A record that fondles your vitals
Negativity - The Scientists (In the Red)
Holy crap. First Scientists long-player since 1987.
You know, I'm old enough to remember when I first heard powerpop. And I also remember the first time I heard the Scientists' first single, which I thought was rather bloody wonderful. I was lucky enough to always hear Scientists' records before purchase and every record they put out, no exceptions, had to be in my collection.
We were often startled, because you never quite knew what the hell was going on in this band. It was like they had these ... bees in their bonnets, and took delight in shoving them into people's faces, much to their alarm. Once they'd got used to the bees, of course, the band found (or invented) wasps.
Although Kim Salmon and Co. are essentially old punkers emerging from the wayback machine, they ain't doing a greatest hits thing here. They never were like that. Kim's kind of done that from time to time, but the context he puts it in (like a lab coat for a solo gig) sends your expectations squirly.
Which is funny, 'cos Salmon keeps coming up with things which people kinda get accustomed to, and then all warm and fuzzy toward ... and then he releases an LP you can't remotely dance to. Then - a free jazz LP! Kim has a habit of hurrying down rabbitholes you never knew were there.
Yet here am I talking about Kim Salmon as the leader of the band which I suppose he kind of is. But the Scientists that a lot of folk get all warm and gooey over (1982-1985) was hardly a one-way street. Far from it. There were, shall we say, discussions. Disagreements. Patience was required. And sometimes was found wanting.
Every member had their part to play. The funniest thing to me is that as soon as people got their head round whatever alteration the band had made to their ... internal projection, I s'pose ... they turned away and glared at something else. Is that an Eddie Cochrane riff? Dolly Parton? Hell, that bit can't have come from the Glitter Band, can it?
As I'm sure you know, journos love a hook to hang their dirty macintosh on. So there are quite a few common and rather tired epithets out there which are used to described The Scientists - not one of which I will use here (thought Kim uses one below). The one epithet I'm surprised that no-one has really used, nor really delved into, is that that driving pulse, that hip-grinding beat ... The Scientists are fucky.
Let me clarify; I always found Marc Bolan and T. Rex far more fucky than The Rolling Stones. Something to do with the groove. If you like, the ‘non-stop action groove’.
But let me clarify even further; The Scientists are the kind of fucky which is urgent and sensual, not purely and pointlessly a sexual display. Either remember (or imagine, if you like) a time when you were both clearly heading full-tilt toward each other, and finally you're (more or less) alone, whether it be in the gents, an alley, a beach, a pond or a university car park and you finally come together, locked together like eels in the mud.
Phew. Cold shower for your reviewer. But that's what I mean. The Scientists are dead fucky. So, life-affirming. Eros. But also, with the darkest half as Yang; Thanatos, riding a damned charger toward Death in the midst of celebrating Life.
You may argue - oy, what about 'eavy metal then? Well, some of the newer music sometimes called metal, sure. I concede. But mostly metal is about display and bluff. And the Scientists are the real deal and always have been. Bad jokes, wasted guitar haze with country undertones, the kind of drums which conjure up cannibals in a rather shonky black and white movie at 1.30 am (reminiscent of the first Stooges LP, I think), together with the kind of bass which burns and fondles your vitals all at once.
So. After a successful double-whammy tour of the USA in (erm) I think 2018, and a couple of unexpected (top quality) 45s, the same line-up winds up in a studio in Perth.
And what's with that title, you ask? "Negativity"? Come on!
Well, I recall seeing this band back in the day (I'm really OLD) and I am telling you they were intensely chthonic, in the real sense. Not with the stupid symbols or any of that malarkey. And they made me dance. And, because they were simply not popular in my ‘burg, I had room to dance. And 'negative'? Along with feedback, negativity was their ethanol, their gateway drug. You know how so many bands try some sort of gimmick to get people's attention? Like hiring a style consultant? Never been the Scientists' way.
Also, here's a quote I found on the Interwebs, from a Kim Salmon interview with long-time fan Fred Mills. “The Scientists were fuelled on negative energy - a negative sort of group. A bit like the Stooges, the way the group worked is very similar. There’s not many groups that have worked that way, and I think the result is intense energy.” Mills selected that quote from an interview he published nearly three decades ago, in Philly rock zine "The Bob".
