The unifying power and freedom of Rock 'n' Roll
by Robert Pally
Datura 4 is the new band of the Australian Power Pop and Garage Rock legend Dom Mariani (The Stems, Someloves, DM3 and others). In this interview, he talks about his many bands, his biggest personal success, working with Mitch Easter (R.E.M., Suzanne Vega, Ben Folds and others), the Internet, making a living as a musician, the first song he loved, his hero and of course about his new band.
PSF: Do you come out of a musical family and what was the first instrument you picked up?
DM: Not really, no one played an instrument or anything like that, but both my parents who immigrated to Perth (Australia) from Italy in the mid-fifties were big music lovers, both very passionate. My mother had a really nice singing voice and knew a lot of the popular Italian songs of the time.
Claudio Villa, Luciano Tajoli, Domenico Modugno, that kind of thing. Later records by Al Bano, Little Tony and Lucio Battisti started appearing. My father was really keen to have both my brother and I learn an instrument, and like all Italian fathers of the time the piano accordion was his favourite, but I was more interested in the guitar. The Beatles were making an impact on my life.
PSF: Do you remember the first song that really impressed you?
DM: 'Minnie the Moocher' by the Cherokees. Maybe by the catchiness of the tune: www.youtube.com/watch?v=IxbpYatCoeQ. "She Loves You" by The Beatles also comes to mind.
PSF: What inspired you to form your own band?
DM: I just loved the whole idea of it. Music was my escape. I started hanging out with other kids that were into the same things and from there, a few of us came together to form a band.
PSF: What was the first band you played in?
DM: That was Impact, 1973? I was 14. We were all instrumental. No one wanted to sing or take on the bass. 3 lead guitarists and drums. Eventually I became the singer and we started covering a lot of CCR, Beatles and early Bee Gees. John Fogerty was and still is a hero of mine.
PSF: When and why did you decide to become a musician?
DM: From an early age, it's all I ever wanted to do. I studied architectural drawing after I'd left high school and worked in the industry for a few years before going into music professionally when The Stems started doing well. I also worked in music shop for a short time in transition. These days I'm back doing architectural work. I have my own small practice which allows me to stay in music at some level.
PSF: Did your parents support your wish to become a musician?
DM: They never discouraged me from pursuing it, but they would say it's good to have a steady profession (a real job), and play music on the weekends for some extra cash, but I was in too deep with it.
PSF: How was the music scene in Perth when you were young?
DM: We've had some great groups coming out of Perth. The scene has gone through a lot of changes. Some early recollections, or should I say when I really started to become aware of what was happening in the local live scene, were the heavy blues rocks groups like Bakery, Fatty Lumpkin, Sid Rumpo, Sitting Bull. These groups would play free open air concerts at the local football oval over the summer break sponsored by one of the local radio stations. Before that I'd only ever seen a few cover bands playing top 40 hits at weddings and at schools social.
PSF: How came the Stems (1983-1987) together?
DM: The Stems came together not long after I'd left a group called The Gostarts. I'd been feeling a bit disillusioned with the musical direction that band was taking and wanted to get back to a more honest, melodic style. I wanted to start afresh with guys that were into the same thing. A love of ‘50's, ‘60's and ‘70's rock and roll, sixties garage, psych and power pop that kind of thing. It all started late '83 and after a few initial line-up changes were off and running. Our first ever show was in March 1984 with the Saints and The Triffids.
PSF: The Go-Starts are not mentioned in your bio. Were they not a proper band?
DM: The Gostarts were around for a couple of years, but it's not a band that gets talked about much. It was a formative band in many ways. We were all over the place when it came to direction. A lot of different styles were being explored. It was a good learning curve.
PSF: What good memories do you have of that time with The Stems?
DM: It was an amazing time. It was great to create a scene around what we were doing. Having the opportunity to make records and tour nationally was an amazing achievement for us at the time. We were able to build up a good following and play lots of shows around the country. The isolation of Perth was always an obstacle for bands to go to the next level.
PSF: The Stems At First Sight, Violets Are Blue was one of the bestselling Australian albums of 1987. It won Gold status. What does that mean in numbers?
DM: For selling 35,000+ copies in Australia. I guess the album kept on selling well after we were gone and eventually achieved gold status.
PSF: Why did The Stems spilt?
