Rob Younger : rock 'n' roll fan, musician, producer. Humble to the point of blushing self-effacement, too. Tell him that his various projects over the years spun your world and he'd inquire if you wanted your money back. But privately he'd be tickled pink.
"I remember one afternoon as a teen, being in a friend's room," recalls Younger, and in a tone of voice just wistful enough to make you believe he's momentarily forgotten that he's being interviewed for liner notes,
"and I was singing along with this record. It was an Animals record, actually. Just singing along with the damn thing, and this girl who was in another room came in and said, 'Who was that? Who was singing that?'
There were a few of us in there, she didn't know who had been singing, and she just thought it was fucking great! I'm going, 'Ah, er...'I was really embarrassed, but I was sort of pleased. In my usual way I just dismissed it and trying to be falsely modest and shit, but I really enjoyed her saying that, and it really stuck with me.
It was just one person, but I liked being told I was good"
Whoever the girl was, she'd spotted a natural that afternoon.
In certain circles, Rob Younger is considered a godlike talent -- which makes the name New Christs all the more appropriate.
He's one of Punk's longstanding godfathers, too, ranking up there with Pop, Bators and Johansen as a frontperson of rare lungpower and natural charisma. (And he makes a lasting impression, too: shortly after discovering Younger, the aforementioned young lady tossed her three week old kid out of a first floor window! "But the baby wasn't badly hurt," assures Younger.)
Of course, the man didn't just duck into a phone booth and emerge dressed up as Mick Jagger. According to Younger it would take about five years:
"I never even thought I'd be in a band right up to the time when I said to a friend let's do it. I'd gotten some money from a dead grandparent's estate, so I got a P.A. and said let's start up a group. This was around the time when the New York Dolls' first album came out."
The Rats formed in early '74 and, after combining forces with another Sydney band, TV Jones, turned into Radio Birdman in November of that year.
Birdman is a story in itself, one recounted quite colorfully in Vivien Johnson's 1990 book Radio Birdman (Sheldon Booth Publishing, Australia).
Suffice to say that the legendary five-piece flew high, touched the sun, and crashed to the ground in 1978. But not before recording a pair of brilliant albums Radios Appear, Living Eves) and inspiring a slew of impressionable Australian youth to go out and form their own bands. (Cue up that old adage about the ripple effects of the first Velvets album.)
Younger's been grilled on Birdman many times over the years and his feelings now seem a mixture of pride (over having touched the lives of so many people, in Australia and elsewhere) and frustration (he recently told Flipside interviewer Shane Williams that he wished he'd arranged for
"a more independent future with music and not had to suffer the assholes that control the music business").
Yet with Birdman Younger did pick up the same high-energy torch carried by the likes of the Stooges, MC5, B.O.C., Pink Fairies, etc., and when you hear him use phrases like "fire in their bellies," you know he's talking about himself in the present-day sense as well.
Following the breakup of Birdman, Younger put together The Other Side, a solid but shortlived Birdmanesque outfit -- Birdman guitarist Deniz Tek almost joined at one point -- that played a few Younger originals plus a slew of appropriate covers (Dolls, Alice Cooper, Remains, Dead Boys, Elevators).
Then, in the spring of '81, three-fifths of Birdman were reunited (Younger, guitarist Tek, bassist Warwick Gilbert), along with ex-Stoogesguitarist Ron Asheton and former MC5 drummer Dennis Thompson, for a two-month Australian tour as The New Race (documented on the live album First And Last ).
It was during this time that Younger began writing in earnest -- in Birdman, guitarist Tek had assumed 99% of the songwriting chores -- and in fact an embryonic version of the New Christs appeared in 1981 long enough to record a single for the Green label. "Waiting World" b/w "Face A New God" was moody, dark and explosive, a potent harbinger of things to come even if Younger remains critical of both recording (crude) and vocals (lackluster).
The now-rare 45 sold poorly, and , the group --Younger, Clyde Bramley (Hoodoo Gurus) on bass, John Hoey (Thought Criminals / Died Pretty) on keyboards, Cab Calloway (Saints) on guitar, Ken Doyle (Thought Criminals) on drums -- never played out live.
Younger took a break and retreated to the studio, where he began honing , soon-to-be formidable skills as a producer; 1982 was a significant year in his production career in that the first, classic, Lime Spiders single appeared with his name on it.
For a brief couple of months in '83 Younger indulged his jones for playing live, jamming first with future members of Died Pretty (as Final Solution) and next with some moonlighting Lime Spiders (as The Vandals). It's interesting to note that Younger metaphorically strokes his long grey beard when the interviewer dredges up such names from the mists of time.
"Half of this shit I'd forgotten totally!" he says with an incredulous laugh, "The Vandals? That name didn't get any further than a crap rehearsal studio!".
In June of '83 an opportunity to return to the stage in grand fashion arose when the Iggy Pop Australian tour required a suitable opening act. For his New Christs Mk.II Younger borrowed a three-fourths of the Hitmen (Mark Kingsmill, drums; Tony Robertson, bass; ex-Birdman Chris Masuak, guitar), plus Celibate Rifles guitarist Kent Steedman.
"I had to get a band together in one week," recalls Younger, "and this was what really started everything. If I hadn't written "Born Out Of Time," "Like A Curse," "No Next Time," "No Way On Earth" -- we wouldn't have had anything, we wouldn't have been able to go and do that tour, I wasn't gonna go out there and just do fuckin' MC5 songs!"
The band went down a success on the Pop tour and wound up lasting for a little over a year (Steedman's duties with the Rifles called him away so Richard Jakimyszyn of the Lime Spiders was drafted), gigging around Sydney and Melbourne as well as recording a pair of singles for Citadel Records, the Sydney-based label started up by John Needham.
Younger had met Needham through Deniz Tek back in the Birdman days; a friendship as well as a business relationship exists to this day -- for a long time Younger was, for all intents and purposes, the Citadel house producer along with ace engineer Alan Thorne.
Those two 45s were surely the sound of a band about to latch onto something timeless, cocky in a traditional Stones vein yet identifiably punk with an unbridled aggression. "Born Out Of Time" b/w "No Next Time" and "Like A Curse" b/w "Sun God" are still deemed essential documents of the mid-'80s Australian "golden era" of independent bands;
prior to 1995 they represented the only New Christs records ever to see a North American release, paired on the Detritus four-song 12" EP (1987, What Goes On Records).
Younger says that at the time he didn't really have a sense of how good the two singles were.
"But they got really great response! And on the basis of being independents, they sold a lot of copies. That band got a fair bit of attention; it was a pity it broke up. We had a possible European tour lined up -- and that verv week the fucking band broke up!".
Sure enough, a mass defection occurred when Younger's band mates were lured back into the Hitmen fold for a high-profile, well-paying tour.
At the time, reportedly, there were discussions about recording a New Christs album while in England, so Younger is justifiably sour over the affair to this day.
"You bet I'm bitter," snaps Younger, adding, "A solid offer and those mercenary pricks would've stuck around, at least until the tour was over."
For the next three years or so, Younger virtually exiled himself from the music business.
Although, it should be noted, during this period his name would frequently appear in the production credits for numerous Australian bands, including records by Happy Hate Me Nots, Toys Went Berserk, the early Died Pretty releases and the Eastern Dark's Long Live The New Flesh.
In 1987 the New Christs Mk.III surfaced and a flurry of activity ensued. This may have been due to
Whatever the case, joining Younger and Dickson were virtuoso guitarist Charlie Owen and drummer Louis Burdett, later replaced by ex-Wet Taxis Nick Fisher, Several 45s were recorded for Citadel in '87 and '88: the double single "Dropping Like Flies" b/w "Dead Girl" and "I Swear" b/w "You'll Never Catch My Wave"; "The Black Hole" b/w "Addiction"; "Heading South" b/w "I Saw God."
- (a) the bad taste in Younger's mouth dissipating over time;
- (b) ex-Barracudas/Survivors bassist Jim Dickson (who, along with Deniz Tek, had just missed joining Younger in The Other Side several years prior) turning up on the Younger doorstep and telling the singer to get off his ass and write some songs;
- or (c) Younger simply recalling, as he's told interviewers many times, that singing is the only genuine release for him.
The band also upshifted into a regular gigging schedule which included a hugely successful European tour in the spring of '88.
Collectors should note that on the tour the band recorded a live 45 ("I Swear" b/w "The Black Hole," released in conjuction with Romilar-D magarine).
Younger further remarks that they crossed paths with the Celibate Rifles at a show in Backnan , West Germany , "on my birthday , not saying which one! "
"Actually there's a bootleg of two songs I did with the Rifles at that gig. One of them was 'Shakin' All Over,' I forget the other one. You should too."
