Blast From the Past: Ooga Boogas
It would be too easy to compare the simple yet melodic rock of the Ooga Boogas to that of a blunt blow of a Caveman’s club—or its modern day equivalent—a meth-head’s steering wheel lock, but the truth is their steady drum snare and guitar does eek out a loose primal feel. With a rich pedigree in the Melbourne garage rock scene—The Sailors, The Onyas, and current knockouts, Eddy Current Suppression Ring—The Oogas aren’t here to win you over with new sounds. They describe their debut album Romance and Adventure, released on their own Aarght! label, as a “rollicking concept album filled to the brim with tales of gash and hijinks.”
It’s true. The album is good, especially accompanied by a few Aldi beers, but like watching Farm Aid on DVD you miss out on the realness of the heartland and what the Ooga Boogas are all about unless you are front and center at one of their live shows singing along to, “I’m an Ooga Booga and my cocks made of wood and though it drags on the ground it still tastes good.” Old school Mellencamp type stuff. Having just taken the heartland back to its heart—the USA—on a tour that included their return to Memphis’ Gonerfest, a four-day rock brouhaha now into its fifth year.
This interview was conducted in two parts. The first over pizza in the Tote band room, the second next to a cigarette machine in the poolroom of what was once Melbourne’s notorious Nazi punk haunt, the Birmingham Hotel.
Interview by Tim Scott
MRR: OK, the beginning?
Richard: I was sitting at Per’s house, listening to records, and mentioned that I wanted to start a new band. At the time, I didn’t even know that he played drums, but we talked about it for a couple of weeks, then at an Eddy Current Suppression gig, he suggested that we ask Mikey to play. I thought it would sound too much like Eddy Current, but we ended up asking him anyway, and he said he wanted to be in the band if it didn’t sound like Eddy Current.
MRR: So, Mikey is like your…
Richard: If Mikey wasn’t in the band you wouldn’t even be here.
MRR: Mikey is your connection to what a super group could be.
Stacky: Yes, if when you say “super group” you mean Audioslave, Temple of the Dog, and if you want to make an Australian comparison, Tex, Don, and Charlie.
Mikey: We started jamming, but were looking for a singer for ages. And Stacky was keen to join, but he didn’t want to sing.
Per: I remember one of my friends coming down, but he didn’t make it. Actually three singers didn’t make the cut.
Stacky: But we didn’t have to resort to putting an ad up in the Barleycorn or anything.
MRR: Do you still see them around? Is it socially awkward?
Richard: Nah, one of them is here tonight.
Per: After the last dude tried out I was like, “We wouldn’t have this fucking problem if you sang, Stacky!”
MRR: So Stacky got the gig basically because the other guys couldn’t be bothered having any more auditions?
Stacky: Well, yes and no. We had another option of having Richard sing, but then there was the question of acid and we realized that wasn’t really going to work.
Richard: It got to the point where we all looked each other in the eyes and realized that we were this really tight social unit and anyone who came in was automatically an imposter.
MRR: What about musically? Besides not sounding like Eddy Current, did you have an idea as to how you wanted to sound?
Richard: It was to start a band that didn’t sound like anything else—not to not sound like anything else was how we wanted to sound.
Mikey: I do see a pattern forming for say when I write a song, it’s a loose pattern, but we seem to work on it in the same way.
Richard: But it’s like there is this big cauldron. A big musical cauldron and we just pick up the ladle and take a sip.
MRR: Do you consider yourselves a fully-fledged band as supposed to say, a side project, or something of that sort?
Richard: Yeah, we are a band. I mean we play in other bands, but the other bands are in no way as important as this band. [laughter]
MRR: As guys who have been playing as long as you have in various bands, do you feel a sense of responsibility being part of the old guard?
Stacky: Good question for Per.
Per: I’m not in the old guard, am I?
Mikey: What does the old guard actually guard?
Richard: And what do you expect from people who have been playing in bands exactly? Oh, I don’t know advice? Invites to play gigs with you?
