COVER STORY: IAN MOSS
IT’S BEEN A LONG TIME BETWEEN DRINKS, BUT IAN MOSS IS BACK WITH A NEW SOLO ALBUM. ANDREW P STREET ASKS WHAT’S TAKEN HIM SO LONG.
It’s been a long time between drinks (nine years, to be exact!), but Cold Chisel guitarist Ian Moss is finally back with a new solo album. The self-titled beast is his seventh to be released under his own name, and the first in over 25 years to be written predominantly by himself. Andrew P Street asks him what took so long.
For a split second, Ian Moss – who has been the very picture of convivial conversation – looks genuinely taken aback. We’re sitting at an outdoor café in Sydney’s bohemian Darlinghurst, despite the Cold Chisel guitarist’s jeans/boots/shirt combo seeming better suited for a day spent tinkering with a tractor, to discuss his new self-titled album. It’s his seventh released under his own name; a collection of blues-fuelled rock numbers being favourably compared to his multi-platinum 1989 debut, Matchbook.
And that’s the reason he’s looking momentarily surprised. It’s been almost a decade since the last Moss album – 2009’s Soul On West 53rd – and over a quarter of a century since he’d released an album where he’d written or co-written the majority of songs (that being his second album, 1991’s Worlds Away). So, what’s taken him so long?
“Time flies when you’re having fun,” he laughs. “Well, I mean, it is partly that. And yeah, you’re right. It’s a long time since I’ve written albums. Honestly, I’ve just been fairly happy with the way things have been going. I got into the whole acoustic world and I’ve just really enjoyed doing that.”
Playing acoustic has been Moss’ main touring format since he first stripped his sound back for 2005’s Six Strings album, where he reinterpreted a host of his own songs, classic covers and a bunch of numbers from that band he’s from – you know the one.
As a rock and blues guitarist, going acoustic seemed like a left turn – especially to Moss himself. “Particularly
in the older days, I didn’t really like the acoustic guitar much – I never would have predicted that I’d pursue it. But then, who would have predicted that the whole pop scene would implode and gigs would have dried up, and the whole rise of the unplugged thing would have perpetuated? But I do really like it.” It’s the easy load-ins, right? Surely not having to lug a bunch of amps into a venue is a big plus. “Well yeah, that helps,” he chuckles. “Look, the control is probably the biggest thing about it. The fact that on one night, you can come to a different line in a song and go, ‘This lyric needs to be screamed to the world,’ and then the next night get the same line again and think, ‘Y’know what? This actually needs to be whispered...’ You can just drop it down like that.” So it’s about dynamics? “Absolutely, and I love the challenge. When we first started doing it, it was like, ‘How do we do this? I know the songs, so I’m just going to play the songs.’ And it wasn’t that easy. We had to rethink the whole thing. I know it sounds a bit strange, but at the first gig I did, I started playing and I had this moment of, ‘Oh shit, I really am on my own. There’s no band. It sounds weird.’” Thus neatly brings us to that other distraction Moss has had from his solo career. Cold Chisel has also kept him busy since they reactivated for The Last Wave Of Summer in 1998, and they’ve been touring regularly since 2011 with two more albums since. So it’s not like he’s been slacking off, exactly. Speaking of Chisel, Ian Moss (the album) features several familiar faces. Don Walker adds his trademark keys to several songs, while Charlie Drayton is behind the kit throughout. Peter Walker, who produced Chisel’s debut album, is back on production, arrangements and, occasionally, the guitar. The late Steve Prestwich even makes an appearance from beyond on the album’s heart-grabbing closer, “My Suffering”. Prestwich was the founding drummer of Cold Chisel and tragically passed away in 2011 from complications during surgery to remove a brain tumour. However, “My Suffering” was a song he’d been working on since the ‘90s. “He brought some MIDI files to me in my little studio in 1992,” Moss explains. “He had drums, bass, and all those stringy synthesiser things. And Ipresumehe played them all himself, but I was trying to find out because I was ready to get the album credits right. I assume it’s all his, although I didn’t think he wasthat-proficient,” he chuckles. “So on that song, I did guitars and lead vocals, and I programmed the rest of the machines.” It’s an eerie way to end an album that covers a fair bit of musical and emotional ground, all of which accumulated over a number of years. One highlight is “Broadway”, a bluesy ballad about the not-terribly rock’n’roll feeling of missing one’s family on tour. “My son is 14 now, but he was about nine or ten then – I just doing the whole thing where the family gets on your nerves and you can’t wait to get on the road, and then you’re sitting on the plane, going down the runway and suddenly, you miss them to death. And that melody just
IN THE OLDER DAYS, I DIDN’T REALLY LIKE THE ACOUSTIC GUITAR MUCH – I NEVER WOULD HAVE PREDICTED THAT I’D PURSUE IT.
