Nobody's Victim: Taking aim with Dave Faulkner
One of the most important people to come out of Perth's music scene since the 1970s is Dave Faulkner. Whether he’s playing punk, pop or electro music, he's always trying to create something new and exciting. The Hoodoo Gurus’ latest single “Hung Out To Dry” is a perfect example.
Faulkner picks a target in the current US President, someone who has been a punching bag for many people, and sticks it to him in a fresh and personal manner.
As well as the new Gurus single, Faulker's reconstituted former band The Victims had their first release in many moons this year. It was a physical EP featuring recordings of four songs (“Charlie”, “Horror Smash”, “I Wanna Be With You” and “Everynite”) that were written, but never recorded, when the legendary band formed in Perth in the 1970s.
The re-born Victims reunites Dave with original member James Baker and new recruit, the great Ray Ahn of the Hard Ons, who give a slightly modern touch to some classic tunes that were birthed at the dawn of punk rock. Dave spoke to me via Zoom in Sydney where he tells me he is fresh from mastering the next Gurus single.
I-94 Bar: how have you coping in these bizarre times?
Dave: Early on was tough, I’ll be honest. I started to think, 'This is a bit hard'. It was very strange, you know, going for morning exercise when I didn’t want to breathe in someone’s air - almost as if the air was radioactive. But now I’ve settled into a routine. We’re back into being super careful.
When things where relaxed in New South Wales, the Gurus went back into the studio and that’s how I got to make the single. But you know, apart from that, I spend a lot of time wasting time at home, so not that much has changed, sadly. Watching movies and looking up shit on the Internet. But Zoom has helped, I’ve done Friday night drinks with a few mates which has been a big help.
I-94 Bar: I read that your tour of the States has been postponed, but the Gurus just dropped a new single, and The Victims had a EP release a few months back, so it seems you’ve been keeping busy.
Dave: Yeah that was a real shot in the arm for our spirits. You feel like you're treading water. Because the music world has just stopped dead. So being able to do the odd thing online...we did a few songs as the Gurus, and I did a solo gig for Delivered Live. So that broke up the time and getting to rehearse and record was big.
We recorded three singles so we have another release in October, and one more next year. So we’re doing a video for that in two weeks. I’ve been doing press for "Hung Up To Dry" so that’s been good, but I miss playing gigs. Be nice to play the new songs out and about - when we can.
I-94 Bar: You mentioned the new single "Hung Out To Dry", and I caught the video the other day, and the video and song stick it to Trump. How did the idea come about?
Dave: It was my idea. The song is specifically aimed at Donald Trump, not politically, but personally. Basically I hate you (laughs). Which I think is just as good.
It’s obviously - the man is incompetent - so it was just me saying what I think of him. And I didn’t want anyone confusing that with me talking about an ex-lover or whatever, so I made it quite obvious. So I had the idea of a lyric video with the words on the screen. That’s not cheap, so I thought hang on, we could buy Trump mask and me doing a Bob Dylan with the cue cards, and when I brought the mask a Putin mask came up. So we had the Thelma and Louise ending, so it kind of just wrote itself.
I-94 Bar: In the case of Trump so many things have been said about him, he’s been parodied so many times. So when you use him as a target, how do you approach that, to make it new and fresh?
Dave: The main thing was to make it a personal thing. I don’t like songs that take a morally superior position. Yes, it’s an easy target but also you absolve that person because you don’t want to set yourself as a judge. So by me confronting it personally and saying you did this, that makes it a lot more Even Stevens.
Our previous song "Answered Prayers"...not many people picked up on that but it’s a very dark song about a very loathsome character as well, and again it’s about power games. It’s about someone controlling their partner and abusing them, emotionally.
The way I express that is to sing it from the person that’s the abuser. And they really are a nasty character; the things this person says are disgusting. ‘I’ve always cheated and I’m always going to cheat.’ I just thought it took away that safety of distance. It would have been like me throwing stones at a target, whereas when I’m inhabiting that personality and projecting these bad traits, it means it’s far more confronting to the listener.
I think, when you have to actually deal with it, as opposed to saying,'Oh that’s a bad person'. You move into the real world of you having to think about this as if this situation is actually happening to you right here and now. It’s like yelling at Trump in that song; it’s as if I’m yelling at him right here and now, as opposed to just talking about him.
I-94 Bar: That’s a pretty admirable way of going about songwriting: writing a song that confronts the listener and where you have to sit down and think good and hard about the subject.
