Transcript: Transcript Dave Warner: The Iconic Aussie Musician who invented Suburban Rock


Hello, and welcome to this week’s show a little bit of a crazy one in store for you today. Because the guest that you’re about to meet is dwell a little bit different. He’s the author of 12 highly acclaimed novels, and he’s written for feature films, stage TV, radio, and newspapers. If you already know the name Dave Warner, you’ll be well aware that he originally gave national recognition to here in Australia, as a musician and a songwriter. You’ll also know that his songs are anything but ordinary. But how could you expect otherwise, when the man himself is such a character, Dave want to coined the phrase suburban rock. And his group was a major Aussie pub band, playing with the likes of minute work Midnight Oil and in excess, Dave want to welcome to a breath of fresh air, it is really a breath of fresh air to have you on the show. And I cannot tell you how many people have written in to me and asked to hear from you. I always take note of who my listeners would like to hear from. And I’m just astounded by the number that I’ve asked to hear from you. So welcome to the show. Well, thank you, Sandy, I’m astounded to I’m surprised anyone wants to hear from me, but I’m glad they do. Yes, I am to you’ve got a huge following. I have to admit that I haven’t been one of your followers over the years. But in doing my research, I’ve learned so much about you. And you’re a very impressive, man. Well, thank you. It was so much more than a musician Dave Warner. And I’d like to tackle all parts of you so that we get a comprehensive view of who Dave Warner is bearing in mind that a lot of our listeners aren’t here in Australia. So they may not have heard of you at all. Yeah, good, good, new, new new fields to tell exactly, we will introduce you to a whole new audience. So let’s back right up to where it started. You were born in Western Australia. And I was amazed to learn that you actually went to the University of Western Australia and you graduated with a degree in psychology. Now, how did how did you get to play music after that? Well, I just always wanted to do music, I kind of I always loved reading books and writing. And, and I always wanted to write books too. But in those days, they didn’t have any creative writing courses. So the English course that I did was very much just critical appreciation, you know, and I found that a bit boring, actually enjoyed philosophy the most I got quite into that. But you know, who’s going to get a job as a philosopher, and I thought, Well, look, if I work as a psychologist for six months or so after uni, I might get enough money to go overseas, where my true genius would be recognized that was my thinking as an 18 year old. And so I ended up majoring in the only course that offered me any job opportunity, which was psychologist and I did I graduated in 1974. And I worked for six months part time and then got enough money to go to Europe. And that’s where I’ve kind of started to work on things from the suburbs.


Those days when I was studying, I had my band Pus, which was possibly Australia’s first punk band. What inspired you to start that? Well, I played in garage bands, but because we weren’t great musicians, so it had to be something simple. In those days in the early 70s, this big California sounds of bands like The Eagles and that was out of our league was no way we were going to manage those harmonies, let alone play the rest of the music. And so we played simple songs and then I discovered a band called The folks if you GS for those who don’t know them and New York band, who were truly a kind of punk band, but punk literary band and the background of those guys. Ed Sanders was a journalist and writer who went on to write a biography about Charles Manson and the family and they have these very profane recordings that were banned everywhere. And I thought this is it for me, this is really inspiring. And the music was really simple.



