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Tahlia Palmer: Steady Eye

An Interview With Chief Richards

Andrew Ryan

Tonight I sat at a table on a nature strip in Spearwood, near the current home base of Perth’s most mysterious musical act, Chief Richards.

A friend told me he saw Chief play at some sneaky squat party recently; Chief was wearing a bra, tight jeans and a Gorilla mask, making fucked up and amazing music with a guitar and some loop pedals. He said it was the best thing he’d ever seen… so when I saw that this enigma was having a “Career Launch” this Friday at The Fly Trap in Freo, I got in touch about an interview, hoping to find out more. He agreed, but only if I was fine with him wearing the mask. He told me to meet him at the nature strip on his street, and that he’ll be waiting with a beer for me. And he was. And I drank it. This is what we talked about.

Tahlia: So, Mr. Richards, how did you get your start in music?

Chief Richards: You mean in the biz or just for funsies?

Funsies, your first instrument, for example...

Well, my Grandad gave me this old trombone when I was about 5. It was bigger than me; I think he thought that was funny. But I played that thing, I played it good, practicing along to Grandad’s old jazz records… eventually I was keeping up with the greats.

Did you take lessons in school? With your granddad?

Well yeah I took lessons, math, reading and writing, agriculture, all that stuff, but never music, Grandad said music was not something that could be taught; it had to be felt.

That sounds like good advice; have you found it to be true? What other instruments do you play?

I can pretty much play everything but I mostly stick to the iPhone these days. Great little things them! In terms of Granddad’s advice, well, of course music can be taught. People have jobs teaching other people to play music. He drank too much cider, went apple-mad, used to say all sorts of crazy shit to entertain himself and confuse me... as I've grown older, I've learnt that there was some truth in his rants. I'm living proof that you don't require a teacher to become a master of your craft.

You're almost half a century old, twice the age of most first-time-releasers I have known in my lifetime, you’ve never released any music until this year - why so long to launch your music career? And what was your previous career?

Well, the family apple farm down in my home town of Donnybrook has kept me fairly busy. I've recorded hours worth of material over the years but never had much of a platform to release it. This year I thought to myself, "platform or no platform, it's time to release some shit." I mean, 2016 is my year; even my 3 year old kid knows that. Apples still rule my world, but now people will be able to take a little bit of Chief home with them, you know? Come to think of it, I released a track on a compilation tape a few years back in Melbourne: 'Non Precious Vol. 2'. It was put together by a nice capitalistic young man named Liam.

I’ll try to find it. Um, apples in Donnybrook; is that a long tradition in your family? Is anyone else in the family musically inclined, other than your grandfather?

My grandfather wasn't musical, he just got drunk and thought it'd be funny to watch a 5-year-old try to play the trombone. Sick bastard. I'm the only musical one; if it wasn't for my cider sippin grand pappy's twisted sense of humour and my absolute dedication to putting him in his place, there would have never been a musical note floating from my family home. EVER. But apples, hoooo boooyyy we been ploughin' that trade for a goods manies years in my family.

What about your son, does he seem interested in picking up a musical instrument?

Daughter. Nice assumption. God I hate men.

Oh fuck. My mistake. I can’t believe I assumed that.

This fucking patriarchy!! AAAHHHH!

Oh god I’m sorry. It's broken my spirit too, Chief.

We'll see about that...

I'm sorry Chief?

No, no... I’m sorry [coughs]... what were we saying?

Your daughter? Fuck I’m so embarrassed about that.

Yes! My daughter. She's more focused on visual art. She likes taking mashed apples and putting food dye in there and splattering it all over my walls. It looks great, she's very talented.

[Chief is evidently proud, you can hear it in his voice.]

That's great to hear, I love it when kids are in to art. I have to ask, is Chief your real name?

No.

Why the pseudonym, and how’d you come up with it?

I like to sometimes get a little bit freaky with my musical activity, and I don't want it to hinder the apple business. One time, I sucked a male prostitute’s dick on stage for 45 minutes with a contact mic on my throat going through all this fuzz and sonic manipulation, it was crazy. The 70's were fucking crazy. But my Dad would have killed me if he found out about that. No one wants to buy apples off a cock sucking gorilla. Not where I come from, anyway.