So. The Scientists know themselves all too well.
Is the record any good?
From the ugly opening chords, it's like they've never been away; "Outsider" may as well have been recorded just after The Scientists' last tour in 1987. Big heavy vibe, deceptively simple drum patterns which get your hips swivelling and a groovy rumbling bass. I'd say Kim's voice is higher in the mix than previous incarnations which allows us to hear him veering between singing a pop song and venting like Screaming Lord Sutch ... and ... them guitars is nasty, nasty, nasty. 'Love him for his innocence...', indeed; so intense.
Just popping into my head is my memory of Tony Cohen telling about playing Kim a track he'd mixed (on "Sin Factory", 1993, Red Eye); Kim's response was apparently awed, 'Tony, you've turned me into a star!'.” Well, sure. Kim is a star. But he's always played with the kind of people who can make that happen. And that's no mean feat, finding people like this. There's a mucky, magical, sensual quality about "Negativity", make no mistake.
Watching this band live is a feral experience. It all seems so simple. So easy. Where the guitars fall like cartoon anvils, where they tear like claws, where the sonics lift your feet off the ground and the guitar so often stops sounding like a guitar. Where the bass is cleverly simple, yet a hempen rope around your neck.
"Make It Go Away" brings back the new wave headbangers. And that voice, Kim's really yanking his voicebox around here, sweet beauty over chaos. Thewlis' big fuck-off racket is still a big fuck-off racket, matched only by Kim's big fuck-off racket.
God knows what co-guitarist Tony Thewlis uses for inspiration, but I can't imagine it's snorkelling for clownfish. At one point, I almost think we're going to head into a pretty song, but... oh my, this is mesmerising. The piano line (by Salmon's daughter Emma) is ... perfection, placed exactly right. As is the... no. I've said too much. Wonderful. I should explain that this is the only song with anything other than the four-piece playing, which means that this line-up could play "Negativity" live (with consequences to your hearing).
I mean, allow me to be clear on this. You'll recognise musical and vocal tropes unique to Salmon, and also unique to the Scientists. This isn't a forged passport to 'one last tour of adulation' but a real passport to the kind of foreign land where some things seem familiar, in an odd way (like vintage advertising) but others ... well, what the actual fuck. Which, as I am sure you recall, is what The Scientists always did. Weird love, wonked pop, brutality, swagger, retro modernist filth, philosophy, wit and beauty.
And "Naysayer" is so tuff, so forceful, particularly with drummer Leanne Chock’s backing vocal. The element of dunderheadedness comingling with sensibility fits perfectly with a lurching stumblebum rhythm. By now you should be rooted to the spot, unable to turn away from this extraordinary spectacle. Leanne's drums are so much the key, the axis, the axle to this band; Boris' bass supports her magnificently, while the guitar heroes are ... antiheroic!
According to an interview in “Agitreader” by Stephen Slaybaugh, "Safe" is about how women frequently get treated like shit at venues, particularly by the staff - here:
The 1985 Amsterdam incident happened when, after the performance, the band got tired of some locals making stupid jokes about kangaroos. (Bassist) Boris (Sudjovic) started taunting back about wooden shoes. It began to escalate and before you know it Boris was having an altercation with these locals who turned out to be the security of the venue. Tony and I went in to help and we were promptly flushed out with fire hoses and turfed out onto the snow on the gangway.
"Magic Pants" Kim deals with below. It's another cracker, too.
I remember being "Seventeen". I didn't like it much. Seems like I wasn't alone. Astounding how such a simple musical device (endlessly repeating delay) can create such a hell of a bad trip.
Austin Powers would probably dig the lyrics of "The Science of Suave", but I can't imagine he'd cope too well with the chaotic, slicing realisation. The depiction of arrogance and smugness is rather magnificent; the humility of actually depicting himself in this way is rather astonishing. Even if it isn't about him, because Kim's singing, that's how it will be regarded.
The eighth song, "I Wasn't Good at Picking Friends" really should be a single. So funny, it begs for a video. Such groovy, mock-'60s bopping about in there, sort've velvet flock girl band meets The Crusher.
