Aussie Punk Rawk ‘n’ Roller Simon Chainsaw is a well known name in the Underground scene and almost a household name in his adopted country of Brazil. Gravy gets the skinny on one of the most amiable men from Down Under and finds out what makes him tick.
Interview by Conan Troutman
Gravy: So who is Simon Chainsaw?
SC: SIMON CHAINSAW is the grown up kid who was introduced to SLADE at the age of 5 or 6, the kid who grew up to anthems like Dirty Deeds, TNT, Bad Boy for Love and ROCK’N’ROLL OUTLAW ….. The kid who went crazy over The Saints, Razar, Thought Criminals, DeeDee, Sid, Stiv, then Social D and a thousand other bands……. The kid who took the long slide into rock’n’roll and never came back.
Gravy: …And the Hippy Killers?
SC: HIPPY KILLERS are my band!! Well not really MY band, WE are a band. Together we are S.C.H.K. (SIMON CHAINSAW & THE HIPPY KILLERS)... the guys are a bunch of hard assed Brazilians who want nothing more than to play hard punk inspired RAWK. Times are tough here in Brazil so we’ve had a couple of lineup changes. Man, that’s big difference between Australia… in Brazil if you ain’t earning you literally don’t eat. At least in Australia you can be on the dole and play for little or no income, and eat and have a roof over yr head…. Here they don’t have that liberty, so I’ve lost a couple of guys due to purely financial reasons.
Gravy: The Hippy Killers isn’t your only band though is it?
SC: Well, right now it is, and I hope it’s the only one I’ll have for a long time! Over the last few years I’ve had a few different combos, mostly for logistical/geographical reasons due to my being constantly on the move. I hooked up with Sao Paulo’s “FORGOTTEN BOYS” and we recorded the ‘BASTA” disc. They were a group in their own right before the recording, and continued as one after… I had hoped to continue working with them but it wasn’t possible. And they’ve moved onto some good things, International releases, touring around South America etc. I have some guys in Germany who I do a lot of jamming, recording with. They all have their own bands and other commitments, so it’s more a collective than a band. With these guys I recorded FIRE DOWN BELOW and ROCK’N’ROLL URANUS. I have some great guys in France that I hook with too, we did the Simon Chainsaw solo release “DOWN TO THE WIRE” It would be nice to make a band of some of these Euro guys and play in Europe….. but these days I’m spending less and less time in Europe so I don’t see that happening real soon.
About 18 months ago, after 5 years living on the road, sleeping on floors and taking 18 hour bus rides, I figured I’d been spreading myself too thin and decided to return home to Australia and concentrate my work there, so I put a band together in Australia with some ex NEW CHRISTS guys.…. we rehearsed a set and were planning to play a tour in Europe with France’s HOLY CURSE…… but the tour fell thru and then one thing led to another, and I ended up in Brazil again, only this time for good! And the HIPPY KILLERS came together… we’ve had a few lineup changes since which were tough at the time, but now have turned out to be for the better. I think now we got the definitive line up. Really great musicians with good attitudes.
Gravy: How would you describe your music?
SC: Rock’n’roll with Punk Attitude…….. like 60% rock’n’roll 40% punk….. I love the term RAWK’N’ROLL ….. My stuff is mostly based on 70’s punk DIY attitude, but I loved the grooves and solos of the Detroit/birdman/early AC/DC sound….. so that’s the mix.
Gravy: Who are your main influences and what inspired you to form a band?
SC: My influences are a constantly changing thing, but my roots?……originally it was sounds like Bon Scott AC/DC, Rose Tattoo, MC5, Saints, Clash, Ramones, Motorhead, Radio Birdman… Oz punk like Razar, Thought Criminals, Rejex, Suicide Squad….. …. Then in the 80’s stuff like Husker Du & Descendents got me really addicted to melody…. That’s when I actually started writing songs and singing, in the 80’s, (before that I was pretty much just playing bass in other peoples bands), so this mixture comes to a head in my songwriting … it’s this mix that I think of as my “roots” …. But y’know every other day I’ll hear stuff that’ll get me thinking… Foo Fighters “EVERLONG” made a huge impression on me…. The YES MEN, BELLRAYS, recently a band from THAILAND called “BRAND NEW SUNSET” playing like a modern garage version of Pre Grunge (kinda like early Afghan Whigs/Anastasia Screamed). Kinda like back to the future!! (laughs)
What inspired me to play in a band?? Man, as a 15 yr old who didn’t wanna be DeeDee or Sid?? Who didn’t get hyped in the garage or rehearsal studio? Who didn’t wanna be a teenage backyard star??!! Hang around with your band like a clique…. I didn’t play guitar and bass was easy to pick up, so I got a bass and then started jamming. But I guess it’s the love of music that’s kept me going… it sure ain’t the money!! I probably could have bought a block of flats with the money I’ve put into rock n roll.
