VENOM P. STINGER the STUMPY interview[Originally published in Stumpy IV, late 1993]
Little has been heard of jazz-punk noise legends Venom P. Stinger, unless you’ve been lucky enough to witness any of their recent blisteringly loud and raucous shows in Melbourne. A fine return to form to be sure. STUMPY cornered bass-player Alan Secher-Jensen one afternoon in July 1993 after one such show, and over cold Carlton on tap at the beautiful Esplanade Hotel in St Kilda, demanded to know what the hell has been going down recently in the Stinger camp. Once more, to the beers...
Andrew: The last time you made it to Queensland was ‘89 - what do you remember about Brisbane?
Al: I remember a couple of days’ drive up in the van, and that Peter from Lubricated Goat who was mixing and roadie-ing things got thrown out of Toowoomba for doing an experimental piece of music performed in a circle, and for looking like drunken layabouts... getting to Brisbane, sobering up in the surf, getting to the Blind Hall, and playing a very good gig. That was one gig we enjoyed the most I reckon that year, and it was good playing up north and away from Melbourne. And hung around on the Sunday, did another gig with Strontium Dog... headed back to Sydney, did a gig there, and was great fun.
What were your impressions of Strontium Dog?
I thought they were, um... really quirky, sounded fairly interesting, it’s interesting without having to be heavy, to keep your imagination on things. I haven’t heard anything myself of them for a while, but I liked them I think.
How did you get thrown out of Toowoomba?
It was run by a husband and wife, ex-Federal Police narcs - everyone in Toowoomba is ex-Federal Police!
Maybe over 25; under 25, everyone’s a hot-rodding redneck.
They were having this Festival of Flowers, and because we had a flower on the poster they thought we were an appropriate band for the week! (laughter) He said, “Get out, here’s fifty bucks!”
Why do you have flowers on the record covers? It seems like a complete contrast...
Yeah, well in part for a contrast, to get away from skulls and bones and things, but probably the main reason is Jim’s sister drew the first few and that’s what she was doing.
I mean they’re not very attractive flowers - verging on dead...
If you’ve got ten records you can arrange them in a bouquet. Basically because that’s waht Anna would draw for us. I really like it.
You're recording at the moment?
Yeah, we just did a demo of new songs for the new one, and we did recording at the Great Britain last Monday week, and Nick’s set this studio upstairs which is fantastic. It’s got this room inside the building that’s on springs. It looks like the inside of a miniature airplane. But the sound is incredible. We spent another ten hours yesterday before the gig, ten hours mixing it down then having to drag the gear back. The drum sound is amazing... Nick’s set it up to record bands at the Great Britain live. So I think any band that goes in that's playing, you could record.
So you could have two live albums out?
Well the next one might be a live album, but I certainly like the idea of playing it live instead of overdubbing it all the time. It's heaps better.
Is it coming out on Augogo?
A few people have been talking to us, like Scott Bevan from Deaf Dyke (?) which is a new record label that started up, these guys worked in Augogo. They're starting up this singles record label, and they're doing album CDs and stuff ... so yeah, twelve songs with the new singer.
That wasn’t Dugald last night? (hadn’t actually noticed... )
No that's Nick Palmer. We had a disaster - we got "What"s Yours Is Mine" released in the US, so we were going over to do a tour, and Mick and Jim and I were just trying to get Duguld's papers cleared, and just get him fit and healthy enough to get over there. He got beaten up pretty badly and got his face cut with glass and was really sick, and wasn’t healthy enough to get to America, so Mick and Jim had met this character Nick Palmer who was a friend of Ross Knight’s (Cosmic Psychos), and he knew all the Venom stuff, he got tapes and records actually with him. Nick was actually on a holiday around America, 'round the world - he met Mick and Jim when they were both wondering what we were going to do without a singer. I think they roped him in to it and said, "You know the songs, don’t you? You’re the singer!”
He sounds a lot like Dugald.
He does, but not really the same. Both appropriate to the music ... Nick’s really got his own character and style. I think we've changed what we're doing, I think it's a really good direction.
The new material you played last night sounded a lot different. The older material was more in a straight line...
Before it was more sorta one riff-like songs. There's still a bit of that in there, but a lot's been put into writing the stuff now.
Even the drumming sounds different...
He's got a lot of new styles and tricks. He's still the same Jim White!
