GUIDE TO RE-LIVING
GRINSPOON IS HITTING THE ROAD FOR THE 20TH ANNIVERSARY OF THEIR LANDMARK DEBUT ALBUM. WE SPOKE TO GUITARIST PAT DAVERN ABOUT THE HEADY DAYS OF 1997 AND BEYOND. BY PETER HODGSON
Picture it: Lismore, 1995. A local band named after the Associate Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School – Dr. Lester Grinspoon, who supported the medicinal use of marijuana – submits the track “Sickfest” to triple j’s national Unearthed competition. They won, and for the next two months, the song was the station’s number one request. Folks couldn’t get enough of Grinspoon, and they were snapped up by Universal Music imprint Grudge. In September 1997, they released their debut studio album, GuideTobetterLiving, which quickly grew to double platinum status on the back of five chart-topping singles: “Pedestrian”, “DC×3”, “Repeat”, “Just Ace” and “Don’t Go Away”. The album spent 36 weeks in the ARIA Top 50. You definitely know somebody who owns it – that is, if you don’t have a copy of your own.
Twenty years later, Grinspoon is emerging from the grave to take the album out on a tour in celebration of its anniversary. They’ll be playing the album in its entirety – along with a bunch of other career-defining tracks – hitting 28 dates across Australia. It’s their first such tour since they went on hiatus in 2013, aside from a support slot on Cold Chisel’s PerfectCrime tour in 2015 (because you don’t say no to Chisel).
The album is also being re-released in an expanded multi-format reissue which blows the original 16-track record out to a whopping 49 tracks, including rarities, live tracks and unreleased recordings. The album also appears on vinyl for the very first time, scoring a limited edition red wax pressing that the original album with a second disc titled LiveAtCBGB’s. The physical two-disc CD edition is packaged in a deluxe slipcase, alongside a 36-page book featuring unseen images, scans of memorabilia, full lyrics, and essays from each of the band members. AustralianGuitar caught up with guitarist Pat Davern to talk about what the record means in 2017.
Take us back to when the album came out. What comes to mind first when you think of those days?
It was an exciting time, obviously. We’d just got signed to Universal Records, and it was the first time we’d spent any length of time in a studio. It wasn’t like it would be later on in our career where we’d write albums while actually making the
albums. All the songs that we had for that record were songs that we’d been playing live either since we started as a band or just after. We were locked away with a couple of weeks to track, and that was a really exciting time. From what I can remember – it was a long time ago, after all – I have some fond, fond memories.
At that point, did you ever think you’d be talking about the record 20 years on?
Well, no! You don’t think about that when you’re writing a record. But in the ensuing years – the last couple of years in particular – we’ve thought about the fact that the record was going to be 20 years old, and it might be worth celebrating that in some way. It was our debut album, it was a big record, and it was really a different time. People would go out to a CD store and buy a CD, and we’d do in-store signings. That was definitely a different time in the music industry. There was no internet, really – there we no digital downloads, there were no iPods, and everything was a lot simpler. So the record was really well received in that time. The ‘90s were a great time in Australian music as well. I’m glad we’ve made it to 20 years and we can go out and celebrate it like this.
Once upon a time, you didn’t necessarily know your favourite band had a new record out until you saw it in the New Releases section of the record store!
Yes! Exactly. I remember getting the paper newsletter at the record store to see what was going to be released. It was very different!
What gear are you using these days, and how does it differ from what you used on GuideToBetterLiving?
Back then, I was using a Marshall JCM800 combo, which I wish I still had. Guitar-wise, I had a guitar I’d built myself. It had a Schecter body and a Japanese Stratocaster neck, and I took all the pickups out of it and had a Seymour Duncan Invader in the bridge position. It was pretty balls-to-the-wall. I used to use a vintage green Ibanez Tube Screamer, which I don’t have either anymore. It’s funny – I’ve gone around and looked for this stuff since we decided to do this tour. I found the Strat: it had been put back to its original configuration with Texas Special pickups put in to make it more of a traditional Strat, five-way pickup selector and everything. But I think I’ve still got the Invader, so I might take that back to its Guide
ToBetterLiving configuration. I had that when I recorded the album, and I think I had a borrowed Les Paul – the one with the thin single coils but not the soapbars. It was a Goldtop that I borrowed off a guy named Leon. I’m pretty sure that I used a Big Muff and a Scion head on the album. [Leon] custom-built amps for the Screaming Jets and stuff, and I think I used one of those.
Now, things are totally different. I’ve got lots of different guitars and lots of different amps, and I’m not sure what I’m going to take out on the road. I’ve got an old Sunn 100-watt head that I’ll probably use as my dirt sound, and I’ve got an old HiWatt Custom 100 which I might use for a lead sound. I haven’t decided on any of it yet. And I’ll probably take something else out for a clean sound
and switch between them – maybe a Roland JC-120 Jazz Chorus. The first part of the show is when we’ll play GuideToBetterLiving from beginning to end, and then we’ll have a short intermission before playing around 45 minutes of well-known songs from our other albums. I’ll have my regular rig for that part of the show, which is comprised of a Model T head and a couple of Les Pauls, an SG and a Tele.
Was it hard to track down the bonus material for the reissue?
Well, the LiveAtCBGB’s recording is interesting. When we released GuideToBetter Living, on the back of the success of that record we got signed to Universal Records, which is based in New York. We moved to LA in 1998 and did showcases at the Whiskey and the Troubadour – all of those kinds of clubs – to build up a bit of a name for ourselves on the west coast. And then we moved to New York when the deal with Universal was inked, and we did our first showcase for the A&R guy. We did it at CBGB’s, and they took a production truck down there and recorded it. To be honest with you, I had never heard it! I didn’t even know it existed! We went to Universal in New York and said, “Have you got anything?” and they sent us that. I’d heard a couple of the triple j tracks, like the ones that were live from Falls Festival, but there was also a b-side from GuideToBetterLiving that I hadn’t heard since we recorded it. So there are definitely a few surprises in there for me.
It must be interesting to hear what “20 years ago Pat” was doing.
Oh, yeah! When I listen to the CBGB’s set, it’s just funny. We’ve all got higher voices because we were basically just kids! Stoned kids!
Looking back on that time, what kind of advice would “20 years later Pat” give?
Wow, I don’t think I can give any advice as to what people these days need to do in the music industry. As I said before, it was so different. I guess I’m a bit of a dinosaur. I listen to Spotify and I get all my new music from all those kind of things, but to be honest with you, I struggle to really see how artists do get heard. I’m sure there’s a machine these days, but when we started, it was just about getting out there and playing as many shows as you could; trying to knock down as many doors as you possibly can. I guess it’s still the same in a lot of ways, apart from the relentless gigging. I don’t know if that’s a necessary part of the process to become a successful band anymore – not when people can discover new music by clicking something on their phone.
The downside is that a lot of bands don’t learn how to perform. Playing for a crowd is very different to playing for an iPhone.
Yeah, that’s right. It’ll be interesting to see what the endgame is for the way music is evolving under these conditions – whether there’ll be something that breaks through in a totally different way, or in an organic process like the one we went through. There are still possibilities for bands to come through not by traditional means or via streaming. More festivals? More live music? People turning away from things like Facebook? Who knows?