Hoodoo Gurus frontman Dave Faulkner gave STACK the skinny on singing from an “awful” character’s perspective, clothing dark songs in “colourful musical backing” and channeling Lou Reed on sparkling new jewel in their already-outstanding catalogue, Chariot of the Gods.
Words | Bryget Chrisfield
In the presser for Hoodoo Gurus’ first album release in over a decade, Chariot of the Gods, frontman Dave Faulkner enthuses, “I’m tellin’ ya, folks, we’ve got a real spring in our step right now.” And STACK is stoked to confirm that the band has never sounded better.
Don’t freak out about the record’s 14-song tracklisting, either – there are exactly zero stinkers here. Also, Early Opener is “just a little intro”: a sound collage that Faulkner “put together”. While Faulkner plays Come Anytime solo in the background, we hear clinking glasses and general chit-chat as if he’s performing in an adjoining room. “It’s basically taking the p-ss out of the idea that I’m a pub rocker,” Faulkner enlightens. “So I kind of parody that by making myself into a tragic has-been stuck in the corner of some club and no one’s playing attention to me, as I sing one of my old hits. So it’s a little dig at that notion and, you know, maybe it’ll be a self-fulfilling prophecy, who knows?” he adds, laughing.
“My songs are all personal, it’s just that they often come clothed in quite a colourful musical backing, so that people don’t pick up on the dark heart underneath.”
Chariot of the Gods is also the first full-length recording to feature relatively new recruit, drummer Nik Rieth (formerly of The Celibate Rifles), which goes some way towards explaining what Faulkner describes as the band’s “new spirit, new energy” and “creative reboot”.
Rieth had previously played with the Hoodoos, but signed on permanently after previous drummer Mark Kingsmill retired from the band (for the second time). “Once Mark had finally, finally hung up his drumsticks, we gave Nik a serious look and realised in fact he was the right guy for us,” Faulkner says. “And now, of course, the results are what you can hear.”
I Come From Your Future, one of the album’s standout tracks, opens with Rieth’s powerhouse drumming, which sounds as if it could burst right through your speakers and literally knock you out. “That’s Brad [Shepherd, guitarist/singer-songwriter/harmonica player]’s song, I Come From Your Future,” Faulkner tells, “but, you know, in some of my songs, the character that Nik’s drumming brings to it actually changes my writing a little bit, you know? It brings out characters in my writing that are different.”
When the band entered the studio to create what would become this record’s lead single, 2019’s Answered Prayers, Faulkner recalls, “That was like an experiment – to just go make a song and see what it sounds like when we get together, ‘cause it was new. When you work on new material, you can’t predict what’s going to happen when you all get together. And, musically, the way we all communicated and connected on that song… it would obviously bode well for working on more things.”
Like much of the material on Hoodoo Gurus’ tenth studio album, Answered Prayers – which features Faulkner’s sinister, spoken-word delivery, pummelling drums and glistening guitar interplay – benefits from a deeper listen. “[Answered Prayers] was actually a very important song; [it] kind of shaped the whole project, for me,” Faulkner explains. “It’s a very dark song, because it’s basically about someone who is a complete narcissist, controlling their partner and basically humiliating them.”
“I’m feelin’ fickle/ A little Travis Bickle…” – yikes! (For those playing at home, Travis Bickle is Robert De Niro’s paranoid, murderous military veteran character in the classic film, Taxi Driver.) Faulkner says this song’s lyrics “all tumbled out in a rush”. “I virtually wrote them in as long as it would take you to read them,” he explains. “I was a bit shocked, ‘cause I thought, ‘These are very simple words, but when you put them all together they add up to something quite powerful.’ And as a songwriter, I was kind of impressed, actually,” he admits, laughing. “I was shocked by the power and then scared of it, because it was a bit awful: ‘Do I want people to hear this?’ It’s quite a dark subject and not pleasant to listen to. And to be in that world, to see the world through that person’s viewpoint, is awful.”
Just as actors often struggle to shake off a nasty role, Faulkner points out: “As singers and songwriters we do the same thing. [Listeners] think that you are singing your truth, because you appear to be in the moment, and so it must be coming out of you. No: I’m a vehicle for expression, and it’s not always my story; it’s the story of this character.
“When we released Answered Prayers,” he continues, “I did get one comment on Facebook with someone saying, ‘Why are you releasing such a horrible song?’ – meaning the subject; they weren’t saying the song was awful, musically. And I kind of expected more of that, to be honest, ‘cause it is very dark… But this song is meant to warn you against that kind of behaviour.”
When asked who plays didge on the record’s title track, Faulkner reveals, “It’s Charlie McMahon. It’s actually his instrument – he invented it. It’s called didjeribone. It’s a synthetic didgeridoo. He’s made this thing out of tubing and it’s tunable, because it’s a tube within a tube, so he can actually lengthen it or shorten it like a trombone; so he calls it a didjeribone. He obviously does the circular breathing and all that sort of stuff; he’s an accomplished didgeridoo player. The reason for that being on the song was a bit of a musical clue as to what the song’s about, and I don’t know if you picked up on that. I might test you here now…”
We offer that we did get a sense this song is about our country’s dreadful colonial past.