(Younger generally takes a dim view regarding bootlegs, having encountered numerous illegimate Birdman records over the years as well as a second New Race album for which Ron Asheton supplied the tapes without consulting anyone else in the band!
However, since Younger himself brought it up, the seven-inch EP in question, on Compassion Explosion Records, includes "Shakin' All Over" and Birdman's "I-94." The recording date, and Younger's birthday in case you wish to mark your calendars, is May 7, 1988.)
Duly energized, the New Christs headed into 1989 with confidence, style, and the proverbial fire in the gut.
That fire was harnessed in the recording studio via a 45, "Another Sin" b/w "The Burning Of Rome." and the first proper New Christs album, Distemper.
Noise For Heroes fanzine publisher Steve Gardner perfectly nailed it in his review: "A massive,malevolent record: one of the angriest records in years. A hard, hard sound, cold, brutal and deadly." Indeed it was, Younger spitting and moaning out familiar themes (alienation, betrayal, determination, etc ) while the band matched him stark emotion for stark emotion.
Incredibly, Distemper failed to sell. By '91 , the New Christs were on the ropes again.
"I had a lot of confidence with that lineup," says Younger with a characteristic sigh. "We went back to Europe for an even more extensive tour in '89. Best time I ever had playing. But that was pretty much it, except for a few dates with the Ramones back in Australia a few months later."
"Everything died on the vine, really. Although we were quite popular in Australia before we went on that last European tour, our record stiffed out fucking badly. And it got airplay up the ass, as they say in the States! That was the really annoying thing -- it got high rotation on the radio here and people didn't go for it anyhow!"
Thus commenced another, and now seemingly traditional, three year hiatus for Younger. Since the accolades of record collectors and writers across the globe rarely translates into rent money --with a wife and young son to feed, grocery money too -- Younger assumed more production chores (which have recently included reuniting with the Died Pretty for their forthcoming album).
As we all know, however, once bitten, thrice infected. And Younger told Noise For Heroes,
"I've always been committed to the New Christs. I guess the opportunity to tour the world, at least Europe and England, has made me keener than ever to keep the band together."
To that end... New Christs Mk.IV, circa '94, consisted of Younger, Peter Kelly (ex-Vanilla Chainsaws) on drums, Christian Houllemare (ex-Happy Hate Me Nots) on bass, Tony Harper (ex Voodoo Lust / Upsets) on guitar, and Bill Gibson (ex-Eastern Dark) on guitar, organ and backing vocals.
This lineup recorded the Pedestal 10" EP for Lance Rock / Citadel ;
songs were the title track, "The Way You Suck Me Down," Love's "She Comes In Colors" and The Who's "The Seeker."
A powerful, uncompromising effort, with "Pedestal" in particular ranking up there with Younger's most classic compositions, the record was received enthusiastically in America and Europe; unfortunately, it failed to make much of an impression back home in the land of Oz.
According to Younger,
"Our manager had a word with someone at the main radio station [Sydney's Triple J] that would have played our record. He said they didn't even bother listening to it! You know when they sit around, listen to what they're gonna add to their playlist? The guy said flatly, 'We didn't play it."'
Since that recording, Gibson has departed. Younger remarks that the guitarist "wasn't happy at all. I think he thought he was doing us a big favor. Still, he put his guts into every gig he played. He didn't fuck us around, so I'm not complaining. We'll get someone that's more into it, and go on,"
Younger speculates that in Australia the New Christs have
"no position at all, no one comes to our gigs. I understand that. I don't complain about that. You gotta be realistic. You don't expect the 18 and 19 year olds to want to see some ancient sod jumping around; it's gotta be credible to them, so who can blame 'em?"
So once again, Younger is eyeing those lands where the New Christs do have a profile.
"Our aims are, one, to get a bloody record out that's decent. And secondly, to get enough bread to enable us to spend some time touring overseas, Europe mostly I guess. Playing live is your salvation from your boring day job, the one thing you get to do that really is a lot of fun."
In the meantime, the old cliche about rock 'n' roll saving one's life and keeping one going would seem to apply more than ever to Younger.
"I listen to a lot of music, I'm deep into it. I like buying new records because I'm more of a fan anyway -- which is how I got involved in the first place! And I want to make records that I can listen to and enjoy. So I'm really happy when I've written something that I like and someone else likes it, when out of the blue you get this fan letter and they've connected with you. It Just dawns on you that what you're doing really means something. And that it's not just an indulgence. They recognize something in it that's true, and you know how it feels to them as well."
On to the material you now hold in your sweaty paws.