Gravy: You seem to have quite big hard rock/heavy metal influence, particularly on the solos?
SC: Yeah? I don’t see the metal influence; I think it’s more a rock/Detroit thing. My vibe on the solos definitely comes from the likes of MC5, Motorhead, AC/DC & Radio Birdman. I was never into Zeppelin, or Sabbath, so you know for sure I never listened to Saxon, Whitesnake, or even Rainbow (as some fine scholar had once suggested (laughs)!!! I dug the early Maiden stuff. I considered it more punk than hard rock, … and y’know I think in those times “PUNK” was not exactly defined either…. I mean you had bands like Talking Heads, Television, Blondie, and Undertones being referred to as punk, and when we look back it’s the sound of bands like GBH, PISTOLS, FEAR, early SOCIAL D. that is considered real punk “sound”. I don’t play many solos, though’ I do “direct”. If I have an idea I’ll show ‘em, or kinda guide them…., “I like that, I don’t like that, do that sooner, then follow with…, finish like blah blah”… y’know that kinda stuff, so maybe I’m not hearing the “hard rock” that yr talking about coz I’m not familiar with it.
Gravy: You’re a very prolific artist; do you ever worry that you might be sacrificing quality for quantity?
SC: No, I don’t…… ‘cause I think ya gotta be prolific….. there’s too many bands out there doing the bare minimum and it shows…. Like they need 12 songs for the next disc so they write 12 songs… How you gonna produce your best work when you’re just producing the bare minimum?? Another reason I don’t worry is coz there ain’t that much actually coming out. In the last 4 years I’ve released 3 albums……… I’ve actually recorded a lot more, (the others are either aren’t released or have turned into “works in progress”)….. I have a pretty severe vetting process, and not everything recorded is considered for release. (I could easily fill a disc or 2 with cutting room floor stuff), see I don’t put my life on hold waiting for a disc to be finished or mixed or to be released nor do I work on just one project at a time … I just keep playing, writing, recording. I don’t write for a “project”… I just write……when good stuff comes outta that, I hang onto it, then later see where it fits in. On the other hand if EVERYTHING I recorded came out WHEN I recorded it I’m sure I’d be doing things differently.
Gravy: Even though you have worked with different musicians, there is a definite Simon Chainsaw sound; is this because you are the main songwriter?
SC: Yeah that’s true, coz I’ve mainly produced my own discs myself, in a race against the clock type situation, and I’ve worked out my system…. We lay the drums down with all the guide tracks……we keep whatever guides are good, then I record my rhythm guitar tracks.. 2 or 3 fat tracks, changing gits and amps to vary the sound…. this is what has been described as the “chainsaw wall of guitars”, then I let the other guys rip over the top, but I think it’s this base that makes my sound….It’s a great heavy wall, licks between the verses, at the end of choruses and stuff, solos over the final chorus…. yeah, reminiscent of what’s now considered the Scandinavian sound, but to me was always the Aussie sound, … .. I guess the songwriting aspect would have something to do with it too, though’ I do use other people’s songs from time to time.
Gravy: Do you have a song writing process or do the songs come together in rehearsals?
SC: I just write with an acoustic guitar, I’ll pretty much have the whole song finished. I show the song to the guys and hear it “electric” for the first time, immediately I’ll start to make some changes in the arrangement, and where time permits I open it up for discussion and get everyone’s input and make more changes, this hasn’t always been possible, like I say, due to time constraints (sometimes in a recording studio we’ll go straight for a take). As I speak, S.C.H.K. are rehearsing new material for the next disc. It’s a different vibe now that it’s actually a live band, and not just a recording band… we are actually learning the songs in the studio, making a bunch of changes, then playing them live.. so the songs are evolving in a way that my songs haven’t evolved for probably the last 6 years. I’m making a conscious effort to shorten the songs (which will make recording cheaper (laughs)), and I’m using everyone’s input, so I think the next disc is gonna sound a little different.
