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.

Australian Guitar - - Contents -

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 I”pre­sume”he 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 was”that”-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***ing€my€song.’ 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 like›that,’› 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...”

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