Sunnyboys’ debut, self-titled record, released in 1981 still ranks as one of Australia’s most significant albums. The band’s return to the stage is well documented. After a 21-year hiatus, catalysed by frontman and guitarist Jeremy Oxley’s struggle with schizophrenia, Sunnyboys returned in 2012 to some of their most significant performances ever, easily eclipsing the shows they were performing in the 1980s.
Bassist Peter Oxley says that for him, the band’s Opera House show was the most memorable to date, taking place just after the premiere of the documentary which told the story of Jeremy’s survival from schizophrenia.
“That was a special night,” Oxley said. “It was great to do that documentary because people understand now what happened to the band initially but also that there was this terrible loneliness that Jeremy would have felt for a long time – just through his illness.”
But also, that sometimes there can be a really happy ending.
From their reunion show at the Enmore Theatre, through to Vivid Live and a run of shows for A Day on the Green as well as a support slot for Elvis Costello, it seems the current arrangement seems to be one that agrees with Peter and the rest of the band. Without the pressures of recording contracts and record labels and big commitments and an ability to focus primarily on their live show, Peter calls the Sunnyboys “this magnificent hobby that we get to do.”
There’s no question it’s been one hell of a ride for a garage band from Kingscliff. Did they ever think, for a moment, what life would be like in 2017?
“I don’t think we were thinking anything,” Peter laughs. “We didn’t think ‘right, we’re going to form a band and get to the top of the charts’. I think through that naivety we were able to get our Sunnyboys sound because we weren’t thinking about how we should or shouldn’t sound. It’d be like Jeremy wrote this song and we’d play it and turn it into a great song and that’s what we’d play live,” Peter said.
“It was all really just an accident.”
I ask if it’s like the accident that just keeps on giving and Peter says he mostly just feels lucky that Jeremy is in a good place right now.
“He’s loved and he takes medication for his illness and he’s able to exist in our world and for a long time he wasn’t able to do that,” Peter said.
We just feel lucky we’ve got him back and in fact we can be Sunnyboys again.
“He’s in the right place and he’s still an extremely magnificent eccentric man, but it’s all moderated now – so it’s really good.”
While Sunnyboys were off the scene, Peter kept busy with a gourmet pizza restaurant in Newtown, which he sold in 2010, as well as playing with Ed Keupper.
“Most of the time, my nighttime was slaving over a hot oven. That was good fun for a long time, but it’s a lot of work – you’re thinking about it seven days a week, 20 hours a day.”
Being a rock star’s much more fun. That’s if I am one.
There’s no question that Peter Oxley has the goods when it comes to rock star status. Now in his mid-50s, a lot has changed since the Sunnyboys first found their feet in Australia’s fledgling punk rock scene. When I ask what he’s learnt over that time, he’s very quick to respond and he does so with a chuckle.
“I’m a much better bass player now than I was then,” he said.
But the changes of course extend beyond what’s happening on stage. Peter reflects on a time when there was no internet, no CDs. When socializing meant looking to see what bands were coming up and saying “see you there” and then you’d show up.
“It was a very important time for us – it’s so different now, the way people get entertainment,” he said.
“Now, bands are able to record more easily – that’s a great thing. You don’t have to be signed to a bloody record label to be able to record music and get your music heard, that’s a really good thing. But also, the flipside of that is that there’s not as many places to play and I think, I don’t know, not as many people go and see that sort of live music.”
He says it’s harder for emerging bands to get to play – and especially to get to play in front of people. But that aside, with digital platforms, their music can be heard by thousands of people all over the world. – that new younger bands – it’s harder for them to get to lay and get to play in front of people. But their music can be heard in front of thousands of people.
“Young bands find ways,” he says optimistically.
I know I’m the last person to interview Peter today after a bunch of other journalists have had their go and I joke about the most asked question probably being whether we can expect new music and Peter surprises me by saying “it’s actually a good question.”
“Essentially when people are wanting to come and see us play – like now – they want to hear songs they know – it’s part of why there’s such a resurgence of bands that did play in the 80s and even the 90s. People love the music that they did love when they were in their 20s. It really takes them back to a special place I think.”
“In rehearsals for this tour we are trying out some new songs, but we’re not going to record them until February. So we may play a couple on this tour, but we’re not sure,” Peter said, before referring to that Regurgitator song.
“But I’m looking forward to Twin Towns. Sunnyboys never played there before but I was touring with Ed Keupper and The Aints and it was fantastic.”
Of course, the Oxleys grew up in Kingscliff and played regularly at the Playroom. They’re no stranger to the venues of the Southern Gold Coast. And Jeremy and Peter aren’t the only musically-inclined Oxleys. All five siblings scored on the talent front. Tim and Melanie Oxley are both musicians and brother Damien Oxley has been Nick Cave’s lighting designer for the past 20 years.
I wrap up by asking him what the secret is.
“I haven’t got the faintest idea,” he chuckles again. “They had fluoride in the water in Kingscliff when we were growing up.”
“It kept our teeth strong and gave us some musical ability.”
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Sunnyboys perform their first ever show at Twin Towns with special guests The Celibate Rifles, Friday 26 January.
IMAGE (c) Carbie Warbie