip from TISM.’ That can be shared anywhere, we wanted to start discussions with people

“What this made people do was share their memories. So they’d share something and say ‘Hey, I remember the first time I saw this on Rage, I thought the band was incredible, I followed them through their entire career, I went to Townsville, to Newcastle to see them.’ This has spurned a thousand conversations. I think that’s the success of the page; we were really quite adamant that if you want to share something about a band that you love, please attach a story, a memory, an anecdote, anything.”

“We were really quite adamant that if you want to share something about a band that you love, please attach a story, a memory, an anecdote, anything.”

Outside of the nostalgia associated with the era, there’s an immersive, interactive element to the page as well, with members not only coming together to shine a light on some of the questions that have plagued others for years, but also finding themselves rubbing virtual shoulders with the big names they’ve long admired.

“People will say ‘Hey guys, I saw this band back in 1993 at such-and-such venue, the lead singer had dreadlocks, they used to sing songs about such-and-such, can someone help me?’ Nine times out of ten, we’ve solved the mystery,” Gazzo explains

“Some people have uploaded songs and said ‘I recorded this off the radio, can someone help me?’. It’s been great that we’ve been able to solve those burning mysteries. I love that people have really run with the page.

“Then you see those other things. [You Am I’s] Tim Rogers was a very silent member of the group who never posted anything, and then there was a discussion about Sydney band Box the Jesuit, that’s a band very close to Tim’s heart. To see him come in to the discussion with Box the Jesuit and kind of ‘out himself’, if you like, to share to his memories [was great].

“We’ve had so many band members be a part of this page, as well as people that I admire, like Murray Engleheart, Ian MacFarlane, and a lot of the great music journalists that I really respect and admire.”

“I just love the fact that fans, and artists, and media, and industry can all engage in a positive, well a generally positive way; we have to close a few threads, and there’s a few regular threads that bring out the immaturity in people,” adds Thurling.

“Overall, it’s been such a great spirit across all the conversations and all the posts. That’s the sort of thing I take with me. I love being a part of it, and seeing the posts, approving the posts, and I love talking to the members.”

While the Sound As Ever page proved itself to be a massive success, it soon spilled outwards, with media being created for the page outside of the confines of Facebook. While Gazzo spearheaded a podcast that featured the likes of Pollyanna’s Matt Handley and Magic Dirt’s Adalita, Thurling found himself heading up the group’s first official CD release, which arrived back in early July.

Dubbed The Shoebox Diaries, the first volume of the Sound As Ever compilation series was faithful to the era from which it was spawned in every way. From the artwork alone, which played into the memory of storing countless shoeboxes of tapes under the bed, to the liner notes from former Punters Club booker Richard Moffat, the packaging evoked memories of so many hours spent listening to the artists that made Australian music so great and diverse all those years ago.

Then, there was the tracklist itself. From groups like The Earthmen, Violetine, Pollen, and Swirl, to the likes of Disneyfist, The Fish John West Reject, and the aforementioned Tlot Tlot, there was something for everyone. For Thurling though, the inspiration to turn the group into something physical came from his own storied music collection.

“Being that music lover and that music geek, I knew a lot of unreleased music was out there,” he explains. “I’ve become friends with a lot of bands and they’ve sent me CDs and tapes throughout the years, so I was actually sitting on a lot of material to have a head start anyway.

“We had a really neutral process where we put the call out through the group, and the response was great. We treated every submission on its merit, and I think we got a real mix of names that were a bit more established, and a few more obscure acts.

“That’s what I want to maintain for the comps – a real sense of it being a lucky dip where people discover new bands this way and they had a few bands that were their favourites submitting tracks, too. I think we achieved that for volume one. I’ve had a lot of people say to me, ‘I’ve never heard of that band, I’m going to go and seek them out.’ I know with volume two, we’ve definitely got that balance right again.”

'The Shoebox Diaries', the first compilation from 'Sound As Ever'

The Shoebox Diaries, the first compilation from Sound As Ever

While Thurling notes it was an undeniable thrill to include a track from The Earthmen’s unreleased album on the first volume of the compilation, he finds it impossible to play favourites with the bands included, instead happy to let the diverse mix of music speak for itself.

