Ed Kuepper has been quiet, too quiet. For
the past two years nothing much has been heard from him. Not that two
years is a long time in the modern world but, this is a guy who since
1985 had released something like 25 solo albums, at an average rate of
close to two a year, including mail order records, instrumental outings
and compilations. It's little wonder people have been wondering what
the hell has happened? Baking bread in domestic bliss? Jail? Getting
back to nature? A good book? Kuepper is reticent to talk about the reasons
for his lay off but, suffice to say, the hiatus is over - he’s
now back touring with his band dubbed the ‘Royal
Sound Syndicate’ while he’s also presiding
over a new 4cd Saints box set All
Times Through Paradise (that includes
a previously unreleased live set from London, 1977) due in July and a
3cd Laughing Clowns anthology Cruel,
But Fair that contains everything the band ever recorded, slated for
later in the year. I've always viewed Kuepper as an outsider in Australia's
music industry and I was interested to find out how much of a factor
growing up with a German accent in post war Australia was ...read on...
You've dubbed your touring band the Royal Sound Syndicate. Are you a
No, I'm not. I'm totally, totally opposed to the concept of the monarchy.
Why the prefix?
Because I think it's an evocative word to use - it signifies a sumptuousness,
grace and elegance even though in reality it's not the case. In this
case it is.
How do this band differ sound-wise to the Oxley
Creek Playboys, the
Exploding Universe or, say, the Institute
of Nude Wrestling?
If you were able to discern a difference in the sound of those line-ups
then you will be able to discern a different sound with this line-up.
Some people don't. To some people it's all stuff that I do and it sounds
the same. But this is being done in a way that is distinctly different
from those bands. In some ways it's a more electronic, hi-tech version
of what I was doing with (drummer) Mark Dawson with 'Today Wonder'. Not
that it's very acoustic sounding necessarily but, essentially, its two
people on stage with a third person out front to contribute some bits
Despite the fact you've experimented heavily over the past 15 years
with electronica - acoustic guitar has stayed a constant in a lot of
It's a good instrument to play when you're sitting around the house.
It's a really responsive instrument. I think I got into acoustic guitar
pretty early on with the second LP that I recorded. Some of the more
well known songs that the Saints did in the original line-up were written
on acoustic guitar. So, you're right, it's always been there. The acoustic
guitar is a good, easy to access instrument that doesn't require tons
of technology. They're good to write on, like pianos except a lot easier
to carry around.
Now you were born in Bremen, Germany. How do you feel being a musician
(laughing) I feel quite comfortable with it. I haven't given it a lot
Was there any other choice of occupation for you? Did you ever have
No, never. I don't think I considered anything else. At some points in
your life you go through a re-appraisal and think 'what a waste of time
this is' but, essentially, I don't recall ever wanting to do anything
else. My parents got into me about having a back up but obviously they
didn't succeed in influencing me that much.
What was it like growing up as a German kid in Australia in the wake
of the war?
You know, I think you confront the issues that any group of migrants
do at various points in time. In those days the fact you were from a
non-English sounding background was enough to encourage people who still
had hostility towards outsiders to express that. But obviously you're
not as easy a target as someone with different colour skin or something
like that. I couldn't speak English when I first went to school and that
caused a lot of problems for a long while but you sort of get over it
with two fists of iron.
Were you taunted?
Yeah, it's all a long time ago now but it does make you empathetic to
people who are copping it now.
Was it strange that when evil was represented...
It was me (laughing).
Yeah, evil always had a German accent.
Maybe they were right I don't know. You feel sort of defensive about
it as a child. It's kind of a confusing thing to be confronted with
and you can be a bit quick to lay it on someone who's doing it I guess.
Were you encouraged to lose or deny your heritage?
Not at all. My parents spoke German at home. It's a bit different these
days but they still sort of do.
What about peer pressure?
I had to learn English pretty quickly. (Laughing) They weren't going
to learn German. I guess the environment was pretty much Anglo. Actually
I made friends with a Russian kid. My response to people having a crack
at me in those days was just one of anger. You lash out out of anger.
I remember instances of it happening but I don't remember it as being
the over-riding aspect of my childhood. I can't remember it being some
kind of constant persecution.
What did the war mean to your family?
