LIFE’S A GAS: feedtime

Feedtime Sydney Opera House

With a much-heralded new album out—the first from the Sydney trio in over 20 years, and pressed on colored vinyl to boot—and with fans salivating over the prospect of additional activity, let’s take a plunge into ye olde editor’s Aussie archives.

BY FRED MILLS

Among fans of Australian independent rock, the name feedtime looms large, some devotees even going so far as to include the Sydney trio alongside such iconic names as Radio Birdman, the Saints, Cosmic Psychos, and Scientists. Part of the reason is no doubt related to the whole live fast/leave a pretty corpse angle, as feedtime burned brightly in the ‘80s then exited stage left before any rot had a chance to set in. You’ll shortly read what subsequently went down with these scuzz-blooze-rawk merchants. Indeed, some rather recent video evidence, below, speaks a zillion words:

Meanwhile, there’s the matter of breaking news: America’s own In The Red Records has just released a brand new album by what the label calls “Australia’s favorite misanthropic noise-makers” (wish I’d said that), and Gas finds Rick, Al, and Tom (no last names, please—guitar/vox, bass/vox, and drums, respectively) sounding every bit as beautifully brutal as on its four predecessors, 1985’s feedtime, 1986’s Shovel, 1988’s Cooper-S, and 1989’s Suction. (Consumer-wise, all of those were reissued in 2012 as part of the Sub Pop box set The Aberrant Years. There was also a brief reunion in 1996 that yielded the Billy album featuring a different lineup.)

Feedtime 2012 in Minneapolis

Indeed, from Side A’s ready-to-rumble murky-roar of opening track “Any Good Thing” and the slide-guit/barked-vocals sonic maelstrom that is “Hopeful Blues,” to the sheer locomotive aggression powering “Fifty Eight” (more slide) and the hypnotic, pulsing, verging-on-anthemic (term used loosely) “Grass,” Gas is pure feedtime—sounding for all the world like the band simply dipped out the side door for a quick smoke then popped back in, picked up their instruments, and continued the set. Three decades seem not to have diminished the lads in any way, and with Mikey Young (Control, Eddy Current Suppression Ring) at the studio helm, the sonic chaos isn’t reigned in a whit; Young, who also recorded the 2015 one-off reunion single for Sub Pop, “Flatiron” / “Stick Up Jack,” has a keen intuition for what makes feedtime tick. That single, incidentally, is not included on the album for some reason, but with 14 fine tracks here, seven per side on a gorgeous emerald/splatter vinyl LP, no one’s getting shortchanged.

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So. As long as we are celebrating the return of feedtime—no word yet on a tour, but we can all dream, eh?—let us peer into the BLURT archives for some relevant verbiage on the band. I consider myself eternally honored to be a card-carrying feedtime fan from Day 1—please, keep your envy to a minimum—having both reviewed and interviewed the band back in the day. More recently, a few years ago, in 2012, BLURT published a kind of mini-roundup of relatively new Australian bands we felt were worth keeping an eye on. Among them was feedtime, definitely not a newcomer. But because Sub Pop had just released the box set, and plans were afoot for a brief reunion tour to promote the box, a profile of the band seemed in order. (Below, a clip of the band live at Seattle’s Tractor Tavern in 2012, with guest Mark Arm.)

I duly conducted an email interview with feedtime’s Rick plus their friend and old Aberrant Records label boss Bruce Griffith to get the lowdown on the box as well as concurrent outtakes/unreleased compilation titled This Is Friday on the S.S. label, not to mention the possibility of a fulltime reunion and extended tour for the original trio. At the time they were adamant that wasn’t going to happen, and as Griffith put it, “There are no feedtime plans beyond the 2012 US tour. This is it, folks. If you wanna see feedtime, you need to attend one of these shows.”

But then 2015 rolled around. Against all odds, feedtime was once again back, having followed up the brief 2012 American tour with some Australian shows in 2014 (above is a live clip from a Brisbane show supporting Mudhoney; also read a revealing interview with all three of them that year for Mess and Noise HERE), planning a fresh Australian tour with the Oblivians, and with new studio material, the group’s first in two decades, via the aforementioned “Flatiron” single. So at the time, prospects for a full-length seemed good. It took a couple of years, but here in 2017, it’s finally arrived in the form of Gas, so for everyone who arrived late to the feedtime table, allow me to peel back the years for your edification….

feedtime records

The trio of feedtime– Rick, Al, and Tom, and for publishing purposes the surnames listed on the Sub Pop single read Johnson, Larkin and Sturm—on guitar, bass and drums, respectively, originally formed in Sydney circa ’79 and went on to cut four hugely influential albums in the ‘80s before splitting at the end of the decade: feedtime, Shovel, Cooper-S and Suction, all released in Australia via Bruce Griffiths’ iconoclastic punk/noise label Aberrant (Rough Trade released the latter 3 in the US). The group’s 1989 breakup came on the eve of an American tour, Rick years later admitting in an interview with Seattle’s The Stranger, “feedtime broke up because I was having a breakdown, that’s all. There was a lot of anger and darkness that underlaid a lot of feedtime’s makeup. I had to remake myself or die. Allen felt that he might have to do some repair work as well…. Some stuff about feedtime involves very hard stuff and needs to be left alone.”

