Kryptonics by Steve Gardner
"Forming a band in Perth has its good points and its bad point as well", says Ian Underwood, the main man of the Kryptonics. "The bad point is its isolation, the fact that it is 5000 km to the other side of Australia, and in between there is nothing but a treeless plain and a couple of stupid country towns and roadhouses, like real American style roadhouses. Between the east coast and the west coast there's this huge wasteland that takes three days in a car to cross. That's the hardest part; you can be really huge in Perth and nobody gets to hear about you."Ian has been working on overcoming that problem ever since he and, Cathy Webb, and Shakir Pichler formed the Kryptonics in August of 1985. The line up has turned over several times since then, and now is in its sixth incarnation, but it has taken some doing. It's been a constant growing process since the beginning.
"I guess at that stage even though we weren't at high school any more, we were more or less like a high school band as an attitude", says Ian, "the way we played and the sort of songs that I wrote...we were really young. It was the first band that we played in so we sort of learned to play in the Kryptonics, and I remember that we were in rehearsal for about 18 months or something ridiculous just because from the time that the band got together as a three piece, just the drummer, the bass player and myself, we couldn't really play, and we just used to rehearse every weekend; we used to get together and play a whole pile of covers...we used to play songs by the Hoodoo Gurus and other Australian independent sort of stuff, as well as writing our own stuff, but it really was learning to play, because we really couldn't play particularly well. So the band started out with 18 months of rehearsal."So with a year and a half of hard garage work under their belts, the Kryptonics were ready to go public, except for one problem. They needed a singer because Ian didn't feel he was ready to try to sing and play at the same time.
"So we got a guy who was a front man sort of type, and we started playing. And we started playing at a time, luckily for us, when Perth was like really, really happening, and a whole pile of independent bands springing out of the woodwork, so to speak. We were playing with bands like the Bamboos and the Marigolds, who are like a jangly sixties pop band. I never liked them very much; I thought they were pretty fucked. They're still playing in Perth occasionally. They're like hugely popular and they get together for a few gigs now and then. We played a few gigs with this band that you might have heard of called the Stems, and the Stems were the real big thing in Perth. Our first gig actually was playing with the Stems. So pretty quickly we were playing with all these really hip and groovy bands, and we became "flavor of the month" in Perth, which I guess isn't the greatest thing in the world, but when it's your first band it's pretty fantastic."The "front man sort of type" was Michael Reynolds, who appears on he first Kryptonics single, which was recorded shortly after they started playing live shows.
Says Ian: "we got approached by this lunatic who wanted to put us into a studio and wanted to record us. So we went into the studio and did the "Baby"/"Plastic Imitation" single. That was recorded in an afternoon, and that was the first time we'd ever been in the studio. We'd only been playing for four weeks, and we were all really young; at that stage the drummer was only about 18 and the rest of us were just turned 20. That was reasonably successful here but it really didn't do a huge amount elsewhere in Australia. But virtually on the eve of the single being released, our drummer defected to the Bamboos, which was like a great drama to us at the time, because at the time we were flavor of the month and we were just starting to draw crowds and just starting to become popular, and the drummer leaves. He joined the Bamboos and went away with them when they did a national tour with the Johnnys and he became a pop star for a couple of months."That first single is a fairly raw chugging piece of punky-pop that's pleasant enough but only a hint of the future to come. Ian wrote all three cuts on the record, and they show his influences fairly clearly...virtually all the stuff that he'd been listening to in the years leading up to the first line up was a lot of Perth stuff. The Victims ranked high on his list...they did the punky "Television Addict" that you can hear on the Where Birdmen Flew bootleg compilation, and they brought drummer James Baker (subsequently in about six zillion other bands) and the Hoodoo Gurus' Dave Faulkner to the music world. Other faves were the Gurus, early Lime Spiders, Screaming Tribesmen, and the Scientists. Good influences, all, but Ian now says: "I look back on the first lineup now as me aping my heroes, or pretending to be my heroes and not really being myself."
