The Fauves have been making music for sixteen years. Having risen from humble Mornington Peninsula beginnings they have witnessed the excesses and stupidity of the circus that is Oz Rock. Singer/ guitarist Andrew Cox took time out from the recording of their new album to answer a few questions about poetry, driving and Slim Dusty.
DP: A few years ago in an interview for the Sydney Morning Herald you said: “There are so many things you can write about, yet rock tends to limit itself to a very narrow band of what's acceptable. This [third LP, “Future Spa”] is just our attempt to broaden that a little. Even if the lyrics aren't great, at least they're different. None of us are claiming to be poets.” Is this a statement you would still agree with? Apart from the obvious, what for you are the differences between song lyrics and poetry?
AC: From the mouth of a great singer even the word 'yeah' can take on a kind of poetry. The same word on the page, however, is unlikely to have an equal effect. Take away the musical accompaniment and song lyrics often seem stupid – just compare someone reading the words to 'Satisfaction' with the Stones recorded version of it. Poetry has to work a lot harder to impress – where a 'baby' or a 'whoa' can often provide an easy rhyme in a song it rarely cuts it in a poem. I think there are poetic lyrics but very few that work as pure poetry.
DP: Was there ever a time when you thought of yourself as a poet? If I can ask you honestly, do you read poetry at all? Know any poets? Remember the last book of poetry you bought?
AC: I've certainly never thought of myself as a poet on any level. For a start I've never written poetry. I can write an OK song lyric but it only takes a brief skim over the history of poetry to realise that one is well out of line in calling the words of a rock song poetry. Just because they didn't have rock songs around when some of the great poets were working doesn't mean we can just say that they'd be working in this style if they were around today. It takes a rigour, discipline, erudition and talent way beyond anything I possess to write great poetry.
I read poetry now and then but my main exposure to it was at Uni. I think being a poet is just about the most noble and doomed artistic pursuit a person can follow in the modern world. The audience is tiny and tends to think that all the good stuff has already been done. I don't know any poets but I was given a volume of poems by a Melbourne poet named Kieran Carroll at a recent show we played. I've really enjoyed reading from it.
DP: Are your lyrics things you come up with in the studio or does the lyrical idea lead to the song? Do you view the lyrics as purely functional?
AC: I would never leave lyrics until the studio because the pressure to write them all at the last minute would be too risky. Lyrics are very important to me but, having said that, I never write them first – the music always comes first. I find all my best lyrics write themselves in about 10 minutes – any longer than that and they start to sound laboured and contrived. It has to be something approaching a stream of consciousness; not in the sense that the words are just the first random rubbish that comes into my head but in a way that each line follows naturally from the one previous, as though it was pre-ordained. Too much second-guessing and the feel is diluted. I'll fix up bits here and there later on. I've always loved great lyrics. They are as important as the music to me.
DP: Who would you say are your favourite lyricists in Australian music at the moment?
AC: I like Dave Graney. Also Ross McLennan who used to front Snout and is now solo. Tim Rogers is pretty good but can get a little 'crumpled lonely singer/songwriter walking the boulevard of broken dreams' for me. Quan from Regurgitator could be quite dazzling at times but pretty much confined to a humorous/satirical style. I am very particular when it comes to lyrics and there are never more than a handful of artists from any country whose lyrics I admire.
DP: In the music context, is there any bitterness directed at song-writers? I mean, your songs are all ostensibly written by the band (and your band mates have described the band as democratic) but what about the royalties from song writing/ publishing? Are yourself and Phil Leonard on a different level there? How does the whole publishing thing work in your case?
AC: There may be bitterness directed towards songwriters in other bands but not ours. We've always split all our earnings 4 ways and moreover, we never recoup any of our advances because our sales are too small and our songs don't get much airplay. If I wasn't such good friends with the guys in the band then I wouldn't be inclined to split the money (or lack thereof). My answer to any residual bitterness would always be, “Ok genius, write some good songs yourself”. It is a conceit to think that just anyone can write a decent song.
Publishing is a bit of a misnomer when it comes to music. Perhaps it meant more when songs were sold in sheet music form but these days it is primarily concerned with finding other paying outlets for the music to be heard. To this end, publishers work most on trying to get songs licensed for movie soundtracks, TV commercials and the like. The lyrics by themselves are deemed to be virtually worthless. Perhaps if you were someone with a literary reputation like Nick Cave there might be interest in publishing a volume of your lyrics but for the rest of us, we may as well be singing about dishwashing detergent for all the interest there is in the effort that goes into the words.
