Note: This piece first appeared in Australian Guitar #131. Subscribe to our print edition here!
It’s the golden age of ‘90s rock comebacks, and after almost a decade of our begging, Magic Dirt have cracked. In the midst of their first tour since ’09, Matt Doria caught up with frontwoman Adalita Srsen to get unashamedly nostalgic. Photos by David Brandon and Tony Lewis.
Teenage angst transcends generations. It’s a rite of passage every rocker worth their patches knows inside and out, and for those who cut their teeth on early ‘90s Australian rock, there’s a good chance it was Magic Dirt who filled their muffler-sized headphones mid-tantrum. Up front, Adalita Srsen was a poster girl for power: she pummeled her strings with vicious indignation, screamed with a passion that walloped her peers and, come the end of their sets, beat the everliving shit out of her instruments.
But it was hard to keep that flame alight in the wake of Dean Turner’s untimely death. Their founding bassist, Turner was core in stirring up the magic behind the Dirt, and after a sole tour in commemoration of his legacy, remaining members Srsen, drummer Adam Robertson and shredder Raúl Sánchez decided to hang the towel up for good.
Though enticing, offers to reunite were shot down by Srsen and co. without a second thought. Magic Dirt were a family, and to simply replace Turner would be to bastardise what it was that Magic Dirt stood for in the first place. It was only once a close friend of the band announced their retirement that Srsen had wrangled her brothers back for a small, surprise set in their honour, which would eventually spark the question, “Where to now?” A question that one particular regional festival was more than happy to poke their head out to answer.
And so, Magic Dirt are back to spur another round of fierce, finger-flipping chaos. It’s unknown whether a ninth LP is on the cards, though if their first few shows back give us any indication, it’ll be a while yet before Magic Dirt hit the bricks again. For now, the foursome (rounded out with longtime mate Steve Patrick on bass) are wreaking havoc on the regional Hotter Than Hell tour alongside their fellow millennials in Spiderbait, Jebediah and Killing Heidi, all the while plugging a long-awaited redux of their ’93 debut EP, Signs Of Satanic Youth.
What sparked this reunion in the first place?
It just kind of slowly, and then very suddenly happened. We did a secret show at the start of last year in our hometown – it was for a really dear friend of ours, Greg Dodds, who used to own the Barwon Club where we always used to play in Geelong. He sold the pub off to the Karova Lounge dudes, so we did a little send-off as part of his farewell night there.
Nobody really knew we were playing – hell, we didn’t even know we were playing until the last minute! We played a few songs, and then we didn’t really think anything of it after that. We were just like, “Yep, we’ll get together and do that one show,” and that was big enough in itself. Getting back on that stage was huge for us, and it was really weird and crazy and emotional… But it was great to be back onstage together.
Y’know, we’ve always kept in touch and we’ve always been really close with each other, but to actually play again was huge. We’ve had tour offers here and there over the years, but it just never felt right. But then an offer came through for Hotter Than Hell, and we all took a long time to think about it, and eventually we thought, “Why not?” We had the EP reissue already in the works, so everything just kind of fell into place and we decided to just go for it.
I wanna know about the first time you guys jammed together after all those years. What was that experience like?
The first time we jammed was for the secret show, but that was with a different bass player; my solo band’s bassist, Matt Bailey came onboard and did that show. So that was our first rehearsal in all those years, and it felt pretty crazy and weird, but also normal at the same time. It was just really nice to be back together.
We didn’t even have to do that much rehearsing before that first show, either – I mean, I had to brush up on a couple of things, but [Robertson] came in without even listening to any of the songs and he was just like, “One, two, three, four! Brududududuh!” It was like we’d never stopped.
And then when we started getting ready for the actual Hotter Than Hell shows, we brought in Steve Patrick, who’s playing bass for us now. And that was the same thing, just really weird and emotional. We all felt a bit nervous, and we still are, because it’s so… It’ll never be feel right without Dean. It’ll never feel the same. Ever. So there’s that element of it that’s always in the back of our minds, but y’know, having Steve there… He’s a really good mate of ours and he knows the band inside out – he’s been a part of our family for a very long time, and he and Dean hung out a lot – so it’s great having him onboard.
And at the same time, there’s a very celebratory mood. We’re having a lot of fun playing all the songs again and remembering the good times. We all feel a little bit tender, and it’s definitely hard, but at the same time we’re like, ‘F***in’ oath, let’s just slam these songs out, have a great time, celebrate the band and celebrate Dean!’
The best way to commemorate Dean’s legacy is to go out and have the most fun you can with the songs you all wrote together!