DM: Poor management was to blame. It's the easiest way to describe it. We weren't ready for commercial success. We'd done all the hard work managing ourselves in the 3 years previous. We signed to a major and we appointed a professional manager. That's when things started to unravel. I wasn't all that comfortable with all of what was expected of us. The touring escalated and tensions started to surface, so after a couple of unfortunate incidents, I decided to quit. The band was riding high, but I was unhappy with the situation, so I walked out. In hindsight, we may have been able to work things out, but I was angry and under a lot of stress. I didn't agree with the management of the band. It was an unbelievable shock to the local scene we when the sudden split was announced.
PSF: How came The Someloves (1986-1990) together?
DM: The Someloves was initially a side project put together by myself and Darryl Mather (The Lime Spiders). I'd met him in Perth in '84 when he came across for a short holiday. He was really taken by The Stems. We kept in touch and ended up sharing a house together when The Stems moved to Sydney in 1985. While in Sydney, Darryl and I wrote and recorded a single for Citadel records "It's My Time." It was supposed to be a one off, but a few years later, we recorded another "Know You Now." This was just before the Stems split. I wasn't really looking to do anything new, but Darryl convinced me that The Someloves should do a full album. I was still under contract to Mushroom Records and they were keen for me to keep going, so I pitched the Someloves album to them and they went for it.
PSF: The Someloves "Something or Other" won 1990 seven Western Australian Music Awards. What did that mean for you?
DM: It was nice to get those awards, but the band was pretty much over by then.
PSF: What was different/better with The Someloves?
DM: The Someloves was a studio project, so the idea of playing live was never on the horizon. This was Darryl's call whereas I was keen to play live, but Darryl had a problem with stage fright. In the end, it proved to be a barrier for us and the record label. The album did very well initially, but without a live tour to promote it, there was some tension between us and the label.
I was still down about The Stems split, on anti-depressants. It only made matters worse for me. Darryl was pushing to do another album, but I wasn't into it anymore.
I met Mitch and got to record in the U.S., which was a great experience. For a 3 to 4 year period after, Darryl kept calling me, trying to persuade me to do another Someloves album, but I resisted and moved on to DM3. Darryl eventually stopped calling and hooked up with Ken Stringfellow (Posies, Big Star) to do The Orange Humble Band.
PSF: You worked with Mitch Easter on "Something or Other." What are your best memories of working with him?
DM: His studio was located on his parent's property in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. We'd met him a year before when he mixed the “Know You Now" single. I hadn’t been to the U.S. before, so it was an exciting experience to hook up with Mitch. He brought a touch of class to the recording. I learnt a lot from working with him. We also shared a common interest in certain music styles. He was a big ‘70's rock fan like me.
PSF: How came DM3 (1993-1999) together?
DM: DM3 came out of The Someloves. Toni Italiano played bass on Something or Other and Pascal came from The Summer Suns, a band I'd joined as a guitarist not long after The Stems and before The Someloves album. When The Someloves album was released, this line-up started performing under the name Orange with a set-list of Someloves and Stems tunes. We started recording the first album early '92 and changed our name to DM3.
PSF: Best gig you had with DM3?
DM: That's hard one... Lots of good gigs. El Sol Spain - September '96 comes to mind. The Roskilde Festival.
PSF: What triggered DM3 to split?
DM: We were active for 7 years. I guess it was just running out of steam. We'd had a few line-up changes and it became apparent that the interest wasn't there anymore.
PSF: Do you see a progression from your start with The Stems to DM3?
DM: It's always been about the songwriting for me. I think I got better at it.
PSF: None of these bands lasted for long. How come?
DM: Maybe it's my restless nature? Wanting to try new things. DM3, 7 years was a pretty good run, The Stems 4 years... not too bad.
PSF: You reformed all 3 bands (The Stems, The Someloves, DM3). How come?
DM: Well... it's funny how some things happen... The Someloves haven't reformed... yet? The Stems were very popular and we'd received many offers to reform. Eventually, the time was right, ten years had gone by and a lot water had gone under the bridge, so to speak. DM3 the same. Seems like people are still interested in those bands.
PSF: After that the split of DM3 in 1999, there was a break of 4 years to your next band Majestic Kelp. How come?
