INTERVIEW – Brad Shepherd, Hoodoo Gurus Guitarist
By Shane Pinnegar
It’s only 8:40am in Perth but almost noon in Sydney, and Hoodoo Gurus guitarist Brad Shepherd is in a good mood despite being up with the kids at 5:30am, and he's eager to talk up their latest Greatest Hits collection “GOLD WATCH” and their upcoming DIG IT UP tour, which will see them playing their debut “Stoneage Romeos” in it’s entirety, as well as bringing along a bunch of old friends for the ride.
Throughout our 25 minutes the amiable guitarist jokes around, is quick to laugh, and lets us leave no stone unturned as we delve into the world of The Hoodoo Gurus, 2012 style.
Hoodoo Gurus. Brad Shepherd front & centre
Hey Brad – thanks for taking the time out to talk to The Rockpit
That’s my pleasure sir!
First up, your latest collection, GOLD WATCH, is a great retrospective through your career – who came up with the track listing?
I think Dave did [laughs] - I think it pretty much writes itself really, it’s just all our singles… with the glaring omission of my one single ‘You Open My Eyes’, of course, I noticed. So apart from that I think it’s pretty much all our singles
Well that was my next question actually – whilst it is a really good cross section through all your albums, is there anything that you’d have liked to have seen on there –for instance…?
[laughs] You know, I haven’t even mentioned it to him, he just got a raised eyebrow from me when he said “here’s the track listing” and I went “Mmm hmm…” [both laugh]. I figure that no-one is going to retire on record sales these days so I didn’t even broach the subject! [laughs heartily]
We’ll get to your upcoming DIG IT UP tour in a moment – but live there must be songs you’d pretty much get lynched if you didn’t play them live…?
That’s true – we do RISK DEATH nightly by not performing some of our songs [laughs]
Hoodoo Gurus – daredevils!!
Absolutely! Look, we obviously have a very core following, but I think there are just average people in the street who don’t even know how many Hoodoo Gurus songs they actually know, and when they do bother to come to a show they’re shocked by how many they know! Maybe they just hear us on the radio in the background at work, or something like that? We’ve just managed to seep through into the DNA somehow… of the public consciousness!
That’s a really good way to look at it – I certainly had the exact same experience many years ago when I first went to a Hunters & Collectors gig not realising that I knew them at all, and yet recognising practically every song.
Yeah I think our experience would parallel Hunters in so much as not being the biggest band in the country at the time – that would probably have been reserved for INXS or Midnight oil – but we kept on keeping on, delivering the goods, and touring long and hard, and we got better and better through that experience.
And I think – going back to what you said about seeping into the public consciousness – you, Hoodoo Gurus, ARE one of Australia’s favourite bands
Well, what is it they say – if you stick around long enough you get respectable? [both laugh]
Ahh well I never said anything about respect Brad [Both laugh loudly]
So for this tour – the DIG IT UP tour - you’re playing “STONEAGE ROMEOS” in its entirety – almost 30 years later, what do you think it is about that album that has made it so loved?
Hmmm… [long pause] Well, obviously Dave’s songwriting is our secret weapon – he was a fully formed genius songwriter in his early twenties, and a lot of people have to work hard at that. And he had just developed rapidly from kinda noodling around on the piano in the Seventies, then punk pop songwriting. His influences were pretty sophisticated for what the band was – the band was influenced by 70’s glam rock like Suzi Quatro, The Sweet, Gary Glitter, T-Rex and Bowie. And then we were also influenced – equally influenced - by really ferocious Sixties rock n’ roll, Little Richard and Chuck Berry, Eddie Cochran and these are a ton of obtuse references for a band in the early Eighties. Our competition were influenced by Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet and we were listening to things like Charlie Feathers [an early American rockabilly and country music pioneer] – coming completely left of centre!
I don’t know if you can hear that on the record – you can hear the glam rock, certainly…
There are all sorts of influences on there though – there’s some country, some stomping, some rockabilly influences…
Oh yeah absolutely – country music was a completely obtuse reference for 1984! We were completely into Hank Williams at that stage – and we were completely obsessed by the New York Dolls, Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers was a huge influence. I mean – ‘I was a Kamikaze Pilot’ [on “Stoneage Romeos”] could be a Heartbreakers song!
[We were also into] 70’s punk rock, and the obvious 60’s garage and psychedelic stuff, which was full on punk [for it’s time] – and that’s why The Sonics are on the bill with us for these shows… they were very influential on us as well.
That was the brunt of what we were trying to do as well – we weren’t that interested in being a synth pop band, we longed for the days when rock n’ roll was dangerous!
And thank goodness for that!!
