Purveyors of the kind of hard-edged, lean and loud guitar rock that the likes of The Ramones, The Stooges and MC5 made their calling card back in the day, The Celibate Rifles have been roaring around the block more times than most bands have had hot dinners. After almost four decades, numerous killer albums and countless live shows, the Sydney surf punk legends are still going strong and about to embark on their first WA tour in several years. ZACK YUSOF caught up with founding member and guitarist Kent Steedman to get the lowdown on modern guitar bands, the 80s Australian underground scene and the possibility of new material from The Rifles in the near future. The Celibate Rifles play Amplifier on October 13 and Dunsborough Tavern on October 14.
The Celibate Rifles are making a long-awaited return to WA for a couple of shows for the first time in years. What took you so long to get over to our side again and how excited are you ahead of the tour?
No one asked. It’s always nice to play. Excited is probably not the emotion that springs out, however we are grateful that we still can get around and there is interest enough in how we do what we do. A good tone and sufficient pleasant volume still creates a space I like to inhabit.
Over three decades in and the band are still going strong. What do you put your longevity down to?
Stupidity perhaps. We were too dumb to break up and then cynically capitalise on the numerous reformation tour possibilities that may have ensued to ease us into retirement. We are friends, we don’t take things, ourselves or our place in the dysfunctional distortion of ethics and human values that is known as the music scene/business too seriously. Perhaps because we have never broken up, we never forgot how to play with the correct intensity. We also like to laugh.
The 80s Australian underground scene is often seen as a golden period for local music. What was like to be right there in the thick of things alongside some truly awesome post Radio Birdman/Saints era acts like Lime Spiders and The Screaming Tribesmen? Was there a camaraderie or friendly rivalry between all the noisy Detroit and punk influenced bands?
They were all losers the lot of ’em, including us. (The scene) was mostly good natured from memory (limited) and respectful of each other; a few were pricks. It was a different time and a different Australia. Life was not so stressed and there was slightly more awareness and value placed on the arts, be it music, painting or whatever and you could almost afford to live on the dole which helped. The scene was maybe more inclusive; people would go to gigs as well as sport and other pursuits and it was acceptable to do so and more affordable. Therefore, venues could maintain a room to function for music. It was still barely tolerated but it was. People were less stupid and manipulated and real estate focused then. Australians have let the elite wankers that masquerade as politicians/leaders fuck us very successfully in our apathy. Perhaps the vaccinations were not as strong.
You guys have been working on some new recording at Jim Moginie’s Oceanic Studio in Sydney. Is there a new record in the works?
Yep, that’s usually the reason one goes to a studio. We have a few tunes awaiting completion.
What does the new material sound like and what are some of the musical touchstones for the new material?
There be some dumb rock there. Some pretty straight ahead rock and riff things and a couple more acoustic in nature. An EP we thinks, and a couple of Chisel and Farnham covers of course.
Are guitar bands becoming a thing of the past, as dance and rap groups become more popular?
Guitars don’t go away, the focus shifts. Most music is the past recycled again it seems. We have been washed up has-beens and respected legends five times since we started, same for everything. It’s all cycles and manipulation depending on who is paying for it and what the newer generation want to rebel against. We all did it. I can’t succeed at it but I do my best to enjoy everything that has some heart, passion, humour or incisive viewpoint. Some music is just shit and it can be enjoyable hating it for its own sake.
Who are some of the contemporary guitar wielding acts that gets the thumbs up from you guys?
There are some for sure but I don’t usually know what they are called. The other guys probably do. I hear or see things but don’t get to remember the title or name. I also have issues with digital sound and PAs so I am less inclined nowadays to go out and subject myself to unpleasant loud 0 and 1’s clicking my ears. I like drinking tea and listening to el-pees on a valve stereo.
What would you say to a new fan just discovering the band and your amazing back catalogue for the very first time?
You have our sympathy! What can I say? Music is subjective and internal. If our music touches your heart, your humour or your cells – great. It’s a beautiful thing to create something special collectively that aligns a feeling that others can share and include in their life. Sound is dimensional, so it can change and touch aspects of life. Whatever anyone gets is their own version of what we set out to do and if we can help for five minutes or five years, the outcome is correct. Australian guitar rock is unique globally in its power and intensity. No one plays the way we all do here. I believe this land and the original caretakers help ensure that outcome. Didn’t expect that answer I suspect.
How do you feel when you look back on your career? Given the choice, would you guys have done anything differently?
But of course – sold my arse, got chicks, rich and died. Knowing what we do now, yes a couple of things.
Finally, for the fans coming coming out to catch you at Amplifier and in Dunsborough, what kind of show can they expect and will there be any new material aired?
Playing a gig with the Celibate Rifles is the most physically demanding thing I have ever done in my life once, let alone 1000 times. Some part of that is likely to come through each gig with a bit of added happiness, life observation and silliness.