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JOEL SILBERSHER-By The Drones’ Gareth Liddiard

JOEL SILBERSHER
November 29, 2008 | Author: The Drones’ Gareth Liddiard

For the Summer 2008 issue of Australian Musician, we handed over editing duties to The Drones. Drones’ main man Gareth wanted to chat to Melbourne indie rock identity Joel Silbersher. I recall wanting to edit down Joel’s very long and thoughtful answers. I copped a barrage over the phone from Joel as to why the whole damn thing should appear in print. Joel won! – Greg Phillips, usual editor Australian Musician

joelsilbersher

GARETH: First up… ‘Greasy Lens’. Not enough people know about this record. It’s probably your 10th? There are all sorts of B-grade musicians claiming supremacy of the air in our heads but this record is … I can’t really say. It makes me want to kill myself and laugh at the same time… The arrangements are bizarre but practical too. It’s as if you entered one of those dumb competitions where you jumped off a jetty in a bi-plane made of empty choc milk cartons and it actually took off, but knowing it would. It sounds just like you, yet feels like we’ve all felt. All my friends think the same. Tell me about this record. Any weird old thing people need to know.

JOEL: Claiming supremacy of the air? What, like rappers do? They are far down the evolutionary scale from me. Though if necessary I can bust more rhymes than… Alex Lloyd?  Don’t even know who to look to for a Biggie/Tupac feud. Who would give enough of a shit? I have mad skillz though boi-eee!
Well, I chipped away at Greasy Lens for a few years. I do these collages that just sit around my flat. Every now and then, I glue a leaf or a photo or a cocktail seahorse onto one and cover it with PVA. Eventually erosion gets them ‘finished’ and I give them away. Similar technique to ‘Greasy Lens’. It comes from a lotta disparate sources –four-track, 16-track 2 inch, walkman cassette, cubase, etc and ends up all mashed together as the seamless slop you and your ‘friends’ willingly ladle into your heads. The mix is different to Tendrils or Hoss, where the guitar solos and overdubs crash right in and over. It’s more the voice and acoustic guitar with a bunch of other noise bubbling under and around it. Also, the purity of my sadness and insanity is corrupted by my Naked Gunny stoopids. The absurd and puerile are more important than the surreal on that one. Always to me, yuks, black ‘uns or no, are essential. There’s some real heartbreak there too but it’s not like ‘Boo is me. Why, o why?’. I know why!The ‘practicality’ of the arrangements comes from my barely-functional drumming and a need to leave plenty of room for the voice to punch through amidst the food-fight. Those grooves are quite odd, but they’re simple once you’re used to them.

GARETH: You work a lot with Charlie Owen. Last time I saw him he was chucking empty beer bottles at my head, not realizing I’d cut my hair, looked different and was actually standing behind him. This is normal for he and I. Together you are Tendrils. Tell everyone how you recorded this shit. It’s normal for you but not everyone, so you should explain for their benefit.

JOEL: I’m sorry Chuck threw his beer at you. Maybe he thought it would help you grow. Oh, they were empty you say! I’m about to go out on a tour with Charlie as members of Tex Perkins’ Ladyboyz, the cover band from heaven. Our side of the stage is the blurping, skreeing-ing synth/wah noises and Pat Bourke and James Cruikshank are over the other side making ‘music’. Gus Agars is the little big beat. We are mainly playing casinos and the odd fashion show.
Most Tendrils songs were recorded and completed one day at a time at one or another version of Atlantis studio. Didn’t have a deliberate plan of ‘one song – one day’, but generally that’s how it went. He is an awesome writer and musician, across the board. He can make just about anything work in a song. Good piano player and dancer too. Far more than a mere guitar genius. Generally he or I would have the music already and we’d go to the studio once or twice a month whether I had words ready or not. There was a fair bit of staying up all the night before to make sure I had something worth singing.

GARETH: A song like ‘Dark Socket’ is killer. It makes me want to kill someone when that weird instrumental bit comes in. Other things in your songs make me laugh. and there is everything in between too. Your creative and artistic drive is as playful as it is poignant, and you never give it up. Why?

JOEL: I think I already answered that one. Presumption of others about me seems to often ignore the essential yuks. I’ve been often told (and sometimes by those who should know better) that I ‘run on hate’, but without laughter and love I would have been dead many years ago. Totally not an exaggeration. This is not weird, that these things should be found together. Comedians are legendarily depressive and bent. Why not the other way around? Hardly a new concept, mongrels of beauty/horror/hilarity/whatever-else … Surely our brains are big enough to handle this?Fun is as important as anything else. Maybe more important. A little vitriol adds spice and vigour.

GARETH: You’ve been around for a long time. You started so young … 15 or something with the band God. There are a few early starters in Australia and abroad but you never sucked. All the kids want to know, how do you do it?