Dave: It was a very personal song that one, and a bit of a breakthrough. I’ve been writing songs for years and you're always trying to express yourself. I was taken aback at the power of that song. The lyrics poured out of me. I hardly had to re-write. It just came out.
With some of the lyrics, I realised I had to speak the lines. They couldn’t have a melody, so the song was writing itself. Afterwards, I was quite shocked at how powerful it was. I was a bit surprised people didn’t pick up on how horrible it was, as it’s not a good subject. And I would hate for people to think I was endorsing that kind of subject or that kind of person. I could imagine a lot of women would find that song uncomfortable for that reason. Because it is an insight into someone that causes damage and is damaging to be around.
I-94 Bar: Now you were very much influenced by punk and I know the Sex Pistols where a big influence on you…..
Dave: More the Ramones. I love the Pistols, but the Ramones are still one of my favorite bands.
I-94 Bar: So being influenced by punk, what issues piss you off to the point where you feel the need to pick up a guitar and write some words down?
Dave: Well, not many. I don’t generally think like that. The thing about songwriting is that I don’t start with a lyric idea or a subject, I start with the music. There’s always something in the back of your head, and that finds a way of getting out when you write a song. But when you start, you don’t know that’s going to come out in the song.
I don’t pick up the paper and think that would make a good song. So it doesn’t work that way with me, it even takes me by surprise where I go with a song and what it’s about, as the theme evolves - almost in spite of me.
Ray Ahn, Dave Faulkner and James Baker.
I-94 Bar: How has it been playing in the Victims again and also recording songs that you wrote 40 plus years ago?
Dave: Fantastic. The thing I appreciate firstly is James drumming a lot more, as time goes by. I know he’s great, but I’m more aware of how hard it is to do what he does. Having tried to record drums many times, I think he makes it seems easier than it looks.
For me, the biggest lesson ever is, when the Gurus broke up for six years, back in 1998, I was still writing songs and rehearsing with different people, and that wasn’t working so well. The songs were good, but it didn’t sound good. There was no magic with the people I was working with. And I even had Brad on guitar, but it just wasn’t happening.
At the same time, I was working on an album with Kim Salmon called "Antenna", with Stew McCarthy and Justin Frew from a band called Southend who were an electronic outfit. We spent a year making this record from scratch, putting beat loops together and writing chords. And halfway through, something strange happened; it seemed we didn’t need to discuss what we had to do for a song. When someone had a suggestion we knew if it was a good or bad idea, we didn’t need to think about it. It was like the band itself was self-sorting; and it felt like we were members and the band was directing us.
And that was a surprise to me as I was in the Gurus for so long and didn’t realise it was happening there. I was in the band for so long I didn’t have time to step out of it and figure that out. And four years after we broke up we were asked to headline "Homebake". And our first rehearsal - it was like, it wasn’t like four people together playing a song that we know, it was a band, a living breathing band and just as alive and vital as it's always been. It was like I left it in the garage for four years and it ran perfectly fine.
That was a real shock seeing that energy there that was lacking in the new people I was jamming with, I just couldn’t figure out what was wrong. So that certain magic was true with Ray and James. Getting, and not having, )original member) Dave Cardwell on bass could have been an issue, but Ray is so amazing. He’s a great bass player, but not a technical player. Like not over-playing. He gets it. He’s a punk bass player. He was a fan when he was a teenager, so he gets it.
When James suggested Ray it was a no brainer. So we started playing, a few reunion shows. But we did two shows in Perth two years ago, and it felt like as good as any show we’ve ever done. It felt like the Victims - not a make believe Victims, or the Victims 40 years later. This is the Victims.
And it was a gamble as we knew those records are legendary; the magic of that time...you can’t repeat that. At the same time I knew it was possible, and if it’s right it works. And people told me they were shocked. Some people try and relive past glories and are a pale shadow of what it used to be, but people said it sounded like the Victims, and that’s a win.
I-94 Bar: Well the songs certainly stand up today, and a song like "Television Addict" is even more relevant today with what streaming culture has become. I saw you guys at the Tote in Melbourne when you played as the Television Addicts and it sounded great, the songs and the band all just clicked perfectly.
Dave: We were good then but I think we were a lot better in Perth. It can take a while. I don’t think we’ve played a bad gig, as the Television Addicts or the Victims, but those two in Perth - it felt like time and space disappeared and the essence of the band was right there. And those two gigs, we had support from the Peep Temple, who I love. They were offered the support because they’re fans. Blake is a great guitarist and front man, one of the best songwriters around.
