Note: This piece first appeared in Australian Guitar #134. Subscribe to our print edition here!
Gearing up for some of their biggest shows in almost a decade, Grinspoon are back and full of more beans than ever. Before the Chemical Hearts tour rolls through Australia, Matt Doria caught up with frontman Phil Jamieson to vibe on nostalgia, guitars, and the (possible) future of the Lismore legends.
The Australian rock scene has been a consistent bastion of quality since the ‘70s, but if there’s one era we’d have to single out for being especially lucrative, it’s one that spanned the late ‘90s through the mid-Aughts. One band every pit king worth their bruises can vouch for is Grinspoon: the Phil Jamieson-led band of misfits that broke out at the hands of Triple J Unearthed and quickly soared to become a household name. For close to two decades, they’d reigned over the scene like the bonafide legends they were, and when their disbanding was announced at the end of 2013, the blow was felt everywhere from their native Lismore to the international flagpoles they’d spread their seeds to.
As mournful as we all were, we couldn’t fault the Grinners for wanting to hang up the towel: their last two records (2009’s Six To Midnight and 2012’s Black Rabbits) saw their mainstream popularity wane a touch, and rather than slowly devolve into a band punters wouldn’t catch at their local RSL, it stands to reason they’d quit while they were still theatre-packing luminaries. It also gave people a chance to miss Grinspoon – to grow something of a cult status amongst nostalgic ex-teens of the age where commercial radio gave a shit about rock music.
So, when they reunited in 2017, all hell broke loose. A one-off tour in celebration of their debut album’s 20th anniversary quickly became a full-time gig once more, and though they haven’t released any new music since 2012, Grinspoon are arguably as relevant as ever, with a whole new generation of angst-ridden punks at their heels.
“When we went on hiatus in 2013, I honestly thought we weren’t going to play for another ten years or so,” Jamieson admits. “I don’t know whether that was because we’d become disillusioned with the idea of being in a band, or whether we needed to recharge our batteries... Y’know, it’s hard to be self-reflective about it. I wasn’t consciously thinking that way, but there’s a good chance that was the reason we came back with a bit more vigour. I think with time, we can reflect on things; in the four years that we had off, some of us started families, moved around, got jobs... As the saying goes, ‘You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.’
“For me, personally, I grew a much deeper appreciation for the fun of touring,” Jamieson continues. “Every time I play with Grinspoon now, I think I treat it with a bit more respect than I probably used to; I maybe took it... I don’t think ‘for granted’ is the right term, but I’m really conscious of my privilege now. Because people are invested in us, right? Someone bought a ticket to see us and spent $30 on a shirt, so it’s on me – and the rest of us – to make sure they get their money’s worth. It’s our duty of care to make sure they leave a Grinspoon show intensely happy, and to make sure everyone is safe and looked after. So that’s my gig now, and I take that with a fair amount of discipline... Discipline and pride!”
Grinspoon’s next assault on the Australian touring circuit comes this October, where they’ll be rolling through the sticks armed with an arsenal of their biggest and juiciest singalongs. Named for their new compilation LP, Chemical Hearts (itself pulled from the eponymous 2002 smash-hit), the tour comes as another celebration of Grinspoon’s back catalogue, this time focusing on their first four LPs. The concept is a no-brainer, really – especially after the rapturous praise doled to their last throwback run.
“The anniversary tour for Guide To Better Living was the brainchild of Greg Donovan from Wonderlick, our management company – he was like, ‘Well, you should go and do this,’ and I was like, ‘Ehhhhh, okay.’ But we did it, and it was overwhelmingly great fun. The band had a ball, the crowd had a ball... It reminded us why we started the band in the first place. Because we loved playing, and we loved hanging out together. We don’t see each other that often anymore – we all live in different parts of Australia – so it was just a massive amount of fun to kick things back up again.