With the loss of Shakir Pichler, the Kryptonics had to do some fast juggling to keep hold of the momentum that they'd begun to generate. Ian decided to go for an even bigger change, and with confidence growing took over the front man responsibilities and gave Michael the boot. Through a bit of luck he met up with Brett Ford, who had been spending time in England, and had just returned, and was looking for a band to catch on with. "Brett was like the most amazing kick-ass drummer", says Ian. "He's so powerful he's like a freight train."
In addition to Brett, they also had decided to add a guitar player, and they found Peter Hartley from a band called Lavender Disaster. Ian had been interested in asking Peter to join for quite a while, but hadn't gotten the nerve up, but finally circumstances drove him to try. "We had a gig booked at this venue called the Red Parrot, and we needed a guitar player, so we asked him and he said yes, so about four days before the gig he joined the band, and he learned the songs really quickly. And it just fit."
Readers who are aware that Brett and Peter presently form half of Lubricated Goat, one of Australia's most notorious noise bands, will be surprised at the concept of them playing in a band with a pop sound like the Kryptonics. The band got dramatically better with the new line up, as can be witnessed on their next single, "Land That Time Forgot"/"She's Got Germs". The band also significantly changed...they were tougher, harder, nastier. Peter and Brett were largely to be credited with this change. "They were really into making noisy, noisy music", says Ian.
"Peter especially was a noise player more than a proper lead player. In fact, it would be quite true to say that Peter couldn't play lead guitar at all in the traditional sense of playing lead guitar. He used to just make noises, and he had a really loud amp and he used to use a fuzz pedal. We sort of saw ourselves as Perth's version of the Jesus and Mary Chain, but at about twice the speed and more talented, I guess."
"Things with that lineup were really, really great for a while. But then Peter and Brett started to really enjoy the fact that they were just making noise, and they wanted to make more and more noise, whereas I've always liked pop music I guess, and I wanted to make melodic noise. But that lineup hung around for a while, and we actually recorded a single that at the time we were extremely happy with and even now I think is a pretty cool single, "The Land That Time Forgot". Looking back on it now, the actual song is a pretty stupid song, like me trying to write a Hoodoo-Gurus sort of "Leilani" type of song, and in a way it's a pretty stupid song, but on the other side there's a song that Peter had written called "She's Got Germs", which is like a classic three chord two and a half minute great great song."I think Ian sells "Land That Time Forgot" short. It's much darker and cooler sounding by far than "Leilani", which is basically a fluffy pop song. I thought it was their best to date, and it compares well to the latest Kryptonics records.
By this time, the band had reached the critical point where Perth bands either collapse or make the attempt at going the next step up; playing interstate. But playing interstate from Perth is a different story from touring out of Brisbane, Melbourne or Adelaide. It's 2500 miles from Perth to Sydney and no scenic drive, either.
"It's a strange thing", says Ian, "Every time you want to get to the other side of Australia you have to drive through three days of country to play a gig. That's kind of strange. And then you have to drive back. So I've driven across this plain, called the Nullarbor Plain, which is Latin for null arbor which means no trees. And it's virtually got no trees on it for hundreds of kilometers. It's just like a flat plain, and there's not really a huge amount on it. And having to cross that, and the rest of arid Australia with the only humans around working at the roadhouses along the side of the road is kind of strange. The whole idea that every time you want to get out of Perth you have to drive across three days of wild country is pretty odd. I guess bands from Adelaide or Melbourne or whatever can pop up...an Adelaide band can drive to Melbourne overnight, do a few shows and drive down. If we want to drive to Melbourne it takes three days."The thing I find odd is that the band can get from Perth to Melbourne in three days. When I was there I drove from Melbourne to Sydney in two days and was just about wasted, and on the map it looks like Perth to Melbourne is about five times Melbourne to Sydney. But it's not clear that the Kryptonics have ever actually done this trip in three days, because it seems that every time they've tried, some disaster has overtaken them, generally involving the law. On their first trip, their van broke down in some little town in the middle of no where, and they spent three days trying to get rolling again with gigs waiting on the other end of the country.