Some of those Victims songs are pretty quant in some ways - they're of their time. But fuck it. The thing about the Victims songs was that they were never really about the lyrics. The lyrics were funny and fun and corny but it was more about the spirit of what we were trying to do. That was the key as to why we were good. Some of the lyrics I’m a bit embarrassed about. I sing them and say, 'Excuse me, sorry about this'.
There’s one where it’s about when Elvis dies in '77 and gloating over that. It’s corny but a good song so we play it. What the band was trying to do it still stands up, so that’s why we play it.
Bruce Baker photo.
I-94 Bar: You mentioned you preferred the Ramones over the Pistols, and I can certainly see more of the Ramones influence then the Pistols in The Victims.
Dave: Yeah, the Pistols, as well, I love. It was such an exciting time. I was a teenager when punk started. I was 17 when I heard about CBGBs and for us it was like, no one has heard this, playing a buzz-saw guitar. It was revolutionary and it was my music in my time. I couldn’t think of anything else, so I was bonded to it.
I love the Pistols, but over the years they have faded a bit for me, whereas the Ramones are still classic to me. They're still far and above the best. Of the English bands, I like the Buzzcocks the best. That’s because I like pop music and melody, and Buzzcocks had that in spades. In a way, the Ramones transcended punk they are just a classic rock band, and the fact they were punk is important to the story.
I-94 Bar: James Baker came up with the term "Perth is a Culture Shock". I’ve spoken to people in Melbourne who where around at the birth of punk and they say the thing they were fighting most was boredom. Australia, at the time, was quite separated from the world but Perth was even more separated from the rest of Oz. So how did you discover all the bands? Was it mainly record shops?
Dave: Record shops, they sold the English music press. James Baker read (US magazines) Creem and Rock Scene and that’s how he heard about it. He actually travelled to America in 1976 and then to the UK; he saw the Pistols at the 100 Club, so he was on the spot, and he was there when it started. He came back to Perth. I always described it as Marco Polo telling us tales of the exotic world outside. Sid Vicious brought him a beer, he auditioned for the Clash. I mean, these are true stories.
For the rest of us we were reading the NME, Sounds and Melody Maker, and I think it was in Melody Maker there was a report from New York and that’s when we heard of CBGBs and punk rock, this was in 1975. And we tried to imagine what it sounded like, songs about beating on the brat with a baseball bat and buzz sore guitar and really aggressive sound and we couldn’t figure it out.
Then, the first record (I heard) that came out was "Live from CBGB", the double LP, and no one really talks about that anymore. This was 1976, and we listened to it and it didn’t have any of the main groups. Didn’t have Television or Talking Heads or Blondie, not even the Ramones. And we thought its alternative but it didn’t sound like what we thought punk sounded like.
And it wasn’t until that "Ramones" album came out, later that year, that’s when we went, 'That’s what we’re talking about. This is what it’s meant to be'. And in fact, personally, at first listen, it wasn’t what I was expecting, I didn’t think it was going to be so poppy, and the Beach Boys melodies. I thought it was wrong, I thought it was going to be more angrier, and aggressive, more hostile. Instead, it was more upbeat and fun.
It wasn’t until I heard the Pistols later that I thought, This is what punk rock should sound like to me', with the descriptions about being angry and destroying stuff. With the Ramones on the first few listens, I thought, 'This is not what I thought punk sounds like', and then it clicked, I didn’t know what it was but it’s perfect.
So it was all about reading about it, then getting the imports in. You know, six weeks in a crate. With all the boxes of other stuff, trying to find the gold while flicking through the ELO records. The Damned was another cool record, and that was the first album that came out after the Ramones.
I-94 Bar: I read the Kim Salmon book recently, and he mentioned a band you and him were in, in the mid 70s called Moulin Rouge with him before you were in the Victims and before he formed the Scientists.
Dave: Kim’s made more of that then what it was, it was only a jam band. It was kind of a nothing thing, but I did play in the Cheap Nasty’s. I was playing keyboard, I hadn’t learned guitar, this is 1976. We started playing songs off the "Live from CBGB" record. We hadn’t heard the Ramones record yet.
I went to a party. I was in the dramatic society, and the party had these people that today you’d call yuppies, who considered themselves quite alternative. And their favourite LP was the "Rocky Horror Show" soundtrack - this was before the movie when it was just a stage show.
