The Collapse Board Interview: Ed Kuepper (2023)

The Collapse Board Interview: Ed Kuepper (2023)
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Has it really been more than four years since we last talked to the Brisbane legend that is Ed Kupper? It’s funny how the last few years have made everything before early 2020 feel like a lifetime ago. This time around, we talked to Ed about life during COVID and about the reissuing of his remastered solo album back catalogue, starting with 1985’s Electrical Storm and 1991’s Honey Steel’s Gold.


The last talk we talked it was May 2019, pre-COVID, and I asked you about the book you’d said in other previous interviews that you’d been writing and you replied that you were always writing a book.  Have you made any progress?

[Laughs] No, I haven’t. Well, to say no I haven’t is an exaggeration, you know, ideas of approach. Everybody is doing a memoir at the moment though, which is sort of like “Jesus, it’s gonna be a flooded fucking market,” you know? Plus, I’m also not quite sure I’m at that point where I want to do one, but my arm is being twisted severely by people that are close to me. So, yeah, I might do it. I need a ghost writer. Someone to do the work. [Laughs]

You managed to keep playing shows around COVID lockdowns. Did those times have much of an impact on you?

I tried to do as much as I could. In terms of shows I was doing a tour with Jim White at the time and that, that was kind of interesting because we were dodging border closures and trying to get to places that weren’t in lockdown to finish the tour. Got a couple of spontaneous venues that agreed in, you know, places like Murwillumbah and somewhere else further down the coast. And that was good. It was a strange time. I enjoyed a lot of the quiet and stuff, but overall, as far as trying to make a living as a musician, it was difficult.

Did you use the time for doing anything else that you hadn’t got around to or doing anything new?

Having that much time to sit around and do nothing was weird. I did some reflection. I did some very enjoyable listening to my old record collection [laughs], which I hadn’t done for decades, and that was great. We started to set some things into motion, like the, the Saint reissue box set, which is coming out later this year. It’s only the first album though, as a four LP set, with an alternate mix and various bits and pieces and stuff. I was talking to Bailey at that stage. Things were sort of all tripping along but as far as making any really solid plans, everything was sort of like, “Oh well, we could do this if everything picks up again.” That’s where it was.

You mentioned the tour with Jim White. How did those shows go?

They were fantastic. I don’t think we did a dud show. It was great. We did two tours, I think. At least a sort of aborted COVID one and then we did another one.  Some of the places we played again, like Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne and Canberra, but a lot of the other places we played on the second tour, we hadn’t played before. We weren’t able to because they were canceled and during the COVID thing. So, it was fantastic.

I saw that there’s a 33 1/3 book coming out about Honey Steel’s Gold. Is that what’s driven the re-release or is that just coincidence?

No, that was a happy coincidence actually. John Encarnação, who’s written the 33 1/3 book was unaware that we were looking at re-issuing Honey Steel’s Gold.

Have you had much involvement in the book?

Well, I was interviewed for the book. I was sent an early draft, which I said I wouldn’t read because I didn’t want to influence the independence of the author. I’m not sure if that’s a really clever thing to have done [Laughs]. I haven’t read the book yet, I’ll have to wait until it gets printed. I’m hoping it’s really good. I don’t know if you’re familiar with any of them but I’ve read a couple of these books and they’re not meant to be from the perspective of the artist, more the response of the author to that record.

Was it easy to remember things from 32 years ago when they interview about it?

Some things are, yeah. Some things are remarkably lucid and other things just like, “A re you talking about me?” And there’s some things I’ve just completely forgotten. Sometimes quite important things, which somebody will remind me of, and I am surprised that I’ve forgotten that, but it comes back immediately. I think once you’re sort of talking about something that you know, other recollections kind of just force their way into the conversation.

It always strange how memory works like that.

Well, yeah. I think it’s still working, which is kind of the important thing. I’ve been looking after my mum who has dementia and it’s just like one of the worst ways. I just hope I’ve got enough kind of consciousness to blow my brains out before that happens to me.

I read Clinton Walker’s Stranded:  Australian Independent Music, 1976–1992 book last year and it said for Electrical Storm that you’d retired, but took a guitar on honeymoon and wrote a lot of songs. Was that a serious retirement?

No. Well, for two weeks it was. It seemed like a long time when I was doing it. I actually felt, “Oh, well, I just don’t want to be involved with music in that way anymore,” but it didn’t last. I think I must have done some interviews because I have heard that from other sources as well. Yeah, I retired for two weeks and then took it up again [laughs].

And you took your guitar and were writing songs on your honeymoon. So how did that go down?

Some of them would’ve been, some of them probably were, but not ‘Electrical Storm’. ‘Electrical Storm’ was written just as the [Laughing] Clowns were breaking up. My memory isn’t that strong of which month each song was written.  But yeah, they were all sort of post-Clowns. So the, the Clown split up, I finished Ghost of An Ideal Wife, the mixing of that, sometime in January 1985 and went on my honeymoon in February ‘85. So yeah, it’s all just in the months before we started recording that those songs were written. But not all on my honeymoon. I think I probably would’ve got some complaints if I wasn’t fulfilling my husbandly duties.

In Clinton Walker’s book it also says that you said you were wanting to try and regain some control you’d lost with the Laughing Clowns. Was that personnel issues or label issues? What were you trying to regain?

Well, I think I just wanted to have a situation where I could write my songs, perform my songs, and do it with a minimum of fucking around and just fucking arguing and people with their own problems kind of putting the responsibility for those problems onto me. It just made me think, “Oh fuck bands.” You know, I’m not in high school anymore, I was a father at that stage, I had a son that was two years old, give us a break. Just fuck off [laughs].

So I regained that control with Electrical Storm. Electrical Storm is what it was meant to be. I just wanted to strip things back to like the rawest, almost sort of demo, kind of state and not care about whether somebody had a part that was written for them or argue about whatever it was. I did, to some extent, regain control of feeling good about going out and playing again, which I wasn’t with the Clowns. The last Clowns tour in 1984 was a nightmare, I hated it.

Oddly enough I found a VHS of a live performance of that tour. I don’t have a good VHS player anymore, unfortunately, but I’m going to get that transferred and see whether the performances are as bad as I thought they were or whether they were really great and I was just really depressed. If it’s any good, it’ll probably see the light of day.

Moving on to Honey Steel’s Gold. Steel’s Gold. What does the title actually mean?

Well it means kind of what it reads, like Honey Steel has some gold, the gold is Honey Steel’s. Honey Steel being the person. I often see this quoted as Honey Stealing Gold or, you know, Honey Steels Gold, but it’s actually Honey Steel possessive ‘S’ gold. That’s quite a significant breakthrough. No one else has ever heard that.

Clinton Walker’s book says you were thinking about leaving the country around the time of Honey Steel’s Gold. What was the plan at the time?

EK: Oh, just to be somewhere else for a while, you know. I’d lived in Australia, I’d been back in Australia for a couple of years. I think I might have just been wanting a bit of a change, probably part of the same thing that made me think I probably would like to not be making music anymore. I don’t recall. I didn’t end up going overseas again for quite a while, one or two years anyway.

I don’t think there’s a direct quote, but Clinton Walker’s book says that Honey Steel’s Gold success encouraged you to stay in Australia.

I was touring a lot overseas at the time. I was touring here and in Europe, and the UK, more Europe. That was an era when there were a lot of smaller or medium sized venues that you could tour, and that that’s largely disappeared from Germany, Holland and Sweden, these places that used to have tonnes of these venues, they don’t exist anymore so you can’t really continue. But 30 years ago, that was a different situation. 30, 35 years ago, that was a great time to be touring. It was really good touring Australia as well. People would go out, live music was a thing.

CB: Why do you think the Honey Steel’s Gold album was a success in Australia, more so than Today Wonder from the year before?

Probably because triple J had gone national like a week or so before Honey Steel’s Gold was released and they started playing ‘The Way I Made You Feel’, which meant that for the first time in my career, I had a song of mine heard around the country at the same time. I’d never had national radio play before.

So the very fact that triple j was national, there was a lot of enthusiasm for it, everyone was tuning in. They picked ‘The Way I Made You Feel’ and put it on fairly high rotation and it clicked. We didn’t have ‘The Way I Made You Feel’ out as a single before the album, it came out as a single after the album to try to get the song on to commercial radio who wouldn’t play an album track. They said, “Well, yeah, we’d love to play it, give it to us as a single.” So we did that and then they said, “Oh, can you cut it down by two minutes?” And we couldn’t so we didn’t get the commercial play.

But yeah, I think that’s why the album connected. It was the first one that got simultaneous play. That just meant that instead of having sales stretching out over a period of months as people hear about it by word of mouth, it was sort of like people hearing apostles. A lot of people had not been aware of me before that album so it was great for all those reasons.

It was released in November 1991 just as grunge music was suddenly exploding everywhere. Do you remember if you had any views on that sudden change in musical landscape you were releasing the album into?

I wasn’t unaware of it. It didn’t influence me to do anything, but I wasn’t unaware of it. I guess that was the wave of boutique-labels-through-a-major-label getting onto this new wave of punk or grunge, whatever you want to call it. As I say, I was aware of it, it didn’t influence me, but I liked a little bit. Honey Steel’s Gold, in some ways, sticks out like a sore thumb if you’re going to put it in with that stuff. It still sails its own path a little bit there.

The album credits list Sir Alfonso on bass guitar, that’s you under a pseudonym?

Oh, I don’t know if he’d like me saying that. People have said that before, but I think he gets a bit upset. He’s bit temperamental.

When you played with the Aints a few years ago in Brisbane you supported yourself as Captain Kramer. What do you like about pseudonyms?

Well, if I had have put, you know, me playing bass on it as well, it would’ve been like a three-piece band. And I think if you present a three-piece band to the world, then they come to it with certain expectations. And so I thought a four-piece band would be better because it just looks like there’s more people involved, that you’re more popular than you are [laughs].

Electrical Storm and Honey Steel’s Gold are the first two albums to be reissued. What do you plan on doing next?

I’m hoping we do Frontierland before Christmas for the first time on vinyl. And hopefully with Frontierland there’ll be another album that was recently discovered that I’d forgotten about, that Phil Punch, my co-producer and the guy who recorded a lot of this stuff, found when he was going through some tapes. It was done just after Frontierland and so they work very well together, completely different, but they connect in a really great way. Initially, the first time I heard it, I thought, “Oh yeah, I vaguely remember that” but after listening to it and going through it, I thought this is actually a really important part of that mid-nineties body of work. I’m just astounded, just finding these tapes.

So this was fully recorded but just not released?

Yeah, not released at all. Recorded and just forgotten about because there were a lot of quick changes. When Frontierland came out, there was a major problem with distribution, Hot had major problems, like they’d fallen out with Shock, and then signed to this other bunch called TWA, which should have been a bit of a warning, I think, with the TWA airline with the airliner that had crashed a year or two before, so you thought, “Ah, warning bells,” but no. Anyway, there was a lot going on around that time, so I before you know, something else is already happening. So unreleased and unheard until it comes out.

These two albums that you’ve re-issued haven’t been on streaming services, but was that your decision or is this more label issues?

No, they were on streaming and we had to get them taken down because I didn’t put them up. There, there was a lot of confusion around all that material and how it should be controlled. So we had to get it taken down and now it’s going to be put up again as we reissue the albums.

For long term fans of mine, I’m not considering Spotify or any of that stuff, you know? It’s like, if you’ve got the record or the CD or something, why would you listen to it on an inferior streaming service. It’s more for people that have never heard it. So we are just putting them out bit-by-bit, and maybe people can use them that do have the records, maybe see it as a way of reappraising, but the main intent with streaming is just to see whether it makes any kind of impact on new people. Probably won’t, you know, I mean why would it, if you haven’t had a connection with it, but we’ll see.

As well as remastering the albums for vinyl, you’ve also like updated the album covers. That’s been done to distinguish it from the original versions?

I think so and also to add a cohesion to the catalogue in a way, just a visual thing. It’s important to distinguish them from the originals in some way, I feel.

I’ve always liked the original Honey Steel’s Gold cover because that typography is a classic of that time.

I’m sort of assuming that a lot of people that loved the record back in the day will have a copy of it. Some people might like to get a new copy because they wrecked their album or something.  In, the case of Honey Steel’s Gold, that was released just in the era when CD was taking over completely in Australia, so the print runs of Honey Steel’s Gold on vinyl originally weren’t all that high and it was a hit on CD basically. The vinyl is mastered off the original analogue tapes, as is the CD I must say, but there will be people that want to connect with that. We’re considering people’s layout in their apartments and in their houses and stuff, you know, so like when they want to put the covers up next to each other, we’d like a nice sort of a nice design aspect to it. Cohesion.

Judi [Dransfield, Kuepper’s wife] has been doing the artwork for your albums for a long time, and the covers of Electrical Storm and Honey Steel’s Gold are her photos. How does that work in practice? Do you just pick things you see in her work or does she have a short list that she shows you or is it more collaborative?

It depends. On some records, I’ve accidentally come across something, Honey Steel’s Gold, for instance. There was a series of photographs that she’d done, and it was just like, “Wow, this is the songs, this is the mood of the songs.” That cover photograph was around in a house when I was writing and recording that album. But in other instances, I’ve discussed a new record and what the mood of it is and she listens to a bit of the music, which she probably is if I haven’t closed the door to my studio. Some of it gets created, one or two of them I’ve just found, and they were just great. So it varies is the short answer to that question.


The Exploding Universe of Ed Kuepper – TOUR DATES

Fri 1st: Wyong, Arthouse – tickets via arthousewyong.com.au
Sat 2nd: Blue Mountains Theatre – tickets via bluemountainstheatre.com.au
Wed 6th: Melbourne, National Theatre – tickets via nationaltheatre.com.au
Fri 8th: Queenscliff Town Hall- tickets via queensclifftownhall.com.au
Sat 9th: Meeniyan Town Hall – SOLD OUT
Wed 13th: Fremantle, Freo Social – tickets via moshtix.com.au
Fri 15th: Adelaide, The Gov – tickets via feelpresents.oztix.com.au
Sat 16th: Hobart, Theatre Royal – tickets via theatreroyal.com.au
Wed 20th: Canberra, The Street Theatre – SOLD OUT
Thu 21st: Sydney, City Recital Hall – tickets via cityrecitalhall.com
Thu 28th: Brisbane, Princess Theatre – tickets via ticketmaster.com.au
Fri 29: Gold Coast, Twin Towns – tickets via twintowns.com.au
Sat 30: Sunshine Coast, Imperial Hotel – tickets via feelpresents.oztix.com.au

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