AND THEN I HAD THAT MOMENT OF GOING, “HEY, THAT’S MY DREAM – SO THIS IS F***ING MY SONG.”
popped into my head.”
“A Girl Like You”, conversely, is an upbeat pop single in waiting... And it all came to him in a dream.
“In fact, it was one of those things – you have those mornings where, just before you wake up, your brain is fairly active with dreams,” he says with a grin. “I was dreaming that I was watching a band somewhere and heard this song, and I thought, ‘Oh, I like this. It’s not groundbreaking, but it’s got a nice, catchy, melodic thing going on. And then I had that moment of going, ‘Hey, that’s my dream – so this is f***ingmysong.’ So I woke up, grabbed my phone and sang it in straight away, because I know I would have forgotten it ten minutes later.”
So what was Moss’ first guitar? “I was a hand-me-down from my older brother, some kind of acoustic. I don’t even know if he said he was going to try and get me into playing it. He was just not interested. I’ve got no idea what the brand was, except I know it had F holes. It might still be floating around Alice Springs somewhere.”
The acoustic was the guitar that Moss was sporting at his first ever gig, playing at the Alice Springs Youth Centre with the Fortunaso Brothers band. “I had an early stage acoustic pickup thing and plugged into the bass player’s spare input in his amp.”
What was the gig like? “Actually, it was a funny story,” he says. “So I had my first gig ever, and I was nervous as all f***. We were just school kids doing three brackets – for the first bracket, I’m just the rhythm guitar player. The lead guitar player is John Fortunaso, and he’s got a beautiful Gretsch Country Gentlemen guitar. And the whole set, I’m just looking at him. And then for the second set, he says, ‘I don’t want you to play.’”
Ouch. “Yep. I was just like, ‘…What?’ He was like, ‘Can you not play the set?’ So I was f***ing devastated. And then for the third set, he said, ‘Here, you play my guitar and I’ll sing.’ So it was a rollercoaster.”
Shortly after this triumphant performance, Moss got his first electric guitar: “A little Maton hollowbody with
a big silver pickup switch to swing around. I loved that,” he sighs. “I have idea what the f *** happened to it. And the first one I bought with my own money was a 1961 Gibson 335, which I’ve still got. Although the f***ing headstock has snapped off for the third time and I still haven’t gotten around to getting it repaired.”
These days, he’s best known for using Stratocasters and the occasional Telecaster live. “My 1957 Strat is bloody fierce,” he grins. “It’s got a compound radius, but it’s roughly about a radius of 12 inches. It’s fairly flat, but not as flat as the Gibson. I’ve tried different pickups over the years. Currently, I’m really enjoying another Sydney guy, Rod McQueen. He builds pickups with sliders – they’re slider pickups.
He’s still playing the same Marshall amps he’s used since the early Chisel days, but his sonic passion at the moment is his forthcoming range of pedals. “Peter Walker and I are developing them under a company called FOMO Effects,” he enthuses. “One of the first things we’re taking care of and we’ve considered to be at the top of the list is the signal process and the signal. It comes out of your guitar, and then it remains exactly the same by the time it gets to the end, unless you go straight into the end. Then, of course, even the guitar lead itself is up ag ain. In less than ten years of finding, we’ve really locked onto how important or how much a difference a good guitar lead can make to the full bandwidth of the sound without losing any signal.”
So what’s the trick? Moss reckons it’s Microphone cables. “It does seem to have come into a focus for a lot of people. It shows just how important the cables are.”
In other words, despite the wait between albums, Moss has been mighty busy. And the timing of the album is fortuitous too. Cold Chisel’s stock has arguably never been higher than it is at the moment, thanks in no small part to the two bestselling memoirs by frontman Jimmy Barnes.
WorkingClassBoy had dealt with Barnes’ childhood of abuse and neglect, but last year’s WorkingClassMan explored the Chisel years, with plenty of Moss-related anecdotes – including one nude countryside wander in sub-zero temperatures…
“Yeah, there are definitely moments where I went, ‘I don’t know if I remember it likethat,’ or you get that feeling of, ‘Oh, that’s what happened – that person was seeing things in a different way than I was.’ But I’ll clear it all up in m y book one day.”
That’s what we need: every member of Cold Chisel should put out a competing memoir to give us the complete story. “Yeah! Don [Walker] has kind of done his in a way, hasn’t he [with the semi-fictional
Shots]? And Steve didn’t get a chance, so it’s just Phil [Small] and I.
It must have been a strange experience to read about one’s self through someone else’s eyes though, surely?
“Yeah. I mean, there’s certain things where I don’t know if that’s Jim’s angle or that’s how we’re seeing that – or if there’s a bit of colour added there – but hey, I didn’t mind getting my kit off now and then.”
THERE ARE DEFINITELY MOMENTS WHERE I WENT, “I DON’T KNOW IF I REMEMBER IT LIKE THAT...”