The Collapse Board Interview: Ed Kuepper (2019)
We last spoke to Ed Kuepper back in 2014 so we were never going to miss out on another opportunity to talk to the Brisbane legend and person responsible for the song that we took the name of our website from. We spoke to Ed about the new Aints 5-6-7-8-9 mini-album, his songwriting and what motivates him.
Collapse Board: If we start with last year’s Aints album, The Church of Simultaneous Existence, did you always have the old unused Saints songs that made up the album in the back of your mind to revisit it at some stage?
Ed Kuepper: The album came about directly as a process of doing the tour that we did, whenever that was. It was quite a while ago now, I think late 2017. Most of the stuff probably wouldn’t have been recorded without that. It was proposed that I do this 40th anniversary tour of The Saints’ first album but I basically didn’t want it to just be that. I thought that it would be nice to make it something a little bit special. In some ways the original Saints maybe finished a bit earlier for me than it should have. The material was there and we started introducing it as the tour progressed and the response was really good, you know, as good as it was for the older material for the most part. So it made sense to record.
CB: You always knew those songs were there to go back to?
EK: I knew that the songs were there but I suppose before doing that tour, I didn’t really think in terms of actually doing them. So without that tour going ahead, that album just wouldn’t have been recorded. The songs, for the most part, were sitting around for however many decades.
CB: Do you have a well cataloged archive of your work and the songs that don’t make it to being recorded or released?
EK: There’s always a lot of stuff that’s leftover or incomplete and that’s been going on since the very beginning. I think it’s not an unusual approach in a lot of ways because when you’re writing, and you have a particular thing in mind, some songs work better than others and some get left. Put aside rather than left aside.
CB: What format does your archive take, is it boxes of tapes and notebooks of ideas?
EK: Yeah, notebooks, tapes, exactly. And in one or two cases, some of the very earliest, they’re just incredibly strongly ingrained in my brain. It’s quite phenomenal what one can retain. There are still a number of other songs from that era which we haven’t recorded. Whether we actually will do everything remains to be seen because at no point would I want to force this music out. We basically played it and if the response was good to a song, we gave it a tick and we recorded it. Luckily people just seemed to respond pretty well to all the new songs.
CB: ‘Good Night Ladies’, the lead track of the 5-6-7-8-9 mini-album you’re about to release, is the oldest song in that collection. Can you remember much about the history of that song?
EK: I can. ‘Good Night Ladies’ is basically a composite of, I guess, three songs, from between 1969 and 1973. It was sort of “I could pull them apart and make them three separate songs,” but I thought in terms of what the Aints were doing, it actually worked better to make it one.
CB: I was going to ask, given it’s age, that it wasn’t a song that was considered in the early days of The Saints or even in the Kid Galahad days. But it sounds like it wasn’t actually in the form it was in to be able to do that.
EK: No, well we didn’t have a horn section for starters. The horn part was originally a vocal melody line from another song, which the Saints didn’t play. Bits of it preceded the Saints or Kid Galahad & The Eternals, however you want to refer to the band at that stage.
CB: You’re revisiting other older songs on the mini-album, almost like a song from each period of your musical life. Was there anything that made you choose those particular songs?
EK: I think the idea of it was to basically follow on from the Saints’ double single ‘1-2-3-4’, where we played a couple of covers and did a couple of reworking of songs and that’s basically what we’re doing here.
A song like ‘Laughing Clowns’, it’s significant because it kind of ties in with the looking back at the Saints’ catalogue that we’ were doing it but also because ‘Laughing Clowns’ was going to be the follow up single to the Saint’s third LP, Prehistoric Sounds. Had the band continued, it would have been. So what we’ve done with that is gotten a little bit closer, I guess, to the way it would have been, the way it was conceived. But I’m not being a purist with this, there’s hints, there’s little gestures, and towards Laughing Clowns as well, with the piano. That’s why that song is in there.
‘Memories [Are Made Of This]’ we did just basically because it was going over really, well live, I just really liked our rendition of it, so we put that down. And ‘[Hang] Jean Lee’ basically because nobody would have expected us to do it, it’s as simple as that. And also to just announce to people that we sort of do whatever we like.
CB: In the 15 years I’ve lived in Australia, you’ve worked on so may different projects – various solo albums and shows, the Saints and Laughing Clowns reformation shows, now The Aints. What drives you to do those different things? Do you need to change things to get the creativity or is it more that it’s the music business now, that you need to play live shows so you need the new material.
EK: I’m not really sure it’s just business. In some ways it’s the only life I’ve known. I don’t want to sound like I’m quoting ‘Tobacco Road‘ or anything, but it’s sort of what I’ve always done. I’ve never been all that comfortable with the idea of just going out and then endlessly promoting the same thing. I kind of actually get a bit bored with that. On the other hand, I think there’s a lot to be said for honing your skills and craft, but I do get a bit bored with doing the same stuff all the time.
