Happy Hate Me Nots by Steve Gardner
Noise For Heroes
Since Noise For Heroes was a US based fanzine, interviewing bands from Australia was not a straightforward matter of arranging a time to get together and sitting down to talk at some local pub. Most NFH interviews were conducted by me writing up a list of questions and sending it along with a blank cassette to be answered and returned by the recipient in their own good time. This particular story is the result of the very first interview I ever did with an Australian band, and I have to say that I was really surprised at the effort that Paul Berwick put into replying. Rather than sitting down with a tape deck, he took the time to write by hand a letter 9 pages long. The fact that he was willing to put that much effort into answering questions from a minor magazine which at that time had no reputation for covering Australian bands really impressed me, and gave me a lot of hope and encouragement in trying to get information out of other bands later on.
This interview took place after my first trip to Australia in 1987. I'd seen the Happy Hate Me Nots play in Sydney and had listened to their "You're An Angel" and "Salt, Sour and Brighton" singles and their Scrap mini-lp many times over, but I was in complete ignorance of the tour-de-force Out lp that was due to arrive within the next few weeks. In Australia I'd seen them play at a huge Waterfront Records show at the Sydney Trade Union, where they'd had bands playing on three floors all night, and I saw the Happy Hate Me Nots at the end of a long and fabulous night of Australian music at it's best. The night turned into a gluttony of great bands with me running from one floor to another to catch whoever seemed best at the time, but there was no way I was going to miss a minute of the Happy Hate Me Nots for any other band. At the time, here's what I said:
"On the third floor, our main reason for coming to this show, the Happy Hate Me Nots, were getting set to play. This band hasn't gotten the press of a lot of the other Aussie groups, but I expect bigger things out of them than most of the other bands, and I already rank them with Died Pretty, the Celibate Rifles, the Lime Spiders, feedtime and X as the top dogs in Australia. They started as a punky-pop sort of group, but have subsequently developed into a down-under version of the Jam. Both of their first two singles were good, but neither hinted at the power that they have subsequently revealed in their 12" mlp Scrap, the new "Salt, Sour and Brighton" 45 or the brilliant track "Everyday" from the On The Waterfront, Vol III compilation. They feature a classic Rickenbacker guitar sound and a drummer who plays four beats on his high hat at a pace that many drummers would have difficulty fitting two in. The newer songs are all well crafted and are filled with hooks, changes of tempo and clever lyrics, and punctuated with the flying leaps of the guitar players make for a great show. Unfortunately, coming as it did at 2:45 in the morning, the set didn't make the impression on us that we would have gotten had we not been dead on our feet, but still, it was a great night overall. The Happy Hate Me Nots showed a power and vitality that I'll remember for a long time to come."So maybe you can imagine my pleasant surprise to receive such a long response to my questions from Paul Berwick of the Happy Hate Me Nots, in which he proved that he's every bit as intelligent and forthright as the Hate Me Nots music.
NFH: Can you give our readers a brief history of the band...how did you get together, what previous incarnations with other bands have the members had, etc. What recordings of your band are there?
Paul: The band started in 1984 with myself, Tim McKay (guitar), Peter Lennon (bass) and Neil Toddie (drums). Neil and I both played in a band called Positive Hatred; one album of this band is available on Aberrant records here (maybe on import there?) and when Positive Hatred finished we joined up straight away with Peter and Tim who were mutual friends of ours. Neil left to be replaced by Mark Nicholson and this lineup recorded our first thing for Aberrant ("When The Chips Are Down"/"The Build Up" on the Not So Humdrum compilation) and also the next two singles ("Won't Do Any Good" and "You're An Angel") for Waterfront. Neil joined Itchy Rat who put out two singles, and after "Angel", Peter and Mark left HHMN's. Mark now plays drums in Sydney band Toys Went Berserk and Peter is not involved in a band. The drumming vacancy was filled by Mick Searson, who used to play in a Sydney band called Suburbia. The bass spot was filled by Christian Houllemare who moved from France to Australia 2 years previous. Chris had a band in France called Bad Brains (not to be confused with the US band!!) and put out a mini album on a French label, Closer Records. This lineup of HHMN's recorded the Scrap mini lp and the new Out album (also "Everyday" on the compilation On The Waterfront Vol. II). As we speak this lineup is HHMN's at the moment.NFH: What do you see as the most important ingredients in music (not necessarily just in your own music)?
Paul: Number one in my book is to have some soul. To make things like you have some feeling for the music. Other things that help are confidence and melody, and competence comes in handy at times!NFH: How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard it?
Paul: Probably the best way to describe it is rough edged pop/rock and roll with sensitive lyrics. Is that OK?NFH: Which song of yours comes closest to capturing what you are trying to accomplish as a band?
