Tagged: The Aints

Swinging with Ed Kuepper and Jim White

Ed Kuepper still remembers the first time he saw Jim White play drums. It was back in the mid-1990s and Kuepper – founder of the Saints, Laughing Clowns and Aints – was headlining the Prince of Wales in Melbourne, supported by a rising instrumental trio called the Dirty Three.

“I know the Dirty Three aren’t strictly speaking a rock band, but they were playing at a rock club – and they were supporting me, the King of Rock & Roll,” Kuepper says, his tone as dry as a desiccated old biscuit. White, joining us on Zoom, hoots with laughter in the background.

“It was an unusually expansive way of playing,” Kuepper says of White’s drumming. “He was playing the rhythm but wasn’t just focused on keeping a strict tempo. That always catches my ear, and you don’t see it happening all that much.”

Forty-five years since the Saints released (I’m) Stranded, Kuepper and White are touring Australia as a duo for the first time, performing songs from Kuepper’s five-decade repertoire.

Kuepper had bookmarked White as a potential collaborator ever since that first encounter at the Prince of Wales, but the Dirty Three relocated overseas soon afterwards. White then became busy with other projects, working with Cat Power and Xylouris White, among others.

It was the pandemic that brought them together: White returned to Melbourne last year and, with no gigs on the horizon, both musicians had time to consider new possibilities. Kuepper got in touch, and White, who had drawn early inspiration from the great Laughing Clowns drummer Jeffrey Wegener, instantly agreed.

The tour was booked before the pair were even able to play together, with rehearsals delayed by snap lockdowns. “Last year I got into a state of mind where I thought everything was very finite, and made no attempts at thinking in the long term,” Kuepper says. “I’m still in that basic state of mind.”

When they finally got into the same room, the pair clicked immediately. “The first take of the first song basically confirmed what I thought from having watched Jim play over the years: that it wouldn’t be a struggle … The overall feel and pulse of the songs, it’s all there.”

White agrees: “It was unusual to book a tour without having played together, but the situation was what it was,” he says. “I thought there was a good chance it would mesh easily, but you never really know.”

He describes the sound the pair make as “lean”, while retaining an ability to stretch the songs into new directions. “With a two-piece you can turn on a dime, so it’s not going to get lost. It’s not minimal, and neither of us are interested in jamming, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do different versions of songs and still have this intention and result.”

Those songs will run the gamut of Kuepper’s career, going back to the Saints. But there is no suggestion at this stage that the pair will enter a studio. Kuepper, who has released more than 50 albums in various forms, describes recording in the streaming age as “a dead format”.

Which is funny, because he is also reissuing three different compilations of his solo years, the Laughing Clowns and the Aints. But new studio recordings have been scarce in recent years. “I’ve got literally shitloads of stuff that I haven’t recorded – who knows if any of it is ever going to see the light of day,” he says.

“In a way, it seems more and more a vanity project these days, in terms of the old imperative of getting music out to your fans – I think people are a little bit more detached from it … I’ve got a lot of songs, but I also feel like I’m changing musically a little bit. When I’m in that state and I’ve got a lot of old material, I tend to put it away.”

Meaning, if everything is finite and impermanent, as Kuepper suggests, this tour with White could well end up being a one-off.

First published in the Guardian, 20 May 2021

The Aints: Hit me like a deathray, baby

In the space of less than two years between late 1990 and mid 1992, Ed Kuepper released no fewer than six albums. Three – Today Wonder, Honey Steel’s Gold and Black Ticket Day – were released under his own name, and were predominantly acoustic. The other three were electrical storms of white light, white heat and white noise recorded with a band Kuepper called the Aints, a smirking pun on his first band, the Saints.

The Aints saw Kuepper reclaiming the songs and the energy of that band, feeding into an extended feud between the guitarist and singer Chris Bailey, who has continued to play under the Saints’ name since the original group split. According to the press release ahead of this tour, the Aints “sought to bring justice to the sound and attitude of the original Brisbane-based band”, which at least implies that an injustice was being done elsewhere.

Last year, Bailey took his version of the band on a 40th anniversary tour of the release of the single (I’m) Stranded. Now the Aints are doing the same, with the Saints’ first album of the same name released in 1977. And the first show of this tour is in Brisbane – at the Tivoli, no less, the city’s best-sounding room. Saved from demolition and development last year, the art-deco building is celebrating its centenary in partnership with the Brisbane Festival.

With that back story, and weight of history, this show is one of the most anticipated slots on the festival calendar. Kuepper’s timing couldn’t be better: a park in his old suburban stomping grounds of Oxley is being named in his honour; the Saints are receiving similar, long-belated civic recognition. Considering the band was formed in an era of repressive state conservatism, there’s an irony at seeing the occasional politician in the crowd.

Flanked by former Sunnyboy Peter Oxley on bass and the Celibate Rifles’ Paul Larsen on drums, along with a horn section and long-term collaborator Alister Spence on keyboards, Kuepper’s band is built for purpose. He ambles on stage, cordially welcomes the crowd, and tears into This Perfect Day, its riff a hot-rod variation on the Stones’ Paint It, Black. There’s only one key ingredient missing: maximum volume.

It’s followed by The Prisoner, a brooding masterpiece from the Saints’ third album Prehistoric Sounds, but still, things are a little muted. It’s not until the fifth song, The Chameleon, that we feel the band’s full sonic punch as the brass is brought into play. Swing For The Crime is next, and that’s when the entire room lifts, Larsen pounding the song’s tumbling rhythm, the horns blowing the magnificent Stax-style soul break.

Then Kuepper deals a trio of wild cards. The first two are songs which he says were written but never recorded, or played live, by the original band. The first is called SOS ’75 and is as brutal as anything recorded on the band’s debut; the second, Demolition Girl Part 2, was slated for the same album but dropped (it’s also about half the speed of Part 1). The third, Red Aces, was recorded by the Aints on their third and final album Autocannibalism.

