The Aussie trio’s patented—or, more accurately, sculpted ‘n’ jackhammered—“concrete urban blues” has never sounded more elegantly explosive, as evidenced on a new single for Sub Pop. The band’s also currently touring Australia with the Oblivians. Herein, we pay tribute…
BY FRED MILLS
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 Sydney trio feedtime (no capital letters, please), definitely not a newcomer; the group’s initial heyday was in the ‘80s. But because Sub Pop had just released a box set of their four early albums and plans were afoot for a brief reunion tour to promote the box, a profile of the band—long one of yours truly faves—seemed in order.
Well, it’s 2015, and against all odds, feedtime is once again back, and this time not only touring, but with new studio material, the group’s first in two decades. Cut with Mikey Young (Total Control, Eddy Current Suppression Ring), the “Flatiron” b/w “Stick Up Jack” 45 (Sub Pop) is everything a classic single should be: blazingly powerful and straight to the point, boasting irresistible hooks and both sides clocking in at under 2 ½ minutes. With a slide-guit-powered A-side that is pure f-time blooze-punk (like they walked out the door and then walked right back), and a 1-chord locomotive raveup for the B-side, the single’s a no-brainer to be on year-end best-of lists. Can an album be in the works?
The magic 8-ball says “quite possibly”—the group did some shows in 2014; read a revealing interview with all three of them last year for Mess and Noise HERE—and have just recently embarked upon a March tour of Australia supporting the Oblivians.
Well, who knows what the future will hold; feedtime was always more about being “in the moment,” or perhaps of the moment, than laying long-term plans. The trio– Rick, Al, and Tom, first names only, please, although 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 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 of that 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 clear-eyed about their overall position in the music world.
When Sub Pop released 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. In 2012 I conducted an email interview with feedtime’s Rick plus their friend and old label boss Bruce Griffith to get the lowdown on the box, a then concurrent outtakes/unreleased compilation titled This Is Friday on the S.S. label, and the possibility of a full reunion and tour for the original trio. At the time they were adamant that wasn’t going to happen. (Griffith: “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 as you might surmise from the arrival of the Sub Pop single and the news about the upcoming tour with The Oblivians, things changed. Here’s that 2012 interview, never published in its entirety; following that is some updating from a more recent Australian interview. (Below: feedtime live in 2012)
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. (Below: feedtime back in the day)
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.
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.
2015 Update: Short term, perhaps, but as we know now, the one-off nature of the tour for The Aberrant Years laid the groundwork for something more long term, and perhaps substantial. In that Mess and Noise interview with the three musicians, referenced at the top of this article, 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, like you say, 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.”
Hold on to that focus, lads. We’re counting on you.
Top photo by Caroline Birkett. Below, watch a video of the band live in Brisbane last year. Feedtime is on tour in Australia right now with America’s own Oblivians. Dates and deets at the feedtime Facebook page.