Kim Salmon’s Perspective on the Early Perth Punk Era
(excerpts from interviews reprinted with Kim Salmon’s permission)
From B92 Forum (29 Oct 2004)
Recently, a scientist (a real one) asked me what the deal was with the Scientists early stuff. He liked everything post Swampland, but wasn’t sure about the lyrics in all those early songs with titles like That Girl, Girl and Pretty Girl. My answer was that I didn’t write those lyrics. The songs were written thus: James Baker, the original Scientists drummer, would announce that he had a song and “sing” the lyrics for me to play back to him. From his atonal renderings I would invent a melody with an appropriate chord sequence and perform it, to which he would say, “Yeah, that’s how it goes” or, “No, not like that”, if he didn’t like it. In defence of James’ lyrics, the “girl songs” were part of his celebration of rock and roll of which dumb lyrics were, as far as we were concerned, “de rigueur” along with other things not normally revered, like playing too loud, posturing and “not giving a shit”.
Perth, being the most isolated capital city in the world, does harbour some parochialism. My main memories of it feature a huge inferiority complex about what was referred to as the “Eastern States”: i.e. not some hierarchy of levels of enlightenment, but all that was to the east in fact, everywhere in Australia! Getting to the Eastern States meant a three-day drive across the desert or forking out for an airfare comparable to an overseas flight – and that was just to get to Adelaide! It was in the realm of dreams. Why waste dreams on going somewhere that was pretty much the same as home? We didn’t need the Eastern States!
1975 was a big let down for me. There I was in Art School (Western Australian Institute of Technology, Faculty of Fine Art) waiting for the non-stop drugged-out free love-in that I’d heard about as a nipper in the sixties, only to get patronised by a bunch of ageing hippies (actually 20 something fellow art students). By the time I was able to go to the party it was over!
Reading about a far off place called CBGB in NYC and its leather-clad denizens, all with names like Johnny Thunders, Richard Hell and Joey Ramone, got me thinking. The article, by Charles Shaar Murray in NME, was titled “Are You Alive To the Jive of ’75?” I immediately went searching for Punk Rock. What I found were “The Modern Lovers” and “The New York Dolls” albums.
I recalled seeing an ad with a photo round ’74 stuck up in 78 Records.1 It had two very glammy, almost tranny-looking dudes with fancy writing saying what looked to me like “Blink City Boys”2 and they were looking for members. That always struck me as unusual for Perth. Thinking back, I wondered if they were “punk”. Whatever. In the meantime, I drafted some school friends into a band and called it “The Cheap Nasties”.
178 Records was the biggest of Perth’s two record importers at that time
2Kim is referring to James Baker’s New York Dolls-influenced band, The Slick City Boys – see photo on Home Page.
Over the course of 1976, I devoured all that was punk. All that was punk was evolving fast. At the start of ’76 the punk universe consisted of the Dolls, Stooges and Velvets. While I waited for the Ramones, Heartbreakers, Television and Blondie to get records out, the Punk Axis had shifted to London with the Pistols et al. There was a new band to read about each week in the British trade weeklies. Then there was the call from 78s to tell me the Ramones LP was finally in! Bringing it home and putting the needle in the groove and hearing that mix of bubblegum, buzzsaw guitar, tribal drums and Joey Ramone’s “Hey Ho Let’s Go” was one of the perfect moments of my life.
The Cheap Nasties’ repertoire had varied (a little too much, perhaps) from the more melodic “poppy” end of the punk spectrum to fairly psyched out jarring Stooges/Modern Lovers style thrash-outs. The compromise of directions no doubt stifled the band’s potential… As one might expect of a band that was pursuing something unknown, there was more than one idea of what that thing was. This, of course, led to warring factions, namely the other guitarist and myself. The band split. But not before getting out and doing shows prior to the end of 1976.*
There are those who claim to have been in punk rock bands before us. The thing is none of them, including the Slink City Boys [sic], ever really made it out of their bedrooms.*
The Nasties precipitated the beginning of Perth’s very own punk-scene. James Baker was amongst these people. He, of the pudding-bowl haircut, had travel experience, had seen the Ramones, Heartbreakers, the Sex Pistols, and The Damned (he’d even smoked a joint with Joe Strummer). With this worldliness and cool image, he was looked up to. Also amongst our fans were Rod Radalj and Boris Sujdovic, a pair of Slavic yobbos who just decided to learn to play the guitar and bass respectively.
