Sunday, February 01, 2009

A Quick One: Kim Salmon

There are two types of Scientists fans: Those who swear by the charming, rough-hewn punk/pop of the band's earliest incarnation, and those who prefer to mill in the later muck of their morose Suicide-qua-r'n'r.  Either way, anyone familiar with the group's full oeuvre has to admit that frontman, guitarist and lead songsmith Kim Salmon has penned some infectious hits. He had this to say about the diff 'tween the band's two distinct machinations when I finally let curiosity kill my cat and e-mailed him some two years ago.

Attacking the Beat: I heard from some Australian friends that you just played a rendition of "Last Night" with Teengenerate a week or so ago. How was it? And how did this all come about? Does it surprise you that bands are still looking back at those early Scientists tunes as a major source of influence?

Kim Salmon: Well... It was impromptu, i.e., unrehearsed, with me playing guitar and singing in unison with Fink (their lead singer). It was raucous and rough round the edges. To me it had a football chant thing going on in a Clash first album kind of way (hopefully!).

ATB: Speaking of the early material, the band obviously shifted gears once the first incarnation of the Scientists had ended. How did crowds initially receive the second, more Stooges/Suicide-esque version of the band? Did you guys face a lot of friction from people who expected more pop-oriented hits?

KS: The band had relocated to Sydney and started from scratch there, so it sort of avoided the issue somewhat. It was really a different band in terms of lineup and style, but with the same name. The repertoire at the start was a mixture of some of the old stuff and some of the straighter, later material like "Swampland" and "We Had Love," so the new audience had the opportunity to adapt as we evolved into the "primitive and dark" thing we became.

ATB: What drove you to shift gears like that, though? With stuff like "Last Night," the band had enjoyed a fair amount of success, so why the move to a vastly different sound?

KS: A few things happened. When we'd first formed, we'd decided we wanted to be "primitive" like the Troggs, as that was an aspect of "punk" that appealed to us. That was why we ironically called ourselves the Scientists. When we started writing songs, though, we just did what came naturally. At that time, I didn't write lyrics and left that up to James Baker (the drummer in the earlier lineups). He was going for a naive Jonathan Richman girly kind of thing. Those lyrics lent themselves to music that was both melodic and punky, a bit like the Ramones, Johnny Thunders & the Heartbreakers and a lot of sixties stuff. We enjoyed a couple years of limited success in Perth and found that there was a possibly bigger audience over east when we toured Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney in 1979. We never made the move, though, and eventually broke up disillusioned in Perth in 1980. In that time, however, a few things caught my ear. One thing was the Cramps. Their primitive, wild sound reminded me of the things that attracted me to punk rock in the first place. Our reaction to that was to strip back to a three-piece band and write material that was more punk than the poppy stuff we'd been doing. We recorded an album in this format. This album is known as The Pink Album, but doesn't really reflect the change that went on in our live sound. This was because we had a producer who responded to the melodic aspect of the band that was still there. I'm not saying this was a bad thing. It's just the way it happened. One day, after we had broken up, Boris Sudjovic, who had been our original bass player, persuaded me that we should reform the band but in Sydney, as he's been living there for a bit and found that type of music we'd been doing was really starting to catch on there with bands like the Riptides and the Sunnyboys. We asked James Baker if he was into it, but he'd just joined the newly formed "Le Hoodoo Gurus." We recruited Brett Rixton, who I'd been playing with in a band called "Louie Louie." Louie Louie was doing some more Stooges-like material. We also played "Swampland." I'd finally begun writing lyrics over which I could hang the style of music I wanted to play. Anyway, Boris and I recruited Tony Thewlis as our extra guitarist, along with Brett, and we made the move to Sydney without even having a jam to see what we all sounded like together. when we finally did reassemble over east, the resultant cacophony required a whole different approach to songwriting, and the "darker" sound of the later Scientists emerged.

ATB: Even today, a lot of people are divided between either version of the band: "I only like the early or later Scientists." What do you think about that? Does it frustrate you that some people completely disregard the later material because it's too "dark," as compared to the earlier stuff?

KS: It doesn't bother me anymore. As I said before, the two entities really were different bands that just happened to share a name. An extreme analogy could be the Heartbreakers. I can't stand Tom Petty's band and I love Johnny Thunders'. With us, it's totally understandable that if you liked "Last Night," you mightn't necessarily like "Rev Head." Back in the eighties, when I was trying to put forward the "Blood Red River"-style of music, I did feel frustrated when occasionally people called out for things like "Pissed on Another Planet." I've taken to playing stuff from both periods when playing solo lately, with Juat, me and a drummer thrashing it all out, and it all fits together (at my ears, any rate) quite well.

There you have it.  Now watch this vid 'til you twitch and shrink: