Died Pretty : A Special eye for personal views
Interview by Jon Storey
Bucketfull Of Brains Issue #19 - January 1987
Since I was ensnared by the delights of the "Next To Nothing" EP, I have been a fervent admirer of the recorded works of Died Pretty.
In November the band arrived in the UK to start the European leg of their first, lengthy tour outside of Australia (also taking in New Zealand and two visits to the United States from whence they had just come).
Via the good offices of What Goes On Records (who released the "Died Pretty" EP and the gatefold version of the "Free Dirt" LP) an interview was arranged and I arrived to talk to Ron Peno and Frank Brunetti a few hours prior to their first UK gig, at the Mean Fiddler on Guy Fawkes night.
For background reading, check out the Citadel Records story in issue 17 and the "Free Dirt" review in issue 18 and for your listening enjoyment stack up "Free Dirt" , "Next To Nothing" and "Died Pretty" by the stereo and let rip!! Now read on:
B.O.B.: Where have you been so far?
R.P.: New Zealand for two weeks, the States, Boston, Philadelphia, New York....
B.O.B.: How long were you in the States?
R.P.: Three weeks.
B.O.B.: Did you have time to see any bands while you were over there?
F.B.: We just saw David Johansen, at the Bottom Line in New York, doing his Buster Pointdexter thing, it was fantastic!
He had a twelve piece band and a girl singer, he's such...a star, if you will, and there's (only) 80 people there even we get depressed if there's only 80 people and he's been around for so long without being an old hack or anything, yet he still came out and did this fantastic show and the audience really loved it.
He inspired us because only one of our shows in the States was really badly attended, in Providence, Rhode Island, but went out and played probably the best show we did in the States.
B.O.B.:How did it go in the States in general?
F.B.: Great. Between 100 and 200 people at each show.
There were people there with ALL of our records - and Australian copies, not just British ones-they'd come and get autographs and say they'd been listening to us for years, which was a total shock to us.
B.O.B.: Do you feel a bit cut off in Australia, did have no conception of what the attitude was overseas?
F.B.: We all read a lot, we're aware of things, we're not hicks! The media is so prevalent these days.
R.P.: We're part of the inner city Sydney scene....
B.O.B.: Can we talk a little about the origins of the Died Pretty. As I understand it, it was you two (Ron Peno & Frank Brunetti) and Brett Myers.
Who brought it together?
F.B.: It was spontaneous combustion...
R.P.: We all thought of it at the same time. The End (Brett Myers' previous band) was in a state of disarray and collapse in Sydney.
B.O.B.: Were The End a Doors-ish sort of band?
F.B.: No, just a pretty good rock'n'roll band with New York late '70s influences...
R.P.: It was very Velvets influenced.
B.O.B.: Was there anyone else in that band apart from and Brett who we might recognise now?
F.B.: One guy who was druming for them at the end is now with (UK band) Salvation Sunday, Dave Reilly.
B.O.B.: Ron, you were in a couple of bands, the Hellcats and the 3lst?
R.P.: The Hellcats were a fun, covers band- no originals New York Dolls, Ramones, Flamin' Groovies, stuff like that. That was early '77, we only lasted about three or four months.
Then I formed the 31st, with a bass player and Chris Masuak and Mike Medew
B.O.B.: So that explains how you later came to co-write "Igloo" for the Screaming Tribesmen.
R.P.: The first time I started writing songs was with the 3lst ...
B.O.B.: Did you write any of the songs that Died Pretty , do back then?
R.P.: I wrote the lyrics to "Out Of The Unknown" (the first Died Pretty 45) then.
B.O.B.: Wen did Died Pretty come together?
F.B.: Mid '83. What it was for a long time was just the three of us in a grotty little rehearsal studio in Darlinghurst- sometimes Ron wouldn't even be there- Brett jus had a number of songs worked out and he and I would work on them, occasionally with the aid of a drum machine, after we've got six or seven of them worked out Ron came in and added lyrics and vocal lines to them.
We had people like Rob (Younger) drum for us to t help us out and somebody playing bass, but nobody in particular until we were ready then we roped in these two guys who had been in The End. (Colin Barwick: drums & Mark Lickliter:bass).
They stuck with us for a while. After the first single we changed bass players (Mark Lock took over ) and after the second we changed drummers (Chris Welsh).
I always felt that they (the original rhythm section) were just there for the time being but now it's more like the five of us together.