JOEL: I did often suck. And may again. Early starters? You mean Silverchair? No comparison, although one or more Godparents would chaperone us to gigs early on.  Early on during their reign of massiveness, I guess Silverchair did helicopter  in to play at the Falls with parents in tow one year we were there. Played after Hoss, before Nick Barker. They were a perfect blend of all the stuff that was popular on JJJ at the time, as were/are most of the unearthed bands. We, um, were not (I think it was still way too early to go to Lismore Uni to learn how to be an unearthed rock group). We were not the perfect anything. Starting young has proved useful in some ways but mainly it means all my ‘mistakes’ have been public ones I still have to hear about.
To ‘The Kids’ I say: You are not alright. Everyone and his dog has a band. Don’t do it unless you love it because it’s likely that’s all you’ll get out of it. Otherwise, don’t bother. The kids have never been alright. The Muldoons from Detroit are good though.

GARETH: You have some new stuff that’s going to be released. Myself and Mike were lucky enough to get to play a bit on it as well as do that show at All Tomorrow’s Parties that Mike can’t recall (even though it was only the early afternoon). When is that record out? What’s it called?

JOEL: The Album is called ‘I Came As Soon As I Heard’ (in honour of my beloved Leslie Neilsen), out soonish on Spicerack records. I’m glad you enjoyed yourselves on that because you guys are on more of it than what you probably remember. Thanks. Sounds real good. It’s all the stuff (including covers) that I play solo, apart from the songs on ‘Greasy Lens’. A lot more electric.
I wish that Michael hadn’t told me of his total non-recall re-the All Tomorrow’s Parties performance. Disturbing. He played well though. A little more Beefhearty than usual. He has played those songs a bunch of times before (apart from ‘My Pal’), so sobriety was not a must. After we were done he was going ‘I wish we played twice as long. That was great!’, but I guess it didn’t stick.
Do you remember asking me what I thought of Noga before he Droned? I said ‘he is the missing link between Steve Shelley and Bill Ward’ and you licked your lips. I think having played with Legends of Motorsport, Sandro, Stegwazi and Silbo is a perfect-pedigree prelude to Drone-ism.

GARETH: Why the Richard Thompson covers on the record?

JOEL: Like Jimi Hendrix or John Fogerty, RC is the hot-shit guitar master of many moods, all-singing, playing, songwriting genius and definitely formative and essential to me in my rock education. Like the Byrds did a bunch of Dylan,
I just ended up knowing a lot of Richard Thompson songs and some got recorded. Linda Thompson’s singing also has been quite an influence on my own.

GARETH: Is ‘You’re A Big Girl Now’ going on there? Explain the other cover too… with the broken wah pedal. All the details please!

JOEL: No ‘Big Girl’, though it’s coming out on ‘Skycrab’, a thing for Spanish label BANG! The one with the busted wah is ‘Half a Mind’, a cover by a sixties band called The Godz who were on ESP. That’s probably going on the album. That’s just me and Tim Spicer (of Spicerack studios) and it sounds like The Muppets.

GARETH: You play bass with Dirty Three occasionally. Making it “Dirty Three and a Turd” as you like to say. When did all that start and why?

JOEL: They’re old friends (Venom P Stinger was sort of a big brother band to God when we started, and I’ve known Warren since I was about 19). Musically simpatico too.

GARETH: Is there something about your bass that made this determinately bassless band need to be bassful once more?

JOEL: I’d like to take credit, because I really enjoy it and it works well, but they’ve had a bass player quite a few times. They had Zac from Low for a couple of tours and they’ve had Marty from The Bad Seeds. I loved doing those tours, and I, me and Jim White play well together. ‘Stooges’ it up a bit. Was quite exciting for me. Don’t know if they’ll ask me again but I hope so. Mostly, they can take care of the low-end themselves, when they even need it. Mick has never been scared to stick a bass on their recordings if it seems right. Me and Mick Turner are still working on The Freedom Jabbers, our reggae band. Fifteen years in and still no records or shows. But by Jah, you will tremble when I and I and he unleash it upon you. Rass!

GARETH: Everyone in the biz wants to know, why do you put the drums down last on a recording, that not only doesn’t have a click track but doesn’t have a straight sense of timing?

JOEL: My timing has never been precise on any instrument. I’m not deliberately ‘stuffing it up’ but at the same time, it doesn’t sound ‘wrong’ to me while I’m at it. Or after. Only some people can appreciate this. Got my own phrasing. Sometimes I’m just plain wonky. On this latest solo album though, it’s because some of the best basic live takes were just me playing guitar and singing but it needed a few other elements. I can play over this stuff easily, and weirdly enough, so can Mike Noga, but most people can’t. It’s not a philosophy but if it sounds good, fine. But Gaz, no one ‘in the biz’ wants to know that.

GARETH: But they do want to know everything about Hoss. Tell me everything about Hoss, right now, quick sticks.