“I just love all the tracks, and I think the balance is right,” he explains. “We’ve had some calls out to make them heavier, and I think some people will be excited with some of the tracks that are coming.

“There’s been talks of a heavy comp, and I think that we’ve got some good variety coming up over the next couple. I’m already deep down into volumes three and four – I’m just very passionate about it, and it’s been such a great project for me in isolation.

“Members are now approaching their bands and asking, ‘Hey have you got anything unreleased?’ They’re actually helping us out with by being a bit of a street team; a bit of an army.”

With decades spent as a renowned figure of Aussie music, Thurling notes compilations like these are on of his favourite parts of being involved in such a vibrant scene.

“I do take a lot of enjoyment from it, because not playing music myself, it’s sort of my way to really put a lot of myself into the projects,” he says. “Going from brainstorming the artwork, sequencing the tracks, and getting everything right. I really do enjoy the normal releases, but these compilations, are my favourite part of being involved in music.”

Posts on bands such as TISM are so plentiful, they're one of the few bands to receive their own category on Sound As Ever

Posts on bands such as TISM are so plentiful, they’re one of the few bands to receive their own category on Sound As Ever.

The first volume was an undeniable success, too. With both the group and the compilation emerging at a time of crisis for the music industry, all proceeds from volume one were earmarked for Support Act, who exist to support musicians or those within the industry during difficult times. Despite the costs associated with pressing and shipping a run of physical CDs, it’s a testament to the team behind the scenes and the fans who supported the project that Support Act were able to receive a hefty donation thanks Sound As Ever.

“We had well over $2,000 donated, and they were just thrilled with that,” Thurling recalls. “We only have a run of 500 CDs in play, so there’s a lot of costs involved. We were never going to be talking big money, but they were thrilled to get well over $2,000 in these tough times for musicians and industry people.

“The members really got behind that, and the bands got behind that. A lot of the bands aren’t active now, so they were just very happy for the profits of a found, lost recording to go to charity.”

While the first compilation was released in early July, Thurling and his team were already looking to the future and the subsequent volumes in the series. With volume two officially launching its pre-order process today, Thurling explains that while it’s been an enjoyable process, it’s bittersweet to know that the music and group that has brought so many people together is currently unable to bring people together in a physical sense.

“It’s been great to just chip away, because things take time, from artwork, liner notes, and mastering,” he explains. “I’ve got a great mastering person who’s bringing cassettes and DATs back to life. I’ve got a great artwork team, and a lot of these people worked for a very low rate because of the charity angle, which was brilliant. Everyone really got behind it.

“We weren’t able to launch it live for obvious reasons, so we have heaps of plans for gigs and events and member meet-ups.”

Though plans for such meet-ups and potential gigs are on hold at the current time, folks have been tided over thanks in part to online events on the Sound As Ever Facebook page, including the regular “Buy/Swap/Sell” day (held on the first Friday of each month).

“We had a watch/listening party for the first compilation, and a member Paul Smith is very busy making a second one, which is great,” Thurling explains. “I’d love to think we could get all the bands to get together to collect their CDs in person, and get some members, and have a small gig later in the year.”

In the meantime though, fans will have to settle for small physical reminders of the group, including stickers, t-shirts, and fridge magnets. In fact, it’s this theme of fridge magnets which informs the second volume in the Sound As Ever compilation series, with Stuck On The 90s officially available for pre-order from today.

'Stuck On The 90s', the first compilation from Sound As Ever

Stuck On The 90s, the second compilation from Sound As Ever

The tracklisting on this new volume is just as storied and eclectic as the first, with beloved acts such as The Mavis’s, Rail, Autohaze, Moler, and Carbine all contributing songs to the compilation.

One of the artists featured on the compilation is Klinger, who were a staple of stages around the country in the late ’90s and early ’00s. Releasing a handful of EPs and singles throughout their short career, the band split up around 2002, with members going onto different projects.

While a run of reunion shows took place in the early half of the last decade, Klinger also took the opportunity to release their long-awaited album, Shooting for The Chorus. This marked the end of the band as we know it, with its members re-emerging in 2019 as Slow Fades.