“That’s correct. Bingo! Exactly,” Faulkner commends. “I put a clue in the lyrics where I mention the words Guns, Germs, and Steel, which is [the Jared Diamond] book about the subjugation of Indigenous cultures around the world, and how many people think it’s about innate superiority specific to European culture – that they won this battle of the cultures – when in fact, of course, it’s technology that did it, and also the viruses and diseases that they brought with them, that basically destroyed civilisations. Then that happened in Australia and in North America, Africa – and the song’s about that, basically.
“I’m writing a parable, really, ‘cause the whole thing’s a metaphor. I wanted to put it in a way that people wouldn’t necessarily twig straight away to some of what I’m saying, so that they identify with the storyline and the feelings. I’m trying to paint quite a horrific picture, and hopefully it’s not just like a dumb sci-fi story that’s fun, you know? I want it to be a bit more graphic, and for people to feel the stakes that are involved in the tragedy of this situation.
“And then when they put it together afterwards, going like, ‘Oh, gee, that would feel bad, wouldn’t it? And wouldn’t that be something similar to what aboriginal Australians felt when the big fancy ships turned up on the horizon with this exotic culture and strange weaponry?’ What do you do when you’re faced with annihilation from a superior technologically-equipped invader?”
While creating Chariot of the Gods, Faulkner shares, “As a songwriter, I found things that excited me, that scared me, and made me sort of feel like there’s still some nitro in there that could blow up, you know?” he laughs, before continuing, “Not just a spent force as a songwriter.”
When Faulkner thought to rhyme “ruffles” with “scuffles” during this scribe’s fave track Hang With the Girls – a rollicking, instantly catchy number with an important message – he must’ve felt pretty chuffed, right? “I was,” he admits with a proud chuckle. “I mean, that’s a song that means a lot to me. It’s a bit controversial, that one, and I’ve got to be careful what I say because it could start a conflagration if I’m not careful, or a social media issue. But basically, it’s just talking about gender roles, and how limiting they can be, and how we shouldn’t define people by how they present.
“And, you know, some people might think it’s presenting a certain narrative, but it’s not. It’s presenting an alternative narrative, which is: I’ve made it a bit of a fantasy about two straight people, so it’s not really about queer sexuality, but it’s definitely about identity and role playing and how that is often misconstrued.
“The song was inspired by someone I knew in primary school, who literally was someone who loved hanging with the girls. He was a very good-looking boy and, you know, he even had a natural beauty spot – a little mole that looked like a beauty spot – on his face. He just loved the girls; he was quite gentle. We went to different schools after that and I met him years later, and he was now going through puberty, and he was very popular with the ladies. And I sort of put it down to the fact that he was still very good-looking, so he was very comfortable with women. He didn’t have that boundary of, like, having to learn how to not punch girls on the shoulder and run away, like boys often do when they’re first trying to figure out the boundaries between what being with a boy and being with a girl is. So he’d been past that already, because he just identified with girls as being cool people he wanted to hang with.
“And, you know, years later he was probably a few steps ahead of the competition in terms of dating girls, because he spoke the language. He was really comfortable with them and didn’t have to put on airs and graces about being butch and boyish; he just was himself.”
During Got to Get You Out of My Life, Faulkner channels one of his musical heroes, Lou Reed, and we personally can’t get enough of the following lyrics: “You’re dancing ‘round the truth like a young Fred Astaire/ I declare/ That now I just don’t care” – so good! “That’s an homage,” Faulkner confirms of this debonair closer, “‘cause I love The Velvet Underground, and I love Lou Reed’s solo stuff as well. That was kind of like fan fiction or something, I guess.
“But at the same time, when I do genre songs, it’s not enough that it’s just a genre; it has to be a good song in itself, and it has to feel real when we’re doing it. And the fact that it sounds like that thing you might love kind of adds resonance, rather than just becoming the only thing important about it.
“So for that song, as a songwriter, I also do a bit of what I interpret as being the way Lou Reed sometimes writes. In some of his songs you hear this thing where you can see a rhyme coming a mile away, but he still sings that damn rhyme and it works for you, you know? So I deliberately did that with the rhyming, like, rhyming ‘life’ and ‘wife’ is one of the most obvious rhymes in the singer-songwriter book, and I just ram it in there. I’m going, ‘Here it is, I’m not gonna pretend it’s gonna be a different rhyme; this is the one you’re getting and this is what I wanna say.’ And that, for me, was a very Lou Reed move… So that was fun for me as a writer.”
Although some of the material on Chariot of the Gods navigates harrowing subject matter, the song tempos and instrumentation are typically upbeat, there’s blazing guitar solos and swoon-worthy vocal harmonies – it basically sounds like a party. But delve a little deeper and some awful truths glint menacingly just below the surface. “I like to think of these songs as defiant rather than completely dark; they don’t always tell one story and songs never should,” Faulkner says. “I mean, my songs are all personal, it’s just that they often come clothed in quite a colourful musical backing, so that people don’t pick up on the dark heart underneath there, you know? I mean, 1000 Miles Away is a very lonely song, really.”
Chariot of the Gods by Hoodoo Gurus is out March 11 via Big Time Phonograph/EMI.
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