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www.therockpit.net Interview-Mick-Thomas-August-2011

INTERVIEW – MICK THOMAS

 

By Shane Pinnegar

August 2011

 

Mick Thomas has forged a unique place in the Australian rock landscape. Never one for straight forward “pub rock”, or radio friendly anthems, he carved out a niche for himself as a songwriter’s songwriter, both with his band Weddings, Parties, Anything, then as an independent solo artist and with his latter day ensemble The Sure Thing.

 

Though The Sure Thing and WPA are usually categorized under the broad “folk rock” genre with elements of celtic tradition in the mix, it was always Mick’s ability to tell a fully forged story within the confines of a 3 or 4 minute song that appealed to me.

 

 

In recent years Mick has embraced his WPA past, performing the odd show here and there with his old comrades, and it’s WPA’s trip to Fremantle this year that’s led me to call the man responsible for such classic tunes as ‘Fathers Day’, ‘Step In Step Out’ and ‘For A Short Time’.

 

WPA – and The Sure Thing, and Mick’s solo work – remain relatively a cult phenomenon, but their fans are fervent and dedicated, rarely missing a show, and singing along with every word.

 

 

Shane :- What brought about the latest round of Weddings gigs?

 

Mick :- Well its just kind of more of the fact that we did the reunions a few years ago which was good, and that we are still friends. That’s about it really so when we are doing it we all love it. It’s like a mild celebration. I think if it’s not too big we can do it on a yearly basis we could do Melbourne as we did Sydney.

 

Shane :- So it was just a little celebration thing, your not planning on recording or bigger tours or anything like that?

 

Mick :- No not really, I cant see the point in that. ‘Cos I still have stuff going on, I am making records and doing my own thing. I’m really happy about that. Looking back on it, it still brings up the question why we stopped in the first place. I think that goes back to the fact that what The Weddings had to come by the end of it really, it’s really a defined thing… People wanted the band to do a certain thing and play a certain way. The gigs were an actual certain defined thing. I saw The Dropkick Murphy’s [released a new single], so I clicked on the new single and I listened to it- its amazing, kinda power pop / Celtic rock and I watched it thinking “shit that’s what the Weddings should have become” and I guess that - not to be unkind to them - that the only way the Weddings was gonna go was to really become this kind of pumped up version of a total live band with the singing and dancing and drinking… I am not knocking it for a moment, [but] I guess that’s kinda why we finished - I guess we looked at that and thought… I guess we didn’t wanna go any further down the road we already were.

 

I guess sitting here in 2011, I feel really good about doing it now and again. But it’s just not what I want to do [full time]. I like the idea of just doing a gig now and then, like one a year.

 

Shane :- Do you feel like you might have had more success but less happiness, had you gone down that road ?

 

Mick :- Well yeah, definitely. The only way forward for the Weddings at that stage would have been to go down that road and become a massive production band that was all about rock and massive show band and to me that would have robbed the band of songs. When we had finished the work was pretty good and everyone was happy with it.

 

Shane :- That’s a bit of a understatement, that it was pretty good and people were pretty happy with it - you have a near obsessive following!

 

Mick :- It’s still there in me, I dunno, I mean whatever I am doing at the time has to be the best thing I ever do. Whenever I am doing something I think I really have to be “what if this is it, what if this is the only thing your gonna do till the end of days?” I know that when we start rehearsing with the Weddings we know the shows are going to be great. You know, it could be worse! I was with Jeff Lang a few weeks ago and its kinda weird that I do these gigs - I am more or less competing against myself. If I bring out a record next year or whenever, its like I am always having to compete with the success of the Weddings, and Jeff said he wishes he had something like that that he could just drop into a couple of times a year and just do and have massive shows. And I thought that was pretty interesting to see that from his perspective. I’m happy that the fans are there and they want to hear it.

 

Mick Thomas & The Sure Thing, December 2010

 

Shane :- It must be awesome to have something like that - I read something on your website or Wikipedia that you and the guys are closer friends then you ever have been since the break up. It must be good to just be able to do once a year with your friends, make a few bucks off it then go back to what you do it for your integrity and that sort of stuff .

 

Mick :- Yeah, without trying to be cynical, I don’t think the world wants another Weddings record. I’ll be watching more eagerly how the world receives a new Cold Chisel album…

 

Shane :- Yeah its going to be interesting one. I was going to bring that point up. This round of gigs, it’s not going to be some huge Cold Chisel-like retirement fund thing is it?