In a sense, it’s the highlight of the night to hear these songs, breaking up the predictability of the set list. It also would have been a pleasure to hear more from Ascension and Autocannibalism, the Aints’ excellent pair of studio albums, which featured non-Saints material. But that’s not what this night’s about, and certainly not what the crowd is here for. For the rest of the set, it’s one stone classic after another.

It peaks with Nights In Venice – this time, the riff a molten, sped-up take on Led Zeppelin’s Communication Breakdown – and Messin’ With The Kid. They’re the two lengthiest cuts from (I’m) Stranded, and two of the first songs the band wrote, dating back to 1973–74, when Kuepper and Bailey were teenagers. Messin’ With The Kid especially is still towering, and the addition of brass gives it even more swing and heft.

On Nights In Venice, Kuepper forgets a number of lyrics, as he does on the inevitable closing one-two of Stranded and Know Your Product. Perhaps it’s nerves, or how rarely he performs these songs, but it’s doubtful too many people care, since everyone else in the room knows them backwards. Kuepper, clearly amused and enjoying himself, gets the crowd to sing the opening riff of Know Your Product before leading the band through the song.

They encore with Ike and Tina Turner’s River Deep, Mountain High, a Saints staple from their earliest days. At the song’s centre, Kuepper takes one of his greatest solos, breaking down and rebuilding the pop standard. This wasn’t a perfect night – there were ragged moments, and the sound quality was variable. But when it all clicked, to quote a line from Nights In Venice, the Aints “hit me like a deathray, baby, from above”.

First published in The Guardian, 28 September 2017

Ed Kuepper honoured with re-naming of Brisbane park

The cultural contribution of Ed Kuepper to the city of Brisbane is set to be formally recognised, with a park close to his childhood home in the south-western suburb of Oxley set to be named in his honour.

Ed Kuepper Park – the sign for which is now being made – adjoins Oxley Road and Lawson Street. The name was approved by the council after a petition by local resident Maurice Murphy quickly gathered more than 800 signatures.

Kuepper, who was born in Bremen, West Germany before migrating with his parents to Australia in 1960 aged four, co-founded the Saints with singer Chris Bailey and drummer Ivor Hay in 1973. The group wrote many of their classics in the Kueppers’ garage.

Their single (I’m) Stranded and the subsequent album of the same name, recorded in 1976, is recognised as a cornerstone of the punk movement, even though the band was quick to disavow any association with it.

The band recorded two more internationally lauded albums for EMI, Eternally Yours and Prehistoric Sounds before splitting in late 1978, although Chris Bailey continues to record and tour using the Saints name.

Kuepper went on to the post-punk Laughing Clowns and a prolific solo career, nudging the top 40 with his 1991 album Honey Steel’s Gold and its accompanying single, The Way I Made You Feel.

He is touring in October under the name The Aints, a wry moniker he used on three albums in the early 1990s.

Murphy said councillor Steve Griffiths, of Moorooka ward, had not previously heard of either Kuepper or the Saints, but had been supportive and helped him through the application process.

On top of the park, there are further moves to have the Saints’ pivotal place in Brisbane’s musical history recognised.

John Willsteed – a multi-instrumental contributor on the Go-Betweens classic album 16 Lover’s Lane – has applied for state government funding to mark the band’s second rehearsal space, on the corner of inner-city Petrie Terrace and Milton Road.

This was a share house for Bailey, drummer Ivor Hay and Jeffrey Wegener, who went on to be a virtuoso drummer with the Laughing Clowns. It became a rehearsal space for the Saints and a place to play, since no one in Brisbane would book the band.

When someone hurled a brick through the front window in protest at the noise, it was boarded up with plywood, with Kuepper daubing the words “Club 76” on it.

Despite the club’s location, directly opposite police headquarters in what was then a notorious police state, Kuepper said the club was actually shut down by health and fire inspectors.

“I know that sounds funny, but it was because we didn’t have adequate toilets – there was only one toilet downstairs. And also the fire department; there were just issues in terms of general safety.

“What brought things to a head was … There wasn’t a lot going on in Brisbane at the time, so we starting get a whole bunch of people [we didn’t know] crashing it and we started experiencing problems.

“It started to get violent, there was a degree of unpleasantness, so we would have stopped anyway, had we not been planning on moving out of town.” The band left Brisbane for Sydney, then London shortly afterwards.

The Go-Betweens have already been officially immortalised in Brisbane via the Go Between Bridge, which links Hale Street in Milton to Montague Road in South Brisbane.

Willsteed said it was time the Saints were given similar credit.

“When we look at Brisbane’s cultural history in the last 50 years, internationally, the Saints [and] the Go-Betweens, whether we like them or not, they’re the names that always come up, so I think they’re inextricably linked,” he said.

“We have some kind of international reputation, thanks very much to them, and so I think we really should acknowledge it. People come from overseas knowing that this is the place where the Saints and the Go-Betweens came from.”

Willsteed said that if successful, the application would fund a mural on a wall along Upper Roma Street, a stone’s throw from Club 76 and around the corner from the location the cover photo and parts of the film clip for (I’m) Stranded were shot.

Kuepper said he was flattered, saying he thought it was important generally that artists were recognised in any city’s history.

“When I was a kid, I liked being pointed towards where certain things happened. A friend of mine was living across the road from Tony Worsley, who was a local hero, a 60s garage singer [with The Fabulous Blue Jays].

“That kind of thing really impressed me. So yes, I do think it’s nice having little plaques around to point out that such and such a person did this at a certain place, or this incident happened here or there. Be it arts or history, I like it.”

First published in The Guardian, 10 July 2017