There was also a brief reunion with a slightly different lineup (Tom replaced by a new drummer) in the mid ‘90s that resulted in the Billy album for Amphetamine Reptile, and then they were no longer once again.

Though feedtime never toured the US during its initial heyday, American fans of pure, primal, skronky blooze-noise eagerly embraced the band—Mudhoney’s Mark Arm, for example, was a very vocal supporter—and they became a mainstay of the fanzine underground. Yours truly can testify to the trio’s prowess; during the ‘80s I authored an Australian music column for east coast rock zine The Bob, and feedtime was a fixture in the column. I also oversaw the release of a 7-song, 10-inch Australian flexidisc for issue #34 of The Bob, and feedtime’s “Trouble” was one of the key tracks. The accompanying interview I did with the band remains one of my fondest memories from that journalistic period: Far from being the thuggish neanderthals that their heavier-than-heaven sound might have conveyed, they were funny and engaging, humble to a fault, and eager to reach out to their fanbase while remaining clear-eyed about their overall position in the music world. (Below, check out a unique version of “Paint It Black,” described by the YouTube uploader as “The Rolling Stones as only feedtime could play them. Recorded live at French’s Tavern, Oxford St, Sydney, Australia, September 26, 1986 by Peter Newberry of Painkillers. A version of this cover appeared on the band’s 1988 LP ‘Cooper-S’,”)

 When Sub Pop announced the four-CD The Aberrant Years, then, it was like manna from heaven for longtime fans of the band. Three of the discs contained bonus tracks, and a thick booklet completed the picture. As the label put it:

This burning energy existed for some ten years and produced some of the most powerful, creative and personal rock and roll music we are ever likely to hear. The songs are out there to discover and relate to and when they hit they explode and you’re never the same again, but you’re grateful for the experience. This isn’t “noise rock,” this is a groundbreaking FORM of music that knows its roots but applies the lessons to a wider scope than their peers.

It’s heavy but life is too and some of us know this and we channel that power into art and sometimes beautiful things are created. Sometimes it’s too heavy and nothing seems to work out. Sometimes you just need to laugh it off and stand at the back of the room for a while. This is perfect sound and pure art. Avant-garde pub-rock. All hail the concrete urban blues.

Hail hail indeed. But as you might surmise from the subsequent arrival of the Sub Pop single and the news about the Oz tour with The Oblivians, things changed. The one-off nature of the 2012 tour for The Aberrant Years apparently laid the groundwork for something more long term, and perhaps more substantial. In that Mess and Noise interview with the three musicians, Tom observed how, for him, nowadays, “the intensity is the same but with less desperation than there was 25 years ago, certainly at least on my part. I like to think the intensity is the same, but I think maybe 25 years ago it was a crutch that held me up, whereas now, it’s a thing that’s pretty good to do and every time you do it, it evokes something in you.”

Al agreed, adding, “I think collectively, when you’ve got three people creating a single thing, that’s what’s special. And I think the joy you get when that happens is fantastic. And I’m almost thinking when I hear us rehearse or play these days that we’re playing even better than we ever were.”

And Rick summed up the difference between then and now, saying, “You’re not palliating a preexisting painful condition, the meaning of it has changed I think. It’s not an act of divesting yourself of pain or putting a lid on it and shouting about something, it’s just opening up and narrowing down into a focus.”

Here’s that 2012 interview, never published before in its entirety. (Below photo by the inimitable Caroline Birkett, Oz photog extraordinaire.)

 

 Feedtime early 2

 BLURT: What the hell has everyone been doing in the years since feedtime disappeared?

RICK: We been just mutting along doin’ stuff.

 

Why feedtime in 2012? I thought we buried you guys good and proper…

RICK: Scott Soriano, of S.S. Records, asked us to a birthday party in 2011… and Sub Pop’s Mr. Poneman was interviewed one day said he’d have done shovel if he had the chance. Bruce got in contact, and off we go!

BRUCE: In late 2010 I received an email from Scott Soriano, asking if there was any chance feedtime would play the label’s 10th anniversary weekend in May 2011 if he covered airfares and accommodation.  He’d long been a fan, and the band was part of his “dream 10th anniversary line-up,” and as much as it was a massive long-shot, he had to at least ask.  Much to his surprise, the band said yes.

A little before that, and entirely unconnected, Carmel, drummer Tom’s wife, heard Jonathan from Sub Pop being interviewed on national “youth” radio station, Triple J, discussing the five albums he wished Sub Pop had released.  Shovel was one of them.  Carmel tipped me off and, as we were looking for someone to remaster and reissue the Aberrant feedtime albums and Sub Pop was literally the “dream label” (and their natural home), I sent Jon an email – “Would you like to…” – and immediately received a “YES.”

