Much loved Aussie guitar band Sunnyboys have been merrily making hay over the past few years of their second renaissance. Synonymous with garage channelling power pop par excellence, the band burned brightly in the early 80s. Then front man Jeremy Oxleys’ well-chronicled mental health battles saw them splutter out into oblivion, prior to their unexpected and triumphant return to stages in 2012.
With the band about to embark on a tour that will see them perform their eponymous debut album from 1981 in its entirety, I took some time to chat with founding bass player (and Jeremy’s brother) Peter Oxley.
I ask Peter if the rapturous response from fans to their original 2012 reunion show (where they played as part of the Hoodoo Gurus curated Dig It Up festival) and the subsequent shows that followed, took them by surprise.
“I was amazed. I was totally nervous, we all were, about whether people still liked our music enough to want to come and see us play again. And people did, much to our joy. Because of Jeremy’s illness we weren’t able to play for over 30 years. So for us to be able to play these shows now to our fans is amazing,” Peter said.
“We feel really privileged when we play now. I think we still have the energy and the power and it’s just really exciting. If we didn’t sound any good or weren’t playing well, we wouldn’t be doing these shows, we’d let it go.”
These days a Sunnyboys gig brings original fans together with younger disciples who’ve cottoned onto the band more recently, often via their parents’ record collection! Peter is understandably chuffed that the band’s appeal is able to cut across generations.
“That’s quite lovely actually. Sometimes original fans will even bring along their twenty-something or late teen kids to the shows. Last time we played The Enmore Theatre in Sydney, there were around 20 young people right in front of Jeremy, dancing and singing along to all the words. And we were like “wow, how great is that!” It’s a thrill to know that our music is still getting through to people, regardless of how old we are haha!”
The topic of Jeremy and his well-chronicled mental health battles arises. The documentary The Sunnyboy, which charts the story of the band via Jeremy’s ‘phoenix from the ashes’ resurrection, is a must see, regardless of whether you’re familiar with the band or not.
“Jeremy still suffers for his mental wellness. So we really do think carefully about where and when we play. We’re really mindful of Jeremy’s wellbeing, and that he’s feeling comfortable in all the situations we encounter on tour. It’s totally incredible though, when he walks on stage he’s a different person really. He gathers this sort of amazing energy and power. As soon as we start rehearsing even, it all starts happening, it’s pretty special. He puts his heart into it, and I reckon he’s playing really deadly guitar again now. ”
For their NightQuarter show on 3 February, Sunnyboys will be sharing the stage with fellow Aussie luminaries The Celibate Rifles and Ed Keupper. I ask Peter if he’d crossed paths often with these acts of similar vintage.
“I played shows with Ed for about 5 or 6 years, ‘til about 2010. He’s an old friend actually, and we had a little three-piece going, under Ed’s name, with myself on bass. We played a show at the Currumbin Soundlounge awhile back. And it’ll be great to share the stage with the ‘surfie’ Celibate Rifles too!”
I asked Peter what the future looks like for the band as far as touring and the potential of recording any new material.
“At the moment we just play the shows as they come. But we have started recording demos of new stuff, which is quite fun. If we end up putting those tracks out, we’ll have to think carefully about what we do. We don’t want to do the whole fanfare around having to promote a new release. So if we do end up recording the songs properly we’ll probably just end up sneaking it out to fans nice and quietly, where they’ll be able to pick it up at the shows.”
Peter has fond memories of the Gold Coast from their early 80’s heydey.
“We were at The Playroom all the time! It was wild, it was quite a low ceiling in there, and it was so hot. There were also The Jet Club down in Coolangatta.”
Sunnyboys dust off their self-titled debut record in its entirety at NightQuarter in Helensvale on Friday 3 February.
The record is acknowledged as being one of the true classics in the Oz music pantheon, featuring the well-loved radio hits Alone With You and Happy Man, as well as solid fan faves such as Trouble In My Brain, Tunnel Of Love and I’m Shakin’. Throw legendary original Saints guitarist (and much-respected solo artist) Ed Keupper into the mix, as well as the evergreen and ever awesome Celibate Rifles, and you’ve got the makings of one of the gigs of the year.