by Nick Coppack
Back in Sydney after a grueling seven week tour of Canada and the United States, The Whitlams are enjoying some well deserved rest. Singer Tim Freedman took some time out to talk to about bedroom nightmares, levitating crowds and of course, Australia’s one and only unofficial air guitar champion, Danger Mouse.
You’ve just returned from a thirty-five date tour of Canada. How well was your music received over there?
I was really heartened actually. I didn t know whether the crowds we were playing to would react to our music because Blue Rodeo, the group we were supporting, plays a very different style of music to us. But I ended up signing a hundred or so CDs at intermission every night, so going on that and the comments we received I think its fair to say that a large percentage of Canadians really enjoy our music.
Is there a difference between playing to crowds here in Australia as opposed to audiences in foreign countries?
There’s one major difference – they don’t sing along. Australian people come to shows having heard the songs before and can place the songs close to their heart. They like to join in.
Do you find that some of the songs get lost in foreign audiences, especially those that contain explicit references to Australia?
Not really, no. Obviously when I’m singing about a particular place they may not have a clue as to where that is. But the message tends to remain clear. Anyway, I think the Australian references serve to add a certain context and flavor to the songs.
What does the band do to keep yourselves amused when travelling in the tour bus?
Well the tour bus we had in Canada had a big satellite aerial on the back so we had 500 television channels at our disposal. I think it’s fair to say the boys watched a fair bit of tele! Myself? I like to catch up on some reading because I don’t get a chance to do enough when I’m at home. I can’t get enough of books.
Who is the worst person in the band to room with?
(laughs) Well our tour manager has a very, how can I say, extremely distinctive snore. I shouldn’t really talk about it but let me tell you, under no circumstances do you want to sleep in the same room as him!
We actually had Terepai, our drummer, get his girlfriend to send over an e-mail telling us how we could get him to stop! The message said in order to stop someone snoring you had to whistle softly from across the room. It works too! The person snoring stops almost immediately and just tosses and turns a little.
So, apart from the sex drugs and rock and roll, do you find time to do anything else when on tour?
Yeah. Sex, drugs, rock and roll and books. Oh yeah, we eat pretty well too. We like going to good restaurants. I can’t cook so I enjoy appreciating others who can. We don’t mind a bit of poker either. But never on a mechanical machine, always with real people, around a real table with real money. Playing on machines is for losers.
The new album. How do you think Love This City differs from previous Whitlams recordings?
It’s a lot more lavish than anything we’ve done before. It’s groovier and has less of a four on the floor kind of rock feel to it. It’s also quite varied in terms of the songs. It begins quite lively before easing off a bit before going back up and finally coming down again.
Do you have a favourite track from the new album?
I like the very last song, There’s no-one . It was an easy song to record, I didn’t have to labour over it for weeks. It was laid down in a day at a studio in Memphis. So, I have fond memories of that one. I wish it were always that easy!
The first single from the album, Thankyou (for loving me at my worst) has just been released. Is that a message to the fans saying thanks for supporting The Whitlams over the years?
No. Thankyou is basically about being messy and drunk. It’s about people tolerating me when I’m pissed, because I’m a very happy drunk and I suppose I can be a bit irritating at times. I just tried to capture that whole idea of arriving home at 4am in the morning totally plastered. It’s meant to be a fun song.
Where did the idea and lyrics for Chunky Chunky Air Guitar come from?
It was inspired really by David Bowie’s records in the early 70s. They were quite surreal and I’ve always enjoyed that kind of stuff. In Chunky I just tried to tell a strange story using these wacky, provocative phrases. It’s kind of like the Coco Cabana for the Z generation. It’s a lot different to the kind of stuff we usually do. Most of my songs are quite anecdotal and real, so it came as a surprise to many people when they heard it. But, hey, I deserve the right to confuse people if I want to!
Have you ever been caught playing air guitar when you thought no one was looking?
Oh yeah, all the time! I play a lot of air guitar. Love This City probably has the most guitars on it out of all the albums we’ve done. And I can’t play the guitar myself so I was forever getting up and showing the boys on my trusty air guitar how I wanted something to be played. I’m not ashamed of the fact that I’m a practising air guitarist. In fact, I think it’s an important apprenticeship for anyone getting into the rock and roll business.
The clip for Chunky Chunky Air Guitar is based at the Australian Air Guitar Championships. Is there such an event?
(laughs) Well we would have you believe that there is.
Do you think there should be air guitar championships?
Um, what are you talking about! I told you, it exists already. (laughs) Well, if there was you wouldn’t catch me anywhere near it. Filming that clip brought me close to some of the best in the business and there’s no way I reckon I can compete with the incredible talent of Danger Mouse. That man’s a machine!
What s the funniest thing that has ever happened to you on stage?
(laughs long and loud) The most dumbfounding or bewildering event occurred at Newtown RSL last September. Our producer, Rob Taylor, was waiting at the side of the stage for his cameo he was going to come on and play the tambourine. Anyway, he leant back against this panel and accidentally pressed a button without realising it. It was a packed house and suddenly these people at the front just began to rise as if they were levitating! Somehow Rob had managed to activate this movable mechanical catwalk that we didn t even know existed. It was hilarious! I suppose in a way it was the Newtown RSL’s equivalent to the parting of the Red Sea. No one knew what the fuck was going on! We all cracked up laughing and couldn t stop for about five minutes.
What’s the best thing about being in The Whitlams?
I just love being a musician. I love playing live too. We do a lot of gigs every year and our crowds are always pretty nice people who are genuine lovers of literate pop. In over eleven hundred shows, there s never been a fight at a Whitlams gig.
If you could be anyone else for a day who would you be?
I don t know. Don’t go getting all Cleo magazine on me now will you!
In that case then, what’s the latest fashion in the Whitlams?
Lastly, can we expect any surprises from you on the upcoming Australian tour?
Who knows! I hope so, but if I told you what they were it would defeat the purpose of it being a surprise wouldn’t it. What I can say though, is that the fans are in for a long show and they’ll hear material spanning across all four albums. I haven’t been to Cairns yet with the new line-up and this one tends to get people grooving about a bit more. It’s the best rhythm section I’ve ever had so the people living up there in tropical paradise can look forward to shaking their things a little bit!