I liked the fact that they were anti everything. And at that stage, I hadn’t actually heard Iggy and the Stooges, but I have read about them. And I’d read about Iggy stage act where he gouged himself with drumsticks and threw microphones around. So I put those two together and pass started playing. We started rehearsing in about 1972, the band kept breaking up, and I finally managed to appearance in 1973. And then more regularly in 74. And 75 was a very rare phenomenon here in Australia. It wasn’t, I mean, there was no punk around that was very early for part. Yeah, that’s right. Funnily enough, we weren’t Punk in this in the sense of how people perceive say the Sex Pistols, but we weren’t that far off. I used to go up on the stage because primarily because I’m asthmatic and the smoker, everyone’s smoking that today. And anyway I could sing was to kind of fit in and we played this place called the governor broom Hotel, which had very high ceilings was a very old pub, and it had those pressed tin ceilings, you know, lovely ceilings. So I would manage to go on there. And this would sort of hang for the rest of the of the time and through microphones around and all that was just a that was a kind of natural thing to do. And your parents must have been totally outraged. Well, they would have been had they seen me I think my grandmother snuck in once and and saw me. I don’t know that my dad ever saw an appearance. But in the end, they were quietly positive when it started to get some notoriety. And that happened quite quickly, didn’t it? You really grew an underground following our whole cult following very fast. Well past it. And after pass, I decided to go to Europe and try and write some more material, sell some songs, see if anybody was interested in the songs that I was writing. And that’s when I kind of conceived and started working on Dave was from the suburbs. What’s that all about? Tell us about that. I’d done the usual Ozzie thing of with a couple of mates grabbing a van and breaking down in Madrid and driving around the place and I’d settled in Brixton. So we had reggae music day and night on either side of us. And I guess I wanted to present songs to English song publishers. And I just had this idea that I had some great music that people would want to hear about. It’s that classic thing of being away from your source, you start to kind of filter and interpret things a bit. And so I expanded the core nature of what I had been writing, I guess the most classic song was Suburban Boy, which is still my biggest hit.



Suburban Boy, when I distilled all the things that I’d written and worked on that really said what I wanted to say I had read lots of books and I always put a lot of store in reading books by intellectual rock’n’roll critics, and they had made the point that the strongest and most powerful songs and music was from people writing about their own milieu today that sounds pretty trite I suppose but back in Australia then our top bands, the group doing Arkansas Grass wrote songs but in American style. The Easybeats we’re doing St. Louis again great song. And so I thought if I’m to follow this idea of writing something that’s really original and really me and in those days, I used to call it indigenous because of that term at that stage didn’t have a particular connotation that it does now, indigenous to me was just growing up in Australia. And so if I’m going to do something like that I have to actually grasp the nettle and try and write things about this incredibly mundane boring world which is the world of middle class Australia and that that was my world Laminex tables and football and suburban boy that song had already stated that position I go to the football night cheer for my team. I’m nobody important I’m not exciting I’m not sexy. And so most of the songs span out from that thematic concept



As you said this was all really quite revolutionary at the time because there were no Australian band singing about Australia yet. But well Skyhooks beat me to the punch in in getting known nationally and they hit the scene just around about the time that pass was happening and I was at once enthralled by what they were doing and very frustrated because they beat me to the punch of singing exactly the same thing they had exactly the same idea of kind of portraying our world and what’s around us and doing it in our terms. They’d done it, but really no one else, you know, Slim Dusty had done it in his time, Rolf Harris, who no one wants to mention had actually been very original in the way he’d approached it. So you really aimed at keeping it rough and ready and representative of who you were and how you’d grown up. Look, that was partly just lack of musicianship skills. But some of the tracks were definitely rough and ready and in that nature, but because I listened and loved so many different things from my mom’s old Julie London Records to Broadway musicals of Oklahoma and South Pacific all the way through to Led Zeppelin. So I wanted to approach my music in this kind of conceptual basis that all the songs were really going to be more relevant to what it was like to be growing up in the Australian suburbs rather than dictated by the actual musical nature. So you know, lots of bands, you listen to them, you go that’s their sound, you listen to the angels, and you go that’s their sound. My sound was kind of much more eclectic. I had songs that were country songs that were folk songs that were hard rock songs and the folk style the ones that people tended to focus on the know where the most outrageous ones which were the monologues,: the ones that said all the dirty words, so they’re the ones who got me know to write.



