Words/Interview by Natalie Blacklock
From humble beginnings in Brisbane’s west, following his family’s migration to Australia in the 1960s, Ed Kuepper truly epitomises many great elements of punk in Australian music. Since the formation of garage band, Kid Galahad and The Eternals in 1973, with High School classmates Chris Bailey and Ivor Hay, Kuepper was quickly propelled on a pathway to an illustrious career in music, both here and overseas. With an impressive legacy of bands including Brisbane punk icons The Saints, Laughing Clowns and more recently The Aints!, as well as work on the soundtrack for 2015 Australian film drama Last Cab To Darwin under his belt, Ed Kuepper has undeniably cemented his name as a multi-talented musical tour-de-force from whom we could all learn a thing or two.
Kuepper has been in the ‘biz’ for the long haul and is showing no signs of slowing down – and has just announced he’s heading out on tour with Jim White from Dirty Three through May, June and July, where they will together tackle Kuepper’s extensive back-catalogue of hits, spanning his 45+ year career.
Unsurprisingly, as a proud Brisbanite and a punk fangirl at heart, I couldn’t pass this opportunity up, so I *digitally* caught up with the man himself, Ed Kuepper, to talk about the upcoming tour and a whole lot more.
It comes as no surprise that you’ve led one hell of a career! Was a career in music always the plan? If you weren’t doing music, where do you think you’d be?
Ever since I first heard The Beatles and The Easybeats when I was a kid in primary school I wanted to have a band and play music. I never considered anything else really, I had no idea how to go about it but my mind was made up at about 8 years old.
Let’s take a step back to the ‘start’ of your musical journey. The Saints were one of the first ‘local’ bands I discovered with the help of my Dad. By the time The Saints released (I’m) Stranded in September 1976, you’d become the first “punk” band outside the US to release a record, ahead of better-known acts including The Sex Pistols and The Clash, making The Saints one of the first and most influential groups of the genre. At the time, did you think the song would blow up the way it did or that it would garner you and the band that kind of reputation?
I don’t think any of us knew how the record would be received, obviously we were really happy with it and it was great when the reviews started coming in – especially the really over the top ones from the UK and US. The first couple of Australian ones were either poor or mediocre, but even those were a laugh to get. By the time we recorded the single, (I’m) Stranded), we’d already been going for about three years and I thought we had to do something that could get a bit of attention outside of Brisbane.
That time in history, under the reign of Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, was certainly an interesting part of Queensland’s history, particularly for someone who didn’t live through it. What affect did Queensland’s political landscape have on you and other artists at the time? Do you think those affects still have an influence on your music today?
I didn’t really know any other artists outside of the other members of my band. There really wasn’t anyone that was doing anything interesting locally that I was aware of, apart from The Saints of course. We just knew we’d have to get out of the place if we wanted to get anything done, which is what we did shortly after we released the record.
Following on from The Saints, Laughing Clowns emerged and took your music in a different direction, with a jazzier and more experimental tone than The Saints. What spurred on this shift from the punk influences of The Saints?
The thing to remember with The Saints is that we developed our sound without the influence of punk, especially because it didn’t really exist when we started. The other thing to note is that the band’s first album was really a closing point for the band…it was a summation of what we’d been playing in garages and halls around the suburbs of Brisbane for the previous three years. I think we nailed it on that first record and I didn’t see much point in repeating it, there was too much else I wanted to do. As soon as we left town things started to change fairly rapidly as far as my writing went, and I think you can start to see a hint of where I was heading with The Saints’ second and third albums…especially ‘Prehistoric Sounds’.
More recently, The Aints! have come back on the radar – not only making music in their own right but also recapturing the energy of The Saints in the late 1970s – which I certainly feel was a success when I saw the band in 2017. How does it feel playing those songs to a whole new generation?
My intention with The Aints! was to introduce the songs we recorded on our album ‘The Church of Simultaneous Existence’ – these were songs I’d written back in the day for the original Saints that hadn’t been recorded. Mixing these ”new” old tunes with songs that people knew from the first three Saints albums was great, I think people responded fantastically, especially given it was a slightly unusual thing to do.
Sonically, stylistically and / or thematically, who have been some of your biggest influences as an artist through your career?
Mostly stuff that I heard and loved when I was growing up and before I started recording myself. There comes a time when you have to draw from within and ignore outside influences.
With an ever-growing back catalogue of tracks behind you, which track/s do you most enjoy playing live and why?
These days, I tend to gravitate towards songs that lend themselves to different ways of being played…keeps them fresh for myself and hopefully the audience.
A lot of artists have long careers, but I can’t think of many who are so prolific in releasing new and original material. Is it something you challenge yourself to do, or something you couldn’t stop even if you wanted to?
No it’s always work to write new material, sometimes it comes a bit easier than other times but it never happens by itself, not for me anyway.
Tell us a little bit about what goes on behind the scenes when it comes to your music. Does the band have a go-to spot for recording? Who do you work with on mixing and mastering?
Not these days no…
In your 40+ years of touring, how has the process of touring changed for bands?
The hotels are a lot better these days.
Speaking of live shows, life on tour can be pretty crazy for many artists and bands. What does touring look like for you these days? Can you recall any memorable / infamous tour stories?
I’m a firm adherent to the old showbiz adage “what goes on the road, stays on the road”.
I remember the first time I saw you live was back in 2014 at Brisbane’s Rockinghorse Records for Record Store Day. Do you think that events like Record Store Day can survive in an ever-digitising landscape of music?
Hopefully! I like the idea of the neighbourhood ‘bricks and mortar’ or in the case of Queensland, ‘timber and tin’ style stores. But it’s really up to people to support them though if they want to have them.
In the last year, border restrictions and COVID lockdowns have become the new normal. In the current climate of ‘staying at home’, what are your Top 5 “go-to” records that you’ve been spinning a lot lately?
I haven’t been listening to much recently because I’ve been preparing for the tour but last year, I listened to some of the first LPs I bought as a teenager. Records I hadn’t played for years and in some cases decades – The Beatles’ first album, Free‘s ‘Fire and Water’, Emmylou Harris’ ‘Wrecking Ball’, some blues stuff like Jimmy Reed, Elmore James and John Coltrane‘s ‘Ole’… though that last one I listen to a fair bit anyway.
You’ve just announced a tour with Jim White (Dirty Three). How did this partnership come about?
It was pretty easily actually. I called him up and asked him if he was interested in doing a few shows when enough venues were open again. He said ”sure” so things kind of went from there.
The upcoming tour is taking most capital cities and a handful of regional hubs across the country and is set to be a cracker. What are you most excited about for this tour? What should audiences expect?
The way things are developing at the moment I think each show is going to be a bit different from the last. We haven’t done much rehearsal as yet but what we have done clicked immediately and I think we’re going to be pushing the boundaries of the songs a fair bit. But as far as what audiences should expect? Hard to say but drama, warmth, charm and sex appeal and that’s just the road crew!
Ed Kuepper is headed out on tour with Jim White from Dirty Three through May, June and July, tackling 45+ years’ worth of Kuepper’s back-catalogue and the Good Call Live team are pretty damn excited. We’re not sure about you, but we can’t wait to get out and catch this pair in action – and believe us, you don’t want to miss this! All shows on-sale now via edkuepper.com
Connect with Ed Kuepper
With thanks to Dave Laing Publicity