DM: There was a Stems reunion which lasted a few years, but mostly writing and preparing songs for The Majestic Kelp. I've always had an open mind to music and enjoy a fairly broad taste... I like a lot of different things. Most people would know me for my guitar pop output of The Someloves and DM3 or the garage rock sounds of the Stems. The Majestic Kelp was a departure from the norm and may have surprised some fans, but I've always been a huge fan of instrumental music. Surf guitar, soundtracks and lounge music, that kind of thing. I had some songs and just wanted to do something with them.
PSF: What triggered that change to Beach Boys inspired surf Music and instrumentals?
DM: It's all part my DNA. I grew up with this music and I was always going to do something along those lines, but I didn't want it to be just your run of the mill surf instrumental band. There had to be more to it and more cinematic.
PSF: After Majestic Kelp, it seems you went from one project to another. Was the band format worn out for you then?
DM: At the time, maybe yes. I needed a break from the regular band format. It's really a side project these days that comes back when time permits. I'm happy to do things purely out of self-indulgence. Playing in the one band or same band can be limiting, so it's great to stretch out and do other things. I like the idea of having all these different bands or projects going on. They all have a common thread. It's a rock and roll thing that's always there. It fuels my creativity and opens up the possibilities of writing new songs and to jam with different people.
PSF: The sound of your new band Datura4 fits perfect in the current revival of heavy clues Rock. Coincidence?
DM: I wasn't aware of any revival, but if it is a coincidence, then we may have unsuspectingly found ourselves in the middle of it. It's cool but I've never been one to follow trends. I follow my heart and my own instincts with music. I'm not looking for the next musical bandwagon to jump on.
PSF: How came Datura4 together?
DM: Greg and I have been neighbors since he moved back to Perth in 2002. We both grew up in Fremantle listening to the same bands and we also played in a couple bands together in the mid ‘80's. Greg and I would often bump into each other at shows and talk about our favorite records and having a jam. We both had some free time, and it began as a bit of fun – blues rock, psych rock played loud. That's how Datura4 started sometime back in 2011. There wasn't a plan for a band or a record. “Demon Blues" and “Gravedigger Man" were the first tunes we jammed on, it felt good right from the start. We started to say, ‘hey this stuff is good, it's natural, we should do something with it.’ It evolved from there.
PSF: Demon Blues is a energetic mix of raw blues, rock, boogie, power pop, garage and a touch psychedelic music. What inspired it?
DM: Most people would know me for my guitar pop output or the garage rock sounds of the Stems. I think you need to keep yourself interested, keep things fresh and not keep repeating the same thing. Datura4 came together initially as a fun project that has evolved into something much bigger than we all expected. The inspiration comes from the many influences that all the members bring to the band. Growing up in Perth as youngsters wanting to play rock and roll in a band, we were introduced to many cool bands that were known in the Australian music scene, but not very well known anywhere else. This was the early to mid-seventies progressive blues rock (hard rock) scene. The bands that make an impression on you when you are first learning will always stay with you and be the foundation and an inspiration in the future. We spent a lot of time jamming on the tunes that make up Demon Blues and the ability to take these songs to other places when we perform live keeps it fresh and exciting. The recording itself captures the freewheeling nature of the band.
PSF: Demon Blues was released on the hip U.S. label Alive Natural Sound. How come?
DM: Originally, we were thinking of releasing Demon Blues ourselves, then Citadel came to mind, but then someone mentioned Alive as the perfect home for the record. I'd been in touch with Patrick previously through my association with The Stoneage Hearts. We talked briefly about a doing DM3 compilation. I sent him an un-mastered copy of Demon Blues and he liked it. I think it's worked out very well for both of us.
PSF: It has a sinister album title and at times pretty aggressive lyrics. What triggered this?
DM: Most of the songs deal with social, political or personal issues. Without going into it too much - depression, the state of the world right now, corruption, the class system and on a positive note, the unifying power and freedom of Rock 'n' Roll, and how it brings people together. These are just a few of the underlying themes. When you feel passionate about something or need some 'do it yourself' therapy, it's good to put it into song.
PSF: What is your favorite song on Demon Blues?
DM: “Demon Blues" is still a favorite - it was the first tune we jammed on. It really set the scene, created a template if you will for what would come for Datura4. The outro on the recording has a wonderful spontaneity.
PSF: Of all of your bands, which one is your favorite and why?
