Legendary Perth post-punk outfit, The Scientists, begin their 35th Anniversary Tour at the Rosemount Hotel this Saturday, March 15, with support from The Volcanics, The New Invincibles and Helta Skelta. Seems like a good excuse for TRAVIS JOHNSON to talk to tireless drummer, James Baker.
Brian Eno once famously said that everyone who bought The Velvet Underground’s first album went out and started a band.
The same could certainly be said of everyone who bought The Scientists’ Frantic Romantic 7” back in ‘79. While they saw negligible commercial success in their original incarnation, their influence on music – dirty, grimy, indie rock ‘n’ roll, at any rate – has been profound, as is evident by the excitement around their incipient headlining tour.
But lest we forget, 2014 isn’t just the year The Scientists turn 35; it’s the year James Baker turns 60, with the opening show taking place a week after his birthday.
“It’s not deliberate,” he assures us. “It’s just a coincidence. Well, basically, we had so much fun last time and we just thought we’d give it a shot. We enjoyed playing with each other and it sounded great and… yeah, that’s why. And, I guess, why not?”
This is merely the latest in a number of reunion gigs involving bands that Baker has been a part of. The Scientists played a one-off show in 2013, while the original line-up of Beasts Of Bourbon played at All Tomorrow’s Parties in Melbourne at the request of The Drones. So far the response has been massive.
“Well, I think young kids missed out on it first time ‘round,” Baker opines. “Obviously because they weren’t even born, because it’s been 35 years since we played and I think they appreciate the music. It’s music that doesn’t particularly date. You listen to music like Pseudo Echo or something and you go, ‘Yuck! That’s so ‘80s! That could never be returned to’. But rock ‘n’ roll is timeless. The spirit of Chuck Berry lives on, doesn’t it?”
He dismisses the notion that his birthday, coupled with the recent flurry of reunions, has perhaps put him in a reflective mood. “Nah, not really. I’m not looking back, I’m looking forward to a couple of tours. The Victims are getting back together as well.” He stops, and there’s some concern over whether he should have let that slip. “Ah, you can announce it, what the fuck. I can always say, ‘Oops, I didn’t mean to say that,’ and blame you.
“It’s Dave Faulkner’s idea, not mine, and I thought, ‘Yeah, why not?’ It might be harder to pull off than The Scientists because it’s a lot faster and it’s a different style of music, you know? Whether three almost 60 year-olds can pull it off… well, we’ll give it a shot. We’re only playing one show in Perth and, if it works, we’ll do a tour.”
It’s certainly shaping up to be a busy year for Baker, but that sadly leaves little time for his work in The Painkillers with Joe Bludge. “At the moment The Painkillers are taking a year off. I guess we’ve played for seven years and we’re just a bit tired of it. We’re not writing any songs at the moment. I love the band – it’s one of the best bands I’ve played in – and we’re going to continue, but we’re gonna take a break for a year and that coincides with all these other projects as well. All these ancient bands! But I’m still in The Painkillers doing something current – it’s not like I’m relying on these other things. They just all come up at once.”
Ruminating on how the music industry has changed since he first started out some four decades past, Baker is refreshingly upbeat. As far as he can tell, things have only gotten better.
“For a start, every pub’s got a PA system these days. In the old days you used to bring your own PA system in – that’s a big fucking difference. As far as the fans go, well, I guess the fans are still the same – they still come and appreciate it. It’s a lot easier for bands now to record. Back in, say, The Victims’ days, to get a single out was like, ‘Wow! Oh fuck, man, you’ve got a record out!’ Now everybody’s got CDs out; they throw ‘em away like coasters, you know? And it’s cheaper to record as well; you can do most of it at home. There was no home recording back then – we had to hire an expensive studio to make Television Addict and Frantic Romantic. We had to borrow money.”
And for those struggling to get their music heard, he’d like to remind them that it was always so. “Well, no one played Television Addict on the radio – there was no radio! There might have been Double J in Sydney and maybe RRR in Melbourne – maybe they were going then, I’m not sure. They were the only stations that would play it, but they were way more underground stations than triple j is today.”
Indeed, if James Baker has one regret, it’s a fairly recent one. “I wish I had a current photograph of the Scientists! Talk about fucking dumb. We were all together over here last time and no one thought to take a current photograph. But I guess no one thought we’d be doing this tour. Well, the old photo still looks cool, so that’s okay.”