“And then when the opportunity arose to focus on a broader selection of songs from our seven albums, we were just like, ‘Yeah, okay!’ I’m always really dubious about those kinds of things – I’m the one in the corner going, ‘Ahhh, is this really a good idea?’ But here we are! We’re going to give it a red hot go, and I believe a few of the shows have already sold out, which is very reassuring.”
For now, Grinspoon are happy to relish in the fiery nostalgia their early cuts imbibe in their fans. But looking to the future, there’s potential for them to switch their focus towards a new set of tunes. “The way to stop yourself from becoming a legacy act is to release new material – that’s the short answer,” Jamieson days. “I’ve been writing [new music] since January, but whether or not that’s going to end up as Grinspoon material... I’m not sure, to be honest.”
Of course, Grinspoon tragics shouldn’t start holding their breaths for an eighth album just yet. “We just want to focus on what’s ahead of us,” Jamieson clarifies, “And that is 100 percent working towards getting October and November absolutely perfect. Y’know, bands are like marriages – and we’ve been together since ’95, so we really have to work on our relationship before we commit to something new. It’s not something that comes particularly easy. We are really, really close friends, but like everything in life, it can be a little touch-and-go. So the topic of recording new music hasn’t even been raised yet.
“The music industry has changed so much in recent times,” he continues. “It’s all about, ‘Get on some playlists, man! Get yourself in that algorithm!’ It’s not necessarily so much about 90-minute albums – which there are still a lot of – but about the tunes themselves. So look, we’ll have the discussion post-Chemical Hearts, but I think we’ll be fine – I’m of the opinion that [a new release] would be a great thing to do, but we’ll see what happens in December when we collate some of the tunes that I’ve written. Who knows? It might just be an amazing solo record!”
If Jamieson’s new material does wind up bearing the Grinspoon logo, it’ll likely go down as one of the band’s most poetic and mature albums – in contrast to the typically short ’n’ sharp alt-rock nuggets that Grinspoon are best known for, Jamieson teases that his latest songwriting efforts are “really wordy”.
“I’ve already recorded a bunch of it,” he explains, “And it’s just really dense. I took a different approach to writing this time – I just filled a moleskin full of stuff, y’know, just pouring my brain out with a pen and some paper. And that approach influenced the music as well, so there’s lots of words, purpose, meaning, visuality... Whatever that means!”
As for the gear he’s currently rocking, Jamieson swears by a Gibson Les Paul TV Special, run through a hand-wired Vox AC30 Heritage with a Boss TU-3 Chromatic Tuner and nondescript compression pedal at his side. It’s a relatively simple kit, but one Jamieson says works beautifully for the no-frills pandemonium of a Grinspoon show.
“Pat has this crazy Stratocaster with a humbucker – I don’t know what kind of setup he’s got, but one thing I love about Grinspoon is that everything is super simple,” he says. “It’s that kind of mid-heavy sound that just kicks you in the balls. It’s the Vox and a Gibson, and you can’t really beat that combo – there’s a reason it’s such a classic pairing, right? And I’m not big on pedals because I’m fairly busy with singing and doing lots of other things – pointing is very important – so my guitar setup is very to-the-point.”
Friday October 11th - Metropolis, Fremantle WA
Saturday October 12th - Metro City, Perth WA
Tuesday October 15th - Forum Theatre, Melbourne VIC
Wednesday October 16th - Forum Theatre, Melbourne VIC
Friday October 18th - UC Refectory, Canberra ACT
Saturday October 19th - Waves, Wollongong NSW
Wednesday October 23rd - Odeon Theatre, Hobart TAS
Saturday October 26th - Entertainment Centre, Adelaide SA
Thursday October 31st - Waves, Wollongong NSW
Friday November 1st - Entertainment Centre, Newcastle NSW
Saturday November 2nd - Hordern Pavilion, Sydney NSW
Thursday November 7th - The Star, Gold Coast QLD
Friday November 8th - Fortitude Music Hall, Brisbane QLD
Saturday November 9th - Fortitude Music Hall, Brisbane QLD