 

Mick:- The thing about Cold Chisel is, I am a fan, I mean a real fan so it starts at that point. There has been a record since they broke up, and what I find really funny with the whole Cold Chisel thing because they make kind of basic front page news. So they read it and people think Cold Chisel have reformed. It’s not the first time they have played since they have split up. This is the second record since their split. It’s just what they’re saying in the press, so it’s like some publicist comes along and says we will get away with that, no one knows this record exists - I can’t remember what this album was called, do you remember?

 

Shane :- No, I just heard it the once

 

Mick :- “Last Days of Summer” or something like that… A lot more people bought this record, than the last Weddings record [Mick is referring to Cold Chisel’s 1998 album “Last Wave Of Summer”]

 

Shane :- Maybe it’s a matter of who has the biggest publicity machine?

 

Mick :- My theory with The Weddings by the end was that people just weren’t interested in records. I am interested in the best way I can to get my music out there. I just figured at this stage if I am doing some Weddings things every now and then, I reckon that’s fine ya know. This kind of idea of integrity to me, that’s what it is. Where do you cross the line.

 

Mick Thomas & The Sure Thing, December 2010

 

Shane :- Does it irk you that despite your songwriting with The Sure Things and your solo stuff being just as strong as it ever was, that The Weddings Parties Anything will always reach a wider audience and people will always want to hear The Weddings songs at any Mick Thomas gigs. Does that kinda niggle at you at all?

 

Mick :- It does but, erm as long as someone is coming to the gigs that is the main thing for me. It is pretty funny when I have done Sure Things tours, you can only put so much into it. When you have spent all your money the hard thing for me post Weddings, has been [coping] financially. And then you’re walking though an airport and someone goes “Hey Mick Thomas, What are you doing now?”, and I just sort of stand there and say “Well, what are YOU doing now?” I just say “I’ve just done a tour and spent all of my money advertising the bloody thing, so what are YOU doing now, because you have obviously chosen to not be in that area where you would know that someone was making music and doing stuff.”

 

So I can say it’s really hard sometimes, but you do it ‘cos you want to do it. I sit here at night and I sit on the couch and I think of ways to get my music out there. Whether it be The Weddings or whatever I can see the line when it’s finished for obvious reasons. I stop being so creative. Oh, how can I put it… it was just at that time I made the judgement that it was not the way forward. It is really weird and hard, its always been about playing old songs. That’s The Weddings and the way the band was formed, So I don’t have a problem playing [those songs], I still think there is a lot to explore in terms of the back catalogue.

 

Shane :- It’s been quite a few years since you have played with Peter Lawler - is the set list going to reflect that?

 

Mick :- Yeah totally, totally there is 13 songs that Pete wrote that are on the albums and there are songs that he has an affect on. So yeah it’s going to be different to the last time we played Perth. Pete is really excited about it

 

Shane :- You write stories in song form effectively like Paul Kelly, Don Walker and precious few others. Who do you rate amongst the younger generation of Australian song writers?

 

Mick :- I guess that Van Walker and Liz Stringer are the two that come to mind. Who are just locals who I play with a lot and who I see a lot. I actually find Abbe May really exciting and interesting. Ruby Boots, who’s supporting us in Freo, they sound like they’re dong something really good, y’know…

 

Shane :- So you seemed to have established a pretty healthy little cottage industry, your record label, you manage you career very hands on. Do you have any advice for other artists on hoe to make a living out of the industry nowadays?

 

Mick Thomas & The Sure Thing, December 2010

 

Mick :- Errrrm… My advice is… I think you have to be wary of the people who will tell you that the internet is sort of a ‘road to riches’ – because it’s not, y’know? It’s a tool. Making a career out of the industry is as hard as it’s ever been. You gotta just get up each day and try and find a new income source. And whether that income source keeps what you do credible, y’know?

 

Shane :- Fair enough, on your website I did notice that you have your Mick’s Monthly Music Club. You are obviously thinking of new ways to generate income strains and all that. How is that working out?

