If Jack Lee went to his grave only known as the guy who wrote the Blondie hit “Hanging On the Telephone” he’d be more noteworthy than all of us combined and then some. The irony is that only music publishing houses and fans of his former band, The Nerves, would know this. Sad, but that’s the state of music in the ‘00s.
Just the facts: Their recorded output was scant but The Nerves were one helluva great power-pop band, operating out of LA in the mid-‘70s, and Jack Lee was (and probably still is) a consummate songwriter. Lee formed The Nerves and played guitar. His similarly talented bandmates were Peter Case (bass) and Paul Collins (drums.) They all sang and wrote the songs. That’s probably too much talent for one band and of course they didn’t last long…
The music industry is a shallow trench full of sharks and transient imprints, to paraphrase Hunter S Thompson. Independent record labels come and go with the regularity of manufactured reality TV stars and only a few manage to find their niche and prosper. In Australia, only Citadel is still standing from the halycon days of the 1980s. A few rose in the '90s to fill the gaps left by the demise of Phantom and Waterfront. Since the 2000s, the most enduring has been Melbourne-based Off The Hip.
Off The Hip grew out co-founder Mick ("Mickster") Baty's love of all things garage rock, powerpop and psychedelia. A drummer and veteran of one of Sydney's finest garage-trash outfits, The Crusaders, he went on to killer powerpop bands The Pyramidiacs and The Finkers. Baty saw Off The Hip as an outlet for his own music. He had re-located to Melbourne by then and formed The Stoneage Hearts, a shifting cast of players who produced top-shelf garage rock with a pop bent.
A retail operaiton operating out of his house morphed into a bricks-and-mortar shop in Melbourne's CBD and a floodgate of releases via the fledgling label ensued. It's been an enduring success - on its own terms - since then. Off The Hip - the label and the shop - have inspired and contrinuted to the existence and growth of hundreds of bands.
Last month, the Off The Hip label celebrated its 15th birthday. We decided it was high-time for Mickster to occupy the interview seat.
Mike Stax, long-time singer for San Diego's long-running The Loons, is better known for Ugly Things, the magnificent magazine he runs, than his band. This double-headed pointer towards their forthcoming album suggests that needs to change.
“Miss Clara Regrets” is a fine slice of bustling freakbeat with a bassline that means business and guitars that demand to be heard. Stax delivers a fine vocal with punch and good range to tell a tale about an “It girl”. Twin guitars and a hook of in the tail that says it’s a pop song and it's exclusive to this single.
There’s a steely edge to “We Who Are” that sets it apart from the pack of ’60-influenced Paisley revivalists and winkle-picker wearing pretenders. It’s apparent in the uncompromisingly serrated fuzz tone of Alessandro Cozzi-Lepri and the economical and direct songs this trio writes.
Most of us have a soft spot for garage rock and ‘60s punk. If you grew up in Australia, it’s probably the US variants (and especially the acid punk end of the genre) that appeals. It fuelled a rash of bands in the ‘80s. You know their names. The Embrooks came late to that particiular party, not forming until 1996, but were no less formidable than their immediate forebears.
If we’re going to talk genre, The Embrooks were masters of freakbeat - the English take on psychedelia, beat pop and Mod - that sprang up in the mid-’60s and fittingly spent time on the Voxx label before calling it a day in 2004. Their reformation for this, their fourth long player, was much anticipated.