B.O.B.: You must have got involved with Citadel soon after you came together.
F.B.: After we recorded our first single...we went to get Hot Records to release it, because they were the biggest Australian independent label around at the time.
They said they'd put it out in four or five months because they had this huge schedule- we wanted to record another one by then!
John Needham was a friend of Ron's and he'd released the Screaming Tribesmen stuff- he knew Ron through that- he said he could have it out in six weeks.
We're really glad we went with him because it's worked out a lot better, Hot has really gone down the tubes in Australia and John has helped us immeasurably since then, he's become our manager.
B.O.B.: So when did it begin to happen for you in Australia?
F.B. : Every time we put a record out a few more people come along. We used to like to play these soft/melodic/slow type of things like "Final Twist" and "Ambergris" but people, when they come to see the band, want a bit of noise and action and stuff which we (began) to pander to.
R.P.: A lot of the songs weren't fully worked out, there wasn't a start and a finish to each song there'd be a start and a middle bit and we'd meander on after that and it'd take forever on some songs- a lot of people couldn't get into that.
B.O.B.: Do most of your songs evolve from your live work rather than being written specifically for the studio?
F.B.: We rehearse fairly constantly and Brett will come in with some skeletal idea for a song, usualy a set of chords or whatever and we'll work on that and Ron will hang around and listen, then add some lyrics...
R.P.: Not really lyrics, more a vocal melody.
B.O.B.: Do you all have a reasonably equal input to - the finished songs?
F.B.: It's a good balance at the moment. I think I'd have to say that Brett has the most influence and then Ron....
R.P.: I'd say Brett and I have equal influence!
B.O.B.: So you have an input apart from the lyrical side of it?
R.P.: Yeah, I make up the choruses and the melodies.
B.O.B.: Do you write any complete songs?
R.P.: No...only one ever, a song called "Time Moves Fast" for the 3lst which wasn't recorded.
B.O.B.: Did the 3lst release any records?
R.P.: No, we made a 4 track demo, one of the songs was "A Stand Alone" (later recorded by the Screaming Tribesmen), one of the others went to become "It's So Hard" on the "Tora Tora D.T.K " album by the Hitmen.
B.O.B.: In the beginning of Died Pretty what did you play in your live set? All originals?
F.B.: Yes, all originals- it took us a long time to be able to play more than 40 minutes...
R.P.: "..a small collection of songs to start with and we used to stretch them out.
F.B.: We didn't play any covers in those days because we wanted to have our own thing....
B.O.B.: You did "Final Solution" (Pere Ubu)
F.B.: We do that now, we learnt it before we started playing live but we didn't play it for at least 18 months to two years.
B.O.B.: Who else do you listen to?
F.B.: Oh, anything. From the twenties and thirties to now, I might like a rockabilly song doesn't mean I like all rockabilly, Hughie Lewis or Bessie Smith , it's the same for everyone.
This (Died Pretty) is like the sum of our overlapping things, anything else people might want to do they're free to but so far nobody really has done. I know Ron would like to form a country'n'western bluegrass type outfit which wouldn't mean he'd break up Died Pretty to go and do it.
B.O.B.: Like the Giant Sand / Blacky Ranchette type of thing?
R.P. : Yeah Blacky Ranchette, I'd like to hear that album.
B.O.B.: How much reaction did you get to the first two singles?
F.B.: In Australia, if an independent record sells 4000 copies it's a major hit and will stay on top of the independent charts for six months.
0ur early singles sold two or three thousand copies so they were quite big hits but in terms of the whole wide world it's less than a drop in the ocean.
The third record "Next To Nothing" was reasonably successful for us, also when we started touring.
B.O.B.: So when did you first tour Australia?
F.B.: After the first single.
B.O.B.: Brett sang the last track ("Through Another Door") on your album, is it likely he'll sing more? Was he not confident before?
F.B.: Oh no, he used to be the lead singer (and guitarist) in his other band, but he'd rather just play guitar. He sings that song and....
R.P.: he does "Wild Child" another original that we don't play that often.
B.O.B.: Do you have a big backlog of songs? Are you very prolific?
F.B.: We've probably got twenty or thirty songs that we've never recorded; maybe two or three that are ready to go on another record and by the time we get back to Australia we'll have another four or five that will be good enough.
B.O.B.: What's the plan after this album?
