Interview with Phil Jamieson of Grinspoon
Grinspoon have curated a 20th Anniversary edition of Guide To Better Living, expanding the original 16-track album to a mammoth 49 track feast of rarities, live tracks and unreleased recordings. The album also appears on vinyl for the very first time in the form of a limited edition red vinyl pressing. Amidst a mammoth national tour, frontman Phil Jamieson spoke to Amnplify’s Karen Lowe.
Karen: When you guys first won Triple J Unearthed, did you ever think that you would become as big as you did?
Phil: Short answer no. I don’t think anyone does really. I didn’t really know what Triple J even was as I was from the country. Triple J started rolling out nationally in 1994 and it hadn’t come to the place I lived in or at least might have only been there for six months.
I was aware of it because of Nirvana but because I was from regional Australia, we didn’t have Triple J growing up. When we won the competition, I didn’t really know what that meant and to be fair, Triple J didn’t really know what Unearthed really was either because we were the first ones so they were like, “We are gonna do this and see how it goes.”
On the way, they found Missy Higgins, Killing Heidi and us, first obviously but it became a huge thing as Unearthed is massive now but we didn’t know what it was and they didn’t know what it was but you never envisage something like this to happen no.
Do you think you would do as well now if you were just starting out?
I don’t know. I really don’t know. I have absolutely no idea if we would do as well now.
The music industry would have changed dramatically from when you first started. What are the main changes that you have seen?
So we entered Triple J Unearthed with a cassette demo and I don’t see that many cassette players around any more. When we did our first recording, we recorded to tape and whilst tape is still used occasionally, Pro-Tools and Digital Editing have become massive in just the way things are recorded.
So they’re the real big things about how we would record and I guess the consumption of music has changed the most as well. Like streaming and even the way we listen to music.
While bands have come and go, the main staples from the 90’s are still around (Regugitator, The Living End, Shihad and Spiderbait). Why do you think you guys have all lasted where so many have faded away?
I think there were a lot of bands from the 90s that have faded away. Some of those that come to mind are The Test Eagles, Vinnie’s Dad; just to name two that were there. Because we’re still around, well, we took a big break but I know the Gurge still tour, they’re awesome and I just went and saw The Living End a few weeks ago; Shihad are playing soon at Cherry Rock and Spiderbait just did the Ivy and The Big Apples tour.
I think just because we are still around, I do believe that there were at least 100 bands that have faded away but we’re still here. I guess with Grinspoon, we are all still the original members that started the band in 1995 and I think that helps in a lot of ways.
There were a lot of our contemporaries that changed members, broke up along the way (which is a shame) but it’s because they’re not here any more that we don’t know about them.
With the tour for Guide to Better Living about to commence, which is your favourite Grinspoon album and why?
Oooh gosh! I don’t really listen to them! I can tell you my favourite Bronx album, two of my favourite Rolling Stones album but yeah, I haven’t listened to Guide to Better Living for, I guess maybe, 20 years so when this came out, I’m like OK because we were originally just gonna do a CD and a vinyl as we have never done a vinyl.
This was in the process that we started thinking about two years ago about just doing a CD and vinyl release and I’m like, cool cool cool. Gotta start thinking about live outtakes and B sides and whatever and we will gather them all together, do some art packaging and write some stuff down with old photos, have all the lyrics posted etc and then our manager was like “what about a tour?”
I’m like, “oh God tour? I don’t even know where my guitar is! Where is everything? Where are my pedals? What am I gonna wear? What am I gonna wear on tour??”
So anyway, this all came out and I’m like, alright, OK, let’s do this tour and then yeah. It’s a bit of a monster really, to be honest.
I could tell you what you could wear; a throwback to the 90s – those sunglasses that you used to wear on stage
Yes, well that was mainly at festivals because it was sunny and I was really stoned. Really stoned. Back in the days that I smoked so much weed, whatever and also I was a massive Lou Reed fan growing up and he always wore these massive sunglasses and sometimes a little bit of lipstick on so yeah I can see it when I look back at watching those Recovery performances or those outdoor festivals who I was trying to imitate but our music sounded nothing like The Velvet Underground or Lou Reed – I just loved his aesthetic and just how cool he was.
