The Blackeyed Susans

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The Blackeyed Susans
Origin Perth, Western Australia, Australia
Genres Rock
Years active 1989–present
Labels Waterfront Records
Frontier Records
Shock Records
Associated acts The Triffids
Martha's Vineyard
Chad's Tree
Kim Salmon and the Surrealists
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Dirty Three
The Jackson Code
Website Official Website
Members Phil Kakulas
Rob Snarski
Mark Dawson
Kiernan Box
Dan Luscombe
J P Shilo
Past members see main list

The Blackeyed Susans are an Australian rock band, formed in Perth in 1989, based in Melbourne since 1992.

Perth 1989-1990[edit]

The original line-up consisted of David McComb on vocals and guitar, Alsy MacDonald on drums (both of whom had been members of The Triffids), Phil Kakulas on bass guitar (an ex-member of Martha's Vineyard), Rob Snarski (ex-Chad's Tree) on vocals and guitar, and Ross Bolleter on organ and accordion.

They played eight gigs and recorded four songs before their 'day jobs' forced them to put the project on hold. The songs became their first EP, Some Births are Worse than Murders, released in 1990 on Waterfront Records. The record spent several weeks at number one on the independent charts in Australia.

By the time the EP was released the band had already undergone several incarnations. Not everyone took their holidays at the same time, so a floating lineup became an integral part of the band's character and appeal. Phil Kakulas left for Sydney with Martha's Vineyard . He was replaced by Martyn Casey (The Triffids). Ross Bolleter went to work in Japan, making his fortune playing piano in cocktail bars and restaurants. He was replaced by Adrian Wood. David McComb was present in the second lineup in 1989 before departing for England. He was replaced by Kim Salmon (The Scientists, Beasts of Bourbon, Kim Salmon and the Surrealists) on guitar and vocals in the summer of 1990. Martyn Casey departed shortly after to join Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

Sydney 1990-1991[edit]

In mid-1990 Rob Snarski travelled to London and recorded an album's worth of material with David McComb and Kenny Davis Jnr (The Jackson Code - keyboards). Upon returning to Australia, Snarski moved to Sydney and with Davis Jnr formed the next lineup of the band. Phil Kakulas returned as bass player, having worked with Grant McLennan (The Go-Betweens) since the demise of Martha's Vineyard six months earlier. Kathy Wemyss (The Jackson Code - vocals, trumpet) and Tim Rollinson (DIG - guitar) were recruited whilst on holidays from inner city cabaret band Pressed Meat and the Smallgoods. James Elliott (drums) and James Cruickshank (organ) took leave from The Cruel Sea to play in the band. This lineup remained intact for most of 1991 and recorded an EP, Anchor Me, as well as contributing the song "Glory, Glory" to the Triple J Live at the Wireless compilation album.

Despite playing numerous shows in Sydney and Melbourne, The Blackeyed Susans were still very much an occasional event, coming together when it suited them for the pleasure of playing. They created a backdrop for Snarski' s honey-laden vocals which were gaining more attention from press and public alike. He was awarded the WA Music Industry Award for Best Male Vocalist in 1991.

In late 1991 four songs from "the London Sessions" were released as the EP ...Depends On What You Mean By Love.

Melbourne 1992 -[edit]

After releasing two solo singles and playing a handful of shows in London with his band The Red Ponies, David McComb decided to return to Australia and settle in Melbourne. Graham Lee had been a resident of Melbourne for the past three years, playing in The Paradise Vendors, The Pub Dogs and Crown of Thorns, and Kakulas and Snarski had recently moved there. Locals Jim White (Venom P Stinger, Dirty Three - drums) and Warren Lee Ellis (Dirty Three - violin, organ, piano accordion) completed the lineup.

A compilation CD entitled Welcome Stranger was released in 1992. It incorporated material from the three previous EPs plus two extra tracks from 'the London Sessions' and a live version of The Triffids' song "In The Pines". Months of touring followed to promote the release Welcome Stranger before the band returned to the studio to record their debut full length album All Souls Alive, released in December 1993 and produced by Phil Kakulas . It featured ten tracks, eight penned by Kakulas/McComb, as well as the Leonard Cohen/Phil Spector classic "Memories" and an inspired version of the Johnny Paycheck song "Apartment No 9". Regarded as something of a classic now, the album features nine of Snarski's finest vocal performances to date, one over-the-top vocal by David McComb, the inspired chaos of Warren Lee Ellis and the majesty of Jim White, pedal steel by Graham Lee and mandolin and harmony vocals by Mark C. Halstead (The Paradise Vendors, Disappointment).

All Souls Alive was released in America on Frontier Records in April 1994 receiving great reviews and sales. The album was also released in the UK, Greece, Germany, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and Sweden in July 1994. The album got great reviews in the UK press and airplay on Radio One.

Two singles lifted off the album were released in Australia in July 1994, namely "Dirty Water" and "This One Eats Souls". Each came with four bonus tracks lifted from the cassette-only release Hard Liquor, Soft Music. Though technically by The Blackeyed Susans Trio, this was an album's worth of late night melancholy that has since become the most sought after of Susans rarities.

The Blackeyed Susans commenced working on their third album Mouth to Mouth in August 1994, completing it in May 1995. The band signed a new record deal with HI-GLOSS/Mds in March 1995. Mouth to Mouth introduced new members Kiernan Box (piano, organ and harmonica) and Dan Luscombe (guitar). It also included Graham Lee (lap and pedal steel), Ashley Davies (drums), Jen Anderson (violin), and Helen Mountfort (cello). Kathy Wemyss (The Jackson Code) wrote string arrangements for the album and also played trumpet. Recorded at Fortissimo Sound Studios, Melbourne, by Victor Van Vugt and Andy Parsons, it was produced by Phil Kakulas and mixed by Tony Cohen. Mouth to Mouth was released mid-July 1995.