 

Mick :- That’s the business now, that’s what you gotta do. It’s got to do with the fact that people, you know, expect a different thing when they open up their computer… and I’ve had a pretty long career, and I have stacks of stuff sitting there in the vault, and I’m really interested to see who wants to buy it, ya know, and if we can sell it in a different way? It’s been kind of fascinating you know, it’s like making a record every month - its really bloody hard work! But it’s been the best thing that I’ve done, I reckon. I think that when you stop doing whatever you do – like, when you die, or for whatever reason you stop working – then [I hope people think] that was a really, really interesting thing that he did. At the end of last year, the people who took out a Gold Subscription, I sent them out a CD with 64 tracks on it. An incredible amount of those were songs that people hadn’t heard, a lot of them were different versions of different stuff. I mean, it’s kind of “Welcome to the world of what I have been doing for the last twenty five years!”. Every month I have to find four or five things that people might be interested in, it's work – but this is what I do for a living, I don’t do anything else, so I should be able to go to the studio and knock something out, or find some old stuff - its funny what people want, ya know! Like old live stuff, which is what I have to go and do next month. That’s fine, and to me, that’s the way forward.

 

Shane:- its an enviable position to be in, when what you do creatively and for a living, is so loved

 

Mick:- Yeah it is, I and I don’t take that lightly. The whole Weddings thing… if I was totally cynical I’d say that the Weddings thing is just performing for money, ‘cos we’re not doing other things – but it’s NOT, you know! I mean, it does make a difference to the back catalogue, but we don’t suffer from that malaise that some artists do. One of the things is, I reckon the Weddings – when we were a fully functioning band - we had really good contact with our crowd, we always had a really great mailing list, and that was when it was snail mail, ya know. It was a LOT of work and a LOT of effort to keep that list updated. Now with the internet – we’re just so stylistically uncool – so different from any other bands out there – and if we’d had the internet back then, it would’ve really made a difference to the way we ran that band.

 

Shane:- It’s a different world and a different industry now with the Internet and there’s no record companies giving people hundred thousand dollar hand outs to go and make an album.

 

Mick:- It’s not…[pauses] but it sort of forces you back to think, well what were those handouts? There was always that thing of “they’ve signed a million dollar record deal”. Well, what’s a million dollar record deal? Do they get a million dollars? No! They get a million dollars to make 5 albums, and that’s not that much. There’s no big record company handouts now, but to get back to this point of reference, a filmclip of a song someone sent me by email yesterday, and I thought “Fuck – that song has got SO much money poured into it” in a way that my music never has and never will. But as an independent artist, the equation is still pretty much the same – you have to get the money upfront, to produce the product, that people are going to buy. And the product still requires ‘X’ amount of money – and [laughing] certain products require more money than others! I guess that’s the most unfortunate thing with the Weddings, that the first couple of albums, like, it took us a few albums to get our heads around where the money got spent, how the money got spent – and it could’ve got spent a whole lot better [laughs].

 

Shane:- That’s part of growing up I guess, in the industry.

 

 

Mick:- Sure is, there’s no way around it. Some bands have that savvy from the word go, and some bands take albums and albums to learn it. I mean, we learnt it… but you look back now, and people go “What would you change?” and I say “Fuck, I would change SOOOO many things” [laughs]. There were just some people that we found ourselves sort of working with, that didn’t have the right attitude for it at the time. At the time - especially in the early 80’s when there was a whole lot of money floating around, and all the record companies were chucking money at lots of different people, lots of people were getting really active and really involved in WHERE their money was being spent and who was spending it.

 

Shane:- We could talk for hours, but I don’t want to take up your whole day, so I’ll just touch very quickly on a couple of other things, if you don’t mind. What’s happening with The Shackleton Project? You have described it as “a sweeping collection of modern folk classics”

 

Mick:- Look, it’s just this great little band that plays on Sunday arvos. There are always gigs that people wanna bring their kids to, and it seems to have become a Melbourne thing now, these Sunday evening sessions. There’s still lots of people I wanna play with, so it kinda ended up being me, Anna Burley from The Killjoys – who has one of the voices I’ve always loved over the years – and Lee Stringer, just playing covers here n’ there. So we recorded this record, its four songs of ours, and then just a whole bunch of covers from everywhere. Traditional songs to Bruce Springsteen songs. It’s just like our little Sunday arvo thing, ya know? Like, I can go and do a record off my own bat, and when I do a record there is all these questions that need to be answered – like, Who do I wanna record with? Where am I gonna record it? What’s the material gonna be? What are the style of the songs? What kind of format do I record it in? Do I do it with a band? There are always questions, right! Or decisions that cost you money in the studio. But Shackleton, we’re just this little band, and we have these songs that we play in a certain way, so we go to the studio and we know we are gonna do with this bunch of of songs, so we pretty much just press record – because there’s none of those decisions to make. [and it went] pretty much the way we planned. So we’ll bring out the record and see if anyone digs it really, outside of Melbourne or wherever.

