Pink Stainless Tail
live at The Forum, Melbourne, Australie
Heaven, Hell and PST
by Aaron Goldberg
If Alice Cooper sung "Eighteen," and indie-popsters sing about being fourteen, the Pink Stainless Tail sing about '567' - a porn cinema. But it just as easily could be about a person's (mental) age, effectively making the Pink Stainless Tail the original rock dinosaurs, forming back in Renaissance times. Which makes perfect sense, since the PST are exactly the type of band that look for revolutions in art, science and mind expansion, just like the Renaissance itself. But I'm talking shit here. The song's about a porn cinema.
Formed in 2000 by exiled Englishman Simon Strong and exiled-Melbourne mafia musician Harry Howard, they were soon joined by Nick Boddington on bass and Sonke Rickertson on drums. Rickertson, whose main instrument is the guitar - and is a veteran of local underground scenes including late 80s extreme-psychedelic drone-sludge pioneers Slub and a stint in My Bloody Valentine (yeah that MBV) – actually joined the band to practice his drumming.
Whilst taking their name from a legendary Red Krayola song, and pledging their allegiance to the psychedelic garage sounds of the '60's, the band sound more like an amalgam of the Fall, early Wire, Swell Maps, Tall Dwarfs, the early Happy Mondays and of course liberal smidgens of Birthday Party hysteria, minus the narcotic swagger. In an age of retro post-punk nostalgia, the PST are literally the best 'new' post-punk band in Melbourne, no posing here. In the time since formation, they have released three mini-albums worth of material. The debut The Skys a soft target is a rambling, sloppy affair that is redeemed by a most excellent cover of Psychic TV's "Godstar," also a live favourite. For the second recording, they hired legendary Melbourne indie-producer Simon Grounds (ex-Shower Scene from Psycho) to produce the perversely titled This is me in the park with no clothes on... I like the flowers. Featuring songs about porn-cinemas, bitchy girlfriends and Temazepam, the mini-album is a deft exercise in angular garage psychedelia. Their most recent work - The infinite wisdom of the Pink Stainless Tail - is a tight and jagged affair, and could be their Goats Head Soup... And so we find the band at some sort of juncture, are they still going? Or is this 'sleeper cell of the Melbourne mafia' just waiting in hiding, waiting for the right time to attack, the right time to once again douse us with their infinite wisdom…? I tracked down founding members Simon Strong and Sonke Rickertson approaching midnight, at their secret HQ deep in the baroque squalour of the Collingwood housing projects...
PSF: When people are to think about the PST, what should they imagine?
STRONG: (long pause, laughter) ...I guess for a start you imagine a big tail. Then a grey filthy head. What is the grey filthy head?
RICKERTSON : Pink Stainless Tail come across like a '60's 'happening.' Which means it's totally unpredictable, and it's actually more a show that just music, and people shouldn't expect anything...
STRONG: (interrupting) Like an Exploding Plastic Inevitable...?
RICKERTSEN: ...and everything, at the same time.
PSF: How did the PST get together?
RICKERTSEN: There were two stages. One stage without me, and one stage with me. Pink Stainless Tail started with Harry (Howard), Nick (Boddington) and Simon.
STRONG: Yeah but the period without you only lasted about four weeks. What happened was Harry had just finished up with the band CHAB-M – The Christian High Art Boutique – Melbourne, this kid of French performance-art ensemble that was kind of related to the O.T.O. and the Alistair Crowley Underground and all that.
RICKERTSEN: It's actually the first initials of the band members: Chris, Harry, Angela and... Barry! Who is 'M'...? I think it was just 'CHAB' and the 'M' is for Melbourne. Chris (Russell) was the keyboard player in Once Upon A Time. He was at that point in Australia, but spent most of the past 15 years in Berlin. He got the job as being the only capable musician to play in CHAB-M (laughs).
STRONG: So CHAB-M split up and Harry rang me and said he's getting a new group together, and asked if I'd want to come around and work on some words. And Harry only lived like 20 yards from me, so I was leaving the house and suddenly thought “...your brain is a sweet shop...” I thought your brain is full of all these complex sugars and proteins and stuff, and in a way it's like a sweet shop. You can go in pick out all these glorious colours and stuff. Anyway I was going over there, and that was a far as I got because it was so close by. And Harry opened the door and I said “Your brain is a sweet shop!” And he said: “What will you choose?” So I said “I'll have the red ones,” and Harry said he'd have the blues and that was how the Pink Stainless Tail was born. And after that we never collaborated on another tune ever again!