Mmm... if they're good quality apples, I'd probably still be keen. Maybe this musical project will open up a whole new apple-sales market?

The Apple God works in mysterious ways! Anyway, I came up with the name Chief Richards when I was partying with my buddy Keith Richards. We took all this acid together, and it's like we were each other, and I kind of became him, and you can see if you look at documentation of Keith, right, his soul and his colour and his essence really disappear more and more as time goes on. That's me collecting what is truly mine, bit by bit.

THE Keith Richards?

I'm not sure how many Keith Richards are out there but this guys name was definitely Keith Richards.

Like, from the Rolling Stones?

Well... let's just say he's got pale skin, and his best mate has an abnormally large mouth.

Ah, okay, keep the mystery going, I get it. I’m really intrigued hey, I like your story… you just kind of came out of no-where, and now you're launching your bizz at The Fly Trap on Friday night... I've only been there once, and it seemed like a good little space. Have you been to gigs there before? How did you choose it for the big launch?

You calling Donnybrook no-where mate?

[It’s really hard to tell what’s going on with a man wearing a mask. At this point I felt particularly unnerved by not being able to see anything but his eyes, and his eyes looked wild all the time.]

Naaah just joking, you're alright.

[I seriously breathed a sigh of relief and felt my muscles relax.]

Fly Trap...I was drawn to it because I sometimes feel like a fly, floating through eternity just picking at loads of shit, and I long to be forced into some kind of end...

[He looked away, and paused for a few moments. I took a massive gulp of my beer while I processed what he said.]

Naaaahhh I just know the boys down there, they're good blokes and offered me a date and I thought, hey fuck it, let's have a party, maybe I can do some shit.

[Oh man, he got me hard. Cheeky bugger.]

So now I've been trying to make this bloody album. I never gave a fuck before, but now I must admit I've got a bit of the old “normal person anxiety”, which I don't usually like to permit in my existence.

What is "normal person anxiety"?

You know, all that shit that normal people feel and let dominate their lives. Emotions and that. I generally just feel apples and rock solid beats, but all this thought I've been giving to this particular set of recordings, all this work I've been doing… it's made me get to a point of wondering if it's all for nothing. I should just bloody can the whole charade.

You can't do that! It's so close!

I like to keep things unpredictable. FUCKIN CHAOS MATE. Beautiful. Fucking. Chaos.

I can appreciate that, for sure. But let's just say that you’re going to keep the date at the Fly Trap, what can punters expect?

Well I've had a sore throat the past few days so I won't be sucking anyone off, that's for sure.

[I laugh and nearly choke on my beer.]

I mean, if I’m going to be honest, people can just expect a good tasteful show by a well dressed boy from the country who’s wants and needs are very similar to that of their own, and wants nothing more than to make them smile and make them love him. But often my shows don't go to plan, so bring a change of clothes and ear plugs.

[He sounded serious.]

What about the music though, how would you describe it? Just to give people an idea- you've only had music out for a couple of days, and from what I understand, it's quite eclectic.

It's like a year on earth. Made with a phone and a guitar. A fairly loud year.

[At this point, Chief finished his beer and pulled out his phone, and started watching a video of Triple J news. The reporting I heard was atrocious. Talking about what people commented when they tagged their friends on an announcement about Laneway’s Lineup.]

Oh yeah, Laneway’s coming up. Are you going to go?

I might pop down. Danny and Jerome usually give me a few complimentary tickets.

[He looks back down to his phone. I sense we’re done.]

Alright, let's wrap it up. Thanks so much for welcoming me to your street! Is there anything else you'd like to say to the readers?

[He sat up straight, then leaned towards me, speaking slowly.]

Be the guy you need to be to have the time you want to have.

[Then he leaned back and folded his arms across his chest.]

Wow. That's some pretty solid advice. Oh, and just quickly, do you follow politics at all? What are your thoughts on the Australian government?

All I can say is bring back Molly Meldrum.

[Fuck, all I could do was laugh.]

Thank you Chief.

Thank you Tahlia.

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