DP: What is the one Fauves song you are most proud of, lyrically speaking?
AC: I really don't have one in particular. I thought Celebrate The Failure was really good but it got completely misinterpreted. People just thought it was a joke song about the Olympics whereas I'd written something I thought was a passionate and angry declamation of the conservative hegemony. Not for the first time I learnt that it always pays to underestimate your audience. Others I have a particular fondness for are: Understanding Kyuss, Taking the Uni Student Out To The Country, Campfire King Of Course, La '86 and Nairobi Nights.
DP: Turning to “Driver”, there seems a fairly consistent thread of road imagery in the Fauves catalogue [see separate post]. Does the idea of hitting the road hold an attraction for you personally?
AC: I think we've written a lot of songs involving road imagery for two reasons. The first is that touring was a big part of our lives through the nineties. It seemed like we were always driving somewhere and it is impossible for that not to come out in your work. Secondly, I think there was an attendant feeling on our part that, despite all the driving, we were not getting anywhere in particular. There came a point where we were getting in the tour van as a matter of course, without even questioning whether there was any point to it. This feeling came out particularly on Lazy Highways which sounds like a very weary, fatalistic record when I listen to it now. The lazy highways seemed to just turn around on themselves and start all over again.
DP: What does the word Driver mean to you? Also, in the song “The Driver Is You” – is you, erm, you? Or someone else? And what the hell's “Orgamosarion” anyway?
AC: I don't attach any special meaning to the word Driver – it's just the guy steering the car or maybe a 2 wood in a bag of golf clubs. The 'Driver' is a handy tool for lyrical imagery, especially in the context of Australia's evocative landscape. I love the character in Dave Graney's 'Night of the Wolverine', the idea that we're all just passing through, there's always somewhere else to go.
I don't know who the driver is in The Driver Is You. I seem to remember stealing the line from Jim Morrison although I can't remember in what context he used it. Orgamosarion was the result of practicing touch typing – trying for Organisation but jumbling a few keys. I thought it could pass as a real word and so used it in a song.
DP: Do the Fauves still tour in the infamous Tarago? How did you come to choose such a vehicle? How do you decide who drives and when?
AC: The Tarago has lost its pre-eminence as a touring workhorse thanks to the design changes in the new model released several years ago. The reconfigured seating drastically cut down on storage space while a simple shifter spanner was no longer enough to remove the rear bench seat and create the area needed to stow amplifiers, drum kits and road cases. We struggle to get our gear in even 2 of the late model Taragos. This has necessitated moving into a 12-seater, a wholly unwelcome change. They are slower, more uncomfortable and more dangerous than a Tarago and don't have the headroom to fit into underground car parks in Hotels.
We came to the Tarago because it was the industry standard – the first time you saw your contemporaries housed snugly inside those beautiful lines you knew you would never drive off the rental car lot without one again. We still use them, but only when someone is providing backline for us at the other end.
Deciding who drives is simple. Daytime we split it between the 3 of us in the band with licences. Post-show it's been me, without exception, for 16 years. I didn't drink so I had no option. It is one of the reasons we've stayed together for so long – no arguing about who's driving after the show. I do drink now but it would be a crime against nature to change such a winning formula.
DP: In another interview, I can't remember where, you made a distinction between “Australian” and “Australiana” – is this something you try and focus on in your songwriting? What is it about Australia (or Australian history) that gets you so fired up?
AC: You tend to only hear distinctly Australian themes in the music of kitsch Australiana songwriters like John Williamson or Slim Dusty. I rarely heard anything recognisably Australian in rock music as I was growing up and wanted to write about something that meant something to me. I've never been to New York or London but I have been to Frankston. It seems somehow dishonest not to honour that fact in song.
DP: You're recording the new Fauves album at the moment: Any song lyrics you'd be interested in submitting as poetry for our magazine?
AC: I'm sorry, I don't have the courage to give any of my lyrics to a poetry magazine to publish.
The eponymous new Fauves album was released in July 2004. Images on this page have been taken from their excellent website.