"And then Peter and Brett decided to try to hitch" relates Ian, "and they got stopped by the police, and of course they had a bit of marijuana on them, so Peter got busted and had to spend the night in jail, which eventually meant that he had to miss out on the first gig over there. That was a humorous thing, but it sort of highlighted the fact that Peter and Brett were really unreliable. They used to enjoy getting really wacked and really drunk all the time, like at rehearsal and when we were playing."When they finally got up on a Sydney stage, things went much better. The band played well and audiences liked them, and they got to open for a lot of Ian's favorites, like the Screaming Tribesmen and the Psychotic Turnbuckles. They also did some shows as headliners in smaller hotels. Chris from Waterfront records saw them a couple times on this tour and told them that if they ever wanted to make a record, to come see him at Waterfront. Recalls Ian,
"In fact, Chris said last time I was over there that if that lineup of the Kryptonics was still playing now that we'd be the coolest band in Australia, because we were making just great noisy, melodic pop, and we looked really cool; we all had long hair and that sort of stuff."At that point there was already a rift starting to develop, but the band went really well in Sydney, even though they were there for only two weeks or so, they did quite a number of good gigs before they returned to Perth. The tour bug hit again quickly, though, so they decided to try again, but this time, Ian thinks, tensions were too high.
"There was another drama in the middle of Australia in this town that was basically a petrol station, a pub, a police station, and a couple of houses and that's it. We were driving across in a 1968 Ford, and we got stopped, and Brett was driving without a license. He tried to bluff his way through it with my license, and we got arrested again. And we spent three days in this town and we had to blow out some of the gigs, and then we had to hitch all the way across Australia, and it was just a real drama. It's really strange being in a jail in the middle of nowhere and just being surrounded by a huge expanse of nothing for like a thousand kilometers on either side. That was a bit strange. And then when we finally made it out we hitched to Adelaide, which was about two and a half thousand kilometers. That was a pretty strange experience; we hitched on a big truck, like a road train thing, and the stupid thing was that the guys we were driving with, they went on without us, but we were stupid enough not to take our luggage off the car, and they drove away and we didn't have any clothes to change into, and it was literally a week and a half before we met up with our clothes again. So we actually spent nine days in the same clothes. We actually had a few washes, during that time, but I had to throw my socks away half way into it and buy new socks. But we spent a week and a half in the same clothes hitching across Australia when the band was supposed to be on tour. And at the end of that tour, that lineup just imploded."
"But I guess the writing was on the wall, because I just wanted to make the sort of music that I'm making now. But Peter and Brett, the fact that they turned up in Lubricated Goat says a lot for their musical taste and the direction that they wanted to see the band take. I remember the last thing that Peter wanted to do with the Kryptonics was to get a choir of children and have them sing a really out of it song about the universe, and he wanted to play noise guitar along with that. And that's what Peter thought was a really good musical thing to do, whereas I just wanted to make really good pop music. So that lineup disintegrated, and it was virtually the same time that the Bamboos split up as well, and I managed to get their drummer Russell Hopkins and their guitar player Greg Hitchcock, to join the Kryptonics for a time. They didn't really hang around all that long, but they hung around long enough. They left the band to concentrate on other bands that they were playing with, and then about 6 months after we got back together, and we recorded the 69 mini album, which I guess up to now is the thing I've been happiest with."Also a casualty of the lineup split was Cathy, who had been a friend of Ian's since high school and had played bass since the start of the band. She's been living in Sydney since and played with a few minor bands. According to Ian, she almost joined Ratcat at one point, but that didn't pan out.
69 isn't the sort of state-of-the-art noise mongering stuff that everybody thinks is ultra cool these days, but to my tastes it's one of the best slabs of vinyl of 1989. It's got all the things Ian says he likes in songs...energy, great pop melodies, but real toughness. All 5 songs bristle. "Love Crusade" is my favorite, but they're all solid. Unfortunately, the lineup for 69 was a temporary thing, since Russell and Greg had plans for themselves. They didn't even stay around long enough to tour to promote the record, leaving Ian to recruit his fourth lineup to do a tour. The drummer in this new aggregation "turned out to be a real dick head", so they found a new drummer, and subsequently have changed bass players a couple times because of tour conflicts. At present the lineup is Ian on vocals and guitar, Tony Rushan on guitar, Peter Kostic on drums and Jeff Halley on bass.