My parents were both were in their teens when it finished. My father,
because he was evacuated from Hamburg, didn't end up doing military
service. If he'd been a bit further east he might've, I think he was
turning 15 when it finished. As with a lot of people of that generation
that went through it, they don't really derive a lot of pleasure from
talking about it. The things I've learnt about the war I've got from
other sources rather than my parents.
How European do you feel now?
I've lived most of my life here. I have ties to Europe and I really like
going back to Germany occasionally. But I like going to other European
countries too. I think, having lived here most of my life, I probably
feel most comfortable living in Australia.
Are you greeted in Germany as a native?
Yeah, kind of. But not by the passport control guards. I don't have a
German passport. It depends. Once I'm there for a while my language
skills come back. I remember how to speak properly, basically. I get
by pretty easily.
People talk about you as having a very droll, Germanic sense of humour.
Is that a joke in itself?
I'm not sure. When you say people, like who? (Laughing) I don't know,
I don't know. I don't really think of myself as having a sense of humour
to talk about.
It sounds very German in itself to deny you've got a sense of humour.
It does. It does. It's not a funny place, the old world.
For someone who's been notoriously prolific over the past 20 years -
you've been noticeably quiet of late?
I've been doing some other things outside of what I normally do but I
won't go into that. The musical stuff that I've been doing has been focused
on working with film. I started doing some music for these films by a
filmmaker called Len Lye who was a experimental filmmaker of the 20th
Century. He did this amazing stuff with film in the 20s and 30s. I think
he died in the late 70s. He painted directly onto film and is credited
with being quite an influential person. In fact there are claims that
Disney and co. plagiarized bits of Lye's stuff for Fantasia. I can't
verify that. Anyway, he did some remarkable stuff painting onto film,
scratching and doing this very nice, abstract sort of narrative. Anyway,
we did some music for those and played it live with the films, not improvised
although there is an organic element to the music. It worked well but
we only got limited permission from the Lye Foundation to continue with
it so what we've decided to do is to go on and engage a number of contemporary
video artists from Australia and Europe to do films kind of … I
was doing music to Lye's films which he, in turn, had made to a chopped
up soundtrack - usually old Dixieland jazz so I decided to scrap those
old soundtracks and do new music to it. And these video artists were
asked to do films to this music that I did for his films. So it's this
ongoing process. We're doing the Sydney Opera House and other venues
around Australia and, hopefully, at the arts fest in Vienna in September.
Has that stuff been recorded?
Only for my own reference. The obvious thing is to do a DVD but there
are a lot of filmmakers involved and everybody has to be in agreement.
What kind of music is it? Similar to the soundtrack style things you've
done on The Blue House, Starstruck or Cloudland?
I guess parts of it would have similarities. It's instrumental. I would
also say it's different from that - we haven't actually applied any of
the music from those albums to these films. It's all new scores. No doubt
I've probably ripped myself off somewhere along the line.
How do you approach writing for film? Is it like the picture of Neil
Young on his Dead Man LP where he's staring at the screen and playing
along with the action?
It can be. That's one way of doing it. I think I've heard that Dead Man
thing and from memory it does sound like something that you'd play if
you sat and watched the TV without the sound on. This stuff is different
in that it's not just improvised. We're trying to work out the pacings,
movements and images and what that presents to you with intentionally
Have you watched TV with the sound down, listened to a record or played
and found the music strangely syncing up with the images.
I reckon it often does. One thing I did years ago when I did the first
instrumental album Starstruck was get out Baraka and I was watching that,
actually I was just watching it on TV, and I didn't really like the soundtrack
. I think it might've been Phillip Glass, anyway I decided I'd put that
record on and watch it with my own soundtrack and I often found these
moments where the music and the visuals would just be in perfect sync.
It is an area where happy accidents happen.
Is it a new for you to play music that is so heavily arranged?
I've done it from time to time. There have been records like Frontierland
which are quite heavily arranged. I don't tend to play songs the same
way every night when I'm playing live. I just kind of find that a bit
dull. Some people enjoy doing it, can do it. I suppose classical musicians
have to live with that kind of thing.
Has the last three years been your John Lennon domestic period - home
Well, it has been a bit like that actually. There's been some family
stuff going on which I don't really want to talk about. But there have
been some kind of issues which have meant that I haven't been able to
tour or record in the manner which people were, maybe, starting to take
for granted. On the other hand it's been a beneficial time as well.
