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Coming Back to Where it All Began: TP interviews Kim Salmon

Tahlia Palmer: Steady Eye

Coming Back to Where it All Began: TP interviews Kim Salmon

Andrew Ryan

This weekend, Kim Salmon will be back in P-town to play a few shows to his home crowd. While many of you are already pumped for the shows, I realise that some of you may not be familiar with WAMI Hall-of-Fame-er, though you may well be familiar with the bands he’s played in over the last 30 years, which includes, most notably, The Scientists and Beasts of Bourbon… so I’ve got a nice little chatty-chat with the man all typed up and ready for your reading pleasure.

Tahlia Palmer: 1976 saw you form Perth’s first punk band. How familiar were you with what was going on in the rest of the punk world at the time?
Kim Salmon:
I was aware of what was going on in England, which was interesting; the Pistols, Clash, Damned etc were all keenly studying the New York scene- CBGB, Max’s, Ramones, Heartbreakers, Blondie, Television- as indeed was I. There difference was that they were all getting written about in the music press and then the tabloids, whereas The Cheap Nasties were hidden away in our lovely hometown!

TP:
As a habitual internet lurker, with musical MySpace pages at my fingertips since I was 14 years old, I can’t comprehend what it must have been like for you guys at that time. Indulge me!
KS:
The net has devalued everything, and I’m not saying that as a luddite either, as there are also some real plusses about, but… what I’m talking about here is- what’s the value of something if anyone can have it?
The knowledge of some scene in some far off place was hard gotten and earned and so therefor worth something. It was knowledge confined to the few who knew.
Another important difference was with everyone having to make do with small amounts of info, so we were all bound to get it wrong to some extent. The result was music had more of a distinct sound in different places. Having said that, the Nasties sounds a lot more like an English punk band than our eastern states counterparts. That makes sense though because we were reading the same music papers and absorbing the influences as the pommies, unlike the bands in the east where they were taking their lead from The Saints and Radio Birdman with their more Detroit rock slant on everything.

TP:
How were The Cheap Nasties received by audiences at the time? I’ve heard a lot about how dismal the music scene was back then, what with cover bands and pub rock and bogans and everything…
KS:
We were in a bit of a vacuum really. It’s a bit like “If a tree falls in the forrest, does it make a sound if there’s no one to hear it?”. The few people that saw us were either folk like us who’d read about the New York Dolls etc in NME… or people who unwittingly stumbled upon us and didn’t know what to make of us when we were playing at their regular pub. I remember being at “Steve’s” in Nedlands one time and looking down at my feet in astonishment at the pile of broken glasses around the bottom of my mic-stand though.

TP:
Then The Scientists were born; and what a child to give birth to. I am such a big fan of The Scientists’ sounds, all of them! You guys were the quintessential post-punk band, and a precursor to the grunge movement of the 90’s. I read that you yourself actually came up with the term “grunge”. Can you tell me about how that came about?
KS:
I mean, waddya say? The word has almost haunted me since about 1990. Someone asks me if I think I invented grunge so I say, “Yeah, one day I thought: What do we need? We need Stone Temple Pilots and then there was grunge”. It’s not a question you can take that seriously.
Clinton Walker asked me something like that on “A Long Way To The Top” and I really didn’t know what to say. I started rambling, and somewhere I mentioned that I’d used the word grunge in interviews to describe the sound The Scientists were trying to achieve. I was really trying to avoid actually saying anything but it went wrong. Ever since then people have either been annoyed that I should try to take credit for it (which is the opposite of what I was trying to do), or they’ve taken it as permission to think I did invent it.

TP:
After The Scientists, you then began to divide your time between Kim Salmon and the Surrealists and Beasts of Bourbon. What were the differences between these two projects, pros and/or cons?
KS: The Surrealists was my band and essentially the continuation of what I was doing with The Scientists. The Beasts were really, let’s face it, Tex Perkins’ vehicle. I had become very aware that publishing was where it was at with earning a crust in music so I made damned sure that I had a big chunk of the Beasts publishing, i.e. got a lot of my songs into the Beasts repertoire. I tended to look at the Beasts more as a meal ticket and The Surrealists as my artistic vehicle. I think that will tell you all the pros and cons of each.

TP:
Please, please, please describe what is was like to tour with U2.
KS:
Well… We never saw them personally. We has to lock ourselves in our dressing room when they travelled to the stage. I did accidently bump into Bono in catering in Brisbane though. I tripped him over by accident. HE apologised for being a clumsy oaf.

TP:
How would you say The Surrealists and The Business evolved into what you’re doing now? What ARE you doing now? Tell me everything.
KS:
It’s true to say that The Surrealists evolved into The Business, which, as it’s name implies, was intended as a fairly commercial enterprise- we did get a lot of airplay on the Js, but The Business proved to be costly, and the reality was that my punters didn’t buy it at the time, and I didn’t have the finance to keep it going long enough to reach a new, wider audience.
Since then I’ve just done things that have seemed like fun, or an interesting avenue to pursue with no though whatsoever about who might buy it. At the moment I’m doing the odd Surrealists show, and I’ve just done a month of gigs revisting my entire career at a Fitzroy venue called The Old Bar. I also have a two piece glam/pink combo called “Precious Jules”, and I play totally improvised music with tapes, amp noises and the odd bit of guitar with a chap called David Brown who plays something called ‘prepared guitar’ (sort of like avant garde prepared piano). I recently did a show in Lismore with The Darling Downs for the first time in 2 years, which was nice. Hopefully there’ll be more of that.

TP:
When was the last time you were in Perth? How much time do you spend there?
KS:
Last November, when I played the Norfolk with the same combo as I will this Friday there.

TP:
What can audiences expect from your upcoming Perth shows?
KS:
A bit of a revisitation of my entire 33 year back catalogue, much as I did at the Old Bar- but much more compressed for the sake of getting it into a single show.

TP:
What are your thoughts on Australian music at the moment, given that you played a large part in the early stages of independent Australian music?
KS:
Much as I’ve always thought. There’s worthy stuff out the that is getting completely overlooked, and cringable stuff that people who should know better seem to want to champion and pretend puts us on the world stage. It’s always been the stuff that’s ignored here that attracts any worthwhile interest overseas while the cringable stuff just makes us a laughing stock.
Wake up Australia! How many of you bought The Painkillers CDs? And Dave Graney’s still out the playing to 60 people a night with a truly world class act!

::::Kim Salmon plays the Norfolk this Friday Dec 17 and then at the Bakery Saturday December 18 along with the Kill Devil Hills::::