PSF: How did Nick join?
STRONG: Nick was the third member. He lived in a warehouse where he built furniture from disassembled cars
RICKERTSEN: He had this big place in Nicholson St (inner Melbourne) which the front hall was a kitchen/ lounge room. But the place was big enough to fit a whole band and we basically practiced there.
STRONG: He made furniture for that Queen of the Damed movie. Nick came in so we could practice at that place.
RICKERTSEN: The three of them were rehearsing songs for about a year. I'd lived with Nick a few years back. They were looking for a drummer... slowly. I happened to have a band called Black Cabinet that split around that time. I decided to use their band as victims to practice my new drumming skill on, I had never played drums before. And they accepted me quite happily.
STRONG: Zig (Sonke) was such a legend musically, and could play such a myriad of instruments. Then when we heard he was interested in learning drums, we thought, “Quick! Lets recruit the cunt! Because he'll be as good at the drums as he is at every fucking thing he tried his hand at.” And we were exactly right.
PSF: How did you manage to get such a notorious member of the Melbourne rock mafia (Harry Howard) into your band?
STRONG: Into my bed? And which member? Harry basically rung me up and asked me round and said 'come round to my house there will be biscuits.' That's it. End of story. Next question.
PSF: What sort of biscuits?
RICKERTSEN: There weren't any, he lied about that. Like he lied about everything else, but that's another story and we don't want to go there…
PSF: OK. So can you tell me about your own artistic backgrounds?
STRONG: I'm an experimental novelist. Ten years ago, I wrapped up the 'Rape vs. Murder Project' which was basically a project to analyse the entire corpus of 1950's erotic literature and use a computer database to produce the ultimate dirty novel - which is what I did. And then I thought I'd write a book about a rock n' roll group because I couldn't be bothered reading any Michael Moorcock but I liked the idea of Jerry Cornelius, then I thought it would be a bullshit idea actually... But I thought it would be a good idea to be in a group anyway and I could pretend it was a research project because I'd done all these other books about punk groups and all that bollocks.
RICKERTSEN: But you were tied into music anyway...
STRONG: Most prominently with the record sleeves. I must have done 200 record covers or more in the UK for various labels and artists: I worked for CodeX (Kathy Acker, Richard Hell, Billy Childish), Overground (Television Personalities, Alternative TV, GG Allin) One Louder (Man or Astroman etc.), Yep! Records (Fire Dept.) and a myriad of other labels of varying degrees of uh respectability.
PSF: Sonke, you've been in the Melbourne underground music scene from way back.
RICKERTSEN: Since 1986, I started playing in bands 2 weeks after arriving here which was amazing, because coming from Germany...
PSF: You're both ex-pats
STRONG: Well, Pink Stainless Tail is basically a European group. Well Harry and Nick are Anglo-Australians or whatever.
RICKERTSEN: I played in the band Slub for about 8 years - as long as the band lasted. I always played guitar, mainly. But in Germany, I played drums occasionally, in the practice room. I also played bass. When I was in Germany I managed to score a gig with My Bloody Valentine, who didn't have a bass player at that time. I thought they were one of the worst bands I'd ever heard in my whole life.
STRONG: They still are.
RICKERTSEN: (laughs) well I was desperate for that job. The guys were quite nice so I scored the gig as their bass player.
STRONG: Didn't you punch Kevin Shield on the nose?
RICKERTSEN: I did twice. The first on the left hand side, and the second of the right hand side, just to rectify the damage.
STRONG: In the same incident or separate incidents?
RICKERTSEN: Well, I kind of felt sorry for him.
STRONG: (laughing hysterically) Well you punched him in the face! You poor cunt, I just punched him in the face, you poor sad musician bastard! Oh God that's even worse (laughs maniacally!)
RICKERTSEN: Well walking around with a nose like that, you've got to fix up that problem. He actually sacked me soon afterwards.
STRONG: Well, ironically, it improved his singing voice considerably..
RICKERTSEN: His guitar playing improved too because he stopped dribbling from his nose.
PSF: Who was in the band when you joined at the time..was Belinda?
RICKERTSEN: No, it was Kevin and Colm and Dave and Tina who were this fantastic Irish couple. There were originally all from Dublin.
STRONG: That's ironic because usually it's the Irish doing all the punching...
PSF: Not in indie bands.
RICKERTSEN: They did all these bad German jokes on me. Kevin deserved it (snickers).