Paul: I wouldn't like to say any particular song because each song accomplishes its own thing. "Blue Afternoon" is uplifting in its drawn out form but "When I Die" gets a good driving feel. Every song we do aims for something and we're fairly satisfied with all of them, and of course playing them live you can achieve something else (on a good night!).NFH: What bands have most influenced the way you look at music?
Paul: Obviously, the early punk bands like the Clash, the Pistols, the Damned, etc, formed our opinions on the way our music will be played, but these days my personal interests include REM, Replacements, Husker Du, Soul Asylum, and anything else which is similar, I guess. I also like a lot of early soul stuff and gospel and all that entails. Everybody else in the band likes all sorts of music for different reasons, you know? Mick likes to see/hear good drummers in any sort of music so our own influences are wide. I like the bands I mention because they're fairly tuneful and they speak of different human conditions. REM to Husker Du to Lee Dorsey is a lot to speak about but I hope you know what I mean.NFH: What are your favorite current bands? What do you like about these bands?
Paul: In Sydney my faves include Celibate Rifles, Died Pretty, The Humdingers, The Hummingbirds, New Christs, Asylum, Porcelain Bus, The Church and a fair few others, but I like these ones for the reasons I stated above, or for their out and out good rock and roll songs.NFH: I have the impression personally that something very special is happening in Australia right now, similar to the scene in Britain in the late 70s. Not necessarily in the type of music, but in the vitality of the scene, the diversity of the bands and the way that the scene feeds on itself. Does this feeling actually exist there? How did it get that way?
Paul: Yes, it is a healthy scene and a particular style of music is fairly prevalent here, but like anything it has to broaden out and go somewhere; otherwise it stops and goes in decreasing circles. There is a large interest in thrashy types of music and I guess this is an extension of the punk thing. Then there's the more formulated rock and roll that has happened in Australia (Birdman, Saints, Tribesmen, Sunnyboys). I hope I'm making sense here, but I think a lot of the now attitudes have come about from forms of music that started in America (an age old story perhaps?). It's probably the same as when early Pistols, Clash and Damned singles/albums came to Australia; that changed a lot of people's ideas on music. Bands such as Radio Birdman, Saints and Hoodoo Gurus would beg to differ with me, maybe, but there are always small pockets of things going on in every country. But back to the original question, en masse, what happens in music in other countries is very interesting to people here (as you are interested in Aussie stuff).NFH: The independent label situation in Australia seems incredibly healthy from the outsider's viewpoint; the labels seem willing to give new bands a good push and they really put out quality productions. How has your relationship with Waterfront been?
Paul: Our experiences with Waterfront have been OK except the few hairy moments which are to be expected. The quality of independent releases here is extremely good (recording-wise, I mean) and I think that comes about from the independents realizing that to compete with major airplay they have to submit something good to even get it looked at. This probably puts an end to the idea that a $400 single can be a hit, but that's an example of what it's like in 1988. Our album cost $15,000 (Australian, about $12,000 US) to make, and it's cheap compared to some of our more well known contemporaries, but I think it compares well with them. But it has taken us four years to do that. It's a lot of money for an independent band to get together, but it is paying off for us because we get pretty good airplay from it. This is the circle we work in at the moment.NFH: Is there any good music on Australian radio, or is it as conservative as it is here in the US?
Paul: Australian mainstream radio is terrible. Even though 90% of independent stuff is recorded well it is very hard to get it played. Sometimes a trip overseas is what it takes to make them realize how serious you are. Stuff from major labels in Australia and overseas gets a good go on radio whether it is good, bad, or plain ugly. There are some stations in Australia devoted to indie releases and major label stuff, but unfortunately they don't have a wide enough range of listeners to make the indie releases go right through the roof (where a lot of them should be, not languishing in the back rooms of a few record shops!!!).NFH: How do kids decide what indie records to buy there; (word of mouth, gigs, radio, fanzines?) Are the kids fairly open minded to different types of music?
Paul: The actual record shops can be influential on what sells. They can tell every person that walks in that they need this record or that. Of course, word of mouth is a big mover, too, and fanzines as well. Radio stations in the major cities here (I mean the stations that are more attuned to indie releases) give us as much help as they can, depending on what their programming policies are. For example, the Moving Targets LP hardly got played on 2JJJ (Sydney station) but REM's "Document" got a good going over. The Replacements "Pleased To Meet Me" got a small amount of airplay, but the new Nils album will probably go unnoticed. Imported records don't get played a real lot. As far as whether I think the kids are open minded to different types of music, I'm not sure. It's a sure bet you might not see the same faces at all different sorts of gigs, so it may be a fact that people are more interested in the particular style of music that suits them. What they listen to at home, I don't know. There may be a million closet cases listening to Jefferson Airplane records somewhere. (actually, I've got Blows Against The Empire; is there anyone else out there that likes it, too?).NFH: Where are the best places to play in Australia? Where are the worst?