So we went to this party, as it’s something to do on a Friday night in Perth, and we had the Ramones record in the car, so they played the Rocky Horror soundtrack, and they all started singing and dancing to the "Time Warp", and I wanted to vomit. So we play the Ramones LP and they started getting into it, and it fucked me up. Because I was hoping they’d hate it, and it pissed me off that they liked it. So I quit the Cheap Nasty’s then, as I thought if these people like punk rock I don’t so I quit, it’s not punk enough for me.
I don’t know what it says in the book, but in the Scientists box set liner notes, Kim wrote that episode as if I liked the Rocky Horror show, and I thought, 'How dare you?' (laughs)
I-94 Bar: Well, something Kim mentioned in the book that I was hoping you could tell us a bit more about was your living quarters at the time, which I believe were called Victim Manor.
Dave: It wasn’t a squat as such but we didn’t pay rent. We where burning the fence post for our fireplace. We had a room full of junk, and you wouldn’t go in there because it was scary and smelled. It was our home, we rehearsed there we played gigs there. It was like what the Saints had in Brisbane. It was in a semi industrial part of town, it’s now a fancy part of town. So it meant no one was there after 5pm. So we had the place to ourselves, and we could make as much noise as we wanted as there was no one to hear us. We smashed bottles on the road and there was no one to complain. We had total freedom.
It was a focus of the scene but our main headquarters was in Hernando’s Hideaway. James found it when he was wondering through town, it was about a kilometre from Victim Manor. It was a restaurant above this bank. We played one night a week, we kept the door, and stayed a venue for a while, it kept going, and that was our punk headquarters.
I-94 Bar: When you moved from Perth to Sydney, was it like, 'Well Perth’s been fun now it’s time for a new adventure' or did the move feel inevitable? Also, did you consider moving to Melbourne?
Dave: I mentioned before how James went traveling. He was gone for a year. He was a few years older than me. You mentioned how people in Melbourne where bored. Perth was the same. We hated that we were isolated, one of the most isolated places in the western world. You know, Bali is closer to Perth than Melbourne or Sydney. And the desert in between makes it hard to get across. So we hated we were in this heathen place and people where indifferent, if not hostile, to what we were about.
That’s why James came up with "Perth is a Culture Shock". He’d seen the world. And then coming back to Perth - and it was a culture shock. So the whole thing was get the hell out of Perth.
Before the Victims broke up I got a job because I wanted to travel. And I was working for Telecom in the public service; in fact the back cover of the Victims EP is me after a day of work. I dressed really daggy I didn’t give a fuck - I just wanted the money. And there’s another photo from the same session; I did this thing that was a pointless protest where I would grow a beard and then when it started to look respectable I would shave it off. It was a passive aggressive protest against the life I was leading.
So in '78 I was asked to join a silly covers band, which was strange '60s songs, and it clicked, and we made a lot of money very fast. In three months I saved a few thousand dollars, and also there was a price war between the airlines, which had never happened before, so I got a return trip to London for $800. So I went to London for six weeks, then the US for eight months - five in New York then the rest traveling round the States. So I went back to London, then I ran out of money and asked my parents if they could pay for a ticket home. I came back to Perth in late '79, and I joined the Manikins - which was a band that evolved out of the Cheap Nasty’s.
They had already toured Melbourne and Sydney, which they did off the back of a single. They were planning on going back in March, and because I just joined, Neil (the main guy) said, 'Well, we can’t go now'. He was at university so we toured when he was on semester break. He said. 'You just joined and we haven’t worked you in properly, so we’ll go in three months time'. When his break came up he said.'We’re not ready yet, let’s wait another three months'. So when he did it a third time, after nine months, I said. 'I have to go'. I did this to get out of Perth. 'I’ve been to New York and I don’t think I can live here'.
So it was either Melbourne or Sydney, because I knew the music industry was in either place. And it was also a lifestyle choice. I wanted to be in a bigger city. I didn’t see me living in a small town. And I got lots of family in Melbourne, so I choose Sydney (laughs). So that was end of 1980 and the Gurus formed three months later.
I-94 Bar: I saw the Swedish hardcore band Refused back in 2012, and the singer, in-between songs, mentioned how they all love Australian music, and one of the bands he mentioned was The Victims. Are you amazed at how much love this band gets considering you only had an EP and single out when you were together?