PSF: How do you think your European backgrounds have influenced the sound and style of the PST?
RICKERTSEN: It's half-half actually. When you actually come from somewhere, you never actually think so much about it- it's only for other people to hear that apparent 'Germaness' or 'Englishness.' When Simon sings, of course, because he's got an English accent, it's pretty obvious. But if you play an instrument, you can't actually tell.
STRONG: The problem is, is that the Melbourne musos are such great mimics, they're like Magpies, especially in Collingwood. They're magpies you see.
PSF: Like the football team? (the Collingwood 'Magpies' are the largest and one of the most successful Aussie Rules football teams)
STRONG: Yeah, yeah. And consequently, they see something shiny and they grab it. That's what used to be great about the Collingwood music scene. That's why it was smashed and completely suppressed by the RF because it was worth having and obviously GOOD. And that's just the nature of the entire whole fucking shithouse. You basically have to crush this beautiful flower! That was the Collingwood music scene. Ah, what was the question?
PSF: European backgrounds influencing the sound.
STRONG: It basically meant we didn't sound like any other groups in Collingwood.
RICKERTSEN : It's true.
STRONG: And it made us terribly unpopular as a consequence! In Collingwood! (laughs)
PSF: Tell me a bit about your recorded output and who you recorded with?
STRONG: 3 CD's, excluding compilations.
RICKERTSEN: 3 CD's. All of them low-budget.
STRONG: The whole group has been founded in opposition to the very principle of money - apparently!
PSF: The first record was called...?
STRONG: The Skys a soft target. We had 20 titles which I made an Excel spreadsheet of and everybody ranked them in order of what sucked and what didn't. I think there was a bug.
PSF: The second record was recorded with local producer Simon Grounds (Shower Scene from Psycho, Underground Lovers)
STRONG: Yeah, it's called This is me in the park with no clothes on... I like the flowers.
RICKERTSEN: It was the most expensive one, it's also the most intricate and 'sonic' one I suppose
PSF: ...And the last one?
RICKERTSEN: Was done with Mark Carson. It was the cheapest one, but probably the best.
STRONG: It's an amazing fucking masterwork. One of the great symphonies. I think it stands up with Ogdens Nutgum Flakes, Daydream Nation and all that shit, and umm... the White Album, actually more like Revolver because the White Album is long...
PSF: So how do PST songs emerge?
RICKERTSEN: They usually emerge with Harry coming up with a riff, something really simple and we all just jam to it. Simon finds his way into the songs really slowly but gradually and it gets better and better each time. And the same with Nick, usually when we start up songs, Nick can be all over the place usually. After a while, he settles in and finds a really cool groove which then makes half of the song in a way. Nick and Harry to me are on an equal level in terms of songwriting. Nick has a huge influence on the actual song and feel and melodies as well. I just try to pay like Charlie Watts and fit in.
STRONG: Then once we've done that, we take the groove and the thing and try to put a narrative structure to it and arrange what words we've got or if extra verses need to be written, so then no two PST songs have the same structure! It's pretty fucking mental I have no idea. But the arrangement is critical and that's what gives the song a bizarre sort of musical narrative.
PSF: Can you tell me about your legendary gig with Sonic Youth?
STRONG: Well it didn't actually happen, that's why it's legendary! No, no, it did happen. Zig... Tell him about Annabelle… (SS exits to outhouse).
RICKERTSEN: What's the instrument again? The trombone? The oboe? She was playing the oboe. It was one of her first gigs ever with a rock n' roll band. She joined us via Simon who had some connection to her. And we were looking for another instrument for a change. So she did this one gig with us. It was all very short and sweet. We played in front of like 50 punters because we were first band on. But it was kind of funny because it was mainly kids since they're the only ones to turn up really early, and they really liked us. They responded with 'whoah these guys are really cool!' The reception was really amazing and encouraging, you know being in our '40's or whatever and being able to kick arse for 15 or 18 year olds who had never heard of us before... it was quite a cool gig.
PSF: You were involved with a local psychedelic compilation, can you tell me about that?
RICKERTSEN: That was through Simon. He knew this guy called Ian Macintyre who was behind that Tomorrow is Today compilation that was based on Australian bands from the 60s who never got popular at the time. He also wrote a great book of the same name that covers those garage and psych bands from the '60's to early '70's pre-AC/DC and Rose Tattoo. It's a brilliant book.
PSF: Wasn't it an archival thing?
