Formed back in 1989 and becoming the country's most enduring side project, the Blackeyed Susans play their annual Christmas show at the Thornbury Theatre
Now in their 23rd year, and with alumni also serving in the Triffids, the Bad Seeds, the Cruel Sea, Beasts of Bourbon, the Drones, Augie March, Dirty Three and more, the Blackeyed Susans must be the ultimate musical side project. One event on every fan’s social calendar is the Christmas show, this year held at Thornbury Theatre with support slots from Mikelangelo and Saint Clare and the Orbweavers. Time Out talks to frontman Rob Snarski about the preparations.
Rob, the Christmas show has become a tradition, hasn’t it?
Every time that we do it we wonder if anyone’s going to come but it seems to be getting bigger and bigger and there’s a really fantastic feel in the room. It’s a big catch up for everyone, very social, lots of family come along and we end up doing a few choice Christmas covers. Generally through the year we play as a trio and rotate the line-up a bit so there is a whole band experience.
Do surprise guests turn up?
Definitely. Last year Meow Meow wasn’t really advertised on the bill so that was terrific to have her agree to join us. She’d covered one of my songs in her cabaret of Little Match Girl, which I loved. That was terrific.
Musically you’d have a psychic bond by now. Do you even have to rehearse anymore?
We certainly do for the Christmas shows because there are songs we have to learn and relearn but as far as the Blackeyed Susan’s trio goes, no we generally don’t. When we have a residency somewhere, it’s just who rolls up on the day and off we go so I might have to have a bit of a play by myself just to reacquaint myself with chords and structures and a few lyrics here and there but I haven’t been too bad, the memories pretty good, dementia hasn’t set in yet.
At this point in time, I’m trying to think of someone who can sing ‘Fairy-Tale of New York’ [by the Pogues with Kirsty MacColl] because the two girls from the support acts find the song a bit lyrically vulgar for their sensibilities. There's got to be someone out there who wants to call me a scumbag and a maggot, surely?
With your vast back catalogue, do you tend to get people calling out requests? And how do you take that?
I take it as a compliment. Quite often they are songs that we attempt to do; other times they would turn into a mess so we don’t attempt them. The other month when we were playing at the Union Hotel someone requested ‘Bird on a Wire’, which we recorded so many years ago, and somehow the majority of it came back – and it was probably the best response we’d had to a song all night, so that was great to challenge the memory and the band and get away with it.
What are some of the stranger things that have happened to the Blackeyed Susans? I know you’ve played at someone’s wedding...
Every now and then someone asks us to play a wedding and I’m a bit of a softie and I can’t help but agree. That was pretty special indeed because I never expected the couple to dance their bridal waltz to ‘Come Ride with Me’ – and in some ways sort of act out the lyrics. It was very entertaining and a great occasion.
You wouldn’t realise at the time of writing that these songs would go on to mark momentous occasions in people’s lives.
Yeah, that’s absolutely true – and you can’t help but feel humbled by those sorts of experiences as well. We’ve had our music played in all sorts of places and on all sorts of TV programs; I remember sitting and watching Channel 9’s Wide World of Sport one morning and there was a program concentrating on pigeon racing and they decided to use ‘Blue Skies, Blue Sea’ and I nearly fell off my chair.
You put together the compilation album Reveal Yourself a few years ago. Has that sort of become your staple set list now or so you completely mix it up?
It’s pretty close to it. I think there are a couple of songs that don’t appear on the box set that still manage to get into the set. We did look at each record and try and make it an even representation of the periods of the band so we’d have three or four songs from each album.
Has anyone ever done a family tree of the branching-off bands?
I’d love to see one now on the website or something because it would just be neverending. The amount of people that have been involved in this band over time is phenomenal – and people who went on to bigger and better things – so it would be lovely to see.
Do you think you’d ever do a John Farnham-style farewell tour or would you forever keep the doors open?
Funny you should mention that, you know the band has spoken on occasion about, maybe we should call it a day but it’s easier to continue playing and because we do it so rarely we still have a lot of enjoyment in playing the songs and performing. I think it would be different if it was everyone’s main priority and we were touring heavily but when you play as often as we do it’s just a pleasure.
Well it’s officially a side project, and there’s no need to ever kill off a side project, is there?
That’s exactly right, and the side project ends up being more enjoyable than the main project, I think that’s what we found when we first started the band, we all enjoyed it more than the main bands we were performing in, so it became the main project for quite some time.
What do you do when you aren’t in Blackeyed Susans mode?
I’ve got a couple of part time jobs in disability support. I also work in the art world – I help prepare prints for galleries; framing and things.
And you do your solo shows as well?
Yes I do, and I do shows with my brother Mark. Whenever he comes back from Spain we get together and do Snarski Vs. Snarski shows. I’ve been on and off playing with Dan Luscombe – who was the guitarist in the Susans that now plays in a band called the Drones – and we’ve nearly completed a full record to an album we made nearly ten years ago, so hopefully, fingers crossed, we’ll get this grant that we applied for so we can finish it.