By JJ ADAMS
THERE haven’t been many Australian bands who could deliver the sheer wall-destroying volume, ground-cracking power and mother meanness of Rose Tattoo in full flight.
AC/DC, The Coloured Balls, Radio Birdman, X, and more recently, Feedtime, Massappeal, Hellmenn and The Cosmic Psychos spring to mind. Seeing The Cosmic Psychos today, launching into their anthems such as “I Wanna Be Like David Lee Roth” (*rubber nose/wet pantyhose’), “Going Down (‘how was I know to she was only 14)”. “Custom Credit” (“you drove me up the wall-I ain’t no spider’) or the self-explanatory “Rambo”, it’s hard to imagine them seven years ago playing as Spring Plains, a Melbourne “arty noise band with a singer who sounded like Nick Cave”.
“Spring Plains were influenced by The Ramones, The Saints, The Cramps and ’77 punk generally,” reminisces Psychos guitarist Peter Jones. “At the time we started there was a lot of experimental type bands around, and we could get away with barely being able to play our instruments. Bill Walsh (Psychos drummer) and Ross Knight (Psychos bassist) were in the group as well. Ross left for a while and we got another bass player who was into 60s garage stuff like The Seeds and The 13th Floor Elevators. We went through a psychedelic phase for a while. When he left and Ross returned, we got rid of the singer who’d become too intolerable. A review which called as Birthday Party clones was the last straw.”
To understand how the sound of Spring Plains rewed up into high gear as the Cosmic Psychos (who have often been described as sounding like a cross between X and Rose Tattoo), it’s best to go back to the band’s pre-punk roots. Ross was into KISS – he still checks out their videos – Bill was into ‘Zeppelin, Deep Purple, The Doors and The Rolling Stones’ and Peter was into jazz rock, whose fluid lines can still be seen in his guitar playing.
“When the three of us were left after Spring Plains died, we decided that we’d had enough of singers and that we’d each have a go at singing,” explains Peter of the Psycho’s style, in which each member shares the vocals. “And as we played more and began getting into distortion effects, we gradually developed the tough sound we have now. A lot of people still ask why we play as a trio and don’t add another guitarist but we don’t think there’s any room in our sound for anyone else.*
Peter says that the humour, which sets the Psycho’s aside from being just another tough band with songs about girls, relationships and the state of the world, “was never a planned thing but was probably a reaction to all the bands around who were angst-ridden and acting really serious. Ross writes most of the lyrics, although we all have a say in the finished songs and the humour springs from him. A lot of people who are influenced by the music that inspired us are appalled by our lack of seriousness-although others say we’re a pack of idiots who are too serious!”
Drummer Bill says that “a lot of other bands feel threatened by the way we kick arse. That’s their problem. But we’ve been helped by a lot of people too, especially the Celibate Rifles, who got what we were trying to do at a time when not many others did.”
We joke about the Psycho’s non-image: songs such as the previously mentioned “I Wanna Be Like David Lee Roth” can only work when being sung by an all-Australian boy like bassist Ross, whose farm origins inspired “Down On The Farm”, the song from which the Psychos’ much sought-after debut mini-album took its title. If you’ve caught The Psycho’s in action, you’re one of the lucky. There’s people in Europe (where the band spent some months last year) who’ve seen more of the group than their fans in Sydney! They’ve ventured to Adelaide twice, but apart from their European jaunt (another is in the planning), The Psychos stay put in the Yarra City.
“We don’t play very much,” admits Bill, “because we’ve never really gone down all that well in Sydney – we just seem to get the same crowds and we never get airplay up there. In Melbourne we get mixtures of people to our shows ranging from punks to art students.”
The European trip was an eye opener for the Psychos and their audiences, especially those who knew them only from their Down On The Farm and Cosmic Psychos records. When Ross bailed out from going at the last minute, it was a crisis situation that would have daunted others but the Psychos grabbed another singer (Mick Turner from Venom P. Stinger) and headed off.
“Everything was booked and we really wanted to go,” explains Peter, “and we knew that people over there had never seen us, so it wasn’t like playing here without Ross. A few were suspicious but the sound was pretty well the same – it was Ross’s visual presence that was missing.”
The tour was arranged through an agent who was used to dealing with small independent label bands. ‘It sounds impressive for a group like us to be able to say that we’re toured in Europe,” admits Bill, “but it’s not as hard to organise as people would imagine.”
While Ross stayed home ‘because of work and personal commitments’, the others were playing with acts like the Butthole Surfers, Rapeman, The Rollins Band, and getting compared with AC/DC “because we were slotted as hard and fast rock and rollers”.
They toured England, Germany and Holland, and won themselves a support base in Antwerp, Belgium. ‘The Down On The Farm theme had really taken hold,” laughs Peter. ‘They thought we were all farmers who had formed a band! In Germany they called us Australia’s consummate garage group, but we liked the way magazines kept calling us a trash band who played trash music!”
Australia’s premier ‘trash’ rockers have recently recorded a new album at Sydney’s Festival Records studios with producer John Bee — watch out for it in your local store. With interest being expressed by the US-based Subpop label and licensing deals being worked out in Europe, it’s likely that the band a Juke critic once called ‘muscular boneheads who play avaristic Detroit thrash without wit or humour’ will blow out a few more eardrums before they’re through.