I don’t know whether I can go the big sunnies indoors maybe, but I have been thinking about it, the whole show, the whole gig from the opening band; to what gets played in-between the bands; to what the stage is gonna look like; to what everyone wears. I’m gonna be very, very strict on the band this time (laughs) they will take direction!
There’s so much thought that is going into these shows, right down to Hockey Dad and the openers and we hope people come along and have a good time.
Why did you guys stop playing Sickfest?
Why did we stop playing it? Well, it’s the same with any of our songs. Why did we stop playing? Dcx3 didn’t get played for a decade, for example. We stopped playing Don’t Go Away. You just stop playing songs after awhile. We released seven albums, playing live, you’ve got to prioritize certain songs, certain records and it became quite a thing where we would put a song back in. I believe we did play it on a tour maybe about, 5/6 years ago and it would just come in and out of a set occasionally. It’s also really hard!
It’s a really hard, really technical, musically it’s really technical and just singing, it’s really hard too so there’s a bit of that too.
This actual tour, this record, it’s a really intense record so we have to get our straps, our singing and playing boots on, definitely.
Do you have any horror stories from when you are on tour? Either Grinners days or solo?
I was playing a solo show in Brisbane recently, maybe March or January at The Great Australian Bite. It’s an outdoor food and wine festival. Dan Kelly was on it and I was on it and it was awesome. I was playing and there were all these kids there as it’s a family outing and my Jack London trousers split! I lent over and they split from the crutchal region right up to the top of the bottom area and I don’t usually rock underwear while on stage.
So I’m facing the stage and no one knows about them as of yet but I’m holding my legs really close together coz there’s like, 6 year olds in front of me and their parents are there and I think I was doing an acoustic version of Just Ace at the time – it was right at the end so I am singing away and it was a really good show and I had to waddle off stage, facing them the whole way. I was waving, saying thank you, thank you and I had my legs, really closely together so as not to expose myself or get arrested because it’s Brisbane! You never know what’s gonna happen up there! It’s Queensland for crying out loud. I could get thrown in jail for indecent exposure so that was a little horror story recently. It’s quite funny as well.
There was another incident where I just finished a musical, funnily enough, in Brisbane again, which had a lot to do with me not wearing a lot of clothing either but that’s a story for another time.
What does the future hold for Grinspoon?
Well, we are in pre-productions, or rehearsals, for a better term and making sure we’re sounding good. Getting our outfits ready and then the shows. I’m gonna be going up to Byron Bay as Patrick, our guitarist, wants me to do some writing with him so I’m like, OK! Let’s see how that goes so I’m gonna go up there and see him as he has a new studio in Byron.
We haven’t written together for over five years so that will be interesting to see how that goes and then obviously this tour and that ends now, on 23 September. I said to Greg, our manager, please, oh please don’t add any more shows! I’ll be SO exhausted at the end.
We’ve had such a good response which has been flattering so we had to add extra shows here and there which is lovely.
I spoke to Phil Knight from Shihad and we were discussing a potential show with them, Grinners, Gurge, Spiderbait and TLE. Can we please make this happen?
Well, we can’t but they can. I am but a small cog in the Grinspoon machine and Phil Knight is a but small cog in the Shihad machine but yeah, I’m all for it! It’s just a matter of the Gurge Machine, The Living End Machine, the Spiderbait machine, the Shihad machine and the Grinspoon machine…can we get Magic Dirt on there too, that’d be good! And You Am I maybe as well, maybe Tumbleweed and The Cruel Sea could reform. Yeah I’m just throwing a bunch out there but I’d love it!
Can we get Something for Kate there as well and look, I’d love to just go and WATCH that show coz I love all those bands and it’s a nostalgic thing the 90s music which is why I guess this tour has been received so well.
We have to throw this idea out into the world and see if we can get it happening!
Awesome! I love the idea.
If you couldn’t be a musician any more, what career would you choose?
Career. It’s funny the word career isn’t it. I never think about career because music wasn’t a career as such. I wrote some songs and it became a monetary thing but I never looked at it as a career. It was just what I did.
I would have worked, back in the day, coz I loved (and still do) films so I would have worked in Blockbuster renting out DVDs. That would have been my dream job, watching movies all day or it would have been in something to do with film and I just love that medium.
So yeah, career is weird but just that word is weird so I don’t know.