Custard were one of the most endearing groups of the 90s Aussie alt-rock cannon, with their witty lyrics and slanted brand of indie rock. Following a decade long hiatus after 1999’s Loverama LP, the band reformed and recorded Come Back, All Is Forgiven in 2015, and last year released another new album entitled The Common Touch. Now they’re bringing it to Perth, stopping by Badlands on Saturday, September 15. To find out more, MICHAEL HOLLICK had a chat with the band’s lead-singer, Dave McCormack.
I have to admit that though I’m a big Custard fan, I actually haven’t listened to you guys for quite a while…
You’re not the only one Michael.
However, this week, I have been back through Custard’s discography, but there’s something a little odd. It all seems to have stopped at the height of your popularity?
Yeah, that’s probably true. By 1999, we had become a moderately recognisable festival name, and we had video clips and were invited down to Channel [V] headquarters and stuff. I guess we were a drawcard early, like in 1994/1995, but by 1999 we were middle of the field. And then, well, it just petered out…
So what actually happened?
We put an album out in 1999 (Loverama), we did a big tour, we had a seven-piece band and we took the whole show on the road. Then we did another big tour with Regurgitator, and then I don’t know, I think we were all burnt out. By then, it had been almost nine years of constant gig, then record, then gig, then record, maybe an interview, then record, so Glen (Thompson – drummer and songwriter) and I thought, “why don’t we try and do something else?” And the other guys tried something else as well. And that was pretty much it.
Before we get to your new record, The Common Touch, you actually have already done your ‘comeback record’?
Right, that was “Come Back, All Is Forgiven”. Which is how exactly we felt.
And how did that album come about?
We were doing shows sporadically, like one or two a year, from about 2010 onwards. Then we got together and did a week of playing each other the ideas and Glen has a studio in Marrickville and we went in and did the whole thing in two days. We did a couple of overdubs, it was really quick. It would have been very easy to overthink it: “well we put out all these albums in the 90s, we were vaguely recognisable.” We just did the opposite.
Common Touch still maintains a lot of fun, but there’s more depth to it and an extended arrray of instruments used. How did you manage this level of fun with the increased musicality and time that necessitates?
Yes, there’s a lot of extra instruments on this record; there’s a piccolo trumpet, harmonica, pedal steel guitars and harmonica, and we even got some backing singer people in to do the whole Meatloaf Bat Out Of Hell backing vocal thing! But once again, the basic tracks were recorded really quickly, and as nowadays I do music for movies and tv shows and things, that is sort of how my mind has started to work, So I was thinking (when listening to the basic tracks), let’s put a piccolo trumpet on it here or some cello there. You can do that these days with the way recording now is, it’s just so easy to chop it up in Pro Tools and re-arrange things. The structure of the songs all sort of happened post-recording, like “oh this verse needs to be longer, or this chorus should go here”.
About the words on this record. I found a lot of them relatively melancholic for Custard. Is that something you were feeling when writing them?
Well, we’re all in or around 50 now so we’re definitely in a time of our lives where we are looking in the rear-view mirror a lot. Like, you know, in your early 20s you’re blazing away on the highway, your foot is down, you’re in the van, you’re heading towards the next gig. Now, we’re sort of looking behind in the rear-view mirror thinking “oh that car behind us is a little bit close”. And that sort of perspective does enter the writing process. So while it may be melancholy to a point, I would think of it more as realistic.
Is that something you would say about first song, In the Grand Scheme of Things (None of this Really Matters)?
Yes, definitely. And it can apply to this song, or this album, or being in a band. We’re here for not that long, you can’t let little things bother you too much.
I was also wondering if the stories on the album are things you had actually experienced, like in the song Halley’s Comet, or are they just stories?
That song is based on a true story. I did watch Halley’s Comet in the sky from a backyard in Indooroopilly, which is an inner city suburb in Brisbane. But to make it rhyme I had to change it to ‘Indooroopill-ah’. I don’t think anyone’s ever said it like that before, but that is the type of disrespect I have for language. Just cut the edge off it and fit it in.
As for the other songs, a lot are just a slice of life you know, or a spin on something that has happened to me, like “this is what happened” or “this is what I did”. Hopefully there is a little bit of optimism in there, but I would say it’s tempered optimism. Optimism that is tempered by a half century of existence.