We managed to create a riot at Wollongong where the collegians Rugby League club just and they said you’re not the sing that song, where you use all those swear words, the one where you mentioned all those other bands and I said, Oh, well, that’s the monster spec because I used to do. Sure, but sack or you know, Darrell sucks or whatever. And I go on, I said, Okay, I won’t do the monster spec. So then I started to do halftime at the football. And I would improvise the story. But essentially the story that is around what happens on a Saturday afternoon, the young suburban girls are on the lounge room floor, and the oldest of seven boys come around, and they all have sex. And they’re going at it so hard that the sparks fly from the carpet and the house catches a light and this fire brigades, it’s a great experience, because it gives me a fourth dimension, I actually get all the crowd doing the parts. I say I want the fire brigades coming in. And in those days, paper boys paper boys beat the paper. And the band just has to play this constant riff really, really hard on the bass player. Was that one written from your own experience? Yeah, it was about what happens in a Saturday afternoon in Perth and the tenant of it was that the young suburban boys are like me growing up, would go around to the suburban girls house and say, Do you want to go to the football and they would basically say piss off. And then the older suburban guys who had no interest in the football who were much cooler would roll up in the lower valiance and they’d have a while six on the floor in the afternoon while we were down at the football going get long and people got you know, lots of sort of just a big satirical look the world.



Dave really did like the football. Aussie rules of course, go anywhere Dave’s following is about to grow rapidly.


Thanks for being here. I hope you’re enjoying getting to know the iconic Aussie musician, songwriter and author Dave Warner. He’s an interesting character who tapped into the psyche of the ordinary Aussie boy and girl. Despite taking his inspiration from sources like the American novelist, Thomas Pynchon, who was known for his dense and complex works, you’ve actually been described as a mixture of Lou Reed meeting Thomas Pynchon, haven’t you? If he can pigeonhole you at all? That’s how they add you.



Yes, yeah. Well, that would be a couple of the more literary people must have a clue, I suppose. But, but it was very difficult to pigeonhole you but it wasn’t it? Well, it was because we didn’t quite fit the punk thing. And I know the first time we went to Melbourne, the agency booked us as Perth punk which we weren’t really and even nowadays you go I go through the Spotify checklist and what’s my music you know, the closest I can get is pub rock or something but it is a bit like with with Lou Reed How do you pigeonhole Lou Reed you could say who reads like Lou Reed, but he’s not like anyone else. And that’s kind of what I wanted to attain. When I set out to do music. I wanted to do stuff that was what I call truly original not just copy what someone else had done and change the riff slightly by two notes and put in a couple of different words, but actually do something that was my unique take on the world.



Before the band the suburbs in 1977 you became known as Dave Warner from the suburbs. How did that come about? Well, I got back from England in 1976. And I had this burning desire to put all this music together that I’ve been writing. And by that stage, I had maybe 30-40 songs, original songs that I’d written. But I’d also been working when I was in England on the idea of doing something that was like a full theatrical show. So monologues and it’ll dialogues and little vignettes and scenes between actors would progress into the music. And so the very first performance was this full theatrical show. And that was on my birthday in October 1976. And it went really well. So then my idea was, well, I’d like to take this now into pubs. But I couldn’t take a full theatrical showing into a pub, because you know, people’s attention span was too small. So I started, first of all, I had to get a band together. And I just asked around everybody that I knew. So we had the band. And then it was, well, how do we render this musical idea that like this full theatrical idea. So initially, I shot a whole lot of slides, and we would show slides while we were playing. So we actually put a big slide screen. We didn’t have back projection, though. So it was tricky. You gotta get your heads out of the way. So we’d have slides screen of suburban Australia. And then I would play my keyboard on top of that, an old empty television, which was bloody heavy to lug around. We rehearsed for about three months, because we needed about 5060 songs to play in a place like Perth, and not bore people you needed to play five times a week, you needed huge repertoire. So we had about 50 songs when we started. And because I couldn’t do the dialogue. And the monologue has had been written here that kind of generated this thing where I would talk to the audience pre song, and then during the song, I would kind of somehow compress and filter what I had what had before been an intro to a song as a proper monologue or dialogue. I’d put that into the song that then evolved songs like mug’s game and halftime at the football and like one Saturday afternoon where the wheels were spinning in my head a bit. So I’ve kind of had a bit of a format. And that also was, I guess, an end product of how do we go about producing this music and presenting this whole experience.