DM: At the moment, Datura4, but I'm fond of all the bands. They all have their special thing. Datura4 has a lot of new possibilities I guess. We're about to start a new album. The band itself is a great mix of musicians that bring something special to the band. It's the sum of all its parts, which is quite rare. You know when it feels right.
PSF: You are also a producer. What is important for you with that?
DM: These days, it's my own music I am more interested in producing. I've worked with other bands, but I've stopped doing that kind of thing.
PSF: Since the early 1980’s, you have played in many bands (Stems, Someloves, DM3) and projects (The Stonefish, DomNicks and others) and played many styles. What keeps you creative?
DM: I've always had an open mind to music and enjoy a fairly broad taste. I like a lot of different things. It's all about trying to write the best songs you can. Like I said before, it's about keeping yourself interested, keeping things fresh and not repeating the same thing. You've got to respect the art form and find the right balance.
PSF: What was/is your personal biggest success?
DM: My family! I'm still in love with the same girl and we have 2 beautiful children.
PSF: How easy is it to make a living these days as a musician?
DM: Not easy. There's a lot of luck involved. The money that was once there is not there anymore. If you're lucky enough to break big then you can do well out of it.
PSF: Has the Internet made it easier or more difficult to be a musician?
DM: The Internet has created numerous benefits and negatives to musicians. There's an overload of music out there. Everyone climbing over each other to be heard. Embracing the good parts of technology to help promote your music or to discover great music via web access is exciting. Guitar bands are literally redundant on the charts but there are still great albums being produced- if you dig deep, you will find them.
PSF: You are now 56. Ever thought to stop doing music?
DM: I'm in for life
PSF: What musical plans do you have for the future?
DM: A new Datura4 album is in the works. And when time permits - a new Majestic Kelp album and a solo album are also on the horizon.
D I S C O G R A P H Y
with THE STEMS
1985 “Make You Mine/She's a Monster" 7" single- Citadel (Aust)
1985 “Tears me in Two" 7" single- Citadel (Aust)
1986 Love Will Grow/Rosebuds Volume 1 12" EP- Citadel (Aust)
1987 At First Sight Violet are Blue 12" LP- Mushroom (Aust)
1997 Weed Out (Live) CD- House of Wax (Aust)
2003 Mushroom Soup (the citadel years) CD- Citadel (Aust)
2005 Terminal Cool Retrospective CD- Get Hip (US)
2007 Heads Up CD- Shock (Aust)
with THE SOMELOVES
1986 “It's My Time" 7" single- Citadel (Aust)
1988 “Know You Now" 7" single- Mushroom (Aust)
1990 Something or Other LP- Mushroom (Aust)
1990 Sunshines Glove mini album- Mushroom (Aust)
2005 Don't Talk About Us Retrospective CD- Half A Cow (Aust)
1993 One Time Two Times Three Red Light CD- Citadel (Aust)
1996 Road to Rome CD- Citadel (Aust)
1997 Garage Sale Vol 1 (Out-takes and B-sides) CD- Citadel (Aust)
1997 Dig it the Most CD and LP- Bomp Records (US)
1999 Rippled Soul CD- Citadel (Aust)
2002 Garage Sale Vol 2- Italian Style (Out-takes and B-sides) CD- Citadel (Aust)
2013 Live at Roskilde CD- Citadel (Aust)
2013 One Time Two Times Three Times More LP- Citadel (Aust)
1986 The Stonefish From 20,000 Fathoms 12" EP- Citadel (Aust)
With The MAJESTIC KELP
2003 Underwater Casino CD- Head Records (Aust)
2006 Music to Watch Cars By CD- Head Records (Aust)
2013 Turn Up the Sun CD and 12"- Head Records (Aust)
2004 Homespun Blues and Greens CD- Citadel (Aust)
2010 Rewind and Play CD- Liberation (Aust)
With The Stoneage Hearts
2004 Guilty as Sin CD- Off the Hip Records (Aust); CD and LP Alive Records (US)
Dom Mariani - 1984-2004 Anthology
2005 Popsided Guitar CD- Citadel (Aust)
with The DomNicks
2008 Hey Rock and Roller CD EP- Off the Hip Records (Aust)
2012 Super Real CD and LP- Citadel (Aust)
2015 Demon Blues CD and LP- Alive and Natural Records (US)
Also see Dom Mariani's website
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