Tagged: Peter Kostic

Regurgitator’s Pogogo Show gets down with the kids

Most rock bands work very hard at being serious. Credibility and being cool is everything – but if you’re a rock-star parent, those things count for nothing when it’s time to go home. Then you might sing silly songs to your kids in between chores, or when you’re dropping them off at school, before it’s time to put on the mask again and going back on tour.

Regurgitator have never worked hard at being serious, and have recorded an entire album of the songs they sang to their kids. The result is Regurgitator’s Pogogo Show: The Really Really Really Really Boring Album, with Ben Ely’s 14-year-old daughter Dee Dee doing backing vocals and telling stories in between songs.

The result is anything but boring, and sounds, well, like a Regurgitator album. For kids. That is, without the swearing, but with lots of farting.

The classic Brisbane three-piece (Quan Yeomans, Ben Ely and Peter Kostic) are spread out these days, with Yeomans in Melbourne and Kostic in Sydney. But all have children, and so too do most of the band’s Generation X fans, who’d come to the gigs on a night off (or on a date night). The Pogogo Show could catch on – especially since it’s already branching out into live shows.

But, as Ely says in the backyard of his Brisbane home, this was no calculated Cockroaches-to-Wiggles type transformation. As much as it is a reflection of parenthood, it’s also an extension of his near 30-year friendship with Yeomans.

“You know that mate who you’re kind of a bit sillier with than other people?” he says. “Quan and I have this very juvenile relationship. When we get together we try and make each other laugh, and a lot of those Regurgitator songs come from that place. Making a record, we’d always find ourselves pulling back from being complete idiots, but doing a kid’s album, this is the project where it really feels true to our nature. We can just jump off that idiot cliff.”

Dee Dee – who was, naturally, named after the late Ramones bass player – took it more seriously. “We kind of wrote it together,” she says. “A lot of it was from childhood. And it was interesting, but it also taught me to be confident in being able to express myself through multiple mediums, and producing a record was just an easy way of getting some of these ideas out there.”

That doesn’t mean it wasn’t fun. Mr Butt, for example, was one of those songs that came from a school run years ago. “We were driving and we saw a cyclist and his pants were not where they should be,” Dee Dee says. “You could see a lot of crack, and Dad just started tapping on the steering wheel as he usually does and pointing…”

“And I said, pull your pants up Mr Butt!” Ely finishes. “And then we invented this character called Mr Butt, whose pants keep falling down.”

Later, Ely made a papier-mache Mr Butt for the children’s shows. “I thought it would take a couple of hours, and it took about a week. But creatively it’s fun. I guess what’s always appealed to us about being in a band is it’s not just guys in a room playing music; there’s so many other components.”

The album was recorded with children’s guitars and drums, tracked in a single afternoon in a Melbourne studio, and mixed the next day. Immediacy was everything. “Kids don’t think about things, they just act,” Ely says, possibly referring to himself. “They don’t think, ‘I’m going to draw a fire truck’, they just draw a fire truck. There’s not very many premeditated ideas.”

“And with a target audience of kids you can make it a bit more creative,” Dee Dee says. “You can also have fun with it, you don’t have to stick to a certain persona or visual effect.”

What about bringing The Pogogo Show to the small screen? Dee Dee is way ahead of Dad here. “I think with modern technology you’ll want to move it to multiple platforms to really take off, because not everyone’s going to be on ABC,” she tells him. “If you want to put it on YouTube, all that stuff, widen your horizons – like, I can help you!”

After all, why wouldn’t they want to take songs like Farting Is A Part Of Life to suburban homes around Australia? As Dee Dee says to Ben, “It’s not like you’ve got a reputation to uphold or anything.”

“There’s no reputation to lose,” he agrees.

First published in The Guardian, 2 February 2019

Regurgitator get their roxx off

Regurgitator’s Quan Yeomans is, in his own words, doing the dad thing. “Your grandmother will be here in a second! Do you mind?” he scolds his one-year-old son Bowie, mid-conversation. He also has a four-year-old, Cassius.

Ben Ely, the band’s co-founder and bassist, is also a father to young children for the second time, with a new partner. After what Yeomans describes as their “midlife crisis record” Dirty Pop Fantasy, released in 2013, their ninth, Headroxx, finds them in a far more settled place.

“We were both in very weird headspaces, not as confident in our lives, and not in love,” Yeomans says of Dirty Pop Fantasy. “This record, we’re both married now, we both have young kids – again, for Ben – so it’s got that vibe about it.”

The exception is drummer Peter Kostic. “Got my kids once a week, sometimes for sleepovers … Take them to the zoo, maintenance not an issue,” he sings on Weird Kind Of Hard, before the song dissolves into a long, absurd scat section, the whole band cracking up laughing.

