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The Meanies: No Half Measures

Releasing their first album in five years, Link Meanie discusses the creation of "most cohesive, well-formed Meanies record to date".

Back in 1996, influential Melbourne outfit The Meanies announced a hiatus. As unexpected as it was unwelcome for their fans, the news came about following an incredibly busy period for the group. In addition to a handful of studio albums, EPs, compilations, and countless singles (Wikipedia lists 17 various releases between 1990 and 1995), the group had been a staple of the live circuit, supporting acts as varied as Nirvana, the Beastie Boys, and Pearl Jam.

Thankfully, this hiatus didn’t last long, and by 1998 the group had reformed, with more singles, EPs, and live shows arriving as the years went by. However, those eager for a new album were left wanting. That is, until 2015, when the band returned with It’s Not Me, It’s You, their first full-length release since 1994.

While reviews were positive and live shows were plentiful, questions did emerge as to what the future might hold for the band. Vocalist Link Meanie found himself moving to Spain in 2017, and while a 30th anniversary tour took place in 2019, many diehards may have found themselves wondering just how many decades they would have to wait for another new record from the group.

Thankfully, this answer came sooner than expected, with The Meanies emerging back in May to share “Cruel To Be Caned”, the first single from their forthcoming record, Desperate Measures.

Desperate Measures is an album title for the times, whether it be applicable to the rise of right wing anti-intellectualism, the associated denial of impending environmentally apocalyptic disaster or the cultural lobotomy of today’s popular media,” Link explained upon the album’s announcement.

“It’s hard to see a way through this miasma of illogical negativity without… (drum roll)… desperate measures.”

With the new album released today, Rolling Stone spoke to Link Meanie from his home in Barcelona to discuss time in isolation, time spent in isolation, and whether there’s more in the tank for the influential rockers.

I guess should ask what’s become the standard opener so far; how have you been coping with everything going on in the world?
Like everyone, it’s been a bit of a trial with being forced to isolate for a few months. I don’t think I stepped outside – apart from taking the rubbish out – for three months. But now we can go out, go and have a drink at the bar, or whatever, with certain restrictions. It’s all come out the other side. But it’s hard obviously, being a musician and not being able to play. The whole situation is hard for everyone. As Jeff Goldblum says in Jurassic Park, “Life… uh, finds a way.”

The big headline for you this week is that The Meanies have a new album out. How’s everyone been feeling about that? Have you been feeling excited to get it out into the world?
We are. I mean, obviously it’s disappointing to not be able to tour it around Australia or the world. We had a European tour and an Australian tour booked for July, and obviously that couldn’t happen. So it’s mixed feelings. Obviously it’s exciting to get a record out, but… yeah.

Once there’s a sense of normalcy, I’m assuming you will look at touring Australia and Europe again?
Yeah, I mean, some people think this shit’s going to go on for a couple of years. Hopefully not, hopefully there’s some sort of antidote or vaccine that comes about in the next six months. We’ll see.

It took more than 20 years for the last album to come around, but only five years for this one. When did you all decide it was time for another record?
We didn’t really… To me, it just started out of boredom and missing the creative process. I was writing some music to start a band here, in Spain, but that sort of didn’t come about, so I started doing a solo project and writing for that where I just use my guitar and computer to play live. But the coronavirus put paid to that. During the last couple of years I’ve really missed the whole spectrum of being a performer and creating whatever, so it was just done out of boredom. I don’t really know if there was any intention to put an album out – no plan anyway. Yeah, [it was] just therapy, and it just happened.

In that case, was there really a moment when you could say the whole writing, recording, and production process of it all really began? Or was it just a case that you realised you had some songs in the bank?
Without any particular plan in place, it could’ve happened five years later than it did. It just felt like a good thing to do, and I really enjoyed doing it. Just spending more time on the songs than I probably ever have before. Back in the early days, with Au Go Go, we used to put out so much stuff that I’d just be pulling stuff out of my arse. And some of it, yeah, there’s some good songs, but some of it, there’s some songs that are a bit under-formed. To me, this album is the most cohesive, well-formed Meanies record to date. The last one, I really liked, but there was songs from different eras of the band that I had written as demos, so it probably didn’t have the cohesion of this record.

Now, this is the first album done with The Meanies since you moved over to Spain. Was the recording process different to previous records? Did you have to send things over to the rest of the band, or wait until you were back in Melbourne?
It’s no different doing it over here than it at home, because I’ve always kind of demoed everything. So [the songs are] kind of fairly complete when I give them to the band. But obviously the songs take on a life of their own once you get everyone’s individual styles, which inevitably changes the sound of the song. Y’know, this album was cool to because we’ve got Wally singing for the first time – a lead vocal – which is really cool. And co-writing a song for the first time – that I can remember anyway – which was “Drowning Tower”. He had a killer riff and I just put a verse and chorus to it, and it’s just really great.

“To me, this album is the most cohesive,
well-formed Meanies record to date.”

You’ve got Wally singing lead, and co-writing, but when you guys really got stuck into the recording process, was there anything you tried to do differently at all?
You don’t mess with perfection, mate [laughs]. I just think I’ve got a lot more patience now than I used to have in the studio, in the mixing process and even the performing process. I’d just get impatient and want to move on in the old days, so you’d see a lot of imperfections. Now I’ve got a lot more patience so I’ll sit there and make sure things are sort of… And you’ve got the luxury to do that with Pro Tools or digital recording where it’s a lot easier to fix mistakes than it was in the old days. So I kind of like that, because I’ve got no rhythm [laughs]. It’s kind of like the modern version of the session band for all those famous bands in the Sixties.