F.B.: After we tour around Europe 'til January we go to the States for another six weeks then back to Australia in March. Then we'll record some kind of record, hopefully with at least seven or eight songs on it.
B.O.B.: On "Free Dirt" you used several additional musicians, did you consider the album would be bare otherwise?
F.B.: I like the idea of having other people play on songs and colour them a bit more. Maybe it hasn't always worked a hundred per cent successfully, but it's an experiment.
Maybe on the next record we won't have anybody or maybe we'll have a symphony orchestra!. They usually comein afterwards and we tell them what to do pretty succinctly.
That guy that plays sax ' (Tim Fagan) plays onstage with us quite a bit in Australia- he even came to New Zealand with us on the way over here. It's very spur of the moment.
B.O.B.: What's his usual gig?
F.B.: He's played in a lot of brass sections, for bands like the Saints, Do Re Mi and he was also in a weird underground electronics sort of band called the Playful Kittens.
B.O.B.: How do you feel about the production on "Free Dirt"?
F.B.: It's fine...
B.O.B.: People have said to me that they feel a lot of the rough edges, as the earlier stuff, have gone and it's too rounded.
F.B.: You think so?
B.O.B.: No, I don't- I thought there was a big difference between the first two 45s and "Next To Nothing", I think that's where the change was.
F.B.: I think so to, anyone who's really listened to it would have to agree.
R.P.: I think we reached our zenith with "Next To Nothing" and I used to think that we couldn't surpass that, that's my favourite record of ours.
F.B.: You have to put, like, ten songs on an album some are better than others naturally, so it's a bit inconsistent which I don't mind.
I don't mind people seeing our flaws as well our good points. A lot of it is experienting and learning how to make records.
It's so damn hard to make a record, I'll find it a lot harder to criticise other people's records now, knowing how fucking hard it is just to make a three minute single.
To make a ten song album....I'm quite happy if half of them work out ! There's very few records that I buy where I like every track anyway, unless it's Patsy Cline's Greatest Hits or something like that.
B.O.B. : What do you think worked best on "Free Dirt"?
F.B. : "Blue Sky Day", "Just Skin" and "Life To Go" are probably my three favourite
B.O.B. : How did you find working with Rob Younger ?
F.B.: Great. He's very sympathetic to our aims, if it wasn't for him I shudder to think what our record should have sounded like!
B.O.B.: He has a fairly major input then?
F.B.: Not into the music or the arrangements, but into helping us organise ourselves. He and Brett mix the songs down.....certainly for a low budget record like "Next To Nothing", he made it sound lavish, very impressive.
B.O.B.: Yes, that and the album sound a lot better than the first two singles.
F.B.: The first two singles we did in a pretty shoddy studio out in the bush, and I guess that shows!
B.O.B.: The songs on "Next To Nothing" you'd had for some while?
F.B. : "Plaining Days" was written about three weeks before we did the record, the others had been with us for a year or two.
B.O.B.: Presumably you get a lot of people asking you about the lyrics?
R.P.: Yeah! They're not stories, they're not about anything or anyone...they're just lines, some are just made up on the spot.
B.O.B.: Are you more into the actual sound of the words rather than the meaning?
F.B.: I think you're putting yourself down! I've seen you be quite choosy.
R.P.: I like using the voice.....
B.O.B.: ...more as colouring?
R.P.: Yeah, more than a narrative thing, it's hard to explain.
F.B.: It seems to me that a lot of bands, especially in England, seem to be on about something from Simple Minds and U2 down to cruddy garage bands- they all seem to be on about something...
B.O.B.: But you're not saying your stuff is just musical wallpaper are you?!
F.B.: No, of course not. What it is- is exactly what you hear. We're not on about anything. If you hear it and you like it, that's great- if not, stiff shit! We just like to evoke a bit of atmosphere, make it sound interesting.
B.O.B.: "Final Twist" to me is one of THE great atmospheric songs.
F.B.: I take that as a compliment. If you listen to a really good record and it affects you emotionally......really gets you right in the guts, that's what we want to do...
R.P.: ...to move people, other than with their feet. I like to compose songs like that.
B.O.B.: I read (in "B-Side") that you really liked John Cale's "Paris 1919" LP?
R.P. : "Plaining Days" was influenced by "Paris 1919" (in fact that title is part of the lyric to "Hanky Panky Nohow" on Cale's LP).