"So the history of the Kryptonics has been one of heeps of promise that never really eventuated", sighs Ian, "and hopefully now, it's just starting to eventuate. Because I've previously never had a band that was prepared to work really hard. In four years, I've never had a band that was behind me all the way, and like now I have got a band that's behind me all the way, and things are going really well."
"I guess you can tell my musical development by listening to the singles. The first single was kind of young noisy pop, and very naive. Two or three chords and songs that aren't structured particularly well. And then there's the "She's Got Germs" single, which was pretty representative of the line up at that time, and I still quite like that. And then there's the 69 thing, which I thought was a big step forward. It was more like Detroit-y sort of power pop, sort of rock, a raucous rock, which is what I really dig. And then there's the new single, which you probably have heard, which I'm not 100% happy with as it was done under sort of trying conditions, but the next record that we make is gonna be great, I can feel it."
"It's been a huge drama for me, having people leave the band and join the band and not give a shit about the band. After four years we should have been further down the track. But all I can say is that now things are looking more positive than they've ever looked previously. The songs that I'm starting to write now are the best songs I've ever written. About three weeks ago I wrote a song, and it was like the turning point, and now I realize how to write a good song, or a song that I'm happy with, and I think that the next album is going to be chockablock full of really great songs of all styles; really slow ones, really fast ones."
"The next record that we do is going to be a full length album, I think. The problem with an independent label like Waterfront is that even though they've got a great reputation and a great name, they don't have a huge amount of money, so we'll probably be having to pay for huge amounts of the album ourselves, and as we plan to do it in one of the best studios in Australia it's going to cost a huge amount and I can see us having to work really hard to get the money together. But hopefully that album will be recorded by mid 1990 and hopefully it will be out late 1990. As far as licensing goes, I don't think that there's been too many people that have been interested in the band to tell you the truth. Apparently there's somebody who's interested in Europe, but as far as America goes, I think that nobody's really heard of us. I was really surprised that you had heard of us. It's really good to know that across the other side of the world that somebody likes your music. I've never had correspondence from anybody that liked the band and lived overseas before, so this is all a bit sort of new. But hopefully we'll be in Europe in 1991 and we'll have an album released locally in Europe and then we'll have to take it from there. Obviously we'd like to go to America and just mainly do the college sort of circuit; that would be really great. Perhaps we will, but to do that we're going to need a bit more money."
"We'd really like to sign to a major label. It's not really as stupid as you might at first think, I guess. I've always wanted the band to be accessible to as many people as possible, but obviously without making huge commercial overtures, but I think we can still be a really tight, powerful but melodic hard rock band and get signed by a major label and still retain our street credibility, whatever that is, and even be like a minor hit on the major charts. I really believe that the Kryptonics can get a major deal somewhere along the line. So we'll be looking for a major deal, there's no doubt about that. And if we do get a major label deal, then of course we'll get all the trimmings like tour support and everything else. So we'll be able to go virtually anywhere and play, which is the reason why I'm playing in the band in the first place, so I can travel around the world and play music to people. It's like the best thing that I can think of. So hopefully, sooner or later, we'll be able to sign to a major label. And the guys at Waterfront know that we want to sign to a major label, and they know that they can't afford us. Chris specifically has told me that Waterfront can't afford us, because we're the sort of band that needs a lot of money spent on them to make their records sound really good. Whereas a band like the Hard-Ons can make the sort of music that they make and they don't have to spend a huge amount of money in the studio, and they'll still sell x amount whether they spend five grand in the studio or fifty grand. There comes a point where you can't produce that kind of music any more, and I guess that time comes around pretty quickly in some styles. We're not a band like the Hard-Ons that can sell piles and piles of records and not spend a lot of money. In the future, to make the sort of records we want to make, we're going to have to spend, or have some label spend, a awful lot of money on us, and the guys at Waterfront realize that. That's the good thing about the relationship with Waterfront. They know that if we become big that they're probably going to lose us, but they've worked out that their position in the scheme of things is to get young bands and help them and build them up so that a major can come along, I guess. I don't know if they're that happy about it."NFH: Are the Kryptonics based in Sydney now?