Exactly! I’m getting emotional just talking to you now, trying not to cry, but it’s like… That’s it. Dean would want us to go out and just f***ing slam the shit out of the songs and have a great time. And y’know, we were talking with the crowd about Dean in Townsville – that he would be so proud of us and the crowd, and the whole music biz in general, y’know, putting on live shows, coming out and supporting live music… Yeah, Dean would just want us to have a great time, and we are.
Together with all the emotion and the grief and the sadness, there is so much fun and so much laughter, and just being dickheads [laughs]. We feel like we’re all kids again, just remembering all the good times and making new memories.
Speaking of memories, this Satanic Youth EP reissue is beautiful. What made you want to bring that record back to the foreground?
That was Dean’s idea. Signs Of Satanic Youth has never been available digitally, for a few reasons, and that was pretty difficult to live with. We’ve been working on making it available for years and years and years, and it was Dean who spearheaded that
That was one of his big wishes, to have it available again, and we’ve finally – finally – been able to make that happen now. And we’re really happy with how it sounds. It took a lot of work to remaster because it’s such a bespoke recording, and it was our first… Well, our second recording, but our first release! So yeah, it’s pretty exciting.
What do you think that record captured about the people you all were back in 1993?
It’s been a great journey going back and remastering the EP, because there’s been a bit of detective work trying to track down things like credits and old photos, and getting the artwork and all the bits and pieces together. It’s taken me right back to that time. I’ve been chatting with Daniel Herring, our original guitarist – we were in deep creative talks about how to serve the record justice, and there was lots of going backwards and forwards, listening to so many versions of the remaster; so many discussions about tone and frequencies and the integrity of the recording.
It reminds me of when we were all young, being little beach bums and living on the dole. Y’know, taking acid down by the sand dunes, doing little drawings at Daniel’s house and making collages, hanging out and eating toast and drinking Coca-Cola –just being kids, really! It’s taken me back to how much fun we had, and how serious we were about our music and everything that went with it.
Y’know, we were so engrossed and so dedicated and so passionate about what we were doing. And we still are! We’re still the same kids on the inside – we just look a little older and our bones are a little creakier. It’s been cool listening to all the old recordings. The guitars are really loud and everything is slightly all over the shop, but in a beautifully ramshackle way.
So where to from here? Do you think a new album could be on the cards?
I think it’s really touching that people are excited about the possibility of a new album. I don’t know. There’s nothing we’re really thinking of at all, to be honest – but who knows? I don’t know what’s going to happen from here! We’ll have to see how our bodies hold up after this tour [laughs].
As far as your ever-insane guitarsenal goes, what are you shredding out on right now?
It’s interesting, because I had this beautiful late ‘60s, maybe early ‘70s Gibson SG that I bought in San Francisco in 1996. I played that guitar a lot in the ‘90s, but then I put it away, because it was vintage and it was kind of hard to tune, and I was afraid it would get broken. I mean, I’d already broken it – I’m kind of known for my guitar smashing, I’ve smashed pretty much every single guitar I’ve ever owned… I’ve had a lot of horrified musos berate me for that over the years, but it’s… Me and my guitars, we’re… Y’know, we have a thing [laughs].
So that SG – it had a broken neck and got put back together, and then I put it away under my bed, where it’d remained unused for about 20 years. So then I had a cherry red, 2003-model Gibson SG which was beautiful, and I smashed that at a solo show at Golden Plains – I didn’t mean to, but I was really drunk, so I just smashed it. Adam Cole is making me a whole new neck for that at the moment, which is good of him, but now I didn’t have an SG! They were all either smashed or getting fixed, so I had to pull out that late ‘60s, early ‘70s SG.
I was like, “I’ll just give it a dust over and try it,” and so I played it one at a solo show, and… Oh my God. Straight away, it was just like, “Hey man! This is actually alright.” It feels like it was meant to be. So that’s been my go-to guitar for a little while now, and then the other guitar is one that we used as a stunt guitar back in the Big Day Out days. I had a guitar that I could just smash the shit out of at the end of our set, which was set – it was a red Epiphone SG, and it’s been put back together and given a bit of a promotion.
And I’ve still got the same pedals! I haven’t changed a thing with my setup – it’s a BOSS DS-1 distortion pedal, BOSS tuner, BOSS DB-5 digital delay, my Line 6 and a wah. And that’s it.
Friday February 1st – Taronga Zoo, Sydney
Saturday February 2nd – Hotter Than Hell, Gepps Cross
Saturday February 9th – Hotter Than Hell, Mt Evelyn
Saturday February 16th – Hotter Than Hell, Ipswich
Saturday February 23rd – Hotter Than Hell, Dunsborough
Saturday March 9th – Golden Plains, Meredith
Tickets on sale via magicdirt.com