My friend Dave Faulkner, or “Flick” as he was now known, was conspiring with James, who it turned out, was the drumming half of the Slink [sic] City Boys and a bass playing chap they called Rudolph.* They called their collaboration The Victims. They all moved into a squalid fleapit of a house in East Perth. They cleaned out all the “hippy dirt” from the previous residents and painted over all the bad art on the walls, dubbing the place “Victim Manor.” It took about a month for them to let the “Manor” slide back to such a filthy state that none of them except for Rudolph could live there. There they threw a party, where they performed their first show and instantly became the darlings of “the scene”.
Over the next year, The Victims acted out a drama parallel to that of the Sex Pistols, being banned from various venues and the bass player cultivating a drug habit. They also managed to have a truly original interpretation of the Punk sound.* They left a couple of recordings, including the classic Television Addict. In time, due to having no regular venues to book them, The Victims found a jazz club called “Hernando’s Hideaway” and managed to secure a Wednesday night residency there. With a place to hang, and for its new bands to play at (supporting The Victims), the “scene” soon sucked up all kinds of dubious trash from the suburbs and grew.
With the split of the Nasties, I soon found myself in Rod and Boris’s band, The Invaders. I was not allowed to play guitar, but had to sing, each of us playing what we were worst at. Our drummer, a chap known as Johnno, and Rod were always fighting. Eventually, Johnno left, which coincided with The Victims split early in ’78. Seizing the opportunity, we snapped up James, who joined on the condition that I did play guitar.
We had a jam. James came up with some “girlie” lyrics. It wasn’t the Iggy I was hoping for, but I was able to hang a nice melody on them. The combination of that and the punk racket of ragged two note bar chords and floor-tom-heavy drumbeats were like a collision between the Stooges and Herman’s Hermits. Straight away, “a sound”! With a song under our belts, we convened on the verandah of “Victim Manor” and brainstormed to find a moniker that would capture our caveman essence. The Troggs was already taken so we opted for irony and came up with The Scientists.
Come 1978, anyone and everyone were into punk. And Punk Rock claimed to destroy Rock ‘n’ Roll. We were the next thing beyond punk (just plain contrary, in hindsight). We chose to take the next step that, to us, was to go through the rubble and pick up the things we liked and reassemble them. It was all very post-modern. But being unaware of that term at the time, we didn’t give a shit. We just wanted to rock!
The truth of the matter was we were perverse. We revered the stylish loser, the unsung hero, the uncompromising unconventional unseen dandy, and the misunderstood misanthrope. Cyril Jordan, Walter Lure, Reg Presley, the Ashton Brothers (not the regular circus brothers but The Stooges’ Ashtons) and Arthur Harold Kane were our mentors. Anyone could admire a Johnny Rotten, an Iggy or a Johnny Thunders, but it took a real understanding to see beyond the obvious layer of showbiz (or so we thought). Our heroes were incurable. They couldn’t help it. They were rock ‘n’ roll to the core. And so it was for us.
People had got The Victims. They didn’t get us. We were loud, loose as buggery and yet had pop melodies and wore moptops. And loud shirts. Were we punk? Old school rock? Or making some kind of art statement? Nobody could tell. There was something at the time going round called “Power Pop”. We were most definitely not that! What fans we had liked us for any one of the above reasons and probably got us as much as our detractors. At first, we didn’t care but soon it became apparent to us that we were becoming musical lepers around town. This only added to our righteousness…
From NKVD Records interview (approx May 2002)
Intro from “Steve”, the interviewer:
The first group in the early days in Perth was the Cheap Nasties, who featured Dan Dare on bass, Neil Fernandez on guitar and Mark Betts on drums. Kim sang and played guitar. They played about a year, from August 1976 to July 1977, and then added Robbie Art to relieve Kim of the vocal role. The band played basic punk music – just trying to get off of square one.
