Dodging bullets and shifting sands with Six Ft Hick's Geoff Corbett
Karina Astrup photo
A lot of bands say they're unique but Six Ft Hick’s claim is real. A two-headed mutant from deepest Queensland in Australia’s sub-tropical north, the Hick has been trashing stages around their home country, and further afield in Japan and Europe, for two decades.
Over four studio albums and a live long-player since 2000, Six Ft Hick have carved out a space for themselves somewhere between amped-up (vaguely) rockabilly and full-steam ahead trash rock, but it’s as a stage entity that they’ve made their most lasting mark.
With vocalist-brothers Geoff and Ben Corbett running off each other like crazed wingmen at a testosterone party, they’re an irresistible and confronting beast that’s impossible to ignore. Smashed glasses (mainly on their own heads), broken furniture, casualty ward visits and ringing ears are de riguer.
There’s a documentary documenting one of their European tours that might just be the most honest road movie you’ve ever seen.
Side bands fronted by each brother – Gentle Ben And His Sensitive Side (Ben) and Shifting Sands (Geoff) – are more subtle in their approach but also worthy of your attention, with both taking the more interesting low road singposted by broken relationships, psychosis and whisky.
The launch of an album by Shifting Sands (the arresting "Beach Coma") - along with drummer Fred Noonan’s thankfully successful fight with cancer - have contributed to Six Ft Hick taking a long absence from the stage in 2015. That’s about to be rectified by a series of shows marking the band’s 20th year.
Six Ft Hick are Ben and Geoff Corbett (vocals), Dan Baebler (bass), Tony Giacca (guitar) and Fred Noonan (drums). This interview is with Geoff Corbett.
RB: As it’s been a while between drinks, lets refresh folks addled memories and corrupt the innocence of those who missed you first go-round. What were 6fthick about when they started?
GC: We didn't really have a clue at the start. We knew we wanted to rail against the shoegaze wave that was swamping Brisbane at the time. We didn't align with the garage purist school either so we were hated in Brisbane for the first few years. We wanted to do a show where there was blood and we wanted to do rock and roll. Once we embraced our limitations and started playing Melbourne things started falling into place.
Have there been changes? What's a broken neck between friends?
There have been very few line-up changes in the 20 years. We lost Birdhat after we toured Japan and then Ben Jones from Godnose stood in until Dan transitioned from bass to guitar and Tony Giacca came on board. The mission statement has remained the same.
When people talk about 6fthick, what do you think they’re imagining?
I've really got no idea about this one. It’s like when you've been writing bios for this band for the past two decades it just keeps getting harder, you naturally avoid hyperbole more and more because you think "fuck it, we play a fucking good rock and roll show, come and see it shithead. Why do I have to describe it to you".
Did you ever get negative responses from punters?
Not as often these days. A lot of fights went down in the early days because of the drugs and short fuses but generally punters are great now and punch out anyone who is harshing the mellow.
What you do for a crust these days seems to be an umbilical link to 6fthick.. or is that not right ?
When we started out we were all on artist pensions also known as the dole. I remember walking around St.Kilda pissed asking for jobs so I could hand my form in. As much as it was a great way to see the world it wasn't sustainable so we got jobs washing dishes, hospitality, trade stuff...labouring y'know, support work and that sort of thing. Low commitment, flexible hours sort of stuff.
Now Tony and Dan are both graphic/web/video designers, Fred works in a pub, Ben owns "The Low Road" café and bar and I work in Drug and Alcohol. Can you see the pattern forming? That said I would still gladly tour flat out for three months of the year if I could.
Live photo at rught by Norma-Jean Terrid
If you could, would you tour the US and Europe? What’s out there for five Hicks from Brissy?
We've toured Japan once and Europe three times and blazed a now well-worn trail through France that has really opened that territory to Australian rock and roll. There have been a few not so solid offers for US stuff but the money just wasn't there. We have no aspirations for being world beaters either. We'd love to tour Europe again as it's got to the stage where we break even. We just have to mutually agree on a time.
How do the rehearsals feel after civilian life?
Rehearsal has been a bit weird. We never used to rehearse much because we'd just play so often and couldn’t see the sense in dropping cash on a rehearsal room when you could just play a show and get some coin and free piss.
And why do this now? What do you have to prove; surely you've proved it already..?
We're not really proving anything. Just coming back from an eight-month break of not playing. That's the longest we've pulled up for in 20 years so not bad going. I think before that we managed one break of about three months or so when Ben’s neck was fucked but otherwise we just keep playing because if we don't the black dog starts sniffing your cock.
Are new songs being contemplated?
Yes, contemplated. Slowly.
How any times has the band made the road trip from Brisbane to Melbourne in its history?
By road it's somewhere around 50-plus. We had notches on the sign at the hire place. I couldn’t tell you how much we've flown down which is how we do it now. We became very good at running repairs on the Toyota Hiace. Bass strings make a shithouse muffler clamp but are better than nothing, officer.
What's the most damage you or Ben have done to yourself onstage? How long does an average fragment of beer glass stay embedded in the skin?
Ben has ended up with a lot of glass wounds, lots of stitches, a fuckload of blood and good times getting acquainted with late-night ED staff. I broke a bunch of bones in my foot one night in Perth and thought it would be amazing to walk to a karaoke bar and sink more piss and nail "Total Eclipse Of The Heart". It was not so amazing the next morning.
I got glassed in the head after a show years ago by some fucking phonetically retarded psychopath because I corrected him on the pronunciation of "schooner". Totally my fault for being a smartarse.
That bloke went on to kill two blokes in prison so obviously he was challenged a bit by having to use his words. Eighteen months after I got glassed I was having a shower and i felt something sharp sticking out of my head and pulled out a fingernail size piece of glass. Nice. Classic not plastic.
How come none of you ended up in jail?
Because we were always (relatively) high-functioning substance users. We had our moments but managed to be able to dodge most of the bullets.
How can you relate onstage self-destruction with you having a life affirming job like drug counselling where the message is 'care about yourself'?
I guess I align with the harm minimisation school of treatment. Identifying limits etc. I also believe that blowing off steam is about self-care too. Am I right? Abstinence is an option and good on you if you reckon that’s the one for you but get your head around the fact that, for the vast majority of people, it’s not. And don't fucking come at me with your "my drug is bigger than your drug shit" you unique little snowflakes.
Lastly, tell us a little about your new-ish band, Shifting Sands. Is it getting attention O/S?
Shifting Sands is a band i've been in for a couple of years now. It's the antithesis of SixFtHick. I get to sit on a barstool, not crack a sweat and be all dark and damaged and drink too much and have a whinge about all of the relationships I've fucked up. You really oughta check it out. Laugh a minute.
We put our album "Beach Coma" out on Spooky in Australia and Beast in France and it's done really well on the continent so the pressure is on to get over there and play some shows.
Geoff, thank you for your patience... Hope to see you in Adelaide; happy to help to see that happen.
Jeff Ram photo. More here.