Author: Steve Morse
Mention Australian music and several distinct sounds jump to mind: the dance-rock of INXS, the political punch of Midnight Oil, the ear-shattering metal of AC/DC, and the Top 40 pop of the Bee Gees, Men at Work, Olivia Newton-John, and the Little River Band. The country has also produced such diverse talents as Paul Kelly, Kylie Minogue, the Saints, the Go-Betweens, Hunters & Collectors, and Angel City.
That’s a wide swath of music, but the latest exports from down under have something more in common: They rock. And they rock with an intensity that is bringing their homeland a new respect, from the garage-punk of the Vines and the reckless abandon of Jet to the rockabilly edge of the Living End and the power-pop of Neon.
All those acts are on the much-awaited “Aussie Rock” tour which plays the Avalon on Friday.
“They’re packaging us in an Australian flag and sending us over,” says Chris Cheney, singer with Melbourne band the Living End. “But we’re coming there for rock ‘n’ roll, not patriotism.”
“There was quite a long period when almost no Australian bands made it overseas. That was called the ’90s,” says Patrick Matthews of the Vines. “But now a lot of bands are coming over.”
The garage-rock revival that started with stateside bands such as the Strokes and the White Stripes has spread globally as record labels seek to ride the wave.
“You could say we cashed in on the Strokes’ and White Stripes’ success, or you could say we had a good record and played a lot of shows,” the Vines’ Matthews says with a laugh.
“It seems to go in cycles with Australian rock,” says Oedipus, program director of Boston station WBCN-FM (104.1). “You don’t hear about it for a while, then you suddenly have all these bands.” Asked to explain their newfound popularity, he says, “For the most part they rock – and we’re now in a rock mode. People are loving straight-ahead guitars again.”
Oedipus calls AC/DC the “definitive Australian band the group’s core was Australian, though it added a couple of English members) and adds that “guitar rock” has been associated with the country ever since.
The English-rock influence, however, shouldn’t be underestimated. Jet took its name from a song by Paul McCartney’s Wings, the Living End loves Elvis Costello and Paul Weller, and the Vines cite their biggest influences as the Beatles and the Kinks, as well as British bands Blur and Suede.
The influences are apparent on the new Vines CD, “Winning Days,” which comes out March 23. The band first album, the million-selling “Highly Evolved,” is more primal than the new disc, which still has a street-rock core but is enhanced by new forays into dream-pop and psychedelia. “Winning” shows impressive growth and is one of the finest records of the year. It was made at Bearsville Studios near Woodstock, NY, with producer Rob Schnapf, who has worked with Beck, Guided by Voices, and Eliott Smith.
The Vines may be the flagship band of the new Aussie wave, but Jet has recently bounced in with a raw excitement that can’t be denied. Jet’s stateside debut album, “Get Born,” has spawned a massive radio hit, “Are You Gonna Be My Girl,” which received a boost in an iPod commercial. Band member Mark Wilson declares, “We’re about party music like the Faces and the Stones. We’re lighthearted, rather than being negative about the world.”
Like many Aussie bands, Jet was not groomed for success. Bassist Wilson moved refrigerators for a living before rock beckoned, and singer Nic Cester was a forklift operator.
“We just play honest rock,” says Wilson. “It’s not about how cool you seem or what clothes you wear or which celebrity girlfriend you have. But you look at the history of Australian rock-back to AC/DC and the Easybeats – and every one of them can play. It’s not about looking cool in the eyes of the media.”
Maybe that explains why Jet didn’t heed the call to come to the United States to audition for American labels. “We made them all come to Australia. We’re pretty cheeky that way,” he says “We had 11 record company guys all standing around in this dingy bar in Sydney. That was two years ago, but it feels like yesterday.
The “Aussie Rock” tour was assembled by the Australian management team of Winterman & Goldstein, which handles the Vines and Jet. “Our stories are similar,” says Matthews of the Vines. “We’re both from the suburbs – Jet is from the suburbs of Melbourne, and we’re from the suburbs of Sydney – and we both sent demos in to the managers. Then Jet supported us on a show in Melbourne and we’ve since run into them in New York and Los Angeles. It will also be fun to play with the Living End and Neon, which is a kind of power-pop band that sounds like Cheap Trick and Tom Petty crossed with Nirvana.” (Neon has a forthcoming album on FMI)
These new bands came out of a touring tradition, hitting the club circuit hard before getting signed. Jet’s Wilson again brings up AC/DC, citing the band as a formative role model in that regard.
“AC/DC was like a machine that just rolled into town,” he says. “And we’ve been doing it that way, too. We have been on tour nonstop for a year and a half. We believe that you have to get in there and work.”
“Together, we’re going to wear people out onstage,” Wilson says of the tour. “And we hope that a lot of kids who come see us will let go of their inhibitions.”