What has a typical Ed Kuepper day consisted of recently?
I do actually do a fair bit of cooking. I haven't been doing too much
bread baking though. But, there's a Saints 4cd box set called All Times
Through Paradise due out in July and a Laughing Clowns 3cd Anthology
due to come out. So it's not like I've exactly been idle.
In the 90s you were making an art out of mail order albums - is there
anything of that nature to surface?
No. That wasn't my decision so much. That was a thing Hot encouraged.
When we first started doing the mail order album thing I thought those
records were good but I think the one thing that got them a lot of attention
and sales was they were fairly unique - not totally unique of course.
But it was an unusual thing to be doing. Nowadays it's a pretty standard
to order over the internet and get things in the post isn't so strange.
Tell us about the Laughing Clowns anthology. You actually flagged its
release a few years ago. What's been the hold up?
Its three cds; everything the band ever recorded. The delays? Well, there
were some scheduling problems initially so we had to put it back. Also,
at the beginning, there were no liner notes and then we decided we should
do the liner notes and then once we had the liner notes I thought it
would be good to try and track down some of the other band members because
I was the only one making any kind of comment on the stuff. That was
immensely difficult and I eventually tracked down (Clowns drummer) Jeffrey
Wegener who I thought would be the most important other commentator.
But he's way overdue and has kind of got to get it together pretty soon
otherwise we're going to miss out putting it out this year. It's there,
it's been mastered, the artwork is essentially there and we're just waiting
on Jeffrey. Still, I'd be amazed if we can't get it out before Christmas.
How do you feel the Laughing Clowns would fare if they were being launched
on the world as a new band today?
I think the band would do extremely well. One thing that struck me going
through the tapes - I mean when you're doing things it can be a real
pain in the arse. We were a band that had a very difficult, internal
relationship. And for a long time I think the main recollections were
veering a bit on the negative side. But listening to the tapes I was
impressed by the power and, if I do say so myself, it was a pretty unique,
original sounding band. One of the things that always undermined us was
a total lack funds and a lot of times the recordings suffered because
of that. But going through the tapes often times the remastered version
sounded much better than the original records so the problem might've
been the mastering of the records in the first place. We would often
be doing things on the cheap. But it sounds better than I remember it
sounding and I've got a reasonably good sounding turntable set up so
records generally sound pretty good. Well, these cds sound heaps better
than the original vinyl.
The reason I ask about the Laughing Clowns in the context of today is
there aren't any bands that sound like that anymore. Or influenced by
Yeah. I think if a band like the Clowns came out now they'd stick out
like a sore thumb. Or maybe a glowing beacon or something. The concept
of some kind of Clowns reunion has been floated over the years but it
never gets anywhere because it's kind of hard to go back that far. But
when I was doing the remastering it was starting to look like an attractive
option but there are no plans to actually do so.
Are you a particularly nostalgic person?
To some extent, yeah. I don't think I get lost in nostalgia. I tend to
keep moving on. Occasionally you can be really pleasantly surprised
by something you did or happened a long time ago that you can get excited
Do you find it interesting that people are nostalgic for 70s punk rock?
Look, having just done the Saints box set and the Laughing Clowns thing,
in a way - no. I think there was something that was happening at that
time which had a phenomenal energy and a newness to everything. I think
people tend to get nostalgic for something that happened to them at
a certain point in their lives when you are probably more impressionable.
As you get older you tend to get more thick skinned about stuff. I
don't know - I can't speak for punk rock in general but I was really
happy with the Saints and the Clowns stuff.
Nostalgia and punk rock appear to be an oxy moron.
Sure, sure. But punk in its most ideological, pure way is a bit of a
joke anyway. I never subscribed to that. Punk to me was, essentially,
rock n roll. It wasn't a political art movement the way it was presented
by some people in the English press. It might've been to some people
but not generally. The worst aspects of it were just mindless conformity.
So, no I don't have any nostalgia for those attitudes. I actually found
when we went through England the first time it was kind of quite good.
It was new, it was exciting and people seemed very open minded. The
next time around everything had to be punk and you were either punk
or you weren't. And I found that to be moronic in the extreme. Things
just aren't that black and white. We didn't really align ourselves
with punk anyway. We were around before that I suppose and the punk
stuff seemed to me to be very much an English fashion. There were some
things that came out of it that I quite liked, there are other things
that are very bad.