It’s typical Regurgitator, to make a joke of a serious situation. And Kostic’s personal circumstances aside, Headroxx is a joy to listen to, a concise blast of electro-pop, rock, hip hop and noise that often sounds like a return to the feel of the band’s early work.

Sometimes it sounds like Regurgitator are, to coin a phrase, almost literally returning to their own vomit – no more so than Party Looks, which sounds more like Prince than their best-loved hit, The Song Formerly Known As. Yeomans cheerfully admits he’s heard that comment a lot.

“I don’t know if it’ll get played as much,” he chuckles. “That song is based on the idea of being in a really, really loud disco and not understanding what the person next to you is saying, so the whole conversation just erupts into some bizarre abstract thing.”

Headroxx was made quickly, a reflection of the tight constraints the band works within. “The records that we do these days are kind of like thrown together at the last minute,” Yeomans says.

“What generally happens is Paul [Curtis, the band’s manager] says ‘Oh, you’ve got to do a record, we’ve got a tour coming up, let’s do it now’. And we’re like, oh god, OK! And we sit down and we kind of go through the motions sometimes, but this one was pretty fun.”

That risks making Headroxx sound like a slapdash affair, but it does an injustice to the results. The band turns 25 next year, and while Yeomans agrees they’re a part-time proposition these days, there’s a synergy between the unit that only comes from working together for a long time.

Distance is both a help and a hindrance, in terms of both their longevity and working relationships: Yeomans, after several years in Hong Kong, is now in Melbourne; Ely is in the band’s home town, Brisbane, while Kostic is in Sydney.

“We’re not the kind of band that gets together and jams now, because the distance between us is too prohibitive,” Yeomans says. “But we do work regularly enough to feel like we play well together, and we’re like a family when we get together … There’s no infighting between us.”

Some bands fade away, and come back on money-spinning reunion tours. Regurgitator never fully went away, kept making good records, and Yeomans can’t see them stopping anytime soon.

“It would be harder for us to stop I think,” he says. “[We’re] addicted to it, to a certain degree, because it’s fun. We’re still capable, I think, as a live band; we look after our bodies, we’re not falling apart. It’s not painful to play.

“I’m actually looking forward to being a really old band where we have to play in wheelchairs, with aged-care people around us. I don’t know if we’ll get that far, but we still get a good reaction from crowds, we feel the energy that’s still within us. It’s easy, it’s comfortable, and it works.”

First published in The Age (Shortlist), 1 August 2018

Regurgitator: The J-Files

Potty-mouthed. Wilfully contrary. Ironically self-aware. Genre-hopping. These are all some of the obvious things that come to mind when thinking about Regurgitator. Describing the music, though, is harder: after more than 20 years, the Brisbane band formed by Quan Yeomans, Ben Ely and Martin Lee in 1993 defy categorisation more than ever.

The thick layer of irony that surrounds Regurgitator can make them more of a head trip than a band to take to your heart. But that doesn’t mean they’re not serious: there’s a genuine moral centre to everything they do; it’s just more likely to be expressed with humour, rather than slogans – and you can almost always dance to it. It all makes Regurgitator one of the most original and subversive bands Australia has ever produced.

1: The Concept

Tu-Plang, the title of Regurgitator’s first album (which was recorded in Bangkok) is the Thai word for jukebox. And that’s exactly what Regurgitator are: a machine that absorbs popular music in all its dizzying permutations, then spews it back out. This technicolour approach means that, like American genre-hoppers Ween or New Zealand’s Flight Of The Conchords, Regurgitator are free to play whatever they want – as long as it’s delivered with a nod and a wink.

Quan Yeomans and Ben Ely have never been afraid to bite the hand of the corporate beast that once fed them. Mostly it’s playful mischief-making: the band’s first EP featured the famous Warner Brothers’ logo dominating the rear sleeve, before it was hastily withdrawn. Lyrically, I Sucked A Lot Of Cock To Get Where I Am says it all, but Yeomans has been vocal about everything from the first world’s exploitation of the third (G7 Dick Electro Boogie) to music industry awards nights (Music Is Sport).

He’s particularly strong on gender issues. The band’s biggest hit, Polyester Girl, might also be their most misunderstood: once described as a song about a sex doll, a closer reading shows its real target are the men who take trophy wives to service their own vanity. Ben Ely’s hooky pop-punk confections balance out the band, whether he’s writing about addiction to video games (Black Bugs) or the Queensland constabulary (Fat Cop, which was set perfectly to a crunching nu-metal riff).