The [anniversary show in San Francisco], a “one-off,” was so good that Dean from Sub Pop, who’d traveled down for it, took me aside afterwards and asked what the chance was of an 8-10 gig tour in 2012 to promote The Aberrant Years re-releases. The guys liked what was proposed and what’s actually an 11-gig 2012 tour is the result.

 

What is the Australian press—and fans—saying about feedtime? Long memories? Fond memories? I know you guys were, in a sense, the “odd men out” of the scene back in the day when I covered you for The Bob and other US mags, yet your very underground nature seems to be what has made your legacy, as it were, endure.

RICK: The Australian press is ignoring us completely, except for the mighty Murray Engleheart who writes for Brag mag. But we made some people happy enough when we played in September [at the S.S. Records show]. You can see some on YouTube… feedtime sando.
BRUCE: There seems to be a lot of excitement among fans—old and new, and there seem to be a lot of new—about the re-issues. Deservedly, they sound amazing.  I know some people aren’t keen on ‘remastering’, but going back to the original analog masters and hearing them, and comparing them to the ‘80s pressings, I was astounded by how much was lost [with the original pressings].  The master tapes sound way better than the releases of the day.  The new versions are absolutely true to the recordings – everything is there.  It’s the full glory and as the recordings get better – as they do progressively over the albums – the reissues sound increasingly amazing. The leap in just feedtime is already considerable, but by the time you get to suction, with Trafalgar Studios production values and Butch Vig mixing – woah.

The press never got behind feedtime here, and nothing has changed in that regard.  Murray is their sole supporter. Incidentally, we highly recommend Murray’s book Blood, Sweat & Beers; essentially the story of Rose Tattoo and X, along with The Angels, Billy Thorpe & The Aztec, Coloured Balls, Buffalo.  A great read which captures the era and feel of the music brilliantly.  If that music’s of interest, it’s a must.

Today

Could you give me some more info on the [Sub Pop approved] feedtime “outtakes & unreleased’ album, Today is Friday, that S.S. Records has released?
BRUCE: It was never a condition of playing SS10, but Scott Soriano was keen to have a feedtime release and asked if we had anything lying around. I knew we did – I had high quality cassettes of the full feedtime session, the full shovel session, Cooper S outtakes, and eight reels of quarter inch tape, their contents largely unknown.  Sub Pop wanted to keep the boxed sets ‘pure’ – precisely as the releases were originally issued, track-wise, with bonus tracks restricted to actual Aberrant releases, hence the singles, B-sides, giveaway tracks, etc.). So they gave their blessing to Scott doing a release of “lost” stuff.

One of the reels contained mixed tracks recorded for shovel, which were only left off because of the limitations, time-wise, of the LP format. The feedtime session produced an entire side’s worth of recordings of songs which didn’t end up on feedtime – again, for time/length reasons – which were re-recorded for shovel.  So there are shovel tracks with feedtime sonic feel, kind of a ‘third side’ of feedtime.  Several of the reels were recorded live at the infamous (and violent) Central Markets Hotel, and we lifted some tracks from them, along with a version of Flipper’s “Life”, recorded in The Pit, a rehearsal/recording space Adrian Symes had dug beneath the floor of the house his was renting at the time.

Among the titles, you’ll spot previously unreleased songs ‘Ebgd’, ‘Garbage Scow’, ‘Tatts Willie’, ‘Life’ (Flipper) and ‘I Don’t Care About You’ (FEAR).  Of the released titles, we made sure to pick versions that offered something unique and different to the previously released versions.

Incidentally, the cover art for Today is Friday is a drawing by Tom’s daughter, Mandie, when she was about five I think.  Scott asked if we had anything like the feedtime cover, which was drawn by original drummer Dave’s son, so Tom and Carmel knew exactly the thing.

Where, if anywhere, is the Billy album in all this?

RICK: Billy‘s no place in this.

BRUCE: Billy wasn’t released on Aberrant and features a different line-up. It’s a solid album, we like it, it’s just not part of the Aberrant era.

Why the initial breakup, the reformation, then the next breakup?

BRUCE: It’s a complex [thing]. The ‘89 breakup they always say was because Rick and Al needed to put down the mindset that enabled them to create feedtime music. As feedtime was as much, if not more, about feel than a hostile view of the world, they’re able to do feedtime in 2012 but it still requires going to dark places, mentally—especially for Rick. Hence this will be a very short-term reunion.

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Ed. Note: Well, that was 2012, this is now. Things change. We’ve got Gas, literally, and as the saying goes, this is feedtime’s world; we just live in it. All respect to Rick, Al, and Tom, along with the mighty Bruce Griffiths of Aberrant fame, and the Sub Pop, S.S., and In The Red labels for carrying the torch forward. Order Gas from In The Red or seek it out at your local independent record store so you can score that sweet green vinyl LP, pictured below.

Feedtime colored wax

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