If you ever doubted that there was a tinge of country to the Scientists, "Moth Eaten Velvet" will dispel those doubts. Curiously, it's more “country” via 'Twin Peaks', but there ya go. You can work out the subject matter for yourself; it's bloody heartfelt - I won't give it away.
Sorry for harping on this, but "Dissonance" makes me think of Bolan as well. I mean, it's nothing like him really, but ... god, the hammering stuff here. Quite honestly, I reckon if everyone on earth played "Dissonance" loud eight times in a row, the stupidvirus would just give up and go home, muttering under its breath about noisy neighbours. I'll go further and say I wish to god the original 'Mark 2' versions of the Scientists could've recorded with this level of clarity and sonic meltdown.
The title of the last song, "Outer Space Boogie", well, you'd think you'd be able to hear something with uplifting Bolanesque cheer. But no, not this time. "Outer Space Boogie" is another rather nasty song, well and truly the anti-Bolan with more than a touch of rough Waits (and Salmon, ever the contrarian, won't have even thought of Waits).
So, 'is "Negativity" any good?', I asked above. Well, it's been on heavy rotation since it arrived in my postbox, how's that? And, noticing a dead sheep's head in my letterbox, it seems that my neighbours are pissed with me for some reason.
Hell, I'll go further. From the very first chords, I was forcibly reminded of that day, decades ago when my first girlfriend who (literally) grabbed me by the balls, shoved me into a doorway and pushed her tongue down my throat, while everyone else left (probably looking on in disgust, but I was a tad too preoccupied to notice).
What happened next? Let's just say that nature took its course. Rather like The Scientists who, like very very few outfits, are a force of nature.
Bottles? 8 out of a possible 5. But Stolichnaya, not beer.
That's the LP review. On the Scientists' Bandcamp page, among other things, Kim has this to say:
I’ve been sort of teaching myself drums over the years, and I’m probably still the world’s worst drummer,” Salmon says. “I’ve been sort of jamming beats all along. I kind of cook ‘em up in my head, just getting a good groove going. I’d jam away on the drums in a practice room, and if I got something good that I could sing to, I’d start recording myself and send it over to Tony and wait for him to send me a riff back. And that’s how we wrote most of the album. I realized after the fact that Tony should be the riffmaster.
Generally what happened was, Tony sent the riffs back, and then Leanne, Boris, and I got together, and the three of us knocked the songs into shape. That’s how everybody’s name got on the songs. In that part of the recording, Leanne does take a very active role. Once you start talking about form, how you’re going to execute it, she’s very much part of the writing process. They’re all part of it.”
It looks to me like "Negativity" is not going to win an ARIA award here, so in lieu of that, here's an interview with Kim Salmon. And, just below that, a somewhat contradictory one with Tony Thewlis...
I think the first question has to be about pedals. It's been a while, so what were you originally using, and what were you recording with? Ditto for Thewlis - or should I ask him that?
KS: In the Scientists I was never really a pedal-pusher back in the day. "Blood Red River" and "Swampland" were all done with just amp sounds. It wasn’t until we were recording "We Had Love" that I hassled Tony to keep getting more distortion into his sound. I think he blew his amp up in the process and the repairer told him to get a fuzz for that and spare his amp and speakers. But for that recording, all his square waves come from his amp - a Music Man.
Tony actually gave me my first fuzz pedal - called a 'Harmon Booster' by Jen Electronics in about 1987 or '8. It’s on everything I recorded from "Just Because You Can’t See It Doesn’t Mean It Isn’t There" by the Surrealists thru to the "Low Road" and "Sin Factory" so when it finally died my sound was screwed. I used Rat pedals for a while because no-one was making fuzzes in the mid-Nineties it seemed. Remember we didn’t have the internet to find out and no music shop I knew could help me.
I do use a pedal called a “Murderess” made by Tym Guitars and modelled on Tony’s sounds from the song "Murderess in a Purple Dress" which requires him to use two seperate Fuzz pedals. I also use an Ibanez 'Tube Screamer' and a tremolo pedal these days. They all get a going over on "Negativity".
I am dead positive that you enjoy your ornery, abrupt changes of musical direction. Is there a cackling element as you put songs together - 'let's see how they cope with THIS!', or does it just seem that way from the outside?
