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Sydney Morning Herald (AUS) May, 2004
Saint, clown or king? Will the real Ed Kuepper please stand up?
John Encarnacao meets them all.
The Basement, 29 Reiby Place, Circular Quay
May 21, 9pm

It's hard to know where to start with Ed Kuepper. Which Ed would you prefer? The singer-songwriter? The driving force behind Australian legends Laughing Clowns and the (original) Saints? How about Ed the composer for short films? Or even Ed the purveyor of the virtual guitar?

They'll all get a look in here. They won't jostle for column inches - they each know they have their place in the greater scheme and that their turn will come. Ed Kuepper is a polite bunch of people, really.

Even so, Ed the singer-songwriter must be having a bit of a preen at the moment as progress is under way for a new song-based collection, his first since 2000's Smile, Pacific and only his second since the mid-'90s.

This Ed will also be gratified by the current run of shows, billed as Ed Kuepper and the Royal Sound Syndicate. The publicity tells us to expect "mainly vocal material, both old and new".

Why all the Eds?

"I just find that doing anything for too long takes the fun out of it," Kuepper says.

Following one's muse is not what an artist too concerned with the demands of the public or the industry would tend to do. Kuepper is aware of the effect his different sides have on his audience. Many embrace Kuepper's varied musical interests; others hear an Ed they like and are dismayed when he steps out of the spotlight in favour of another Ed.


"I reckon every time you change, every time you do something different, there's a group of people who don't like it," he says. "There was a group of people who didn't like the change from what was essentially an electric-guitar band to the acoustic stuff, and kind of dropped off.

"This period is documented by one of Kuepper's best-received albums. Called Today Wonder (1990), a remastered version with extra tracks was released last year.

"Some people didn't like it and still hung around," Kuepper says. "You do get those people who just come along to complain. I suppose they've paid their ticket price, but it is a bit weird."

"And a lot of people who got into the acoustic stuff - Today Wonder and the albums that followed, Character Assassination, Serene Machine - they saw the virtual-guitar thing as a bit of a betrayal."

But the so-called "virtual-guitar thing" is here to stay. Using an effects processor means Kuepper needn't bring nine guitars on tour as he used to. It allows him to get nearly any sound he could dream up out of his guitar and gadget rig, and he is able to summon up any "normal" guitar sound he might be after, too.

"Acoustic guitars onstage, to an extent, that's a bit virtual," he says. "You're playing through a PA system. It's not like you're hearing an acoustic guitar untreated."

Instrumental Ed came to the fore over the past decade with intriguing sets such as The Blue House and Starstruck. Last year, Kuepper and band did a short tour performing his scores to films that dated back to early last century by experimental New Zealand filmmaker Len Lye. As Kuepper explains, this project ended up having possibilities he hadn't thought of at first.

"This year, we decided to take it a step further by getting contemporary video artists to do their interpretation of that music," he says. "Films that have come back so far from Europe are really great, and hopefully we'll be touring over there later this year."

The music to these new films will be performed live with the films at the Sydney Opera House in August.

Present and future Eds will always be of primary concern, but the glories of Eds past are set to get some attention, too.

By year's end, Ed-o-philes and anyone interested in punk and post-punk will be able to enjoy box-sets of the Saints and Laughing Clowns.

Kuepper is enthusiastic about the sound of the remaster he has overseen of the first three Saints albums, each with additional material. But it's the fourth CD, an unreleased live recording from London in 1978 that will particularly attract the attention of collectors.

The box-set Cruel but Fair will contain everything Kuepper's second band, Laughing Clowns, recorded - every dark melody, rocking improvisation and atonal saxophone blast.

Fun for all the family.

Copyright: the owner.