CB: Does does not put pressure on you artistically or is that something you thrive one?
EK: I think it helps to have a goal to actually do work, especially once you’ve done a fair bit of recording. It does help just to sort of think, “I’m going to hurt, I’m going to aim to do a record, you know, later this year” and think of some material that works in that context. I find that it’s actually quite easy not to do anything and I don’t find that a very satisfying way to live, I suppose. So I do like to have a target and go for it to some extent. I don’t want to sound like some sort of motivational dick or anything like that, but I do find that if I’ve got to do things, I’ll normally meet it. So I’m quite happy with working that way.
CB: So does that mean you approach each new project you do with a planned lifespan for that particular project?
EK: I try to, some things just take on a life of their own, but ideally. When I was in high school, I was sort of playing the first several Saints albums. I didn’t have all the titles and stuff. But I had them roughly. Maybe it’s a bit of obsessiveness.
CB: And does, does your songwriting approach change depending on what you’re doing next?
EK: It would a little bit. There’s several different aspects to it. There’s the writing and then there’s the arranging, so a song can be written in a particular way and then arranged, completely differently, to such extremes sometimes that you wonder “Is this a completely different thing?” to what you actually started with. But, to me, the music sort of devolves anyway and it really does depend on how I’m feeling at a particular point in time as to what I want to do with it.
CB: Following on from that, at what point do you have a definite direction for where you’re going?
EK: When I write, I mostly use a guitar, either acoustic or an unplugged electric guitar, partly because I enjoy the process of doing a little bit of guitar practice as regularly as a I can. I never sit down and just practice scales for any length of time, in fact I never do that, but I do it just to limber up and then it works out of that. There’s so many different ways of writing, but that’s an easy one. I think that’s why the guitar is such a popular instrument, because you can carry it around and do something with it in any room of the house. That is what inspires melody and lyric for the most part even though I often do write lyrics separately. Sometimes melodies just sort of come, when you’re walking around the garden or something, but oftentimes it’s nice to have some sort of counterpoint, with the guitar doing something. Having said that I like that discipline of trying to get as much as possible, you know, trying to write something every day. Nothing ever happens without discipline.
CB: I was reading an interview earlier, one from a couple of years ago, and you said you were writing a book, is that still happening?
EK: I’m always writing a book! I never get very far! I like the idea of it, finding the time to do that and I still tie myself to music as much as I feel I need to is my problem at the moment.
CB: The Aints played at Farmer and Owl festival last month recently. I remember reading that you didn’t like playing festivals. So I just wondered how that experience was for you, given you were a playing with a lot of contemporary bands.
EK: We actually played a couple of festivals, we did the Meredith festival as well. They were both good in their own ways. The Meredith festival in particular was great. We opened the festival, which I was dubious about doing, especially given as it turned out to be a 38 degrees heatwave, but it was fantastic. With the Farmer and Owl, J Mascis was playing so we weren’t the only sort of heritage act. It was good. I don’t like going to festivals, I should say, more than I don’t like playing them. Playing them can be OK but I’ve never go to them if I’m not playing.
CB: I saw the Saints reformation shows and Pig City back in 2007 and again for All Tomorrow’s Parties at Mount Buller and the Riverstage in Brisbane. I assume you get offers to reform all the time.
EK: It has happened a few times
CB: And is it easy to say no given how busy you keep yourself?
EK: It’s unlikely that it will ever happen again. I put a fair amount of strong personal commitment to try and make it work and I don’t think that was sort of really reciprocated. We’re just too many personal and artistic obstacles in that particular set up that make the whole thing. I’m happy to work to make a project be artistically successful but I don’t want every aspect to be an uphill battle. Life is just too short and I’d rather work with people that are actually enthusiastic about what we do.
The Aint’s 5-6-7-8-9 mini album is released on Friday June 14th on CD, digital and vinyl via ABC Music
FEEL PRESENTS…THE AINTS! 5-6-7-8-9 TOUR DATES
Friday 14th June 2019 – Corner Hotel, Melbourne VIC (two sets)+ Colonel Kramer and the Eamon Dilworth One Man Brass Ensemble
Thursday 20th June 2019 – The Zoo, Brisbane QLD + Blank Realm
Friday 21st June 2019 – Sol Bar, Sunshine Coast QLD + Colonel Kramer and the Eamon Dilworth One Man Brass Ensemble
Saturday 22nd June 2019 – Kingscliff Hotel, Kingscliff NSW + Colonel Kramer and the Eamon Dilworth One Man Brass Ensemble
Friday 28th June 2019 – Factory Theatre, Sydney NSW (two sets)+ Colonel Kramer and the Eamon Dilworth One Man Brass Ensemble
Saturday 29th June 2019 – The Street, Canberra ACT (two sets)
Tickets on sale via feelpresents.com