Paul: In our experience with touring, Sydney is good, Brisbane is small, so it's probably good not to go there too often. Melbourne is big so it takes a fair while to be accepted there as they have a reputation for liking more avante-garde music there. Adelaide is also small, but they like rock and roll there. We haven't played Perth yet, but we hear that cover bands are quite popular there. Probably the most interesting show we did was in a jail. They were very appreciative because they were pretty starved for entertainment.NFH: What's more important to you as a band...playing live or recording? How do you compare the two experiences?
Paul: Neither is more important than the other to me. They are both different but the difference is that mistakes are kept to a minimum while recording while mistakes abound live!! Live, it's a very desperate thing. It has to happen at that very moment whereas recording, you have an infinite (sometimes) number of chances to "get it right" and still maintain a certain amount of feeling.NFH: The first Hate Me Nots record I heard was the "Angel" single, and one of things that hooked me right away was the great drumming. It amazes me that the band could lose Mark and pick up someone like Mick who is at least as good and perhaps better. How did that come about?
Paul: Well, Mark left of his own accord and we started auditioning drummers. It lasted about two weeks and we had all sorts of people coming in. Everyone from garbage collectors to budding Keith Moons, but Mick was the obvious choice. Mick's young so he's got energy and he's not scared to try things. I'd better not say anymore because he'll read this at some stage!NFH: I've seen a number of comparisons of you guys to the Jam, and I myself think of you in that same mod sort of vein as the Jam, Chords, and Purple Hearts (especially the Chords). Is there anything to this (do you guys like those bands) or is it just the unique Rickenbacher sound that makes so many people think that?
Paul: One point of clarification...the only Rickenbacher guitar in this band is the bass Tim and I play Gibsons. But certainly you can compare us to these bands. I've got a couple of Chords records and I like them, but the mod connotation has nothing to do with us what-so-ever!NFH: Does the band support itself with day jobs or is the band self supporting? How often are you able to play live?
Paul: We all have day jobs. All the money that the band gets from gigs/sales/etc goes to pay for strings, skins, petrol, and so forth, but it isn't enough to pay the rent. At the moment we are saving up to come to your country to play, so now it is a bit tight. We are also in a bit of debt from the last record. Before we recorded we used to play twice a week in Sydney, but now we choose to play less and try to make the shows a bit more special. We usually play one gig every one or two weeks. At the moment we are planning a nationwide tour to promote the new album, so we have got about 6 shows in the next three weeks in Sydney, then we go on tour four about four to six weeks.NFH: What other plans do you have for the future (record releases, foreign tours, etc)?
Paul: After the Australia tour we plan to go to America to play, as the album is released there on the Rough Trade label (probably September) and if we can get a proper release in Europe we will go there to play in the same breath, too. God knows what will happen after that. Hopefully come back here and sort out some sort of deal with a major label.NFH: What are your interests other than the band?
Paul: Eating, playing records, keeping away from boring jobs...NFH: Any good juicy stories or anecdotes about unusual situations the band has managed to survive through over the years?
Paul: We've had some funny times playing in front of 10-20 people and having bikers waiting to have a go at us on the way out of gigs. I almost got thrown out of a gig before we played 'cos I didn't have a stage pass, but we've also played some ugly places where there were terrible fights or very tense situations (mainly early on in our career). Probably the most memorable was a gig we did at a party for some well-to-do people who let us play three songs and then pulled the plug on us, paid us, and told us to get out, not before they searched our vehicles because our friends were getting loaded up with bottles of their wine and food. The girl whose party it was upstairs in tears and her aunty or something was screaming at us to just leave. We still play parties, though.NFH: Is becoming "popular" or "successful" important in your scheme of things? Do you have any desire to tour overseas (he asked hopefully?), sell millions of records in the US or UK, videos on MTV, girls chasing you down alleys ripping your clothes off, people begging for your autographs, drugs and limousines everywhere, features in People, Time and Newsweek, and generally achieve allround obnoxious levels of fame? What level of success will provide you with satisfaction?
Paul: At the moment, the level of success I want is to be able to play in a reasonable size venue, have a full house, have a great PA, have a few beers thrown in and make sure the money is going back to us and our crew, not someone else. One day I want a house, too. Is that too much to ask?Well, I'd say not, and if I could do it, I'd give a house just to have a copy of that new lp in my hands. All I can add is that even without hearing it, I'm sure that money spent on the Out lp will be money well spent, and now that there is finally to be a US Happy Hate Me Nots release, you have no excuse. Paul is being way too modest when he describes the bands sound as "rough edged pop/rock and roll with sensitive lyrics". That's like saying the Pacific Ocean is a bit damp. The Happy Hate Me Nots are as powerful and fast as any punk band, yet they maintain a pop sensibility that will leave you humming their songs day in and day out.