F.B.: It's a very strange record, it's a very personal and introverted record. I really like records that.....might not conform to any particular kind of thing but really express whatever's going on in the guy's head.
B.O.B.: Is John Cale a big hero ?
R.P.: He's one of them, he's not "THE".
F.B.: I think we've all got beyond the stage of having big heroes, there are people that are inspirational.
B.O.B.: Which current bands do you like?
R.P.: I really like R.E.M. at the moment, we just missed them in New York. I hardly ever go out to see bands in Australia.
B.O.B. : John Needham told me you recorded a couple of covers recently?
R.P.: Bob Dylan's "From A Buick Six" and Neil Young's "When You Dance".
B.O.B.: Will they be released?
F.B.: The Neil Young one's not good enough really, the Bob Dylan may, but it's just a throwaway.
They're people we feel more inspired by than post '78 type bands. You look at their whole body of work and they've gone through all these ups and downs and nn matter how many shit-house albums they've put out, they're still brilliant, you know?
B.O.B.: (To Ron) Do you get many Dylan comparisons?
R.P.: Yeah, I get the Iggy Pop / Bob Dylan thing. You learn to live with it.
T.B. : Lately, people have been bringing up the name of Alice Cooper (!), which I think is kind of cute, as long as they mean very early Alice.
At that point the interview drew to a close as the band got ready to leave for their first UK gig at the Mean Fiddler.
The arrival of Died Pretty in Britain had been anttcipated with genuine excitement due to their two great singles and probably the best EP & LP of last year.
After suffering a series of setbacks on the way here: Frank Brunetti breaking a leg in New Zealand and Ronald S. Peno allegedly being beaten up in New York their first appearance was at the Mean Fiddler in Harlesden on a wet and miserable Bonfire night.
It was worth missing the fireworks outside!
The first thing you notice about Died Pretty on stage is Ronald S. Peno. He is so weird. Those eyes, the make-up, and the way he moves are absolutely irresistable- the most natural and rivetting frontman seen for years. His voice on record is great but on stage watching him coil himself around the songs was something else.
The control and structure of DP is centred on Brett Myers and it was obvious that without him there probably wouldn't be a Died Pretty. On stage, apart from his incredible guitar playing, he moves about directing the others, pushing them the way he wants things to go.
As an introduction to the Died Pretty live, the Mean Fiddler was great, with some memorable moments like the delicate beauty of "Everybody Move", Brett Myers singing "Wild Child" from Lou Reed's first solo LP, Dylan's "From A Buick Six", and, as an encore, their awesome rendition of "Mirror Blues".
The following night at a brilliant little place called the Zap Club, right on the seafront at Brighton, they had to play to a nostly unprepared audience, with a stand in drummer (because Chris Welsh had had his toes run over by a car after the 'Fiddler gig) who, although competent, couldn't really do the band justice.
The set was short and unexceptional apart from the classic "out Of The Unknown". Alice In Wonderland, that den of London posers, also suffered from the lack of Chris Welsh.
However, Ron Peno respendent in a long black coat and leather gloves was in particularly good form, andrf by the time they left the stage most of the Alice regulars were well impressed.
The Decemher 2nd gig had the band back at full strength and it showed; they proved to a full, though typicaly blase Dingwall's crowd what a powerful band they are and how important Chris Welsh's drumming is.
The gig was also memorable for the opener- Neil Young's "When You Dance I Can Really Love". The last gig in London, at the Electric Ballroom was strange to say the least. They opened nervously in the cavernous hall, dotted with the semi-interested fans of headliners Flesh For Lulu.
Only Ron seemed to enjoy himself, toying with the audience at the front waiting for FFL. Confusion blossomed when they were joined by a girl on sax for a chaotic but musically inspired version of "Next To Nothing"
Many memories of these gigs will stay on for a long time - Ron Peno sitting alone on the steps outside the toilet at the Zap Club; spitting ice cubes back into his glass onstage at Dingwalls; camping it up and posing for photo -graphers at the Electic Ballroon .... Brett Myers totally serious at all times, moving round the stage like a born leader & wrenching notes from his guitar on "Just Skin" and Frank Brunetti fleshing out the sounds with touches of perfection on keyboards. Though perhaps not the best gigs DP have played, they were certainly some of the best seen in London for some time, summed up by a shout from the audience at one gig: "Peno Genius". It's true.
INTRO & INTERVIEW: Jon Storey OUTRO: Gog.