Beasts of Bourbon

Interview with Brian Hooper

There is a song called Fake on the new Beasts of Bourbon album, titled Gone, which has Tex Perkins screaming ‘don’t know myself, don’t own myself, I’m a fake’. The power, venom and dirge of the Beasts’ traditional blue-collar sound permeates Perkin’s personal attack on himself, Fake being a song which could well be his retaliation to anyone critical of this, the seventeenth year of the Beasts of Bourbon’s collective mindset.

“I admire anyone, in this instance Tex, who can get up and sing with all their heart ‘I’m a fake and I’m just an imitation’, whether they are or not,” says Brian Hooper, bass player of the Beasts of Bourbon just prior to the January release of Gone and their tour as part of the final Big Day Out travelling fair.

“As far as Tex is concerned, Fake certainly arose out of the thought of doing the Beasts of Bourbon again where he might be wrongly construed as a fake, harking back to his past or something.”

For as the lead character in the enormous rise of The Cruel Sea, his Tex, Don (Walker) and Charlie (Owen) period and his solo career, Tex Perkins is now claimed to be Polygrams biggest selling Australian artist – a baptism which has it’s fair share of glossy innuendo and conservative leanings. But with Gone, the Beasts’ collectively fire with the same scary noises and brutal, bluesy hooks which was always far from pretty and POPular. The Beasts of Bourbon are back and they are still spitting out loud, dirty rock and roll.

“Isn’t that what rock and roll is supposed to be about?” says Hooper, who has been spending the Beasts’ three year lay-off working with Kim Salmon’s Surrealists, Spencer P. Jones’ solo project The Body Electric with Warren and Jim from the Dirty 3 and adding touches to Nick Cave’s epic Murder Ballads album. “Rock is supposed to have a bit of venom, it’s supposed to be hated by your parents. Makem Cry, from the new album, is a short, sharp jab of punk rock ‘n roll which doesn’t go astray in this day and age, especially when parents are starting to get into these sweeter than sweet ‘punk’ bands which is a bit worrying.”

The members of the Beasts of Bourbon have known each other for seventeen years, “the boys from Bassendeen and Hazelmere”, says Hooper, but the Beasts circa-1997 are without their mate, guitarist Kim Salmon, whose concerted effort with The Surrealists is paying off big time in Europe. “Yeah, I’m sorry for all those rabid Kim Salmon fans but the fact is ‘we don’t miss ya Kim, sorry baby!’ But seriously, Charlie’s great, he’s slipped in well.”

Charlie Owen joins Spencer P. Jones in the guitar ranks this time, his input in Gone, both in songwriting and axemanship, oozes the requisite dark, swampy tones as we’ve come to expect from this supergroup. The co-penned Perkins/Owen ballad That Sinking Feeling Again is pure Tom Waits morbidity and sadness, the guitar lolls in and out of feedback, Owen and Jones duel in a drunken waltz.

But the questions must be asked: why did the Beasts leave us, three years back, just as they looked good for conquering Europe and the US? At that time they were supporting Pearl Jam in New York, why are there always these extended rests? Brian Hooper sounds weary as he explains it yet again, to himself and the world.

“I’ve always said, as a way of rationalising it, that it was five years between the Beasts’ first and second albums and nothing’s changed about the band in that sense. Which means to say there’s no strict time frame, it’s a spontaneous thing. We get together for a certain amount of time – a couple of months every few years – and when we do we try to do something rockin’, an album and some hot gigs.

“It’s a collective knowledge, we all know when we’re busy and when it’s time for the Beasts, we certainly see each other’s material around, other gigs and stuff.

“So yeah, it’s been a lot time since we’ve had common time for the Beasts, but we’ve done it, the album is go.” And the final word: “There’s no way in high heaven matey that you will see us in some glam bike shorts this time around either! I resent the implication,” Hooper laughs as he retaliates to my suggestions leading to the Beasts of Bourbon graduating to ‘pin-up’ status. “I like the Cruel Sea too, I just like our stuff better.”