Gravy: You’re an Australian by birth right?
SC: Australian born, bred, and raised…. A regular happy little vegemite.
Gravy: So how come you ended up living and working in Brazil?
SC: Ok, When I was in the VANILLA CHAINSAWS we toured in the USA, Europe and we ended up living in Germany for about 2 years touring around Europe, between tours we’d do a little traveling, London, Greece, Amsterdamn(!)… we made some records, videos, clips n’stuff and ended up quite by chance on a few SURF VIDEOS…... Quite unknown to us, on the other side of the world the dictatorship was ending in Brazil and the country was opening like a sponge sucking up all things western. The SURF culture took off like a freight train, and along with it SURF VIDEOS were being sold by the truckload. So to cut a long story short VANILLA CHAINSAWS got known in Brazil via surf videos. We broke up in about 1994 quite oblivious to all of this. But there was a record importer in Brazil that specialized in Aussie “surf” stuff and he had been importing our RED LIGHTS CD pretty consistently for years, I guess then he decided to cut out the middle man and start his own label, so 1998 he contacted us to do a retrospective best of, rarities disc, so we sent cassette COPIES of loads of stuff, we’d recorded lots of demos and stuff that had never been released, it was like hours and hours of stuff…. In the end he wanted to do a double CD, ok, so I then send the MASTERS, with photos, articles flyers and heaps of shit for the art…. From my years on the road I had got the travel bug, and had already been off the beaten track for a number of years, and I had planned a long trip in South America, actually I organized to kick it off by living in a small Chilean fishing village, (via a friend with a Chilean sister in law), to working on the fishing boats for a summer, then travel north.
…… so I planned to stop in Sao Paulo for 2 weeks to oversee the mastering and check out the art… well, the box of masters and photos and stuff hadn’t arrived, so I waited a week, still didn’t arrive, so waited another week, no luck, we figured the stuff was lost, so I then started to get on the email and phone, track down copies of the masters, other copies of photos etc etc etc… this turned into a major project in itself and some more weeks passed. During this time I was going to shows, meeting the local musos, hanging out and jamming with new friends and getting a good dose of Brazilian Culture and lifestyle. And I just thought wow! This place vibes. I finished the Vanilla Chainsaws project almost 3 months later, winter was coming so Chile and the fishing boats were off the cards… so I just hung out in Brazil and left swearing that I’d return…… be careful what you wish for eh?? So I came back the following year and ended up working as a technician for a lot of the touring punk bands Exploited, Marky Ramone, etc, met more people, traveled all over the country, jammed more, recorded and so on. I just loved the vibe of the place and people, in the end I just stayed!
Gravy: Was it tricky getting a band together in Brazil; language difficulties for example?
SC: You know, the international language of Rock’n’Roll is English, so most rockers in any country will speak at least a little English, self taught, because they wanna sing along with the songs and they wanna know what Mick or Lemmy or Joey is singing about. So you may not be able to have deep discussions, but you’ll vibe to jam or have a beer. But the real great thing about Rock musos is they all speak the language of rock’n’roll, they’ve all heard Chuck Berry, Rolling Stones, Sex Pistols, Motorhead, so you just gotta point these guys in the right direction and off they’ll go…. and it all just comes together. Some of the finer points of song arrangements may need some physical gestures but it’s easier than it may seem. Having said that, there is usually one guy in every bunch that will speak good enough English to translate to the others.
Gravy: You have lived and worked in several other countries too?
SC: In the Late 80’s, early 90’s Vanilla Chainsaws based ourselves in Germany while we toured around Europe for almost 2 years, I did a stint in Chicago too, man that’s a great city! I left a lot of great friends there, and carry some fantastic memories…. I even feel homesick whenever I see the Sears tower in a movie. What a schmuck!!
Gravy: Is it true you once left a guitar, boxed and un-played in France for 14 years?
