AUS ROCKERS Grinspoon are no strangers to a hiatus, but it doesn’t mean they’re any happier about the COVID-19 break than the rest of us. Drummer Kris Hopes caught up with Jade Kennedy this week to discuss their post-COVID comeback plans – which kicks off with Newcastle’s Scene & Heard festival in February – and discuss festivals of yore, ‘90s nostalgia, and the next generation of Aus music.
When COVID-19 started shutting down the country earlier this year, Hopes and bandmates Phil Jamieson, Pat Davern and Joe Hansen had been holed up in a South Australian recording studio, working on new material.
It will be their first new album since 2012’s Black Rabbits.
“When we shut down for the COVID thing we were in the middle of recording, so it was a bit of a shame how we couldn’t continue on with that,” Hopes said.
“Our last show was the V8 Supercars in Adelaide and then we stayed on for I think a week or two after that to get a bunch of stuff done. I think we got about seven tracks done or something like that. I don’t know if we’re going to use all of them, but yeah, we got a few in the bag, which is good. I think the next show is in about eight weeks from now and then we’re doing a bit more recording after that, between that show and the one after that.”
In his own words, Hopes said the band has “a pretty full card” in 2021, assuming Australia remains open.
“The stay at home thing with the borders shut has been a bit horrible,” laughed Hopes, who lives in Brisbane.
“The whole COVID thing is pretty boring, but it’s boring for everyone so it’s not just us!”
It was a different story for the band in 2013, when they first announced their indefinite hiatus. At that point, even Hopes admits the future of the band was uncertain.
“I for one was just a bit burnt out… I just wanted a break,” he said.
“Because I guess what people don’t see is that when we’re not touring we’re working anyway, and so for the however long – 17 years – before that, we were just going flat stick and we never really took our foot off the pedal. If we weren’t touring in Australia we were touring overseas, and if we weren’t touring at all we were recording, so you know, it was a big chunk out of our lives. I was a bit emotionally burnt out and I just wanted a break, so I was happy to have that time off. But then when we got back together – I think it was Cold Chisel asked us to reform to support them on a tour – so that was our reformation thing, we had a bunch of fun doing it and we had a chat and said well maybe we kick off again and have another crack. Everyone was into it, and it’s just been kind of rolling on like that for the past few years, so it’s been pretty exciting for us.”
Two of Grinspoon’s studio albums have turned 20 already – Guide to Better Living and Easy – with the former having a massive standalone sellout regional tour and the latter celebrated with a ‘best of’ style compilation album, Chemical Hearts, in October last year.
Hopes said the tours had given them an opportunity to reconnect with their audience – and connect with a new one.
“There’s not a great deal of difference (now), they’re just a bit older,” he laughed.
“They’re still pretty off the hook. I mean we’ve seen a few generational things, we’ve had a few parents bring their kids to gigs and that kind of thing, so that’s pretty funny, but it’s all good – people still go as nuts as they did 20 years ago.”
“That Guide to Better Living tour we did, we kind of created a new generation of fans, so that was a really great tour for us and as you said there’s some young ones now and yeah, we’re happy to be out there playing to them.
“(Chemical Hearts), that was a fun tour as well. And off the back of that we kind of kept going and doing all of those festivals and things we were doing, and that only ended when Covid shut everything down so it’s… yeah. We’re just happy to be out there still doing it and people seem to still be enjoying it.”
It’s hard to believe that it’s still in the same calendar year in which Grinspoon – along with acts including Guy Sebastian, Hilltop Hoods, Alice Cooper, Peking Duk, Olivia Newton-John, 5 Seconds of Summer, Tina Arena and Queen with Adam Lambert – performed at the Fire Fight Australia bushfire relief concert in Sydney
“Fire Fight was an excellent gig,” Hopes said.
“We had an amazing time there, and it was good to help the firefighters out raising money for that. They raised over $50 million or something with Celeste Barber’s fund that she set up; it was probably $60 million with the Fire Fight money… in the end it’s a good cause and we were happy to help out.”
Performing in front of a stadium full of people and live televised audience is nothing new for the band, who has performed at the State of Origin (an especially good night when Queensland gets the win, according to Hopes) – but the size of the crowd doesn’t change their attitude.
“I think they had about 80-something thousand there (at Fire Fight),” he said.
“It was a nice feeling to play in front of a big crowd like that – it’s always a nice feeling.”
A few nervy wees beforehand though?
“Oh, always – that’s any gig though,” he added.
“Whether we’re playing in front of 10 or that amount of people, you know. If you don’t get that you should probably just give up. You need it. As long as you use it in a positive way you’re laughing.”
COVID pause notwithstanding, the Fire Fight event was further proof that Grinspoon is hotter than ever (pun intended). Hopes likened the recent resurgence in ‘90s and naughties nostalgia being enjoyed by many an Aussie band – Grinspoon included – to the pandemic with a laugh.
“I just think that everything turns a full circle and comes back around, it’s happened since the ‘50s and ‘60s – you kind of get your second wave, if you want to say that in COVID times,” he joked.
“You get your second crack at it and your fans are a bit older and as long as you’ve done a good job at the start you get to have another go.”
With festivals like Scene & Heard coming up – which Grinners will play with Regurgitator, Ratcat, Frenzal Rhomb, Killing Heidi, Cog, Custard and Caligula – like a mini taster of Livid or Homebake back in the day, what does Hopes remember of the original one-day festivals?