KS: No, its just in my nature to get bored easily and move onto something else. I can’t help it if people don’t want catch up! Ha Ha! Suck it up I say! It hasn’t been a great career ploy but I don’t think I could do it any other way. Or should I say I can’t help it if I can’t do it the SAME way? I wonder if this ornery-ness is a bit of projection on your part... ha ha! Actually my answer is a bit ornery isn't it so maybe you are right.
How did it feel, those first moments in the studio? And, how did that tour of the US go? Was it homecoming or was it ... weird?
KS: I’ve actually only got really positive memories about recording "Negativity." On the back of the two US tours and a solid bout of writing subsequently I think we were all primed and ready to just knuckle down to it. It wasn’t until we were into it that we realised how good a fit Jozeph Grech, Sumo Studios and us were. It’s kind of cool we did it in Perth, too as that lineup never recorded in its hometown.
We knew we had some corker songs out of it! "Science of Suave", "17", "Moth-Eaten Velvet", "I Wasn’t Good at Picking Friends" all just seemed to happen. It was really the most fun I can remember us having in a studio. The new material was a direct result of the two tours of USA, so that kind of speaks for itself as to how those trips went for us.
I notice in recent interviews some folks seem to think of you in a sort of fixed space, as if you've somehow stood still in a specimen jar for several decades. If I'm sort've right, how on earth do you cope?
KS: Good analogy! Really, we were definitely a specimen of our own making. We created that specimen that people never really understood. Not even us. People all had their own ideas about what we were but it was always a lot more complex than it looked.
It’s really obvious from people’s responses to this album that this is still the case. The fact that it’s still a mystery is what makes us able to cope. It’s been a challenge to make an album that is recognisably the Scientists but not just limited by any individual idea about what that means.
Whenever I've met you (apart from immediately before one gig in particular) you've always seemed quite approachable and cheery. Who is that r'n'r stompin monster man onstage?
KS: I’ve always wondered where it says that a singer has to only sing about their own real life. That they can only act as ‘themselves’. I’ve always felt that once on stage in front of an audience a performer has the opportunity to create something. To create characters, to create theatre. And no, I’m not naturally a theatrical, or even outgoing person.
But night after night putting oneself out of one’s comfort zone and behaving outside of one’s natural limits has a tendency to make that zone comfortable and within one’s own limits. It does have advantages to be able to delineate and leave that being on the stage and in people’s memories. I actually behave quite differently in different projects I think. in The Beasts or The Darling Downs I’m very much a foil for “the other guy”. Even a “fall guy” at times. When I’m performing solo I’m less animated but way more story-telling. Its kind’ve therapeutic to perform and use a stage in all these different ways.
I’m never just a muso in a band. I was never attracted to that role. But a Rock'n'Roll stomping monster man?! I don’t think I ever thought as a kid “when I grow up I wanna be”…..well…that!
Look, there's a deep dark part inside your songs. Always has been, I think. Even some of the earlier ones had a dark energy. What's going on there? Do you know? Do you dare discuss it? Do the lyrics come first - or the ... I don't know, disjointed savagery?
KS: I’m not sure that’s absolutely true…but assuming it is…we’re really talking about the Scientists – Mark 2 and beyond aren’t we? Pretty much everything about that band grew out of a desire to become a particular thing and for us to use everything in our power to express that thing.
Always the Scientists were inspired by punk, primal energy, minimalism and wildness…ie Rock'n'Roll! At some point a while after we began I discovered The Cramps and was re-inspired by their distillation of a whole bunch of stuff into something even more punk and Rock and Roll than anything that had come before.
Obviously I didn’t want us to copy them but I wanted to be doing the same kind of thing in our way. This meant having to create and discover our identity. In doing this we were drawn to other bands and artists that we perceived as doing the same thing. There was obviously the Stooges but also The Doors, The Modern Lovers on their first album, Joy Division, The Velvet Underground, Suicide, Alan Vega, Alex Chilton…a bit later The Gun Club then Captain Beefheart, Tav Falco. It was all really primal and often quite swampy.