Richard: No I don’t feel any responsibility.
MRR: Why the decision to record the album up in Mansfield?
Mikey: To get away. Have no hassles. No phone calls. Just hang out in the bush. Just to do it ourselves.
Richard. We thought that rather than hire time in a studio, why not go on a holiday for the weekend?
MRR: So there was no drama with the recording?
Mikey: It was the best recording experience ever, I reckon.
Per: It was definitely one of the best band get-togethers.
Mikey: Yeah, it was a total bro-down, you know, we could cook and do the dishes. Studios aren’t very conducive for activity or a good band experience. We have our own gear—we don’t need a lot we just needed to set up in some country shack and cut loose.
Per: It was like a communal man date.
Richard: There were bulls.
Stacky: There were some tits too.
MRR: Tits on bulls?
Stacky: No birds. Blue tits. There were tits flying around everywhere.
MRR: What were the locals like?
Mikey: Well, there were no actual locals until you got into Mansfield.
Per: We looked like a really kind of weird gang because we had all made a pact not to shave during recording.
Stacky: It was interesting to see what it’s like to live and work on a farm. Richard and Mikey got chased across a field by a bull. We wore RM Williams.
Richard: I got my chambray shirt a bit sweaty that weekend.
Stacky: It was also where we got our new direction, our new look. We now shop exclusively at Colorado and Rivers for our outfits, Moleskins and chambrays.
MRR: Boat shoes?
Stacky: Personally, I like to wear RMs a good pair of RM Williams boots. We visited Lake Eildon too, which was nice. We got to see some of the reservoir and the water level affected by the drought. That was interesting wasn’t it?
MRR: Will water level graphs figure in the album liner notes?
Stacky: We are going to dedicate it to the people and the water levels of that area, yes.
Richard: There is a pictorial documentation of the whole weekend. There are no actual liner notes it’s just photos and images.
Stacky: Mansfield is a complex part of the world. It’s like a termite mound, and we approached it the same way scientists might a termite mound.
Per: One thing about Mansfield is that it’s got a great music shop. Like if you need a guitar string or something, they bend over backwards to help you.
MRR: Is Mansfield considered “high country”?
Stacky: Yes, Mt. Buller is not far from there.
Per: How do you even determine what is high country and what is not?
Stacky: The way they determine high country is that they take a mountain man up into the mountains and if he cares for the land, it is considered high country.
MRR: We’re you surprised with the recording when you got it back?
Mikey: No, other people were more surprised. Which in a little way is kind of insulting when they are kind of saying, “Jeez, I didn’t realize you sound this good”!
MRR: Do you think that may come from the way you work together and your sense of humour? That some people may not take you as seriously as they should?
Richard: I’m sure it comes across as sometimes we are just a bunch of funny buggers, but when you think about the conversations we have while we are writing a song or what to do next, it’s all pretty serious.
MRR: You sing songs about squid and octopi.
Mikey: I think the not-too-serious is a correct assessment of the band. I don’t think we plan everything so much.
Richard: No, we are not super serious, but we aren’t a joke band either.
Per: I remember one of the first conversations you and I had about the band when you came up to me that night and said you wanted to start a band. When you first came to me and said I was OK, what is important? And you said, “no ambition” and I thought, “OK, I’m in.”
MRR: But certainly you must have some ambition to record a record and tour to the States?
Mikey: But they are only personal ambitions, they are nothing to do with success or anything.
Richard: When you have bands with ambition, there is some objective beyond the overseas tour—always something else that they have to get next. Going away with your mates for a weekend should be the reason why the band is there for in the first place, and then going on tour is the end result.
Mikey: We don’t have to get signed, because we have started our own label. We don’t have to get our manager, because we book our own gigs.
Per: Yeah, we can do all of it on our own from the artwork to the recording to the booking. It’s a good feeling—some would think maybe self-indulgent, but we don’t need anything or anybody.