"Let’s Live" was the first single to be lifted off Mouth to Mouth and was released in Australia in June 1995. It contained several bonus tracks not available on the album, the most notable of which was a Suicide-styled reworking of the Springsteen track "State Trooper". "Mary Mac" was the album's second single, once again containing bonus tracks not available on other releases, including a version of The Go-Betweens song "Dive For Your Memory". The single proved to be the band's most successful thus far and the song an essential part of the Susans' canon.

The band toured nationally through 1995, and ended the year with a successful, if somewhat irreverent, tribute to Elvis Presley on New Year's Eve. This was to be the beginning of a tradition for the Susans, they returned to The Corner Hotel in Melbourne to play the best and the worst of the King's back catalogue each year, concluding in 1998.

A national tour with Paul Kelly followed in the Summer of '96, with current drummer Mark Dawson joining the group after many years involvement with both Ed Kuepper and The Jackson Code.

The band also had cause for celebration when news confirming their signing to American Recordings came through, with Mouth to Mouth slated for a May release in America and Canada. The band travelled to New York to play with Johnny Cash, at CMJ in September 1996, before touring in the U.S. and Canada. Coincidentally they had already written and were performing the song "Smokin' Johnny Cash" before any of this occurred.

The relationship with American however would prove to be short lived. The label 'released' the Susans from their contract, along with most of their other international acts, in 1997.

In December 1996 Some Night, Somewhere was released in Australia as a Christmas bonus disc with Mouth to Mouth. Recorded live at the Continental in Melbourne, this limited edition CD has long since been deleted.

1997 saw the band back in the studio to record the Spin the Bottle album, released in July. Produced with Victor Van Vugt (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Dave Graney 'n' the Coral Snakes, Luna) the record featured ten new songs and a cover of Billie Holiday's "You're My Thrill". It spawned three singles - "Smokin' Johnny Cash", "Spin the Wheel" and "Blue Skies, Blue Sea" and proved to be their most successful release to date. A busy touring schedule saw the Blackeyed Susans occupied for almost a year, concluding in March 1998 with a national tour with The Whitlams. The album also received a nomination in the ARIA Music Awards for the year. On 9 July 1997 the band performed on the RMITV show Under Melbourne Tonight.[1]

Also of note during this period was the release of the W Minc Productions' compilation album Where Joy Kills Sorrow, which featured Phil Kakulas and Mark Dawson playing on several tracks, as well as Rob Snarski collaborating with Matt Walker on "If You Don't Want My Love".

Likewise, keyboardist Kiernan Box released the Wet Your Beak album by his band The Disappointments, featuring Mark C. Halstead on vocals.

After some much needed respite the Blackeyed Susans reconvened in August 1998 to record the La Mascara EP, released November 1998. It featured five new tracks including "Oh Yeah, Oh Yeah, Oh No" and "To Skin A Man". Both received airplay on Triple J's and other Australian youth orientated stations. A video for "To Skin A Man" was commissioned. Produced and directed by Adam Kyle and Holly Shorland, its provocative images of flesh and blood were too much for the ABC who chose to screen it only in black and white. A tour ensued through the summer and well into 1999.

In February came the sad news that Blackeyed Susans co-founder David McComb had died at his Northcote home. McComb had been the singer and songwriter for The Triffids since forming the band at high school with Alsy McDonald and Phil Kakulas in the late Seventies. In the Nineties he had suffered much ill health, culminating in a heart transplant in 1995.

From May to July 1999, The Susans worked on thirteen songs on a four-track in the living room of Snarski's flat. News first filtered through in August of a new album, Shangri-La, to be recorded and released in the new year.

In May 2000, The Blackeyed Susans parted ways with their record company Mds after it was bought by Festival Records. The Shangri-La album was put on hold.

2001 saw The Blackeyed Susans back with a new album, Dedicated to the Ones We Love, released on their own label, Teardrop, and distributed through Shock Records. The record paid tribute to the influences and aspirations of the band - including songs from Hollywood-period Elvis, Sinatra, Big Star and The Velvet Underground. Well received by the public and lauded by the critics, a national tour followed keeping the band busy until the end of the year.

Early 2002 saw band members busy themselves with solo and side projects, most notably the recording of an album from Rob Snarski and Dan Luscombe entitled, There Is Nothing Here That Belongs To You, released later in the year on the Quietly Suburban label to much praise and national tours with Marianne Faithfull and Paul Kelly.

In 2002 The Blackeyed Susans returned to Sing-Sing Studios in Richmond to finally record the lost album of Shangri-La. Augmenting their sound with op-shop instruments and old vinyl. The album was finally released 21 July 2003 on Teardrop through Shock Records.

Shangri-La was nominated for 'Best Adult Contemporary Album' at the 2003 ARIA Awards, missing out to John Farnham's The Last Time. Since its release the band have played sporadically in Melbourne. Dan Luscombe and Kiernan Box both perform with other artists but are still considered to be band members and continue to play with the band when possible.

In 2001 Kiernan Box joined Augie March while Dan Luscombe joined Paul Kelly's band in 2003, then The Drones in 2006.

A four disc retrospective box set, Reveal Yourself, was released on 30 October 2009.

Personnel[edit]

Current members[edit]

  • Phil Kakulas - double bass, songwriting
  • Rob Snarski - vocals, guitar, songwriting
  • Kiernan Box - piano, organ, harmonica
  • Dan Luscombe - guitar
  • Mark Dawson - drums
  • J P Shilo - guitar, accordion, violin

Past members[edit]

Discography[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ http://web.aanet.com.au/vfok/umt/episodes/list97.htm

External links[edit]