NICK BARKER & THE
‘Goin’ To Pieces’
(Mushroom Advance Tape
TAKE THE strengths of Junkyard, Royal Court Of China, Rock City Angels and a smidgeon of the Georgia Satellites, subtract hyped-up, image-conscious US record company demands, and youhave Nick Barker, the latest no-nonsense snarler from Down Under.
LA raw rock connoisseur and knob twiddler Jim Faraci has ripped off the Reptiles’ lightweight pop skin to expose a truly
prehistoric-sounding ripsnorter for this gleaming new Aussie outfit.
Hot on the heals of Johnny Diesel And The Injectors, the antipodean ass-kicking conveyor belt has run off yet another brilliantly unaffected and irresistible product. Melbournian Nick doesn’t just bark, he bites long and hard on this debut with country-influenced harmonica-laced honesty.
Try imagining Stevie Tyler blowin’ into the harmonica over the top of AC/DC axes with Dan Baird (but better) singin’, and you’ll have but a sketchy picture of the title song. And there’s heaps more….
Try ‘Hell Hole’ for grinding coolness, the laid-back ballad “All Or Nothing’ and the fierce ‘Resurrection Time’. First Aussie single ‘Another Me’, a disgraceful example of inner-city popdom when first released, has been done over well and good by Faraci, but despite the newly introduced reverb and step up in sonic acrobatics, it’s stil out of touch with a strikingly bar room-based slab of plastic.
The first fair dinkum mean-soundin’ outfit from the colonies since Rose Tattoo? Betcha life they are!
PINNED to the wall of Mushroom Records staffer Eleanor McKay’s office in William Street is a cutout black and white photo of Axl Rose. Neatly written in the corner of the picture, in gold glitter ink, is “To Eleanor, thanks for last night, you’ll always be my sweet child, Love always, Axl”.
Pretty impressive eh? Except, it wasn’t written by AxI. It was written by Nick Barker.
As if Nick and the Reptiles don’t have enough trouble with those “Guns n’Reptiles” comparisons, they have to put up with every visitor to Eleanor’s office being told “Nick wrote that”.
Barker, former Hunters and Collectors roadie, doesn’t see what all the fuss is about.
“To me, you cross the border when you start tucking your pants into your boots, you know what I mean?” he hypothesises before chuckling with restraint.
“I think Guns n’Roses are going to be the next Rolling Stones. A lot of people wash their hands of them by calling them a metal band but I think a lot of people are going to be very surprised by their next record. But they come from Los Angeles. They’d be a totally different band if they came from Australia.
“That sort of comparison like, f**k, cause l think they’rea great band.
“My pants stay outside my boots so I’ve got nothing to worry about, have I? Unless I start wearing no pants at all!”
Nick, character-laden lead guitarist Adrian Chynoweth, bassist Drew Basford, harmonica player Chris Harris and drummer David Pinder are huddled around a table at the Kardomah Cafe during a sound check. At various times one or two of them wander off to thrash away on stage and render entire chunks of my interview tape utterly useless.
They are in the midst of harsh touring. A former bass player for a Melbourne cult band is suddenly the songwriter, lead singer and figurehead for an act with a major label contract, touring with Jimmy Barnes, being played on the radio, opening places like the Enertainment Centre. The Reptiles spent only six weeks rehearsing before they played their first show, and they’re still going.
Nick, 23, is level headed about it all, if not taking it all in his stride(s?).
“The last year’s been pretty full-on for us, a lot’s happened,” he says. ‘Things keep happening where you go “f **k, I really can’t believe this. . .“ You get caught up in a whirlwind. All of sudden I’m running around flat-out eight hours a day doing press and what-have-you, whereas two years ago I was doing one gig a fortnight”
Rumour has it that when Capitol Records LA boss Simon Potts saw picture of Barker, he said “this guy’s gonna be a star”, before even hearing a tape of the Melbourne five-piece. Well, maybe went to school full of Aryans, but he looks and talks no differently to any of the blokes who used to sit behind me in history class. A bit skinnier, perhaps, but without the straggly hair he’d look downright gawky. Of course, the number of girls he has following him about means he won’t take that as an insult and also that I obviously go to the wrong barber.
Typically, The Reptiles were virtually “signed” by a group of office girls.
“The giris from the office in at Premier (Artists management group) used to come and see us, and I think the word just spread through Premier into Mushroom, basically,” Barker said. “I took them in a live tape I had and they said “OK, let’s do a single”.”