SC: Hahaha… Well yes, but it wasn’t France, it was in Bristol, England……. I actually bought this guitar on a whim from Chelsea guitars NYC in 1989 while we were touring, the band was stripped back to a 3 piece at that time, and I was on bass… now we were touring cheap, no tour bus or vans, it was subways, metros, public buses and walking blocks at a time!! when we were real lucky we’d stuff our gear into someone’s car! ….so, I bought the guitar in NYC and took it to UK, but along with my bags and bass I couldn’t carry a second guitar so I left it under the bed at a buddys in Bristol... well I was always gonna go back and get it before we left England… I didn’t, then we went to Berlin, and Berlin is bloody miles from Bristol!! then started the Euro tours, and well… I was always gonna go back and get it before we went to Australia……... but by then the third winter started to set in, I was sleeping on the (cold!) floor at a buddy’s in Germany, Australia was having a heat wave and in a fit of freezing induced madness, I jumped on a plane and went home….. leaving the guitar in England.
Gravy: But you eventually went back for it?
SC: Eventually yes! ….. in fact I didn't go back and get the guitar until 1997 !!!! 6 years later… It was still locked in the case.... never opened, never touched....The guitar had never been played and still had the plastic on the pickguard. It was amazing…. 8 years old and untouched!! I took it back to OZ and figured I'd just keep it in storage since it was mint...so I put it under my bed and there it stayed for another 5 years…till 2003....... it was a total time capsule!!! For 14 years the guitar just sat in its case. So, it’s 2003 and I was in Germany recording, broke, with no way to pay the studio and my folks were coming over, so they brought it for me and I paid my studio bill with it!!! But I did finally get to use it!!....I was mixing the TOLD ME A LIE disc and I wanted to get that authentic 70’s guitar sound (like Free or Bad Company) on the song COMMUNICATION BREAKDOWN. The guitar still had the original strings on it (some 14 yrs old!). I laid down the guitar tracks and I reckon I got the sound I wanted!! Listen to that song… you can just hear those old strings……
Gravy: Has the internet made it easier for artists such as you to gain an international fan base without any major label backing?
SC: We’re talking “internationally” right,…….I think it’s made it easier and harder at the same time. It’s definitely made it easier to make international contacts… but it’s made it easier for EVERYBODY……. So do the math! Before the internet only the really determined bands would get anywhere “internationally”… this is a generalization of course, so while there may have been many many bands only the ones who really got out there and made themselves known in an international way would get known on the international scene. So this made it relatively easy on the international scene because most bands would be too stoned or lazy to bother……. I mean there were fanzines and stuff reporting on bands from all over but it was about making contacts, and making and chasing opportunities…. you had to get off your ass and send your stuff everywhere, go there personally, play shows, put a lot of personal and financial investment. These days it’s much easier to become “international”….. but the fact is that EVERYBODY is doing it, making it more difficult to get noticed…… I mean, there are just as many bands if not more, but the internet stuff, making a website, going on the music chat forums, myspace etc is so easy that EVERYBODY is doing it, so while theoretically it makes it easier to find an international audience, the fact that there are so many bands doing it, it makes it a zillion times harder to get noticed….and with MP3 downloads all over the place, it’s like a glut on the world music market. And the audience moves too quickly from one track/band/song to the next….. So, in some ways I think now it’s harder …. it’s definitely still about making yr own opportunities and trying to do something that will catch someone’s inspiration.
Gravy: In light of falling major label record sales do you feel the ‘record industry’ is in its death throes?
SC: I dunno… are major labels sales falling?? Or are they just giving us less choice to buy? Look at how many records Eminem or 50 cents, or Moby or U2 have sold!! Really!,…and look at the diversity that majors are giving… and I think every year they reduce the number of “products”. Remember we are talking about an “industry” here right, and hell, ya make more money selling 50,000 units of 1 product than 10,000 units each of 5 products!! To be honest I don’t take a great deal of interest what the majors are doing, coz they’re either releasing stuff that I’m NOT interested in or pick up the “indy” bands (after they’ve done the years of hard work themselves to get big) and then screw them real good. It’s like the controversy between Church and State…. Music and Business, whoever thinks that Major Labels are about the music are sadly mistaken… that’s what the Indy or DIY labels are about or supposed to be about. Now though’ we see more and more the “indy” labels being just as major in attitude as the majors themselves..... everyone’s just looking out for their ends. I don’t think it’s in its death throes…. But it’s definitely evolving, just as it has done since the first recording was made and sold… maybe we’re moving more towards the download kiosks that were first spoken about 10 years ago... and like when we went from vinyl to CD… they’re gonna drag us kicking and screaming into the next format.
Gravy: Why do you think things have deteriorated so badly in the last decade or so?
