Speaker by Various Artists


Ed Kuepper: a legend interviewed

by Renee Jones

Ed Kuepper is a musician so prolific that no doubt many others feel exhausted just thinking about his output.  He co-founded the Saints in Brisbane in 1974 along with Chris Bailey (singer-songwriter, later guitarist), Ivor Hay (drummer). Eventually, punk rock caught up with them, but failed to make them rich or famous. After three classic albums, Kuepper departed.

His next band was the Laughing Clowns, who combined post-punk and free jazz so compellingly that some people considered them one of the best live bands in the world.

Since then, Kuepper has also helmed the Aints, and has recorded over a dozen albums in his own name with a variety of backing bands, including Ed Kuepper and the Yard Goes On Forever, Ed Kuepper and his Oxley Creek Playboys, Ed Kuepper and The Institute Of Nude Wrestling, The Exploding Universe of Ed Kuepper, Ed Kuepper and the New Imperialists and presently Ed Kuepper and the Kowalski Collective.

Kuepper and the Saints weren't just punk rock before punk rock, they were early in on the DIY-record label scene, forming Fatal Records in 1976 to release their first single '(I'm) Stranded'. In 1980 Kuepper started up Prince Melon Records to release his work with Laughing Clowns and he continues to run the label today.

He’s been awarded ARIAs for Best Independent Australian Release in 1993, for Black Ticket Day, and 1994 for Serene Machine and was nominated for similar awards in 1992, 1995, 1996, 1997 and 1998.

In recent years Kuepper has been involved in soundtracking radio drama and experimental film, touring Australia and Europe performing semi-improvised music to some of these films under the banner of MFLL. 2007 saw the release of Kuepper's Jean Lee and the Yellow Dog album, which was inspired by the story of Jean Lee who was the last woman hanged in Australia, and features amongst others, performances by Jeffrey Wegener (The Saints, Laughing Clowns), Peter Oxley (Sunnyboys), Warren Ellis (Dirty Three), and Chris Bailey (The Saints).

After opening on tour for Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds in 2008, Kuepper joined the band in 2009 as a touring guitarist upon the departure of Mick Harvey. His most recent album was 2012’s ‘Silent Winter’, where he re-worked tracks from earlier albums Electrical Storm and Rooms Of The Magnificent albums with brand new arrangements.

Ed’s a rare visitor to New Zealand, but you have a chance to catch this tireless performer opening for Television this Thursday night at the Powerstation.

 (Source: Wikipedia)

This is a bit of a broad sweep – but what started you on the path to become a musician?

To be honest it was all I thought about as a kid ... didn't want to be anything else.

The Saints are considered one of the most influential bands not only in Australia but in the world punk movement overall. What was the musical landscape like in Australia when the band formed, and what was the impetus behind starting the band?

I was writing songs and getting ideas for an overall sound for quite a while before asking Chris and Ivor if they wanted to be in a band, as mentioned earlier I wasn't that interested in doing anything else - all completely naive of course and much of it not really thought through. The music scene in Australia wasn't really engaging my interest that much; I thought the best years were behind us in a lot of ways and wanted to do something that was as exiting to me as that earlier music. Brisbane in 1973 when we started was basically populated by cover bands doing whatever was in the charts at the time...there were also a number of concept/tribute bands who would model themselves after some [usually] overseas act...for example wearing Alice Cooper style make-up and playing a set by that band. They'd probably do really well these days

I like the fact that you revisit some of your already-released songs on your 2012 album ‘Second Winter’; but with the addition of field recordings and other unusual sounds. So I guess even though you’re always moving forward, you’re ok with revisiting the past?

I've never moved in a straight line really - never considered the idea of musical progress really. So I guess I move backwards, forwards and sideways ... sometimes all at the same time. Even when I was starting out I think I always had a sense of the musical past and its importance to me....this sort of put the original Saints a bit at odds with the Year Zero notion that some folks tried to hang on the punk scene.

There have been a smattering of Saints’ reunions over the last few years. With the performance of ‘I’m Stranded’ as part of Don’t Look Back, what was it like going back to the very first album, considering how much you’ve done since then?

A bit strange, but mainly because Chris was so hostile about it ... I actually didn't have that much of a problem conceptually and thought it might be fun. I think Chris viewed it as not acknowledging music he has done more recently; I saw it differently.

You played in New Zealand not too long ago; was your only show the Penguin Club in Oamaru (or did I miss something)? And how did it go?

I did a couple of shows in Dunedin as well. I thought they went well, especially the one at the Musicians Club

You’ve been involved with running independent record labels for most of your career. How do you think the challenges for indie labels have changed over the years?

The challenge has always been to make and keep them financially viable - that hasn't really changed.

Your own label Prince Melon seems to be very much a family business; are your sons still involved? And are they interested in working in the music industry?

My sons are conscripts really, I don't think they have more than a passing interest in the industry ... tho’ they both like music

How did the tour with Television come about?

It was offered, and because I haven't been to Auckland for a while I agreed. It seems silly to me not to play in New Zealand more given its relative proximity

Not to give away any secrets, but what sort of set do you have in mind for the New Zealand show?

The set will be solo acoustic, along the lines of what I've been doing in Australia. I cover a lot of territory.

Finally, you have done so much touring over the years. Do you still enjoy it, and what do you do to relax/chill out/stay sane while you’re on the road?

I really enjoy the playing for the most part ... however, flying and bussing long distances I could do without.

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