For frontman Ben Birchall, the Sound As Ever group was initially a small window into the music he loved back in the day, but quickly recognised the page as the work of some of the hardest-working names in the Australian music scene.

“It was actually my sister who tagged me in a post that, mentioned The Mavis’s,” Birchall recalls. “My sister is three years older than me, and she was the one that got me into Melbourne indie music, as big sisters do. So we used to go Mavis’s all-ages show, and when she got her license, she’d drive me to go and see Snout and Rail, and bands like that.

“She tagged me in a post, and I looked at the group, and as soon as I saw it, I thought ‘I reckon Scott Thurling is involved in this.’ Scott’s such a champion of independent music, and Jane Gazzo as well. People know her from triple j, but she was also with 3RRR for a long time, and she put together compilation CDs for Rubber Records, even putting Klinger on a compilation in the late ’90s.

“They’re people that have just been around that scene, and such great champions of music. As soon as I saw the page I thought, ‘Oh this is going to take up a lot of my time.’ And I was right.”

Before long, Birchall found himself reliving memories of the era, whether it be with people sharing their own memories of Klinger, or someone sharing a gig listing of a show that Klinger played with Tomorrow People at Joeys in Prahan – a gig that Birchall has no recollection of.

Like a select few of those on the Sound As Ever page, Birchall is one who crosses boundaries due to his ability to view group as not only a fan of the music of the era, but also as someone whose own music people reflect on.

“It is strange to see, 20 years later, people remembering that music,” he admits. “Partly, I think it’s because it was a really interesting time – it was just before social media. We all had websites and message boards and that sort of thing, and we were releasing MP3s, but it was just before there was a social media footprint, or that digital fingerprint that you did all these things.

“So it’s really nice to see people sort of hunting it down and remembering it. Any time anybody remembers our music, I don’t take that for granted for a second.”

“Any time anybody remembers our music, I don’t take that for granted for a second.”

While some artists have enjoyed lurking on the page, popping in – à la Tim Rogers – at a certain point to chime in on a topic that interests them, or to provide an insight on history regarding the music they made, Birchall’s fondness for the page is based predominantly around reconnecting old friends, and using it as something of an educational tool.

“We formed in 1996 and really didn’t get going until 1998/99, so we were at the tail-end of the ’90s,” he notes. “So it’s also a little bit about learning about what came before us. Obviously there’s the big bands that we remember, and the ones that particularly got played on triple j or Rage, but there was a whole bunch of bands I missed.

“One of the bands I really missed, I wasn’t aware of at all until the Sound As Ever page, was Greenhouse, who have a song on the upcoming compilation. It turns out that the guitarist and singer from Greenhouse is the dad of my nephew’s girlfriend, and I’ve kind of known him peripherally for years, so being able to learn about his music, and these bands that weren’t on my radar in 1993 or 1994 when I was a kid, is great.

“So it’s been really nice to reconnect, and also make new connections, and also do a bit more mining of the scene that we sort of sprung out of. Y’know, ‘who were the giants whose shoulders we were standing on’? There were definitely a few giants that I missed.”

Image of Klinger

Klinger are one of many Aussie bands from the ’90s to feature on the latest ‘Sound As Ever’ compilation (Photo: Facebook)

With Birchall already a passionate supporter of the group, it was Scott Thurling’s standing call-out for unreleased material that helped Klinger find their way onto the second volume of the compilation.

“The thing with Klinger is that we were a lot more prolific than it seemed,” Birchall notes. “We had albums worth of stuff recorded, and we were always just waiting for the right moment to put them out. Often that moment didn’t arrive, or if it did arrive, we were already onto the next thing.

“We had an unreleased [album], really just demos, that we had recorded back in 1998 that were meant to be the basis of our debut album. One of the songs was called ‘The Finish Line and When to Cross It’. We liked it enough to play it live on triple j. In late 1999, we were invited to do a live session on the Oz Music Show, so we played that as one of our four of five songs. It was definitely one that was earmarked to be a single at some point down the track.

“Then at some point, it took us about 18 months to put out the next release, and by that point we’d replaced it with another song.”

“It was difficult to put things out, so there’s a wealth of music out there that I think is going to be really interesting to see when it comes to light.”

In a serendipitous twist, Klinger sent the track over to Thurling who already knew the song, and was eager to give it a home on the compilation. As it turned out, Ernie Oppenheimer – who took on mastering duties for the release – was in fact the same person who recorded Klinger’s debut demos back in 1996. Oppenheimer was even able to supply Birchall with digital, mastered versions of the songs from this session, which diehard fans likely hope may one day see a release.

“There were so many bands from that era where it was hard to put something out,” Birchall says of music from the era. “You couldn’t just publish on your Soundcloud. You had to wait for the right moment, you had to get the money up to press the CDs, or press the vinyl, or put them onto tape. And you needed to drive them around to Polyester, or Missing Link, or Au Go Go to put them on the shelves.

“It was difficult to put things out, so there’s a wealth of music out there that I think is going to be really interesting to see when it comes to light.”

Klinger’s addition to the compilation, “The Finish Line and When to Cross It”, is something of an open secret amongst the band’s followers. Originally recorded over 20 years ago, the track had enjoyed some popularity between fans due to a low-quality recording making its way online.

In 2015, one of the band’s final reunion shows brought with it the official digital release of Sounds of Science, a mini-album that ultimately went unreleased, though a handful of the songs had managed to surface on the internet.

“Sounds of Science was a release that never was, basically,” Birchall recalls. “We dubbed some tapes, but at a proper dubbing place in Flemington, and there was probably about 20 or 30 copies of it. We were just using it to try and get gigs, sending out demos to record companies.

“I lost track of it, but then I found it online; somebody else put it up there. Actually, I think Scott Thurling tracked it down. That was one of those ones that completely got away from us. So it’s really nice to shine a bit of light on it.”

Though “The Finish Line and When to Cross It” has received a bit of mastering thanks to Oppenheimer, the track still manages to serve as a snapshot of Klinger’s rawness in that era, showcasing a heavier side that would later be outshined by triple j favourites such as “Hello Cruel World”.

“It’s rough as guts. It’s pretty much the second or third take, there’s no overdubs. It’s recorded at essentially a rehearsal studio in Bundoora called Jets Studio, and our sound guy Simon recorded it,” Birchall explains.

“It wasn’t really meant to be released, but what we learnt down the track was that the stuff we polished up and put the most work into wasn’t the best record of Klinger. We were a really high-energy, fizzy, fun, ‘pop ‘n’ roll’ band, as we liked to call it. Those recordings capture that side of us, and they’re actually probably heavier than most of the stuff we put out as well.”

Ultimately, there’s a feeling of validation and gratification at the heart of Klinger’s inclusion on the compilation. Though Birchall admits his band came about a little bit later than some of the other more famous names of the Australian music scene of the ’90s, he finds his work alongside many of the bands that helped cement his love of local music, or even shared a stage with.

“There’s Greenhouse, Moler… They were bands we really looked up to that we supported,” Birchall says. “We opened for Moler and Pollyanna at the Punter’s Club, and that was a big show for us. It would’ve been 1996 or 97, and that would’ve been big-time for us; we love those guys.

“Also bands like Carbine, we who played a lot with – and Mark from Carbine is still a good friend, he plays in a band called The Mansions now. There’s a Rail song on there, there’s a Mavis’s song on there.

“Those are bands I snuck into overage shows when I was underage to go and see them. I was absolutely obsessed with The Mavis’s when I was 17. There’s all these nice connections, and seeing our name next to all these bands is just really gratifying.”

For something that started over a now-famous glass of wine on a Saturday night, Sound As Ever has gone from being a means of answering burning questions about the era, to becoming a thriving community in which music lovers or music makers can come together and reminisce.

While it’s still early days, really, who knows what the future holds for the group. How much more unreleased music will be uncovered? How many more unremembered gigs will have a light shone upon them once again? And how many more TISM posts will there be? It’s anyone’s guess, but in the meantime, it’s crystal clear that fans’ love of the ’90s is, and always will be, sound as ever.

The second compilation from the Sound As Ever Facebook page, Stuck On The 90s, is available to pre-order from Bandcamp now.