Interview
 

Tarantula, brella.org (AUS) 21 March, 2005

 

Ed Kuepper

Interview by Chris Hollow
 

Edmund Kuepper is a national treasure. Considered an immortal of Australian rock on his Saints output alone. However, just as impressive is the way the guitarist has walked his own line over the past two decades with his bands (the Laughing Clowns, the Yard Goes On Forever, the Aints) and his intriguing solo work. Reminiscent of Neil Young and Richard Thompson in character, sharing the ability to explore and cross genres in his own very recognisable style.

Since 1985 Kuepper’s output has come at a torrid rate - 24 solo albums that have included pop outings, mail order records, instrumental freak outs and compilations. Indeed, there’s no greater example of an obsessive music fan than one who has diligently collected the entire Kuepper back catalogue. If their ticks also include multiple readings of ‘Catcher in the Rye’ and a penchant for needlework the law is definitely looking for them.

Now comes Out-takes, Castaways, Pirate Women & Takeaways - a collection of unreleased material recorded throughout the 90s. It offers radically different interpretations on some of Kuepper’s previous work (a faux techno update of Also Sprach, singer Rachel Holmshaw's take on All of These Things, a live La Di Doh, a much wilder, horn driven Poor Howard etc.) It also houses another batch of idiosyncratic cover songs including Merle Haggard’s notorious Okie from Muskogee, Dylan’s If Not for You and Bo Diddley’s Mona.

Quite amazed to hear you’ve got a series of outtakes left to unleash.
This album isn’t everything by any means. It’s just what I thought stood out as being material that, with the benefit of hindsight, sounds remarkably good and in some cases I don’t really know why it didn’t come out at the time.

So there’s more outtakes to come?
Possibly. It’s not something that I want to flog to death. I don’t want to put stuff out just for the sake of it. I think this album of outtakes is out because the material is very strong. Despite the period of time over which it was recorded it hangs together remarkably well.

There’s some radically different approaches to your own material.
Certain songs lend themselves to being played differently and, regardless of how prolific I may seem, I don’t write a new album’s worth of stuff for every tour. So it helps to keep old songs alive. Castaways features bits of projects that haven’t been finished like, for instance, songs that I started to record where other people do the lead vocals. There’s a version of ‘All of These Things’ sung by Rachel Holmshaw that is absolutely beautiful. That’s a single as far as I’m concerned. It’s a kind of a shame that it didn’t come out a few years ago.

What’s the thinking behind doing so many cover songs. Some people would see that as the well running dry?
I started doing it in the mid-90s just because people didn’t seem to be doing songs by other people and making them their own. Which is what I try to do when I play someone else’s song. It has to fit in with my own work to an extent.

What made you want to re-vamp Merle Haggard’s infamous ‘Okie from Muskogee’?
It’s a song that I’ve always found colossally amusing. It’s a very entertaining lyric and it works particularly well when you’re playing out in the country towns and you’re doing the sound check in the afternoon. The afternoon drinkers are there and they generally respond favorably to it. Other people walk out in disgust. It’s a song that has a certain polarizing effect. We also used to play the Ballad of the Green Beret which didn’t make it onto the album. With hindsight, and I only put the album together recently, but there’s quite a few songs that didn’t make it on that I kind of now regret not putting them on.

Have you ever covered the Singing Nun?
‘Dominique’? I love that song. I haven’t actually because I’ve never really been a master of the French language. But I used to have a French girlfriend that used to sing it to my guitar accompaniment in a very musical way.

You did Elvis’s ‘Kissin’ Cousins’ with the Saints. Why have you re-visited it?
When the Saints did it I just thought it was fantastic because here we were living in smalltown Brisbane and the whole notion of the incestuous nature of the song seemed really perverse and appealing to me. This version is more of an acoustic approach that’s maybe closer to the Elvis original than the Saints version.

You’re not afraid to go for standards – for instance you had a crack at ‘Fever’ off the last album Smile…Pacific.
I’ve had a weird tendency to do songs that make people generally recoil in horror. I’ve recorded ‘If I Were a Carpenter’ which I share with Jimmy Barnes. I mean the Saints did River Deep, Mountain High. So it’s always been a mixture of unbelievably well known songs and relatively obscure tunes. Fever was one of those tunes that was so well known that I ignored it for a long time. I guess what made me do Fever was playing the riff with the intention of doing a new song and found that the phrasing and melody I was using was too similar to the original. So I decided to take the easy route and cover it.

That’s an interesting way of working. Is that why ‘The Way I Made You Feel’ has a remarkable resemblance to Status Quo’s ‘Sunny Cellophane Skies’?
(Long pause) I’d say more Pictures of Matchstick Men. There’s something about that chord progression that made such a strong impression on me as a kid. It probably featured in the first ten songs I wrote and probably still do base things around that. I’m not into recreating psychedelic masterpieces but there’s a few artists that I listened to to such an extent at various times that you just take it for granted they’re part of my make-up.

Can you tell us about the version of (I’m) Stranded that’s on The Most Primitive band in the World album. It seems to be all there in 1974.
Yeah it was. In fact there was more of it there than the later version because there’s an extra verse. The band was pretty much what it was in a relatively short period of time. The changes that happened after the first proper record developed really quickly because we were in a different situation. Being in Brisbane for the first three years of our existence we took a fairly leisurely pace which you tend to do anyway. But in a lot of ways we could’ve recorded the first album a couple of years earlier than we actually did.

©2002 Christopher Hollow

 
 
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