Dave Warner’s evil reference late one Saturday afternoon from 1977 that monologue style really started to catch on yet he still couldn’t crack an international deal. So maybe those those things had some impact. And there’s also there’s a little bit of luck here and there. And I think Michael Gudinski, who’s had a mushroom record, we weren’t one of his favourite band. So I don’t think Michael really pushed hard to get us an international contract, or as hard as he might have with other acts. But you know, look, I’m still grateful for for Michael and mushroom to signing us and getting us out there. So it’s no bitterness. Despite all of that you had several albums that were released and the original manga game album has been reissued as a double CD. There have been other reissues also since haven’t Yeah, well, and that’s all by me because what happened was when I going back you know, wanting the clock back of our previous discussion, where Michael rang me up, Michael Gudinski had come over to Melbourne and he met me in Melbourne in his Celica and drove me around so he was interested in signing the band wizard were in Sydney were a bit interested in signing the band to and David Sinclair who was at Warner’s was interested in signing but he had just signed Perth band Loaded Dice.


He said, Look, I can’t sign you for a while, they were really the only three that were interested. But the deal that wizard and mushroom were offering was a standard deal. I said, Look, that’s not a good enough deal for I’ve already got all these people I’m already selling, you know, 200 cassette tapes a week, she got to do something better than that. And they couldn’t. The only way they would offer me more money was a lease deal, which meant I had to pay for the recording and then list the tape. So that’s what we did. So I actually paid for the recordings of mug’s game and free kicks, but it meant that they remained my property. And so I’ve been able to reissue those over the years and yeah, I always a good move. Well, I guess to some extent, yeah, to some extent, you know, but look at what also had been nice too. I would have been quite happy if somebody had picked it up and and released it in the US and Canada or or hold on.



It’s not too late. You want somebody made it you know, somebody may contact you off the back of this right they may well hear hear this and and the music they’re in and want to bring it to their audience. I’ll keep you posted on that. Why? Don’t want to in 1982, you actually stopped touring full time. And you started to do a whole lot of other things. You started using other creative skills like writing plays and novels and screenplays, of which you’ve done so many. Yeah, well.

Two things happened around the early those early 80s. won my fourth album, which I thought was probably certainly as good as mug’s game or not my if not my best. About You know, it got no real reviews, no traction. No one played it on FM radio Rolling Stone slag me off you know dis the album and I thought I want to what am I wasting my time doing this because at the same time I’d got I mentioned estimate before playing in the pubs in that stage I was living in Sydney and I got so bad I couldn’t was like emphysema I couldn’t walk up a hill I was coughing blood at night and I couldn’t sleep. So I thought, Oh, this is no good. I’ll ditch it in and do other stuff where part of the part of the record that turns the guns in the classroom to Neverland. Were part of the same thing. Good and bad. You and me. We are part of the odds rock’n’roll industry where the struggling musician who can’t pay his rent.





The other guys in the Suburbs were all incredibly talented and creative people who had their own paths that they wanted to follow John Dennis and went off and became a highly regarded sound engineer for film and post production engineer. Paul Newman went and joined the Jugettes and then ended up playing in orchestras and he was doing his thing. The Tony Durant went who had played on the original demos with me in England and then joined the band in 78. Tony went back because he was still living in England and was pursuing his things. But Johnny Orion and I started to work on things like comedy because we loved we just had fun and and so we would work on sketch comedy and we did some sketch comedy. How do you play polo? First you need to be filthy rich, not like you baby only filthy. I’d always been still interested in writing plays and musicals from that very first experience of back in England and Grimm is back with our the screamers show. And so I started to pursue that and yeah, you know, and so the world developed where I would write and, and play and tour a bit but not full time. Dave Warner’s music wasn’t going away anytime soon though. Wherever he did play the crowds just couldn’t get enough of him.



When I did the rounds in Los Angeles on the cocaine pros. Most record companies. I didn’t want them and they hated me.


it’s pretty catchy stuff, isn’t it? Stay tuned because there’s plenty of new music still to come.