Ian: No, but it's something that we will probably have to do soon if we're going to get anywhere at all. At the moment in Perth there are no independent labels at all. Perth in the past has had a couple of really good independent labels. The best independent label Perth ever had was a label called...um...the label that "She's Got Germs" came out on (Easter Records). They released a lot of power pop sort of stuff. But at the moment Perth doesn't have an independent label at all, and if you want to get a record made, it all has to be done, cut and pressed, on the east coast. But it's really easy for a good band to stay in Perth and build up a crowd and just make a living out of playing in Perth. And you just sort of lose the drive to make it elsewhere, cos Perth's a real great place; the sun shines just about all the time, the girls here are just great looking, the beaches are free of pollution, the pot's really good, there's lots of it around, and it's really cheap. It's a really great place to live. It's like a holiday town. And it's easy to become really lethargic and comfortable with your existence in Perth.NFH: Waterfront sent me a pile of clippings of stuff written about the Kryptonics in Australian mags...the recurring comment is that the Kryptonics want to be a big teen pop band. But the music is the sort of tough Detroit rock that would never occur to me to be headed for the pop mainstream, but instead would be a bigger draw among the Radio Birdman fanatics. What do you have to say to this perception? Have you guys made a big mistake or is this pop band stuff all somewhat tongue in cheek?
Ian: That kind of was a tongue and cheek comment, but it was more a comment meaning in a local way, because it's easy to be a big fish in a small pond, and Perth is definitely a small pond, and what has happened in the past with some of the bands that we used to play with is that they became real idols of lots of young girls. This is something that the Kryptonics never really had, because we're too hard, too loud, or too noisy, and the young girls didn't like us so much as they liked the pop bands like the Marigolds or the Stems. The Stems especially; the Stems were like real teen idols; they used to get more sex than just about anybody I've ever known. I guess that's a pretty appealing thing to have young girls in the audience, so I made that sort of comment that I wanted the band to appeal to young girls; I wanted to have screaming 16 year old girls in the audience, but it hasn't really worked. We sort of get them coming on a bit, but not to the extent that less hard bands get, which is a bit of a bummer. But it was a tongue in cheek comment for sure.NFH: Has 69 done as well as you had hoped?
Ian: Not as well as we hoped, but probably better than we expected it to do. It would have been really nice if it had gone through the roof. Because I think it's quite a good record, but it's just that the Kryptonics in the form that we're in now, we're really uncool, so nobody likes us because we're too sort of rockist, we're too Detroit, you know. Not that we're a Detroit band or that we want to be a Detroit band, but we all love the MC5 and the Stooges and the Dictators and Birdman and whoever...we love those bands, and it comes through in our music. We don't try to be the way we are; we just sort of want to be like that. But it's really uncool. The thing that's really cool in Australia at the moment is noise pop like Dinosaur Jr, Mudhoney, etc, etc, and we don't fit into that scheme of things at all. And also, we're like pretty tight, and we can all play pretty well, and we've got our act together, so we're no longer like a cute little noisy band. Lineup #2 with Brett and Cathy and Peter was like a cute little pop band you know. So consequently 69 wasn't the huge hit that I was hoping it would be. It did actually chart reasonably well; it charted like the top ten in the independent charts, which are probably rigged anyway by all the record stores, but it didn't do as well as we'd hoped, but we couldn't expect it to be huge, I suppose, because we aren't the hippest thing around.NFH: Are there any bands that you look at as a sort of ideal for what you are trying to do? What records do you listen to in your spare time?
Ian: Personally, my favorite band in the whole world is the Replacements, strangely enough. I just think the Replacements are great, they're the best thing since sliced bread, really. Paul Westerberg is just a great writer; he writes with such honesty and he writes great songs. I think they're one of the last great rock and roll bands in the world. I really admire them; I like their older records, and I like the newer records. I like the newer, produced major label Replacements probably more or just as much as I liked the old noisy, loud Replacements.