1995. A band from Lismore named Grinspoon submitted a song called Sickfest to triple j’s Unearthed national band competition in its very first year. They won that competition and for two months after the song was triple j’s number one request. Just two years later Grinspoon released their debut album Guide to Better Living. It went double-platinum and spent 36 weeks in the ARIA Top 50. That was 20 years ago and to celebrate the incredible milestone, Grinspoon are emerging from hiatus with a special release of a deluxe edition of Guide to Better Living as well as an epic national tour, playing the album cover-to-cover.
Bass player Joe Hansen tells Blank Gold Coast editor Samantha Morris that it feels good being back on the road again.
“We’ve just done a couple of shows and it’s pretty awesome. It’s fun to play Guide to Better Living. It’s a fun record to play live and the two shows have gone well – we’ve sort of blown the cobwebs out and ready to go now.”
Which is just as well, because there are 26 dates left on the tour which takes in locations as far flung as Darwin, Geelong, Frankston, Albury, Barooga and Dunsborough as well as Gold Coast, Lismore and all the capital cities.
It’s been a long time since Grinspoon were on tour and things have certainly changed for the band since the late 1990s. Joe says that time was hazy in a lot of ways.
“But yeah, we had a ball recording Guide to Better Living and being on the road. We were just a young band from Lismore. We won this triple j competition and then started touring with other bands. All of a sudden we’re playing with like Tumbleweed and Spiderbait and Magic Dirt, Silverchair and Powderfinger. We were like kids in a candy store. We got to record, go on tour, get free booze, what’s not to like?”
“But back then it was like a whirlwind – you’re not taking it in. Ten years ago, it was like ‘this is just what we do now.’”
“Now it’s like, ‘wow, this is really cool, we decide to do a tour and people are really into it.’”
“For us, now, we appreciate it more – being able to play in front of crowds – we soak it up more. And we have a different perspective. You appreciate people are spending their hard-earned money to come see you. And we’ve got this tour now, but who knows what is next.”
Joe says touring is also physically harder now than 20 years ago. But not much.
“We’re not in zimmer frames yet,” he laughs.
You can bounce back up when you’re in your early 20s easier than when you’re in your early 40s.
“And you can’t drink ALLLLLL the rider every night any more,” he laughs again. “We are a little bit more sensible than 20 years ago. Just a little bit.”
Like other bands their vintage, Joe says the first shows of the tour have attracted fans of all ages. “There is that intergenerational thing of getting your kids into music,” he said. “And of kids who’ve grown up listening to their parents’ music. I’d actually like to meet those people if they come to a show. To see parents who are our age there with their kids.”
One of the obvious reasons for that intergenerational fanbase is the music Grinspoon made, particularly the tracks on Guide to Better Living. Listening to songs on that album makes you realise just how far ahead of the curve the band were in the late 1990s. The fact that they’re still attracting hordes of new fans just reinforces the quality of those songs – both in musicality and lyricism. But of course, as teens and early 20 somethings, that longevity was the last thing from the band’s mind when they were releasing those tracks.
“I tend to think it was probably just a happy accident really,” says Joe. “I don’t think there was any planning from Phil [Jamieson, frontman] saying ‘this is a lyric that will connect’. He doesn’t do things on purpose like that. He doesn’t contrive it like that. I think he just blurted out whatever came into his head and that sort of fortuitously had that lyrical connection.”
“You have to remember, some of the other songs are just gibberish,” he laughs.
“Lyrically, I don’t think Phil intentionally worked any magic there – but it’s come across and connected with people and all this time later it still does and good songs just do that.”
“They form a connection with people and like, just span that test of time.”
“Listening to songs evokes memories. If I listen to a song that I was listening to 15 – 20 years ago, it immediately brings me back there.”
“That’s what’s cool about this tour – there are a lot of people coming and rocking out. You might have this 45 year old guy that was like ‘I used to mosh like a madman when I was 25 to this’ and there he is again moshing to this.”
As well as the massive tour, the band has also produced a heap of anniversary releases. A combination of vinyl and CD releases that include rarities, live tracks, unreleased recordings – including a recording of Grinspoon live at CBGBs in New York. Joe says the process of pulling it all together was straight-forward, mostly because their manager insisted they just “make a decision”. But he speaks fondly of the CBGBs recording – and not because of the quality of music.
“The CBGB’s stuff for us is really cool to just listen back to. You know, it’s an iconic venue and for us – a band from Lismore – to be playing at CBGBs at an iconic punk rock club in New York – it was pretty rad.”
“That was a cool thing to include and it sort of is a bit of a time capsule. It’s pretty raw, but that’s how we were at the time.”
And being that young band from Lismore, of course the band have fond memories of the Gold Coast.
“We’ve got lots of friends on the Gold Coast and it’s one of the areas we would play in when we first started. I mean that’s where a band from Lismore headed to get action,” Joe said.
They’ll pass back through here in August as part of their national tour. Grinspoon are the headlining act for Shakafest with a treasure trove of Australian talent in support. Joe said Shakafest was a special show for them because the rest of the tour is all their own shows – this is the only festival slot.
We love doing festivals – festivals were really big at the time of Guide to Better Living.
“At Shakafest, DZ Deathrays and Tired Lion are playing… and Horroshow, it’s going to be awesome, and great fun hanging out with other bands and watching those guys play.”
So, with all this nostalgia, reconnecting, digging up old recordings and unreleased material, are there likely to be new Grinspoon songs on the horizon?
“That is an unanswerable question at the moment,” Joe said.
“We’re going to do this tour and see how we go.”
“Best case scenario, I’d like to do some, but we need to see how we all feel about it after this – whether we want to proceed or just say ‘see yas’.”
“If we do some more music, it’ll hark back to the Guide to Better Living era rather than the more recent stuff.”
And by the way this tour is going (only nine shows have tickets remaining), it seems that would be a very popular decision.
Grinspoon play Shakafest at Miami Shark Bar on Saturday 19 August as part of their national tour.
There are also shows in Brisbane, Redland Bay and their hometown of Lismore. Tickets to the few remaining shows are selling fast, so hustle. Tickets via Oztix.
IMAGE (c) Dan Maynard