Content-wise, was there anything you guys were trying to achieve? I saw how you described “Jekyll and Hide” about being “a story about riding a raft of shoddy construction down the river of life”. I never had picked that up and it made me wonder if there were any other specific meanings on the tracks I might have missed.
I’m just trying to be arty-farty [laughs]. Probably half the songs are analytical about myself, some negative songs about myself, and others are just political about the state of the world at the moment; I’m just griping one way or another.

Do you find yourself writing more like that these days?
That’s one thing that hasn’t really changed in my writing. It’s come from a really… well that’s why it’s therapy, y’know? Essentially, it’s the blues, isn’t it? Whether it’s pop or punk, or whatever you want to call it, it’s the same therapy that blues music provides for the performer.

You said before that you think this album is the band’s most cohesive to date. You said the same thing about the last album as well, and noted that if that ended up being your last one, you felt you’d ended on a high. Does this album trump your feelings of the previous one?
Yeah, I realised I was lying [laughs]. Obviously, I knew the flaws in that album, but to me it was more consistent than previous albums. But this one, yeah, it totally trumps the previous record. Mainly because I’ve written it all in a similar sort of time frame, whereas the previous one – as I said – you had songs from the late Eighties, even. Just spending more time in the studio, polishing it a bit more than we had before. And we were there for the mixing process. Some of the mixing process for the last album was done when we weren’t there. We started mixing it but the guy [Sloth, aka, Brent Punshon] had to move to Tasmania.

Being that involved in the mixing process though, does that make you feel a bit nervous that you might try to strive for too much perfection at all? Or is that never really an issue with the band?
It never used to be; we used to be very lazy. I do find it really stressful, the mixing process. The recording process is slightly stressful, but mixing I find to be a real trial. I wish I could just press a button and it was all mixed, but I know I’d be very disappointed if I didn’t sit there and grind through it, and make sure I and the rest of the band is happy with it. I don’t feel totally comfortable about leaving it in someone else’s hands without me being there, because I know there’s going to be stuff that’s going to be… There’s no way the stuff’s going to be mixed exactly the way you want it if you’re not there.

Image of The Meanies

“I can’t see much wrong with the record,” Link Meanie says of the group’s new album (Photo by Peter Wheeler)

It’s a real leap of faith to leave the music in someone else’s hands, especially knowing that the vision you have in your head is totally different to what’s in their’s.
There’s something really attractive about the idea of doing that, I just don’t know whether I’ve quite made that leap yet to be able fully trust that process. Mind you, Sloth did a really amazing job on the last record. Yeah, it’s great to have two really good, consistent records in a row, so I’m happy with that.

Going back to that quote from 2017 about how you’d said you’d be happy if the last album was your last one, would you feel the same way if this new album was your last one?
I’d be 25% happier than I was with the last one [laughs]. Which probably takes it up to about 100%. For me, I can’t see much wrong with the record.

Looking forward though, do you feel there might be more in the tank? Or is it too early to tell?
Too early to tell, but I have a sneaking suspicion that we’ll do more. To me, with The Meanies, it’s never – well apart from that era around 2000 and the early Two-Thousands – been about trying to branch out of the parameters too much. I did [around that time], to varying degrees of success. Some of the songs I really liked and some were a bit… It was like, “That’s not even The Meanies.” It was kind of like the dark ages of The Meanies. There’s some pretty tight parameters when you’re playing that kind of music.

“It’s great to have two really good,
consistent records in a row.”

Speaking of “the dark ages” of The Meanies, when I first got into the band, that was the era I heard. Looking at the earlier stuff a bit later on, it was like a totally different band.
I don’t know what the fuck I was thinking, to be honest. I’d just started a different band before we got The Meanies back together again, and that was completely different. So I was probably still in that headspace of the writing. You can see that in some of the songs anyway. But some of them, to me, are still kind of classic Meanies songs. I mean, you’ve got the other half of the record which sounds a bit like Sonic Youth or whatever. That’s okay; it’s kind of fun to go back and listen to that stuff though.

The new record is out on Wednesday. Now, this leads me to two questions. Firstly, Friday is usually a release day, so why are you releasing this one on a Wednesday?
‘Cause we’re punk [laughs]. I don’t know, you’d have to ask Wally that one.

My first thought was “Wednesday is a strange day to be releasing an album”, but then I thought, “Well, no one else is releasing an album on that day.”
That’s probably what his thinking is, just to avoid everyone else’s release day.

Secondly, was there any thought of pushing the album’s release date back a bit with everything that was going on in the world?
I think I probably suggested it, and I’m sure Wally probably thought it as well. The experts, talking about coronavirus, are saying this shit could go on for two or three years. So it’s like, “Well, do you really want to hold onto an album for three years?” It gets a bit farcical, so I think we’ll just do another record [laughs].

Speaking to a lot of bands in recent months, a lot of them have asked, “Well, do we hold onto it, or put it out when people are wanting new music to listen to?”
I think maybe this could be the evolution of the music industry where shit won’t go back to the way it was, 100%. So we might need to get used to it; do things in a different way. Live shows on the internet, or whatever. We’re starting to get some gigs in Spain now where they’re very limited capacity, and you might have like 30 people, but they’re all sitting like 10 feet apart [laughs]. It’s so funny, but who knows? It’s kind of exciting in it’s own way, but we’ll see.

The Meanies’ Desperate Measures is out now via Cheersquad Records and Tapes.