The Cheap Nasties split in December of 1977. Salmon joined forces with John Rushin (drums), Rod Radalj (guitar) and Boris Sujdovic (bass). They had formed the core of another Perth group called the Exterminators, whose set included a loving song about their hometown called Asshole Of The Universe. They called the resulting outfit the Invaders. Meanwhile, Fernandez and Betts became founding members of The Manikins, who would later include future Hoodoo Gurus mainman Dave Faulkner. By May of 1978, Rushin was out of the Invaders and was replaced by former Victims and future Hoodoo Gurus drummer James Baker. The band then changed their name to the Scientists.
From the interview proper:
Steve: Can we start at the earliest days, with the Cheap Nasties and how you got started in rock and roll in the first place?
Kim: I guess I always wanted to be a musician. Well, no, strike that, I didn’t always want to be a musician. I had some other ambitions, but I was a fine arts student and I deferred because I was only 18 and had done one year of Uni, and I didn’t like all the hippies there much. I dunno, somehow I didn’t really fit in with it. And I also thought that I’d like to go and get a few jobs and live a bit rather than continue being at school. So I deferred with the intention of coming back to being an artist, I suppose. I guess I had wanted to be a musician in that time, but it wasn’t like I had ever claimed that it was a serious career choice. And about that time I read an article by a journalist called Charles Shaar Murray in the New Musical Express about a New York scene that really kind of captured my imagination reading about it. They had all these bands decked out in black leather, talking about the Ramones and Heartbreakers, and there was some history mentioned about bands like The New York Dolls and The Stooges and The Velvet Underground. I didn’t really know much about any of that kind of thing, but it seemed very rock and roll to me.
Steve: I didn’t get the NME in those days, but I’d get the US Rolling Stone, and they used to have things he wrote. I guess they just bought them from the NME.
Kim: Yeah, because Rolling Stone was very into the Eagles and all that crap, weren’t they?
Steve: Yeah, but they’d have reviews from him on The Ramones and that sort of thing. I still have this copy of Rolling Stone with this cover that says “Rock Is Sick And Living In London” or something like that.
Kim: Ah, I think I read that in something else. Yeah, so I didn’t know what punk rock was, because I hadn’t heard any of these bands, I’d only read about them. But just the images that were in my mind were enough to make me think that they were something I wanted to go out and find. So I went on a sort of a…a quest to find punk rock (laughs). And I ended up arriving at The Modern Lovers – that was the first thing I got hold of.*
Steve: How did you find that in Perth?
Kim: Well, I’d read an article somewhere about Jonathan Richman and I went into a record shop and found this thing called The Modern Lovers. And I liked the look of it. Compared to other records it had a very sort of art influenced or Picasso-ish looking cover. Minimalist or something. It beckoned to me. And I put it on when I got it home and I loved it. I went and got hold of the Dolls and some Stooges records, and that’s what formed my idea of punk rock. So the Cheap Nasties was really just an attempt to put it into practice. And I had drafted some guys that I knew from high school, and that’s how it started.
Steve: So were the other guys into it, too, or did you have to convince them?
Kim: They were kind of drafted. They were, I suppose, just keen on the idea of being in bands, because they were really fairly rudimentary players. The drummer had only recently bought a drum kit and taken some lessons and the bass player – I think he really probably had more of a career in other areas in mind, but he liked rock music.
Steve: Were you doing mostly covers?
Kim: Well that was the thing, what songs to do. So yeah, we did about half of that Modern Lovers album. We did Trash from the Dolls, did Now I Wanna Be Your Dog. I think we might have done Search and Destroy. No Fun. You know, really the pretty standard sort of thing. But it was in 1976 I think, so that was relatively early.
Steve: That’s quite amazing taste for teenagers!
Kim: Well, yeah, I guess. We just stumbled on the right kind of articles to lead the way. So that’s what the Cheap Nasties was. I don’t know that the band was really very good. It had a few lineup changes and we got another guitar player in, Neil Fernandez, who was a really good singer, and we shared the vocals and the guitar. He was a pretty slick muso. He could sort of carry a tune and everything. Then, later on, we got a guy I knew from art school who became a singer, and his name was Robbie Art. I think we were a competent band, and I think we were ahead of our time for the place, but I think in a lot of ways the band was probably not that remarkable. I mean, it was remarkable for those two things that I said, but beyond that, there really wasn’t much that could be said about it. I left the band, or we decided we’d split up, because I used to argue with Neil all the time about songwriting. It was always a competition between guitarists.