We were taking elements demonstrated by all of these artists and synthesising our own blend. We lucked out with having "Swampland" at the start but I can remember taking ages writing "Set It On Fire" and "Fire Escape". The lyrics were just one ingredient of the whole expression. The jagged sounds, the minor chord progressions, the strange primal beats, the anarchy in our structures and our performances were equally important ... so to answer your question, the disjointed savagery came first and the dark lyrics were part of that.
Did you really have a pair of magic pants? I'd love to read the explanation if you do!
KS: Well, there’s my point about not always being dark. This is hardly dark subject matter… in fact the actual pants were quite golden.
Yes…. the story started in an op shop in Smith St Collingwood round ‘92. I was with my wife and her friend and one of them said to me, ‘Kim, have you seen these… we really think you need to have a look at them’. They were a pair of orangy golden jumbo corduroy hipster flairs! They were exactly my size! “Do you think I should get them?” I asked. “Yes, we really think you should!”, was the friend’s answer.
From then on whenever I wore them I was invincible. Women would try to chat me up. Men would want to hang out with me. Warren Ellis became my friend and formed a band with me. I went to front of queues to get into clubs and always got let in. I starred in short film vignettes because of them. These pants opened doors. And then, just as the song goes ... they started to fade and look worn out. I remember the turning point. There were a couple of youngish female punters in the band room with the drummer and one said to the other “Yech! take a look at his pants!” and it was clear to me they wanted some distance from my pants! The pants had lost their magic. The song is a fable!
Within most bands is a sort of private ... inner world, special to the unified whole. Care to explain to a wider world how your nickname of Wilf came about... ? And if you still resemble that character?
KS: Clinton Walker had wanted us to pose in a photo for his follow-up to "Inner City Sounds" to go with an interview. He wanted us to have our shirts off and be shot from behind so you could only see our hair which had grown very long at the time. That was just one idea amongst a whole bunch of pics. When I saw it I hated the way I looked all hunched over and I exclaimed “gawd, I look like Wilfred Bramble!” Brett Rixon wouldn’t let that go and referred to me as Wilf henceforth. Tony and Boris followed suit. Even Nick Combe from the "Human Jukebox" line-up carried on the tradition.
I don’t actually think I ever resembled Albert Steptoe… irony is a powerful tool of the nick-name. I’m sure I was always more of a Harold…or an 'Arold! Ron Peno and I almost have a Steptoe and Son schtick going in The Darling Downs and its easy to see who’s Albert and who’s 'Arold in that, yes? As for the Scientists, Brett assigned the first nickname in the band to Boris. It was “Ogre”.
Tony later dubbed Brett “Toga” due to his propensity for parading around with just a towel round his waist in hotel rooms.
I think “Thewlis” has enough of a sound of its own to carry a ‘knick’ to it. Salmon’s one of those names I think as well. You can’t really complain about a nick-name. You must simply wear it graciously I think.
Tony Thewlis. Greg Cristman photo
I find myself wondering about the nature of the competing spirits within the band, but thankfully, my email to Tony Thewlis ... well, see for yourself below....
Yes, I’m fine and fully vaccinated against the wretched virus. The main consequence of it is that it has scuppered all the Scientists’ plans we had, just when we seemed to be gathering momentum at speed. I did wonder to Kim whether the virus was only created and unleashed at that exact time just to ensure the world was spared from us…
Glad you like the record.
I think the first question has to be about pedals. It's been a while, so what were you originally using back in the early 1980s, and what were you recording “Negativity” with?
TT: How ridiculously nerdy do you want me to be? Originally I didn’t use any - I had a Musicman amp with two channels to switch between, so you could have a clean sound on one channel and a distorted sound on the other, and I just overloaded and abused the distorted channel as much as possible.
When doing that (for things like "Set It On Fire" and "We Had Love") eventually blew up my speakers, somebody made me a copy of a Schaller fuzzbox, probably sometime between "We Had Love" and "This Heart ...".
Also, on a trip to visit my parents in the country in WA, a guy who had helped me when I was first learning guitar took me into his garage and, behind his two souped-up Ford 351 HOs, he dug out a dirty cardboard box with 5 or 6 fuzzboxes in it and gave them all to me. I kept a Fuzzder and a Fender Blender and I think gave Kim a Coloursound and another weird brown-coloured one that I can’t now remember the name of. Not sure what happened to the others!