SC: I don’t know that they have deteriorated “so badly”….. On a purely artistic level there’s never been a better time to be making music, any PC can have programs to record and mix, and everyone seems much more adept with computers now so you don’t have to spend a fortune on studios. It’s never been cheaper to manufacture a releasable product…. I.e. CDs (or even printable CD-r’s…Hell you can do an official release starting with 5 copies!!), and anyone who can scribble can use art programs to do the cover art. DIY is back in force, we’re seeing some VERY liberating times artistically, and some real interesting music evolving…. but this does create problems on the business end… when there’s a glut of discs, and only “X” copies TOTAL will be bought, makes it tough to sell out your pressing, so “labels” are opting for fewer releases to sell the ones they do release……. Well it’s the Music Business…. As in BUSINESS… Hell, I’m not saying anything here that you don’t already know …there’s gonna be a lot of drink coasters hanging around for the next generation (laughs)…. And of course you know the majors are gonna play it safe… so maybe there’s a mix of these factors creating the perception that things have deteriorated….. and well, maybe it has, I dunno.
Gravy: Would S.C.H.K. sign to a major if the opportunity arose?
SC: Why, you taking a job in A&R at one?? Hahaha.. Seriously, Major label sorry stories are a dime a dozen….. I’ve was on a major and it wasn’t pleasant. ………. Gimmie a reliable Indy any day ….. In fact, having said that a good distro deal (worldwide) would suit me just fine too (that’s not asking too much is it?? Hahaa).
Gravy: There was quite a difference between your last two albums; ‘Down To The Wire’ has much shorter songs and a rawer, garage rock sound, whereas ‘Told Me A Lie’ had a more polished rock sound, longer songs and even a ballad! Why such a radical difference?
SC: Even though’ they came out within a few months of each other, these discs were actually recorded 2 years apart. TOLD ME A LIE (recorded 1st) was simply me just trying to make the best record possible. To catch people ears and widen my fan base. Yeah it’s got a ballad but it’s also got the stooges inspired “dreamtime world”, a cover of the fantastic “stamp out disco” by Razar and the blistering “ain’t no right or wrong”!! and hey! Don’t knock the ballad!! (laughs) Even the Hellacopters do a ballad! I think really made a disc that stands up to some of the bigger selling “Indy” bands. DOWN TO THE WIRE??... well the title says it all…… I was totally pissed off, beat down and betrayed when I wrote that disc, and I wanted to make a record that showed it. I wanted people to know. I wanted to make a record that when someone put it on they’d say, man this guys pissed!. I wanted to make a “back to my roots” type record. The shorter songs were a direct product of my anger, like “get in, say what I had to say and get the fuck out”, no bullshit…... The production was handed over to the KAISER so he’s responsible for the great garagy sound. It was recorded real fast, in France, with some great musos, but it was one of those situations of... …learn the song, record it… next song! Hit and run, fast and furious. I think the difference in the sound of the discs is great… I mean who wants to make the same record every time??? Put it together with the BASTA disc and you’ve got 3 great rock records but each different enough from each other.
Gravy: What’s next for Simon Chainsaw?
SC: Next is a mixture of things, I’m tying up some loose ends of releases and mixes that have been hanging over me for a couple of years…… But the real priority is the of course S.C.H.K. This is my primary focus right now. We are playing lots of shows, and rehearsing new material. We wanna get a new disc recorded before the end of the year, which sounds like lots of time but it’s amazing how the weeks peel past. We also are trying to get on the festivals circuit here in Brazil, and we are planning a major tour of Brazil as well as tours of Uruguay and Argentina. South America is the short term, but we’re hoping to get to Europe soon too…. I guess that’s the goal for 2006………. New disc and Euro shows.
Gravy: Parting comments?
SC: Yeah, listen, Brazil may seem like the end of the world to most people but we’re only 8 hours flight from the USA, and 10hrs from Europe!! And we wanna find good people in booking EVERYWHERE (& anywhere!). Europe, Asia, USA… you name it. We’re sitting on go to travel and do tours, whatever….. check out the sites…. There’s lotsa tracks and videos to download……And I wanna make contact with bands from everywhere…. Brazil has a big scene too y’know and us musos have gotta work together, scratch a few backs y’know! Coz the business end is only looking out for the business end… if ya get my drift.
Gravy: How can people get in touch?
C.P. 18016 PETROPOLIS
PORTO ALEGRE R.S.