 

Shane:- Friends of ours in Ireland [Hi Rick & Jane] want to know if you’re planning a trip over that way any time soon?

 

 

Mick:- I think next year we’ll be heading over there, yeah.

 

Shane:- They’ll be very excited to hear that! If you could have been involved in the writing and recording of any one song or album in history, what would it have been?

 

Mick:- Uuuuuuuum… that’s a really good question. [long pause] There’s a couple --- but like, why would you WANNA be involved in the recording of “Blood On The Tracks” [Bob Dylan]? Because it’s just this masterpiece, ya know? It’s a really good question but you’re looking at a piece of art, so why would you wanna be changing it?

 

Shane :- Put it this way - if “Blood on the Tracks “ is one of your favourite albums. Do you think you could have brought anything to it?

 

Mick:- NUH!!!![LAUGHS] NO!! No way! I just think that if you look at that record, at the way it happened, and the quirks in getting it out… I certainly don’t think I could have… well I guess it’s one of the albums I WOULD have loved to have been in the studio just to see it going down. It’s a really great question, but it’s a question that’s fraught with danger! I can’t think of a record I love that I could have contributed to.

 

Shane:- I usually finish the interview with this one and one other question, and I think most of the people that have answered it in the past haven’t thought about it as much as you have. I think they have gone “Gee wouldn’t it have been cool, to be in the studio, when ACDC were doing “Highway to Hell” or something like that. So its interesting looking at it from you as a hands on creative songwriter, it’s interesting seeing your reaction from that question

 

Mick:- Yeah like, there are heaps of records that I hear and I wish that I could have been there to skew this back this way or told ‘em not to do that, but that’s one of the classic albums that I’ve [always] loved, and I guess more and more, with age, the records that exist are just THERE, ya know. A really great example is, we went over to Canada and did some shows with this band The Lowest Of The Low, for their tour for the twentieth anniversary of their first album, which is this album which consistently gets recognition as a great album.

 

Shane:- Yeah, great album

 

Mick:- And for three weeks, we got to stand there with other people who love that album and listen to them play it EVERY night, and you talk to the guys in the band and it’s just a bunch of demos that got released! And they got faced with this quandary – the album got remastered for the tour, and someone said “the multi tracks are still there – do you want to go in and work on them?” And they say that they’ve never really liked the recording of this album that’s become this big thing, sold 80,000 copies and people have t in their houses and everything – and they, wisely I think, made the decision NOT to go in and re-record it. They remastered it, which is totally credible because formats have changed. So what I’m getting at is, you wouldn’t change that record for love or money – even though it’s imperfect, it’s the imperfections on it that make it what it is, ya know? And they’ve made other records, and Ron’s made solo records, and they’re all really good albums – I was listening to one last night! But there’s just something MAGIC about that album, and to change it would be kind of heresy in a way.

 

Shane:- So finally Mick, what for you is the Meaning of Life?

 

Mick:- Oh geez… Keep on going… and don’t watch reality television.

 

Shane:- [Laughing] I couldn’t agree more! Thanks so much for your time and sorry for taking up so much of your day.

 

Mick:- That’s alright!

 

TOUR DATES:-

 

Friday Sept 16
WEDDINGS, PARTIES, ANYTHING
THE METRO, Fremantle WA, with special guests Pete Lawler & Ruby Boots
TICKETS ON SALE NOW
through heatseeker.com.au or oztix.com.au

 

Sunday Sept 18
WEDDINGS, PARTIES, ANYTHING
THE CHARLES HOTEL, Perth WA, with special guest Pete Lawler
Special early evening show / Doors 5pm
TICKETS AVAILABLE AT THE DOOR OR FROM THE VENUE - 9444 1051

 

 

Saturday Sept 24
WEDDINGS, PARTIES, ANYTHING Warm-up Show
THE WESTERNPORT HOTEL
161 Marine Parade, San Remo, VIC with special guests Pete Lawler & The Killjoys
TICKETS ON SALE NOW
through the venue, Phone: 03 5678 5205
Email: info@thewesternport.com.au
or presale double ticket offer for both Melbourne shows available now at WPA Presale Offer

 

Friday Sept 30
WEDDINGS, PARTIES, ANYTHING
Grand Final Eve Show
THE PALACE, Bourke Street, Melbourne with special guests Pete Lawler, Darren Hanlon & band,
Tracy McNeil & band and MC Barry Morgan
TICKETS ON SALE NOW
through ticketmaster.com.au or oztix.com.au