2: The Old Stuff

For casual listeners, this will comprise the band’s first two EPs, Regurgitator and New, as well as the band’s first three albums, all of which were recorded with original drummer Martin Lee. Regurgitator were an instant success, both on the live circuit (where they quickly attracted frenzied crowds) and on radio, with early tracks Couldn’t Do It and Blubber Boy being afforded high rotation on Triple J.

That established a platform for the platinum sales of Tu-Plang (1996) spearheaded by two big singles, the monstrous funk-metal clatter of Kong Foo Sing, followed by I Sucked A Lot Of Cock To Get Where I Am, which opened the album. The album was something of a patchwork, with remixes of earlier singles padding things out, but it was strong enough to serve notice of a band to be reckoned with.

In typically provocative style, the band’s next album, Unit (1997) opened with a statement of intent: Ely’s brilliant I Like Your Old Stuff Better Than Your New Stuff, its lyrics sung through a vocoder over a synth line. But if any old fans were put off by the change in direction, the album succeeded in winning over legions of new ones. Unit sold over 240,000 copies, spawning a string of hit singles.

The best of them was ! (The Song Formerly Known As), arguably Regurgitator’s greatest song – even as it acknowledged its debt to Prince. A song about living it up in your lounge room with your significant other, it’s set to a big, belching beat that was purpose-built for festival stages. Everyday Formula, Black Bugs, Modern Life and Polyester Girl kept the album on radio and video playlists for well over a year.

In the end, it was the band’s third album, …art (which featured the telling subtitle, “Actual Product May Not Match Expectations”) which proved to be the difficult one. The band was burnt out from touring, relationships had become strained, and the resulting album didn’t come close to matching Unit’s chart success. The best moment by far was Ely’s hilarious Surfin’ Bird-style rave-up, “I Wanna Be A Nudist”.

3: The New Stuff

While Regurgitator would never again scale the commercial heights of Unit – and by Yeomans’ own estimation, it’s unquestionably the most creatively interesting album of their career, too – the second half of the band’s career has thrown up its fair share of high points. In fact, the more one looks at the sheer breadth of Regurgitator’s output, the more impressive it becomes in its totality.

With a new, high-energy drummer Peter Kostic (on loan from Front End Loader), the band first made Eduardo And Rodriguez Wage War On T-Wrecks, which saw Ely and Yeomans move deeper into hip-hop territory, despite pop singles like Superstraight and Fat Cop. Hullabaloo was a truer indication of where the band was at. It was a change few seemed ready for at the time.

Then came Mish Mash (2004), the result of the band’s Band In A Bubble project for Channel V, recorded in a Perspex box in Federation Square, Melbourne. Ironically, the project left the band open to charges of being over-exposed. Probably the most contentious album of Regurgitator’s career, it’s also arguably the most far-sighted, and the most ripe for rediscovery and retrospective appreciation.

Love And Paranoia (2007) saw the addition of keyboard player Seja Vogel and is a brief (31 minute) blast that saw them return to the 1980s for inspiration, but the band was at a low ebb. Superhappyfuntimefriends, though, combined the band’s best set of songs since Unit with a renewed surge of public interest. It’s the band’s paean to the social media generation, and it’s scabrous, funny and true.

The band’s most recent album, Dirty Pop Fantasy (2013) takes everything to its logical extreme, cramming an ambitious 19 songs onto a single disc. Shake it down, though, for a handful of diamonds – Ely’s sharp Made To Break; Yeomans’ post-punk epic Mountains and We Love You, which declares: “We know what you want, but we’re not gonna give it to you, because that would be easy.”

4: The Legacy

Regurgitator’s reputation will stand forever on Unit, widely and deservedly regarded as one of the best Australian albums ever made – a clutch of sticky singles, production that still manages to sound both retro and ahead of the curve, and lyrics that gleefully run the gamut from straight-up nonsense to barbed social commentary that mostly went over the heads of radio shock jocks and fans alike.

But eight albums and two EPs have proved the band to be stayers. Instead of fading away when the going got tough, the band have adapted to suit themselves: they’ve slowed down on the touring, but continued to make vibrant, endlessly creative records with a high level of quality control. In doing so, they’ve set a number of examples for other bands to follow.

First: do what you want. Not what you think the punters want. Second: don’t assume every step up on the ladder is also a step forward. You don’t have to break America just because you’ve conquered Australia and that’s the obvious thing to do next; nervous breakdowns and bankruptcy lie that way. Third: make records at your own pace. Fourth: Keep making them, for persistence reaps sustainable rewards.

Above all, as Yeomans puts it on “All Fake Everything”: “Be yourself / Be yourself / Be your motherfuckin’ self!”

First published by Double J, 19 November 2015