Welcome back. I’m really glad you’re still with me. After the release of that fourth album called This Is My planet, and later retitle. This is your planet, Dave Warner retired from writing and performing music full time, turning instead to writing plays, novels and screenplays. And you’ve done amazingly, um, you’re the author of nine novels, including the winner of the 1996, Western Australia premiers Award for Fiction with a book called City of Light, and six other nonfiction titles. You’re obviously cocksure of yourself in that regard to no no, not not so much there at all. I’m up to 12 novels now. Oh, yeah. Oh, no, I wasn’t quite sure of myself in that at all. And I was in Sydney in 1987, doing a bit of music, because I still enjoyed that. But I didn’t have a record contract. So I just do my own stuff and put it out. And a couple of community stations would play it. And that was it. But I thought they were pretty good tracks, and I still liked them a lot. So I thought I think you know, this is I’ve always wanted to be a writer, I’m not doing anything. If I’m going to ever kind of try and write something it should be now. And so I just sat down and started writing from page one. And I thought, Oh, look, I’ll do a crime novel. I’d read every Agatha Christie book, there was not kind of worked out some of her techniques. And I loved the LA noir sort of style of crime writing. And I thought, Oh, look, I’m going to do a big sprawling crime novel. And I want to do a book that does exactly the same as what I did in music, where I took that background of that suburban background, and I’ll just take a character like myself, and set it in 1970. And that was City of Light and see how it goes. And it went very well. It did. But it took a long time took over a year for the publisher to get back to me. And at that stage. We just had our first child and I was thinking of I was in Sydney thinking of going back to Perth, because nothing was happening for me. And almost to the week that I decided this will be the last week and then I got a notification from Fremantle press that they thought it was publishable. And it took another six months before it wasn’t a year before it came out. But yeah, and that sent me off on a on a different path in search of our culture.



You must have the discipline to sit down and write books one after another one. I enjoyed it. But I’ve always been disciplined that way. I don’t know why. It’s just something that I find easy to do that whether it was with music or whatever I can, you know, set the time aside and say okay, I’m going to work from now till now. Yeah, and the books you know, I’ve got I’ve got a bit of a roll on because it was so long before the first one actually came out that I’d already written the second one. And then off the basis of those my agent at that time without success until but once the books came out, a couple of TV people gave me a chance to get in and write so I started writing for television as well. Were you missing music during this or you were totally totally obsessed with with writing? No, I was still playing still writing and recording.



In Martin Cileo, who’s a fabulous guitarist, surf guitarist and I was still writing and demoing lots of songs that even now I’m just recording and putting them out now but I didn’t really want to tour and do all that sort of stuff. I just wanted to occasionally go on the road do a couple of weeks and a few gigs and I had a family you know, just support at that stage and television writing paid well and so that’s what I ended up doing.



I believe you also got involved as a co writer on the never terrorists apart you can access TV telling movie. Yeah, that was quite late in the piece from my television writing. And that was interesting because when I was in Perth, probably at the height of the suburbs, success really, I had a little agency that I ran and we would put bands into a few pubs and one of the bands that we used to look after from time to time with a Ferris brothers who went on to become in excess so it was nice to reunite with Tim and Kirk and John and those guys and the people really liked that show which was nice.



2016 You were named a living treasure of the West Australian arts, who knew day Warner would be a living treasure feel. Well, it’s a bit worrying when they named that because, you know, you think Oh, I’ve got many years left once you know once you get the living treasure you it’s a bit of a worry so but look, it was really nice was was very kind and I was very humbled to be named and to you know, Swan around with my peers and contemporaries who were fabulously talented. It was great to feel part of that there. So what is life hope for you these days? What are you in the midst of? Well, actually, I’ve been haven’t been this flat out for ages. So for the first time in 44 years, I have the band apart from the late Johnny Leppard, the rest of the band who recorded mug’s game and the free kicks albums were on the road. So that’s taken a fair bit of preparation. I’m recording some new songs but mainly a lot of these songs that I demoed with Martin cilia who I mentioned before, you’ve just released a new single Tell me a little bit about that. Yeah, I had a bunch of songs that had been written over a long period of time from way way back Ode to oaks on this back in 1972. I started writing it so there were two singles on this and they were that I loved one of them owed to oaks I had written in 1972. I got to meet the legendary Phil Ochs. He had done a concert and we got to meet him afterwards. Just pause you there, Dave, because there’ll be some people listening who may not know who Phil says, can you just tell us a little bit about him? I mean, what I know about him was that he was quite a prolific singer songwriter in the late 60s, early 70s. That came to a tragic end. Yeah, he was a contemporary of Bob Dylan. He was very much involved in activism. He was the archetypal protest singer, and very clever. He was very much observed and wrote about the social world that was happening around him. There was a lot of wit and satire in his writings. He had problems with alcohol and depression, I think most of his time, but he took his own life in 1976 It did inspire me to write this song about filofax and I and I wrote it and it sat there wasn’t quite finished. You know, it had a couple of verses and I thought are the songs not quite finished? And then about six months ago, when I was going through this catalogue of songs I wanted to do with Martin I thought, gee, I’d love to do this song and I was really pleased with that.