Steve: So did you play many gigs?
Kim: Oh, yeah, we did quite a few gigs. I think really that’s something that the band did, which was to kind of galvanize a bit of a scene together. There were small pockets of interest around the place. Have I mentioned that this is in Perth? I have to remember to give you some background on that in a minute. But I guess it was a way for people with the same common interests to get together, and out of that a couple of bands formed, one of which, The Victims, was probably the most notable. Which I wasn’t in, but later I joined up with their drummer, James Baker, and formed the first Scientists line-up.
Steve: The Cheap Nasties transitioned into The Invaders at the end of 1977 – what happened there?
Kim: The Invaders was this band with some of these people who were part of the scene who couldn’t play a musical instrument but went and got guitars and things and learned how to play a bar chord and do three chord songs. The guitar player wanted me to join, and he wouldn’t let me play guitar, so I had to sing. Because he didn’t want to be shown up (laughs). We’re talking about relative ability here – I guess my singing wasn’t much to speak of, either.
Steve: So you each did what you were worst at?
Kim: (laughs) Yeah, you’ve got it. That’s very punk! It was probably the worst band I’ve ever been in. But when The Victims finally broke up, everybody in the scene was very sad about that, but I thought “this is really good, because now I can grab James Baker from that”. And he joined under the condition that I play guitar. And that was The Scientists. We changed our name – what we really wanted to be was primitive, like the Troggs or Stooges, or like The Velvets doing White Light White Heat or something. That was our idea, just a big throbbing mess. Kind of caveman like. So we thought the name The Scientists would have the right amount of irony.
Steve: I read an interview where you were talking about the early Scientists, and one thing that was very different from many other older bands who are often dismissive of their early material, even though you’ve done a lot of music that’s very different from that early material, you still were positive about what you’d done with The Scientists on The Pink Album and the two early 7 inchers.
Kim: Well, I think that Pink Album’s rubbish! I think it’s very badly produced. It doesn’t give a very good idea.
Steve (attempting recovery from bullet-riddled thesis): Well, it maybe was badly produced, but there’s a lot of badly produced albums that are still really good. There’s something to them.
Kim: Well, maybe, but you’re a lot more kind about it than I am. But I think The Cheap Nasties – I wouldn’t say I was all that positive about them. I think I kind of got that all out of my system doing The Cheap Nasties. But, I thought it was a really good band that definitely did have something right from the start. But it was a very different thing, that early line-up, compared to the later line-ups.
Steve: One of the things I didn’t realize for a while was that James Baker wrote all the words for the songs. That kind of amazed me.*
Kim: Well, yeah, but that’s sort of going back to the Invaders idea of doing the thing you’re worst at.1 (laughs) That’s very good…
I guess I was at that time just a guitar player. I wrote melodies – that’s what my strength was. I liked lyrics, but I’d rather somebody else wrote them. And James was like “Oh, I can write lyrics”. And of course they’re all “Girl, oh won’t you do this” and “Girl come and do this with me”.2
1 Kim is doing James a grave injustice here. Dave Faulkner’s assessment of James’ lyrics is more generous (and aligned with mine), and more accurate as far as this site is concerned – see Dave Faulkner’s Letter.
2 Hmmm. James’ subject matter might be trite, but his lyrical treatment of it generally is not – at least circa Geeks/Victims.
Steve: Well, Pissed On Another Planet is about something else! About the only other thing there is when you’re that age, I guess.
Kim: Yeah, but I think Ian Sharples wrote those words. He was the bass player at the time. It was James’ idea to write the song, but Ian put all the couplets together. He was a little bit more literary than James.
Steve: So did James write the lyrics first and then you provide music?
Kim: Well that’s sort of funny too, because he was fairly a-tonal, and he would sort of say “I’ve written this song” and sing it. And I’d never be able to hear anything in it, so I’d have to make up a melody to go vaguely with whatever rhythm I’d hear. And whatever I’d play, he’d say “Yeah, like that! That’s right!” So he probably thought he wrote all the melodies, but in actual fact, I had to find them somehow.* Maybe they were buried subliminally in his words.