The Laughing Clowns never got, and still don't get, the same attention
or kudos as the Saints have received.
No. The Laughing Clowns were never in a situation where we got the immediate
press the Saints got when a record came out. But the Saints were signed
to a major label, EMI, so the support we received was substantially greater.
But also it was unusual for an Australian band to be in London at the
very front of what was happening as opposed to coming along a couple
of years later which was happening in those days. With the Clowns it
was an independent outfit from the very outset at a time when doing your
own record was pretty much commonplace. You know, I can't emphasise enough
that we didn't have a great deal of money. The band did pretty well live
most of the time but we were funding and distributing our own records.
At the same time also we were coping with some pretty hefty narcotic
problems within the band. That aspect of the band really held us back
and I still have a lot of resentment towards certain people because of
a lack of perspective that was damaging at the time.
What do you feel were the most immediate songs the Laughing Clowns did?
Well, to me, a song like 'Holy Joe' is an extremely immediate song. I
mean I have spoken to people who thought it was the strangest thing
they'd ever heard when they first heard it on the radio. It doesn't
strike me as that. It strikes me as a song that has a very 50s sound.
I think the Laughing Clowns theme song off that record was pretty catchy
- that was almost going to be the last Saints single. It would've been
a bit different if it had been played in the context of the Saints.
A lot of songs that were released as singles 'Sometimes' had that degree
of impact. But a band can work in more ways than one. The Saints were
in a position where they drew attention to themselves essentially because
of the first single ('Stranded'). The Clowns weren't so much of a singles
band. But what was starting to happen with the Saints on Prehistoric
Sounds was where the Laughing Clowns were launched from.
Phrases like 'avant jazz' and 'progressive' are always thrown up when
the Laughing Clowns are mentioned. Did you see it as a progressive band?
The funny thing with the Laughing Clowns was we had three major line-up
changes where everybody bar myself and Jeffrey were replaced. There was
a lot of talk at the time of 'gee, I like the old line-up'. But when
I was doing the remastering I was struck by how it was essentially the
same at the end as it was at the start which makes it about as progressive
as the Doors or the Ramones. It's a funny idea - the concept of progress.
I've never believed that complexity equals progression.
Is there a danger in being eclectic?
I guess it makes it harder for the marketing people. My feeling was always,
like with the first Saints album, once we'd done that I didn't really
feel the need to do it again. It kind of distilled what we'd been doing
for the three years or so leading up to that recording. It's not a
particularly brilliant recording but it captures a real energy. But
how many times do you want to keep doing it. I have no doubt the Saints
would've had a lot more success if we'd stuck with what we'd started
out doing. But that didn't particularly interest me. I guess a lot
of the bands I really liked growing up didn't stick with one sound
or idea or whatever either. On the other hand there are people I really
like who did, essentially, the same thing from start to finish - Johnny
Cash for instance. But I always thought it would be fun to try to do
Can you tell us about the live set in London, 1977 that has been unearthed
and included on the Saints box set?
It's recorded just shortly before the second album. In fact we might've
just started recording the second album but it's a mix of first and second
album material. It was recorded on multi-track with a mobile recording
studio and it's not without its technical flaws but it sounds really
good. The tapes have just been sitting there and no one's really looked
after them but it was our only opportunity to access multi-track live
recordings of the band. Some of it is fantastic, at least as good if
not better than the studio versions.
Is the re-mastering of the Saints material the same as was used for
the Raven compilation - Wild About You?
No. I did these new ones with Don Bartley. I didn't have anything to
do with the Raven one. It was kind of a point of contention between us
because I'd been talking to them for a while and actually alerted them
to a couple of outtakes on the basis that they'd master it properly but
they kind of chickened out.
Have you talked about doing a re-union with the Saints to herald the
Chris and I have talked about doing stuff together over the years and
it never seems to get very far. There's always some kind of reason for
it not happening. I mean we've talked about it almost from the time the
band originally split up. Maybe it's just something to pass the time.
I suppose I'd doubt if there would be a Saints reunion.
What's the major stumbling point?