Nick used to he the boss player in The Wreckery, a very underground but “hip” Melbourne band for which Hugo Race wrote everything.
“It’s easy to sit back on your arse when somebody else is churning out songs,” he says. “The Wreckery had a pretty good name and I just walked into it. I was just doing my gig, y’know?
“I lost all ambition. Working with someone like Hugo can be pretty intimidating. And also, it was his gig, that’s fair enough as far as I was concerned. I just f* tkin’ played the bass and shut up really. Six months turned into three years.”
Adrian, Australian rock’s number one guitar gonzo, had played with Barker in a band called “The Curse” earlier and when Barker’s tenure with the Wreckery fell through, they joined forces again. Nick had played some shows with his former employer, Mark Seymour of Hunters, and was starting to get a bit restless. Basford and Pinder joined soon after; while Harris was discovered accidentally in a rehearsal studio.
Goin’ To Pieces is not quite as immediately attractive as the Diesels’ debut because it’s not homogenised. Barker’s style is strangely sunbaked, dirty and acoustic for someone who has spent a good deal’of his life as an oppressed underground bass- player. And personally, I reckon harmonica sounds basser than sax any day. While he may not take off as quickly as Diesel, there is a limitless potential to go even further and maybe for longer.
The toughest pill to swallow when you’re a newly signed band is the realisation that Fame doesn’t mean Fortune. Nick often runs into old school friends who think it does.
“Yeah, they go “I saw you on TV, you must be f* kin’ loaded, you must be driving around in a Porsche” and stuff like that. Then I get them to buy me a beer, that shuts ‘em up. “Good to see ya, can I have a smoke, you got a beer?”.
“It is pretty exciting for me and the rest of the guys, y’know. It’s sort of, not really having any direction for the post seven years, then just wacking a band together, where the chemistry’s exactty right with five peop!e, it’s like “bang”and you’re doing it.’’
People say to me “overnight success” and all this crap. To me this bond is a culmination of eight years f’**kin really hard work. I mean, I haven’t been sitting around doing nothing else for the last eight years.
“I had a bond not like this but similar with myself and Adrian and a rhythm section and that. It was a good band, the songs were good, but it never got anywhere because I didn’t know enough. And then it went on for another four years touring and just f **kin’ learning stuff.
“And now, when we start this band, the timing’s right, I often think “shit, I should have done this earlier. But it wouldn’t have worked because it took that long to get sussed out and to think f**k this, I’m gonna do it my way. I’m gonna start a good rook n’rolI band and I’m not gonna worry about street credibility and being artistic. I just want to get up there and play some good music”..”
If you listen to Guns N’Roses and like it, then don’t you think you’ll move further in that direction?
“Just because I listen to some metal bands, there’s no point trying to emulate it. We just can’t do it. We’ve got our own sound. The stuff I listen to, I try not to let it dictate to what I want to write. I don’t think I take influences that directly — I hope not anyway:’
How much do you think LA producer Jim Forasci (Guns N’Roses, Poison) influenced the material on Goin’ To Pieces? Did he make you heavier?
“Oh no, I was a bit worried about that. But if anything I think it’s less heavy than if I had’ve done it myself. He’s more into thickening things out and layering than just doing it heavy. The guitar tones that we got were probably a lot less heavy that what we expected.
Are any of your songs motivated by anger?
“I wrote “One Man Tragedy” and a guy said to me yesterday, he said “f**k, that’s one really depressing song”. I thought he meant the ballad but he meant “One Man Tragedy”. He said you must’ve been depressed when you wrote that. He just completely missed the point. I wrote that song tongue in cheek, you know? It’s about the Melbourne underground music scene, or one of its figureheads. I can’t say anymore on grounds it may incriminate me. I don’t think he would have heard the song, he’d be too out of it.”
Have you always been concerned with getting signed?
“Nah. I didn’t worry about it then. We were young, we were just having a good time. Success was “oh yeah, f* *k all”. You had that really big independent attitude in those days too. That sort of “f**k the world, we don’t want to have anything to do with corporations and all that, y’know?” Pretty naive, but, you know.”
So is there anythinq you wouldn’t do for success now?
“I wouldn’t be with a man.”
What’s the most bizarre thing that’s ever happened to you on stage?
“Adrian in general.”
Filed for: ON THE STREET