RIP GREEDY SMITH The X-Press Interview

Mental As Anything frontman and founding member Andrew “Greedy” Smith tragically died of a heart attack on Monday, December 2 at the age of 63. Both the band and their manager expressed how the news was such a surprise, given Smith was said to be in good health with the band currently on tour, having played shows just days before his unexpected heart attack and with more performances in the coming days. BRAYDEN EDWARDS spoke to the singer, songwriter and keyboardist in November for the release of the Mental’s Surf & Mull & Sex & Fun, a vinyl collection of their classic recordings. Greedy shared his favourite memories and songs across 40 years with Mental As Anything as well as what he was looking forward to next. He was clearly far from done with the band, with music, and everything life still had left to give.

Hi Greedy, Mental as Anything originally formed through friends at art school catching up and jamming together. Did you guys expect or even hope that the band would go on to define your careers and lives at the time?

We played together because we had similar tastes in music and forming a band meant free drinks and meeting girls. It was only meant to last till art school was finished…

And what kind of music were you listening to then? It’s hard to think of a precursor to the kind of sound you created…

Everything from 1930s Americans such as Darby and Talton, Cliff Carlisle and Jimmie Rodgers to blues greats Muddy Waters, BB King, “Hound Dog” Taylor.  Rockabilly like Johnny Burnette and Eddie Cochran to Perry Como and Dean Martin. Through to UK R&B pop like The Yardbirds, Fleetwood Mac, The Rolling Stones, The Troggs, Dusty Springfield and T. Rex. Then US pop like Roy Orbison, Elvis Presley and Gene Pitney. NZ greats Ray Brown & the Whispers. More “current” stuff like The Modern Lovers, Elvis Costello, Mink deVille, Wreckless Eric, Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe.

You’re releasing this compilation on vinyl, is that surprising given that was how your first records were released, given you have seen such a change in the way music is produced and sold during your career?

So true! Great question. Having spent the last 20 years getting used to the idea of digital downloads and then streaming, to be told by the record company the demand was now for vinyl has been most surprising. To be told that vinyl sales have overtaken CDs in the past year has made us rethink our strategy. Concentrating on vinyl for Surf & Mull & Sex & Fun: The Classic Recordings has made us look back to our early releases and revisit the “test pressing” and the great artwork that 12 inch covers allow. Still chuckling about it. I was able to get old Mentals Reg Mombassa, Peter O’Doherty and Martin Plaza to contribute new paintings to revisit the old album cover idea.

Your songs featured in the soundtracks to iconic Australian films like Crocodile Dundee and Young Einstein. What do you remember most about those experiences? Anything interesting going on behind the camera that we might not know about?

Live It Up has just appeared in the UK film Blinded By The Light which follows a British Pakistani on his search for Bruce Springsteen. Crocodile Dundee helped Live It Up go from being an Aussie hit to a UK and European hit. It was a gift from the gods.

Do you have a personal favourite song and did it make the cut for this release?

Having played a lot of these songs continuously for over 40 years it doesn’t pay to have favourites but it’s great to be able to squeeze Martin’s Don’t Tell Me Now onto this collection. The overall sound of the newly mastered vinyl (Australia’s Don Bartley is the mastering engineer) really surprised me with its creaminess, punch and clarity.

It feels like your brand of ‘Australian rock’ was built around the pub scene in the 80s that you were a real part of. What do you think was different about how Aussies went about making music then compared to the rest of the world?

We were positioned thousands of miles away from the major rock centres of the USA and the UK. While most of our successful 60s bands were recent UK migrants, the late 70s and 80s gave us Kiwis too with Dragon, Mi-Sex, Jenny Morris, Margaret Urlich and 40% of Mentals. We were all influenced by both the USA and the UK in a way that was different to Canada who were living within range of the US radio. We were playing to large crowds drinking beer in large rooms. The most successful bands in this environment were usually heavy throbbing bands with big light shows and hand movements like The Angels, Midnight Oil, INXS and Cold Chisel.

There was still room for slightly left field acts like The Reels, Dynamic Hepnotics and Mental As Anything who all had a more delicate approach. The enthusiastic punters who used music venues as their Facebook to meet up with friends gave Aussie bands the room and live experience to blossom.

Forty years is a long time in rock and roll, are there any secrets to that kind of longevity?

In our case it has been all the radio play and exposure through 80s nationwide TV shows Sounds Unlimited, Countdown and Night Moves combined with the buzz you get when somebody recognises/ claps/ dances/ sings along with a song you’ve written yourself. That never gets old.

What’s next for Mental as Anything? Is there likely to be more music to add to your already massive and impressive catalogue?

We have a live album out now called At Play that features four recent compositions and we are looking to release new music in 2020.