“Oh the Homebakes were an amazing festival,” he said
“We played the first one that started in Byron Bay and we were lucky enough to get onto that, we weren’t added to the bill at the time and I remember Pat our guitar player had to ring up the festival and hassle them saying, ‘We’re home baked, we’re baked here in Byron Bay and you’re having a festival here, we want to be on it.’ So we hassled and hassled and they got us on the bill and we opened the show. So we played at the first Homebake, which was awesome, but then once we got a little bit of success and that kind of thing we got added to a few of the big ones in Sydney, and they were amazing shows. They were all recorded by Channel V at the time so it’s nice that at some stage we can look back and see what we were doing back in the day. They were definitely fun times, we were a little bit off the rails back then but we definitely made the most of it.”
Even though the band was a regular on the touring festival circuit like Big Day Out, Hopes said he still preferred the local events.
“Big Day Out was just a bit more professional I guess, with all the American bands and stuff,” he said.
“It was a bit of an eye opener for us I guess playing our first Big Day Out… A great festival, but the Homebakes were a bit more localised – apart from the few New Zealand bands that would play on them – so they were just that one special festival. The Domain in Sydney – those big ones there – just felt special when you played them. I remember watching Silverchair come through and play a couple of their big shows there and they were just amazing gigs, really amazing. The band for those shows really stood up and kind of went to a new level.”
These days, Grinspoon is most likely to headline a local festival – as is the case with Scene & Heard. But what exactly does that mean?
“It just means you play last,” Hopes joked.
“No, it’s an honour to be able to headline a festival, and hopefully you take it for what it is… But really we’re just a band on the bill playing with a whole bunch of other bands. Along with headlining comes a bit of responsibility that you should put on an awesome show, so that’s what we try to do, and hopefully that’s what we get away with.”
You can also expect to see Hopes, Davern, Hansen and Jamieson lurking around any festival they might be performing at.
“Yeah, we enjoy it, that’s what we do,” Hopes laughed.
“There’s a lot of bands that just come in, do the thing and get out of there, but we like to hang out with the locals and do our thing and have a bit of party as well – that’s why we do it.
“It’s a bit boring going back to your hotel room and sitting in a little box somewhere. The festivals are the fun bit. We’ve done lots of hard slog tours over the years where you’ve got to jump straight in the van after you play and take off and drive overnight to the next place to do it all again, and you don’t really get a chance to take it all it, you’re just always on the move – so festivals are a good chance to do that and obviously a chance for us to catch other bands as well. So yeah, it’s definitely a good thing to do and we continue to do it that way.”
When Rolling Stone Australia recently published their ’50 Greatest Australian Acts of All Time’ it was to some controversy online, with critics listing their own top 50, 20, 10 and even top five acts – many of which included Grinspoon… unlike the magazine’s list.
“Ohhh you’re kidding! Oh well, we might give up then hey?” Hopes joked when I asked if he’d heard about their lack of inclusion on the ‘official’ list.
“Cool! Good – well, they’re smart people, see?” He laughed when I mentioned the social media inclusions. But what is it about Grinspoon that connects with people so deeply?
“I don’t know… I think we’ve always, no matter what period of our careers we’ve been in, we’ve always tried to give people a good time,” Hopes said.
“They’re paid whatever they’ve paid for their ticket and turned up – it’s entertainment. It’s supposed to be a release and give people a bit of escapism on the weekend or whatever it may be, so that’s what we try and deliver and I think we have successfully done that at some stages of our career… there’s been a few shit ones as well, haha, but you get that. But that’s just what we try and do, and hopefully that’s why people like us.”
Rolling Stone asked artists to discuss their favourite Australian acts – so who would Hopes’ be?
“Oh… there’s a few,” he said.
“I mean there’s a lot of ‘90s bands like Shihad that we played with on many occasions. We went back to New Zealand and toured with them over there.
“There’s a lot of great new bands coming through as well. That band that came on our… I think it was Guide to Better Living tour, Hockey Dad… they were a great band, and they’ve kicked on. A two-piece band of just some surfie lads from the south coast of New South Wales, they were really nice kids and a great band. I think for new young bands that we’ve taken on tour – because we do put a bit of thought into the bands that we select for our tours – hopefully we give them a bit of a leg up with a different kind of audience and spur them on, and also show them how we do it. Everything changes but, there is so many good new bands out there, and probably a thousand that I don’t know about. The Australian music scene’s always been pretty healthy and I think it will continue on, as long as this COVID thing never comes back!”
Hopes has potentially contributed to the next generation of the Australian music scene personally, with his son Harry a talented drummer in his own right.
“He’s been a drummer ever since he was born I think,” Hopes said.
“He came on for the last tour I think, he came on and played a song at our Kingscliff show – which was like our warm-up show for the tour – but then he came back and had another crack at the Fortitude Valley Music Hall, which was right at the end of the tour. It was exciting for me to see him play, he’s just fearless playing in front of big crowds.”
“I think he’s learnt every single song that Grinspoon’s ever written so… Haha, I think he’s just waiting for me to ever get injured or retire so he can just take over! He remembers more songs than I do! So yeah, hopefully at some stage he gets out and does his own thing. He’s just turned 12 and he’s raring to go, he just laps it all in and just wants to play everything with everyone – I think there’ll be big things for him coming. He really likes what I do because it’s what he wants to do, it’s in his blood – my dad was a drummer as well so it’s in his blood, it runs in the family – he’s just excited for what might be ahead for him.”
Grinspoon will headline Scene & Heard festival in Newcastle on Sunday February 21st 2021.