Well you know, we just figured we’d stick to doing what we wanted to do. Even in the very beginning I used to go and see Le Hoodoo Gurus, and they had the energy and the danger of the things that interested me, like Radio Birdman and The Saints, that type of stuff. But then they had a bunch of influences which were readily perceived as very uncool at the time – like Suzi Quatro and Gary Glitter, and I just adored that attitude – “this is what we like and we don’t care if you like it”. And I was very fortunate in that the band fell over, they lost a couple of members in pretty quick succession, and I got headhunted. And that was 30 years ago – I actually joined the Hoodoo Gurus in 1982…
And of course there was that wonderful spikey hair you had back then!
I was kind of influenced by Lux Interior of The Cramps who on the back cover of “Songs The Lord Taught Us” had the highest hair I had ever seen – and it was like Elvis hair but it just kept going like a skyscraper [laughs] and as an experiment I thought I would just see how high I could get my hair!
The early days. Brad far right, sporting "Lux Interior" styled hairdressing experiment
Very much predating Motley Crue, Poison and so on…
Oh yeah, I didn’t know what those bands were doing – I actually stopped doing that to my hair once The Cure came along ‘cos I wasn’t really a Cure fan, and when Robert Smith started doing that to his hair then I thought it was time for a change
[laughs] Ahhh you’re ahead of the pack Brad…
[Another hearty laugh] well I dunno – I always say it was a “hairdressing experiment”
The upcoming tour looks fantastic – I only wish we could get to Melbourne or Sydney to see the full lineup…
Well [in Perth] you’re getting a fair whack of the bands
Oh we’re not complaining – we’re getting The Fleshtones, Redd Kross…
Oh yeah – and that’s gonna be like a holiday for me – not to take anything away from the show at all, because I am a fairly Laissez Faire character, but when it comes to music I get fairly competitive. And I know The Fleshtones, and I know Redd Kross, and I know their game, and I know they’re awesome live acts – but I do get very competitive and I know we’ll be giving it all we’ve got.
But they are very dear friends – the guys in both those bands we’ve known for many, many years. The Fleshtones we met on our very first tour of The U.S. in 1984, Redd Kross I met through The Bangles in 1986 and they toured with us for their “Neurotica” album in 1987… so we’ve known these guys for a very long time and it’s going to just be a JOY to be spending time with them
Because you work so sporadically as The Hoodoo Gurus these days, is it all work when you get together or is it going to be a bit of a party backstage and onstage
I don’t tend to do the partying thing because I’m just so focused on performance these days. I have a commitment and a philosophy about our performance that I didn’t have 30 years ago [laughs]
The straight and narrow has taken over has it?
(Laughs) I don’t know if it’s the straight and narrow, but it’s just actually a responsibility to the show and to the audience, and generally if I have to stay sober and stay fit in order to commit to that show tonight then that’s what I’ll have to do. Nothing really gets in my way of my commitment to getting onstage and being the best band in the world. I didn’t think like that much when I was a kid, but as I say, I do have a strong commitment to that philosophy these days
Were there any of your contempories you asked to be on the bill that had to decline – The Johnnys or The Bangles, perhaps?
The only band that comes to mind is The Buzzcocks actually, and they were almost on board, and then they accepted an offer to perform at the Coachella festival in California which is running concurrently with our event so unfortunately they had to decline, but everybody else has said yes
You can’t blame them for that I guess
Yeah, That’s nice [for them] - I’m gonna miss The Buzzcocks, because they were [pauses]… subtly influential on the Gurus, I think we sort admired them, admired the melodies, you know, the kind of punk rock setting, the relentless heavy guitar thing going on, the wonderful melodies and lyrics with double entendres and turns of phrase that you wouldn’t hear from other bands at the time
Bearing in mind that in the 70’s Def Leppard was called metal, AC/DC was called metal, all these so-called punk bands and metal bands, they always had clear vocals and great melodies, really clever songs, but you don’t see that as much any more
No I guess not. I suppose it’s a technical kind of one-upmanship, and once bands like Slayer arrive on the scene, [the next band] just has to be MORE extreme, and the concept of classic songwriting falls by the wayside... You’re right, you know Def Leppard are essentially a Pop band, they might not agree with that, but it’s all about writing great songs
Oh absolutely! My 4 year old loves Def Leppard – they just have that appeal
Yeah and in a way I think [metal] was all downhill after “Reign In Blood” [Slayer’s 1986 classic] – that’s the watershed album, right there [both laugh]
On that note - as a guitarist, do you ever feel the urge to shred a bit more, get your metal on?