JOEL: Lessee…1989 as God was breaking up because of all the cooks, Hoss started jamming. Everyone in God really needed their own band and besides, we weren’t getting along or playing well. It was an open secret (Hoss) but certainly I didn’t let on to the God guys how good it was going. It was two old heroes of mine Todd McNeair and the late Mick Weber (both of The Seminal Rats, one of God’s bigbrother bands, along with Venom P.Stinger and The Hard Ons and several others) and me and my schoolfriend/sometimes Godroadie  (we were still at school at this point) Scott Bailey, who was a guitar player. But we already had two of those so he played bass and has ever since. We recorded the music for our first album ‘Guzzle’ the day before our first gig which was at The Tote with The Throwaways. The single ‘Green’ was a re-recorded version of an album track but ended up being our first release. Both of these were released on AuGoGo. The single’s pretty good and the album ‘Guzzle’ is no great shakes tho’. Mick and Todd play pretty great on it. ‘Guzzle’ was our set as it stood at the time (although we did not use the version of ‘Magpie’ we recorded) including a Moving Sidewalks tune (‘99th floor’, sung by Mick Weber) and a pair of Stones covers. Left Au Go Go for Dogmeat after these and put out ‘It’s Everywhere’ single, followed by the album ‘You Get Nothing’ which houses a couple of songs still played by today’s Hoss – ‘Too Much Sugar’ and ‘It’s Everywhere’. We may try and resuscitate a few others in the near future. The pressures of being in two bands wore thin on Mick and Todd and they both were gone before the album was released. We practiced every week as did The Rats, with both bands being hard … hard-drinking … and unfortunately, driving. Both bands were gigging quite a lot and everyone had jobs. Mick was schizophrenic and never could decide whether he wanted to be in the band or not.
Me and him would torment each other a fair bit, either deliberately or accidentally. Very paranoid guy. Really funny and talented though. Good songwriter and a deceptively blazing player (barely moved, but shut your eyes … )Those guys were in the band for a couple of years. John Nolan and Tim Hemensley (my old Godbrotherer … dead, as is Sean Greenway from God…exhausting…rock and roll bullshit) had both quit Bored! by then and were taking a while to get a new thing together so John joined Hoss as lead guitarist. A few gigs and a few tracks recorded. The flamboyant Michael Glenn joined as drummer same time as Nolan and remained in the stool for over three years. Johnny joining Hoss lit a fire under Hemensley and he soon grabbed John back to form Powdermonkeys with the incredible songs he’d been stockpiling. Our guitarist since that time has been his awesomeness Jimmy Sfetsos who I believe you, Simon, once called ‘Australia’s J.Mascis’. That was probably appropriate at the time but he’s developed a lot of different tricks since then. Can still wail though. And often does as you’ll see. This line-up played many, many gigs and recorded ‘Bring on the Juice’ (for some reason seems the set of songs beloved by most), and a bit over half of ‘Everyday Lies’ before Mike got fed up with our unpopularity and split. Don’t know what he expected exactly. For such a weird-ass, unfocused rock band, we were doing OK, supporting Nirvana and Soundgarden as they became massive. Big Days Out, Livid, all that shit, as well as formative residencies at The Great Britain and Prince of Wales.
Band got real good while Michael was in it and only really sucked towards the end of his tenure. The album was completed with a mate helping out on the remaining drums (Greg Bainbridge, who’d just replaced Tony Pola in The Surrealists). Strange, sad record but some of it holds up well. Enter now our hero Dean Muller, the ‘new guy’ after a mere 13 years. Deano was actually going to be our drummer when the band first started (he’d been in Brisney’s Voodoo Lust and we knew him from The Macho Clowns), but he got wife Kim impregnated and they moved to Bendigo. Their daughter Nadine is the Killer Birds’ drummer and is 18 now and something of a time-marker for me (as well as being our beautiful, talented, can-even-drive-a-car-and-have-a-nice-boyfriend teenage buddy). Hoss is a beamingly proud uncle. Anyway, Dean was going to be our drummer until he wasn’t, and the first jam with Todd went so well that we looked no further. Why wouldja? When, years later, Mike Glenn left, Dean was meant to just help us out for a couple of gigs (tour of NSW RSLs and such with Tumbleweed) but his playing and personality was perfect for Hoss (he can do all that fancy, Keith Moony shit but it is always in service of the song). So we needed and insisted upon him and here he still is. I’m rapt to brag. Took till 1999 for our next album ‘Do You Leave Here Often?’ to come out and it has considerably shorter, blunter songs recorded over a couple of years. Didn’t even do a gig for almost three years, don’t know why? Life gets in the way. Family, business, other music, death, depression, boohoo… I’ve played with a bunch of other people and Dean has been The Cosmic Psychos’ drummer since Billy Walsh was ‘retired’ five years back. Hoss never broke up but haven’t released anything since the ‘Nice Quiet Chat’ single three years ago. I’ll send you one of them (Ed: That’s to Gareth not to every reader!). Have been writing and doing little bits of recording and even godforbid, have travelled to Sydney for the first time in four years and are about to come again. Spoont! Jim in particular has a million great riffs for me to ruin with my shitty poetry. Butcher’s Hook in The UK will soon release ‘Grey Tits : A Hoss Primer’, which takes tracks from all our albums and some other cool crap besides.
www.myspace.com/joelsilbersher

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