RICKERTSEN: Yeah, he collected 500 or 600 songs from the period from these bands. He approached 20 local bands and asked them to take their pick of what they wanted to cover. We chose "The Time Will Come" by Tol-Puddle Martyrs which is an absolutely amazing song.
STRONG: The first Australian protest song recorded. Peter Richter who wrote the song told me he had trouble writing songs for the group coz he was understandably shit scared of the draft; he couldn't get it out of his head. And he had to write about it because he couldn't think about anything else. He couldn't think about birds (women) even. Which is a shocking thing for a 17 year-old bloke to worry about anyway, and suddenly 'the man' wants you to go off and kill people. I mean you can't think about birds anymore – that's terrible! That's not what the tune's about, of course...
PSF: How would you describe the PST sound, 'sonically'?
RICKERTSEN: Psychedelic, garage, sort of punk, not quite... it's raw rock n' roll, it's simple as possible and energetic as possible.
STRONG: Like The Fall.
PSF: Who were your musical influences?
RICKERTSEN: Almost anything -from a drummer point of view - probably Charlie Watts and Ringo Starr.
STRONG: I think Ringo Starr definitely... but Charlie Watts??
RICKERTSEN: Well on 'Godstar' (the PsychicTV cover)...
STRONG: Oh, OK I'll take that, but naturally like Ringo.
RICKERTSEN: ..and also Ian Paice from Deep Purple, he does 'jazzy' stuff... If I play really great drum rolls, Ringo Starr, and if I play 'thumpy, thumpy,' Charlie Watts. The Seeds, Red Krayola , obviously. We all like 60s garage rock and simple stuff.
PSF: Literary influences?
STRONG: Well some of the classics of modernist English poetry have been turned into mega-international hits via the PST without the original authors being cognizant of the fact. So Harry Mathews via our song, "the Poets I," "The Function of the Gorgon" by Percy B Shelley, and many, many more...
RICKERTSEN: Simon's the man with the words.
STRONG: Harry wrote a few, but the words generally sound like they're disappearing up my own arse anyway...
PSF: Cinematic influences?
STRONG: Of course. I'm predominantly interested in pornographic cinemas. It's pretty difficult to talk about cinema. It's hard enough to talk about music, let alone literary influences, it gets all nebulous. Then you talk about cinematic influences where you have a two-dimensional spatial field plus a temporal component, it makes my head hurt.
PSF: What are your drug influences?
RICKERTSEN: Well, we're quite tolerant and open minded.
PSF: Novelist Stewart Home did your liner notes. Can you talk about that?
STRONG: I owe Stewart Home everything in terms of creative endeavour. Because I was writing really shit, sort of confessional BULLSHIT poetry when I was in my 20's. It was all really horrible. Then I met Stewart and also Neil Palmer and they put me on the right track and showed me what the good shit was. And I went off and did my own thing, it was different. But I was deeply influenced by Stewart's ideas on what constitutes culture. I just asked him to do the notes because I thought it would be funny, and I just wanted to read them, and I thought people would like to read them too.
PSF: Can you talk about the album artwork. There seems to be a distinct aesthetic to each record?
RICKERTSEN: The first one was done by Harry's son Caesar (then 10). We manipulated it a bit in Photoshop. It's an image of a hand. The second album was done by Simon's daughter Maisie (then 10). It was this fantastic image of a face. It looked very abstract and gruesome, but also very colourful. The third one was done by Simon himself.
STRONG: We usually had a few disagreements about record covers. Anyway, after all the trauma of the first record, I showed up at practice with this painting Maisie had done and said ”Guys, this is the cover of the next record” and showed them the face, and the title 'This is me in the park with no clothes on, I like the flowers,' and everyone just went “yes, sorted!”. So when we went to the third record I did hundreds, thousands, well two or three of these mock album covers just with random images off the Internet and one day I was looking up the word 'apotheosis' on Wikidictionary, and used Wikipedia instead and found this painting of 'the apotheosis of the revolutionary heroes of the 14th republic being greeting into the court of King Oseum.' It's this fucking cool picture with valkyries and whatnot. It's in the Chateau Malmaison in Paris. And then of course Coldplay ripped us off with 'Viva la vida!' But they used a painting by Delocroix who is just the ARRRRSE. Triosaint is the real fucking shit. This guy knew his symbolism backwards.
PSF: So what are the plans for the future?
STRONG: Well I dunno, it's hanging suspended in the ether... It was just this intersection of minds...
PSF: And where can people get your product?
STRONG: Go online to LedaTape.net and download them, etc...
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