Stacky: In regards to squids and octopus, there’s actually a family tree kind of thing going on in the evolution of the Ooga Boogas. Before us there was a band called the Calamaris, which was about New Zealand squid and I guess through that band we came up with some of these lyrical ideas. There was also a band I had with Dempster (from the Sailors) called the Octopus Brothers. And again we sang songs about the plight of these particular animals.
MRR: But I don’t think these are particularly threatened or endangered animals.
Stacky: No, I don’t think so, but we are just interested in the lives of these creatures.
MRR: On the other hand, the start to your song “Ooga Boogas II” sounds like L7.
Mikey: Really? What the guitar the sound?
MRR: Yeah just at very start.
Per: Haha. I guess we’ve now heard all of it—Roy Orbsion, the B52’s and now L7.
MRR: Are there any songs that you like on the new record individually?
Richard: I like “Rich and Me”.
Mikey: The people seem to like “Neon Sunset” on the record. My girlfriend’s favorite song is “Fanny Mae.”
MRR: Who is Fanny Mae? Is the song based on a real character?
Mikey: Better ask Stacky.
Stacky: It’s about growing more mature.
Per: Someone said it was like Skyhooks… [laughter] and I couldn’t argue with them.
MRR: Do you read your own press? I’ve read some reviews, one in particular that wasn’t so kind about your live show.
Richard: You can laugh it off in public and that, but it really hurts. [laughter]
MRR: The reviewer seemed to have good reasons though.
Mikey: I think it came down to the fact that we weren’t as hot as the guys in the Vasco Era.
MRR: I did some research, and back in the ’50s the word Ooga Booga was considered quite a racist word.
Per: It still is.
MRR: What is the reaction when you take the stage in a place like Mobile, Alabama and say, “Hi we’re the Ooga Booga’s.”
Mikey: My girlfriend was wearing one of our t-shirts in Austin last year and some dude pulled her up and said, “You don’t want to be wearing that t-shirt around here.”
MRR: You should tread with caution south of the Mason Dixon line then.
Richard: That’s why today none of our merchandise actually say the name on it. There’s no name just the image. The brand.
Stacky: We are actually very similar to Prince in that department.
Mikey: I didn’t realize that it had a racist connotation to it.
Richard: We just thought it was caveman-y.
Stacky: I actually did some research on the word and the origins of the word is from the British colonialists when they were in Africa and they would use it for like a term for news or whatever, like, “Have you heard any ooga booga”?
MRR: The new album is titled Romance and Adventure. It sounds part Lonely Plant Guide to Cambodia, part Falls Creek chalet website. What is more important to you? “Romance” or “Adventure”?
Richard: I’m not sure we could answer that collectively. Mikey would say romance.
Per: I’m not very romantic or adventurous.
Mikey: How about we vote. Who says romance? [he performs a hand count] One, two, three.
Richard: I’m the only one without a girlfriend.
MRR: So you are up for the adventure of finding a girlfriend?
Per: I think adventure is more like walking the streets of Port Moresby as a male hooker at two-AM.
MRR: What is Gonerfest like? An international garage rock trade show?
Richard: It’s like if you had 20 bands at the Tote over a weekend
MRR: Is it all the same garagey stuff?
Richard: You get your garage band, but you also get your fucked up weird stuff
MRR: How did you get along last year?
Richard: Oh, there were a few people there at two o’clock in the afternoon when we played. We were first on Saturday. No, but there were some people there to see us.
MRR: What’s the best thing about Memphis?
Mikey: Food, nice people, cheap housing, but it’s got the worst crime rate in America.
MRR: But for a tourist, isn’t that like a badge of honor to say you visited the city with the highest crime rate?
Mikey: It’s kind of cool. We were walking down the street and some cop pulled up on the curb and said, “What the hell are you doing here”?
MRR: What was your answer?
Mikey: We’re walking home. [laughter] That’s how we answer every cop.