Dave: it’s amazing how the Victims reputation has progressed. After the Saints and Birdman, we’re kind of in the next level that people talk about. Those records have cast a legacy and been covered quite a bit. When I was in New York in 1979, I walked into a famous record shop called Bleeker Bob's, on Bleker Street. The owner was a fairly eccentric character, kind of like the Soup Nazi, and not a man to be trifled with and had no patience for his customers.
I got James to send me some copies of "Television Addict". I picked it up from the post office, and I walked into the shop, and I was into '60s punk, and he saw this bundle of the singles that I had on me, and he wanted to know what it was. And I told him it was a band I was in. So he put it on, and after 30 seconds he said, 'I’ll take a dozen'. So he was the first person in the States to hear the Victims and he liked it straightaway. I’m sure that would be part of how the band got known, because it was a legendary store.
The song has been bootlegged, referenced so many times, and we were a bunch of know nothings just trying to stave off the boredom and pretend that we were living somewhere else.
I-94 Bar: Now the Gurus where inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 2007, and I remember you did an interview at the time saying it was a nice honour, but you mentioned some bands that you thought deserved to be in before you guys, such as Mental as Anything and the Hard Ons…...
Dave: Not so much before us but I wanted to see them in there. Chad Morgan is the biggest oversight. It’s crazy, Smokey Dawson is in, but no Chad. Chad wrote songs as well as performed them. "I’m My Own Grandpa" was covered by a famous American country artists. I think because his songs are comical his songs don’t get the respect they deserve, because he’s a brilliant songwriter. So it’s a disgrace he isn’t in.
It’s a disgrace the Hard Ons aren’t in. People talk about Men at Work and what they did for Australian music, but the Hard ons did just as much. They did what they did in the underground; what Men at Work did in the over ground. But the Hard Ons legacy is more persistent. Those bonds and reputation and connections they made, are still there. While Men at Work was a flash in the pan success, and while no one repeated it, it was big but only a lucky thing and it didn’t change the music industry in Australia. The Hard Ons forged connections that strengthen Oz music connection overseas since then.
I-94 Bar: With that said, did getting the nod mean anything to you?
Dave: At the time I’ll say No. We had never been nominated for an ARIA, you guys never knew which way is up in my opinion. Luckily, I was persuaded from that because the other guys said our families would appreciate this. So when i got up and standing with those three other guys, and with Clyde (Bramley) in the audience, James and Rod (Ray'da) couldn’t come, was great. But they all got an award, which we had to insist on.
For example, when AC/DC was inducted, not everyone got an award. So we said we’re not acccepting unless we all get one. But when I got up to make our speech, it was quite moving, as it was the first time to breathe it in and think, 'Well, we have done this for a while and we have done something'. It was a chance to take stock - which you never get to do. You spend so much time playing, you never get to look back at what you’ve achieved. So I was quite moved. Not so much because it was a great honour from ARIA. It was more I was moved looking back at the band thinking, 'Hey we did something the four of us'.
I-94 Bar: For years the National Rugby League had "What’s My Team" as the theme song for the game. Are you a fan of the game?
Dave: More at that time, than I am now. I’ve kind of gone off sport. We were on tour a lot, and sport was a way of digressing in the middle of a tour. And you’d have a baseball game on, and it had no impact on my life so was a release - which it is for most people. It takes them to another place away from their problems.
So that’s what I was to me, but in later years I got annoyed about the refereeing, where the umpires would get a result where they could manipulate, and for the franchising for the business and the entertainment value, when free kicks would be given. Like in AFL, 50 percent of the time, they could reverse most free kicks, and a legitimate reason to reverse. Like instead of push in the back it's holding the ball. And it seemed like they were doing it to favour one team at certain points:. 'Lets let the home team win or let them back in the contest', and that’s disgusting to me. That’s not sport.
And also because I’m not touring or away from home as much, so I can think about other things. Music, painting and art, they don’t get enough attention in our society, and I think we should focus on these things, they need more support then fucking sport.
I-94 Bar: Yeah, I love my footy, but in these lockdown times I’ve been reading and listening to music mostly, and while I’ve enjoyed having footy, it’s the arts that has mainly got me through this, and there should be more focus on the arts from the government then sport.
Dave: Yeah, I don’t begrudge people liking sport. I was obsessed at one stage. I get it. People are obsessed with soap operas I was obsessed with soap operas at one point, when I was in New York. I understood how it worked, and then I thought, 'OK I’ve done that now'. I feel that way with sport.
*Matt Ryan is th Melbourne-based editor of Munster Times zine.