I’ve done that, I was curious about that style of playing, when it was particularly popular in the 80’s, it was more just the curious musician in me that said ‘How do you do that?’ I know it was different to the way I played - I learnt by playing along to Black Sabbath, and Deep Purple, Zeppelin records, that’s what it was for me. And once I discovered Radio Birdman, they were the main conduit for me to then discover things like the MC5 and the Stooges and The New York Dolls and Blue Oyster Cult – there was a bit of shredding going on with Blue Oyster Cult, very tasteful but it’s there…
They did that live thing, where they rubbed their guitars over each other
Oh they had a great show, the Blue Oyster Cult, Buck Dharma is, even to this day, one of my favourite guitar players. But I sort of got it out of my system, you know. What excites me now is – I’ve gone back and got right into the Television albums, “Marquee Moon” really excites me.
How does it feel for you to be sitting there with a family and realise that shit, you’ve been in this band for THIRTY years?
I haven’t quite got my head around it. To see that in print, and try to understand what that means…. thirty years - that’s like when I was a young guy and thinking about seeing a documentary about World War II, that’s what thirty years is to me… it’s TOO MUCH of a time span for me to really, fully comprehend, so I don’t know if I’m going to bother [laughs] - I’ll just try to keep thinking about the future – it’s kind of a yawning chasm in your life!!
Can we expect a book, a la Motley Crue’s The Dirt, about The Hoodoo Gurus?
Not from me, because early onset Alzheimers has kicked in…
[Laugh] How convenient for you
Rick Grossman [Hoodoo Gurus bass player] maybe – he has a really good memory for things like that. He can’t remember that he had the same conversation with you yesterday, but he does remember things that happened – he’s great for remembering all sorts of amusing anecdotes, not just for the Gurus, but also for The Divinyls. He’s definitely got a book in him, [but] I just don’t remember things – and maybe that’s a good thing?
Ahh well maybe you should write it down “only to be published upon your demise”?
[Hearty laugh] Yeah, you’d be surprised – a lot of being on the road is actually really boring and tedious!
I presume you still write songs, what’s your creative outlet now the Gurus are not regularly recording, doing the Album, tour, Album, tour thing?
Well, I don’t do anything APART from being in the Hoodoo Gurus, I might get together with a garage band or write some songs if I get the urge, but that’s it - I’m a very one dimensional character [both laugh]
You sound anything but!
Yeah? I won’t lie to you!! [laughs] Oh I like film as well – if I have to try and defend myself, I’ll say that I watch film noir as well [laughs again]
Can we expect another Persian Rugs album, can we expect another Hoodoo Gurus album, or a side project?
I don’t know, I have about 70-80 songs in my computer, I don’t know what I’m going to do with them, I suppose I should work it out one day. I don’t know, I don’t know if you’ll see another Hoodoo Gurus album, I strongly suspect you won’t see another Persian Rugs album, but we’ve been down that road where we’ve said never again, and we learnt our lesson from that, so never say never – we’ll never “break up” again… so, mayyybe somewhere down the line, but we have no plans at the moment to do another record
Well that’s an enviable position to be in, to be able to do that and not have to go to Coles and get a job as a checkout guy…
Well I DO go to Coles… but I am yet to work there [laughs]
If you could go back in time and be in the studio and contribute to any song or album throughout history, what would it be?
Ohhhhhhhh…. I don’t know. The stuff that would really be resonant with me I wouldn’t have anything to contribute to. I’d just want to nick that guitar solo!
Interestingly, Mick Thomas of the Weddings Parties Anything said something similar about wanting to just be there and not contribute to Dylan’s “Blonde On Blonde”…
That’s interesting… “Highway 51 Revisited” perhaps… that would be interesting to see those sessions but I don’t know if I’d have anything to contribute. There’s a band I really like, the main guy in the band, Jackie Leven, just recently died. The band is Doll By Doll, and they really didn’t make much of an impact, but their first album is called “Remember”, and they’re kind of a European sounding Television.
That album has these snakey, intertwining, stringy sounding guitars, it’s a brilliant sounding record. I couldn’t have contributed anything to that but I would have liked to see those sessions. I did see them play once – I spent a couple of months in the UK in 1980 and I saw The Clash at The Hammersmith Palais, and I saw Doll By Doll at The Herne Hill Hotel. And both of those shows made a huge impact on me, for very different reasons.
I’d gone to the UK to become a punk rocker and it had all died by the time I got there in 1980! It was all two-tone stuff like Madness and The Specials, punk had gone. And The Clash had just exploded into this huge social phenomenon – broken out completely of what punk was [meant to be]. But that show I saw Doll By Doll play to twenty people was just remarkable to me.
Finally – what for you Brad is the meaning of life?
(Deep breath) Don’t ask me – I don’t know! I haven’t even got a smartarse quip for that [both laugh]
Ah my work here is done
I really need to work on work on my rep [both laugh]
Thankyou so much for your time – greatly appreciated – and we’re looking forward to seeing you live again in April