So, from then on I used the Fuzzder for the thin, “Satisfaction" sound and the Schaller copy for the bassy, "We had Love" stuff.
When we were in the UK we did a gig in Manchester where someone stole my Schaller copy from the stage in between us finishing our set and coming back on for the encore, so from then on I used the Fender Blender for the bassy stuff (they must be what I used on "You Get What You Deserve" and "The Human Jukebox).
For most of the “reunion” stuff we’ve done since 2000 I’ve used my Fuzzder and a Big Muff (for the bassy stuff). But recently Tim from Tym’s Guitars in Brisbane made a Scientists signature fuzzbox called the 'Murderess', which basically has my Fuzzder sound and a Big Muff sound in the same box and you can just switch between them. Kim and I both have one and I think Boris might have Tim’s first prototype, and we all used those on "Negativity".
The trouble with using two fuzzboxes is that if you’re using one and you want to switch to the other one there isn’t time (or I don’t have the necessary Fred Astaire foot dexterity) to switch the other one off. 'The Murderess' solves that so you can really hear it is two completely different fuzz sounds, not just one sound coming in on top of another. Ok, you can wake up, now!
I am dead positive that you all enjoyed The Scientists ornery, abrupt shifts. Is there a cackling element as you put songs together - 'let's see how they cope with THIS!', or does it just seem that way from the outside?
TT: Oh, yes. We’ve always done that. Even to each other. I imagine "Rev Head" was probably me trying different things to play over Boris’s 2-note bass-line, the others grumbling that it was too Beatley, and me going, “OK, how about THIS then?” and Boris gleefully saying, “Oh, yeah. That’s perfect. Keep doing that…”
Kim & I actually tried to write a song called “Cop This!” which we really did cackle about, but we mustn’t have managed to come up with anything unpleasant or extreme enough. We thought it was a great achievement that when I gave Kevin Rooney his copy of "The Human Jukebox" he put on Side 2 first (the side with the song that he played on) and when "A Place Called Bad" started he said, “Oh, sorry! I must have it on the wrong speed".
Confess I'm rather tired of The Scientists being essentially lumped in with an assortment of musical 'styles' by the media - to me the band has always been a shifting creature musically. Some folks seem to think of The Scientists in a sort of fixed space, as if you've all somehow stood still in a specimen jar for several decades - how on earth do you deal with this?
TT: You just ignore it, or don’t even think about it. You just get on with doing whatever it is you are doing at the time. I guess if you try not to stand still and are popular and go on long enough (or your influence goes on long enough), eventually the classification will fall off. The Beatles aren’t now considered Merseybeat, and the Who and the Stones aren’t (just) considered R&B, and it is fairly impossible to lump Alex Chilton or the Velvets in with anyone else. I could do without the grunge thing, though.
How did it feel, those first moments in the studio in Perth? And, how did that tour of the US go? Was it 'homecoming' or was it ... weird?
TT: Well, I think we were all nervous that it might not work and maybe we were making a mistake in trying. It was probably weirdest for me as, although we’d worked on stuff together by sending things back and forth online, the others had all actually been in the same room and played the songs together, whereas I only flew into Perth the night before, had a few drinks with Boris to try to alleviate the jet lag, and then was on the spot the next morning trying to come up with stuff and “fit in”.
I think we started with “Make It Go Away” and immediately the stuff I was playing over Kim's “tuneful” bit was deemed too Beatley so I detuned all my strings in an “OK, cop this, then!” moment and Boris said, “Yeah, that was fuckin’ perfect.” So from then on I think we were as much a possible back into the natural swing of it. And it was all made easier by Joe, the engineer at the studio in Perth, who made the guitars sound astoundingly good, right there on the tape, right from the beginning. It is probably the first time ever that somebody has captured the noise of what we were doing so accurately, and exactly the way we wanted it to sound.
Both US tours were very enjoyable and we all thought it was about time! We never managed to get there “in our day”. Part of the reason we re-recorded stuff for "Weird Love" was that we expected Big Time would get us into the US.
We did a one-off ATP outside New York with the Stooges, for which we had no rehearsal and, although we can often get away with that and it becomes a feature, on that night it just didn’t work. Which was frustrating and we kept trying to get back to the States, for me just to set the record straight, but it kept falling through.