I guess it’s your last homage to Phil. Absolutely. And as I say, even though a lot of my songs are very different in terms of they sound more punky or more Australian or whatever, but where he was coming from, I think the lineage that I’ve been influenced by Phil Ochs and people like Frank Zappa as well, who were able to have a look at the lens around them. This is my favorite one so far. Sandy set in 1967. In San Francisco at the height of FlowerPower. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So a couple of Australian detectives that I first introduced in my book, Big Bad Blood in which was my second novel in 1999. And I really wanted to bring them back. And now they get the chance to come back, I finally have a story. So they go to San Francisco for a young Australian guy’s gone missing at the height of hippiedom, and they follow it through. So there’s lots of things that are happening murders and serial killers and these two straight Aussie cops finding themselves in the middle and getting to rub shoulders and a bit more than shoulders with Janis Joplin.



yes, I’m looking forward to that, thanks.



Finally how does the Dave Warner have today, compare to the Dave Warner, when you first started out? What have you learned along the way about yourself? And is your image still the same? Well, are you still at American? I’m still the American and I still kind of try and speak the truth or speak, you know, what is the truth for me and the people around me and the people of my generation, which might may not be the others. So I guess, still what you would call outspoken in that regard. I do like to write music for other people that’s just love songs, or whatever. But when I’m performing it myself, I want something that I’m saying something about something you know, rather than it’s just a song, definitely wiser. I’m definitely not as cocky and certainly not as caught true of myself much more prone to go, oh, people are gonna like this or hate this, or whatever. But in the end, you know, you go well, what can you do you just kind of have to plow on and do it. So that part of it is the same. Why is gear probably why is it that I think as you said, again, as Tim Finn said in a way, in the creative arts, you better not to be humble and wise and pivot to think that you know, better than everyone else. If you want to get things done, absolutely. And you got to have thick skin too, because it doesn’t matter how many doors close on you. Yeah, yeah. And they always do you know, like for every couple of good things that you get, there’s always going to be a break. I bet your musical skills have improved over time. My singing probably has, I’m afraid. My keyboard skills have gone down the drain. But you always make sure that I’ve got somebody better than me playing anything left on your bucket list. Oh, yeah, loads of stuff, loads of things that I want to write or haven’t written or want to do. And a couple of plays that I wrote that I’d never got produced that I would like to do them as audio plays, you know, like, get get some people around the microphone and do them. None of these things make money I might add, they just do them because I wanted to do them. I wrote them. I like them. So, you know, let’s do it. Thought about the patient. Well, he’s now you know, at that age now, which is great. And all the rest of the guys. It’s just fun to be back together and on the road, Dave, one on one absolute pleasure getting to know a little bit more about you. My pleasure, Sandy, thank you very much. Really nice to have you. And you never know. I’ll let you know if somebody taps me on the shoulder and says, Hey, who is that guy with that music? We want him over here? Oh, that’d be great. You come to be good fun. He’s been a busy man, hasn’t he? And he’s also just released another single called Hennessy Road, while at the same time getting ready for his latest novel summer of blood to hit the shelves. I want to thank Frank in Tasmania, Bill in Braidwood in New South Wales. And Jim in Pine Creek in the Northern Territory for asking me to track down Dave Warner and have a chat. I’ve really enjoyed learning about him. I hope you have to. And don’t forget if there’s someone you’d like to hear from, just get in touch with me through the website, a breath of fresh Take care of yourself, aren’t you Till we meet again. I’ll look forward to same time next week.