I'd like to answer that but I'm in the middle of some negotiations for
my publishing so I won't go into details. It's not an impossibility.
It needs Chris to think it's a good idea, basically, and he doesn't
so unless he changes his mind I'm not going to try and pressure him
Have you tried that in the past?
I wouldn't say that I've knocked myself out but I've suggested there
might be worse ideas around. But, as I say he doesn't think it's a
very good idea and I respect that. I don't really care that much -
it's a long time that's past. But, once again, having gone through
the re-mastering you get a reminder of, 'maybe we should try and do
something'. But it's something that's got to happen fairly naturally
with all parties expressing a similar degree of enthusiasm.
Does it amuse you that even if you and Chris Bailey never said another
word to each other you'll be linked to the end of your life?
Um, I don't find it hilarious (laughing). We were pretty close at the
time and things fell out over a number of different issues. I'm quite
happy for it to never raise its head again but on the other hand it is
there, it is something we could look at. It's just not something I want
It seems one of those things were there's been a rupture and no resolution
I think at one point last year when I was finishing up the re-masters
it kind of occurred to me it would be good to resolve everything because,
in a lot of ways, both Chris and I were the two people who were pretty
close when the band was going and it would be kind of nice to fix everything
up. Whether it's possible or not, I don't know. It's the same with the
Clowns. I would kinda like to have it all resolved and move on. And if
part of the process is a re-union then so be it.
What's Ivor Hay up to at the moment?
The last time I saw Ivor was when we did our performance at the ARIA
awards on that fateful day of September 11, 2001 where we lost the
front page of 'The Australian' because of the World Trade Center thing.
That's when I saw Ivor. I kept in contact with him for a while after
that and sort of lost touch with him. He's in Adelaide I believe and
does some kind of government work there. I think it's secret, ASIO
Interesting that it took 9-11 to overshadow the Saints reunion.
Yeah, it's funny because I remember the one time before that Chris and
I seriously talked about getting the Saints together, and this is humour
in a gallows way, was when the first Gulf War started. This time around
we actually got up on stage and played a song and hours later it all
happened. It almost seems like it's not good for world peace when the
Saints get together. If we had've done a whole set who knows what might've
happened? I don't know, it's a weird thing - the actual performance
was fine. There were a number of tensions that I don't feel it's necessary
to go into at this point. But given that we hadn't played together
for 20 years or something it was pretty good.
How many songs did you actually rehearse?
None. We didn't rehearse. We barely had a sound check and it was a total
fuck up as far as organisation. I sent down a list of things that we
needed, that was supposed to be provided, but there was nothing. So
we were just standing around the stage for ages while they got the
stage gear and P.A. together. So, no, we didn't do any rehearsal and
given that, it sounded pretty good.
What songs were thrown up as ones you wanted to do?
We were supposed to do a set but there were disagreements between Chris
and myself over a couple of things. It ended up being just the one
song ('(I'm) Stranded'). But I would have liked to have done a set,
I would've been quite happy.
When was the last time you played '(I'm) Stranded' before that?
Probably on that show that's being released. I don't think we played
it on our 1978 tour.
Despite the fact you're renown for re-doing songs from your back catalogue
you've never touched '(I'm) Stranded'. It's frozen in 1977. Why's that?
It's a hard song to re-do. It's not that I don't like it. Having listened
to it recently I thought it was really good. It was picked to be the
single from a poll taken amongst our fan club as the most popular song
- it wasn't like the band said 'this is the thing that's going to rocket
us to fame'. But I think it's really good and I can hear why it works.
But it's a difficult song to re-arrange. What do you do with it? You
do a country version and it makes it sound like you're sending it up.
The song is how it's recorded and I can't envisage another way of doing
I've always thought that 'Know Your Product' is like a distant cousin
to '(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction'.
Oh, yeah. I can't say that was particularly intentional or anything.
I kind of saw it more as a way of applying a groovy, soul horn line into
a song but I guess I can see a slight link with the lyrics. I didn't
have another to do with the lyrics.
The lyrics do alert you to it but the horn line is kind of related too
- The riff of 'Satisfaction' being written, or envisaged, as a horn line.
Yeah, it is. In fact they even went as far as having Otis Redding do
a version. I guess 'Know Your Product' has a few more chords in it. Much
©2004 Christopher Hollow