And then Emmett Kelly supported us and saw us in Melbourne and then just went off and seemingly effortlessly organised two tours - one of the west coast and then a few months later we returned to do the east coast. Emmett “gets” us, both musically and humorously and never put a foot wrong so they were both just great fun. And it was wonderful to be doing that instead of slogging away at our day jobs. We were idiots in the 80s. We’d be grumbling about having to go and tour Europe again when we could be at home building a model Tardis or watching “Blackadder”.
Whenever I've met Kim (apart from immediately before one gig in particular) he's always seemed quite approachable and cheery. Who is that r'n'r stompin monster man onstage?
TT: I guess he’s the opposite of Superman. Clark Kent in reality but….or more than likely he’s just a man who’s just had too much (or maybe just the right amount of) Patron Tequila.
I wonder if you can take me through how you all actually made another Scientists LP. Was there reluctance? Or, 'hell, yes!' Or...?
TT: We never thought we would record something new as the Scientists. Whenever anyone makes a “comeback” LP it rarely works. We thought we had more sense than to try. But we wanted to go back to America and Emmett (correctly) said we’d need to have something new to “hang” another tour on.
We’d made the previous new recordings long distance with me, Kim and Boris sending files between Sydney, Melbourne and London, and that was the actual stuff that was mixed to become those records. It would have been tough, maybe impossible, to do that for a whole new LP, but then we got inducted into the WA Hall of Fame and as I was to be flown out to Perth for that I suggested that we all get to Perth a week earlier and go into a studio.
So, Kim arranged all that. To prepare, we sent ideas for drum beats and riffs, etc, back and forth. Kim knocked those into shape, came up with lyrics and then he, Boris and Leanne got together and recorded some rough demos, and I worked to those. I then flew to Melbourne for a week so that Kim and I could work on a few overdub and the string ideas, and then he and Boris and I went into the studio to record the “fairy dust" and mix it. Then Leanne came down and we spent a day filming for the videos. It was all in the nick of time as just after I got back to London the virus lockdowns started.
Kim often praises your unique approach to the guitar. Could you explain why Kim thinks that - his own approach is fairly unusual.
TT: I don’t know! I guess if he didn’t think it he wouldn’t have let me into the band, or wouldn’t have carried on letting me be in it. We often argue about what is good guitar playing, him rolling his eyes at my George Harrison licks, and me sneering at his heavy metal shredding.
Really, all I’ve ever done is try to channel Chuck Berry. Most guitar players I like seem to have Chuck in their veins: Johnny Thunders, Walter Lure, Cyril Jordan, Keef, George, Mick Green (from the Pirates), Link Wray, Damian O’Neil, John Fogerty, Buddy Holly, Dave Davies, Dave Edmunds, Billy Bremner, Dave Hill (from Slade), Chris Spedding, Chris Britton (from the Troggs), James Hunter (of “Howlin’ Wilf”!). And Kim, of course (when he lays off the Jimi Hendrix widdling).
When I saw Kim and Ben Juniper hammering out "Last Night" on Countdown [in 1979?] I thought (guitarwise): “They’re like me!”.
How did Kim end up with the band nickname 'Wilf'? I appreciate this is kinda 'inner-sanctum' stuff, but of course I now want to know more! What makes a band want to continue after all these years - did you feel you had unfinished business?
TT: Ha ha. We were in a crummy B&B on a tour round England in the 80s and Brett and Boris and I were killing time before or after a gig, drinking warm tins of beer and cider and playing snooker. It was freezing and Kim appeared, wearing fingerless gloves (and possibly a balaclava) grumbling that we never asked him to play.
He joined in and got pissed and was about to take a shot when one of us asked “Hang on, which ball are you going for?” and Kim said: “Neearrgghhhh! I’m aiming for that pink thing! And then I’m gonna beat ya. I’m gonna beat ya all!!!”
We’d just seen the episode of Steptoe and Son where Harold is having nightmares about his dad forever bleating at him, “I beat ya! I beat ya! I always beat ya! I beat ya at everything!!!” So of course someone (probably Brett) said: “Alright, Wilfred Bramble!” and “Wilfy” or “Wilf" stuck forevermore.