I heard someone describe it as 'junk jazz’, especially the snare playing and tom work.
Pretty much what we were trying to get.
The new material sounds a lot more straight-forward.
I think maybe the plan's sorta to do that, but to work out ways so it founds fuller and stronger. Like with all jazz it's a little bit light, and then what we were doing was a little bit light, and I think this way to make it stronger, sometimes it's actually making the songs slower. Which puts a little sparseness in there as well, which I think's ... good stuff. With the new stuff we’re all pretty keen about what we're doing. We were certainly worried about what was going to happen to the band. Wasn't much of a band without the singer.
What happened when you got to America?
The first gig was in the freakshow at Coney Island in front of a huge cardboard cutout of the Bearded Lady! And the Amazing Rubber Woman took an immediate fancy to Nick and started following him around Coney Island. So it was bizarre - they took us on a really dangerous bloody rollercoaster ride just out the back of the freakshow. The trolley leaves the rails and sorta... (laughter) What else? Jello Biafra walks up to Mick Turner while he's putting up a Venom P. Stinger poster and says, I think, quote: "How did these cunts get here?" Marches off into the distance, right, comes back to the gig with his mates later on, and a really nice guy - held heard about us from Charlie from King Snake Roost and Bruce from Aberrant Records and... really good guy.
I know Biafra’s been a big fan of Australian music.
Yeah, he knows what's going on, he knows it all. I think he had people from Australia come over and see him, ropes them up for the night and says, “Tell me what's going on!" Good guy. I think he's battling the record companies. They're trying to work out some way to stamp out alternative record labels.
He's a big fan of conspiracy theories as well.
Yeah, he reckons he lives in San Francisco because it’s the least likely place to get shot. By American standards!
Right next to LA, the most likely place to get shot!
Washington. Beats LA.
Probably more rich people and desperate people.
There's bloody desperados in New York. (pauses) I tell you, the drumkit that Jim played on that live record was a (?), it's amazing the sound's so good on it because it was just falling apart. It's sorta a cardboard drumkit, had to go up the road and get a couple of skins to hold it together, there's sitting around with some milk crates, coupla little amps and things - we didn’t have our amps with us so we couldn't get the guitar sound - but the sound that came out of that was fantastic. It was RAW.
Who was the guy behind the record?
That's Carl from KOLA (?) who’s in Davies, which is north and inland from San Francisco. Carl’s been into the Sick Things and Fungus Brains for years and years, and he’d heard that we were in LA, and asked us if we'd do a gig at the radio. We were sitting around with nothing to do and time running out, so we took a drive - it was a fair drive but it was worth it. We hadn’t seen any of the West Coast so... we were staying with Rick who’s the drummer from Clawhammer - good guys. Once we got up and going in the US it was really good..
That was two years ago... I'd thought you'd split up because the last proper release, Waiting Room - was there a delay in getting that out?
I was hoping it might come out while we were overseas. Because it takes a long time to get things to be produced and actually made and sounding properly, it came out when we got back. That was the fourth studio thing we did.
And that was the last one you’d done...
The last one with Dugald, yeah
I hadn't seen any live reviews or whispers of recordings coming out...
It was basically getting stuck into writing a stack of new stuff and working out new ways... also the scene in Melbourne's changed a lot too. We've played in different pubs, the best one's the Great Britain where we did the recording. Nick's got a history of really good bands at a really good price, and he’s got a really good PA, so you can go down for two bucks and see fuckin’ great bands or see a video or something. He's probably the guy that's into the independent music, of the bands that are playing, than anybody else. (More chat about Melbourne dives) The scene’s far healthier now - people are getting into quirkier things, not just sorta the Stooges...
Where do you think you fit in though?
I hate the word ‘cult', but...
Another word for 'not frequent'! Where do we fit in? Dunno, Andrew. I think the idea is to try and make up some good music and try and play exactly what we want to play. We've played in heaps of bands to do the thing the band does. 'Cause actually each of you've gotta play shit you don't really enjoy. I've been in a band where I can fuckin’ play exactly what I want to play, and the other guys play exactly what they wanna play, and eventually it goes together really good.
It comes across as 'honest’.
Honest, hopefully - we've just gotta try and keep doing that. We're lucky we've managed to keep going since 1985 and we're pretty lucky to have lasted this long for all those years, nd we're just gonna try and got a good record out so that we can keep doing it.