Phil Jamieson, musician
I think the words career and music are somewhat an oxymoron … if you’re thinking it’s going to be a career you’re probably in it for the wrong reasons. Do it because you love it …
With seven albums, 13-ARIA nominations, over half a million records sold and a back catalogue that is etched into Australian rock history as well as the memories of fans around Australia and the world, Grinspoon is one of the country’s best-loved and most enduring bands. After 18-years making music together and slaying the stage of more than 1,000 shows, the band announced they were taking an indefinite hiatus in 2013. While it was indeed a sad day for fans, the enigmatic front man/guitarist Phil Jamieson has forged ahead with a solo career and is coming to the coast this weekend to play Surfers Paradise LIVE festival. Phil took a few minutes out to chat with The Weekend Edition Gold Coast about the perks and pitfalls of being part of one of Australia’s greatest ever rock bands.
Grinspoon won Triple J’s first ever Unearthed competition in 1995. What did that mean to you?
At the time it didn’t mean much at all because I didn’t even know what Unearthed was. To be honest, I wasn’t really familiar with Triple J and we’d only been together as a band for about six weeks. When we won, I wasn’t really aware of what it could do. It was probably hugely influential and hugely important in our careers but it’s hard to quantify looking back now. Even Triple J didn’t know how successful Unearthed would be, now of course it has its own radio station so it’s become its own monster. At the time, Triple J has just started rolling out throughout regional Australia so because we had a song that was getting played on the radio we could go to places and play our music live so it enabled us to tour.
You were just 17 at the time, what was it like dealing with that kind of success at such a young age?
Well I wasn’t allowed to be in pubs for one! I don’t think we were that successful overnight. We had a song on the radio but it didn’t mean I was rolling in any type of money or anything, what it did mean was that I had to make a decision whether to continue with university or do the band. Luckily I chose the band and I eventually turned 18 so we were able to tour more successfully that way. It was really head down bum up back then.
If you could give your younger self any advice, what would it be?
I don’t think I would have listened anyway! But I think it would be to live in the moment a bit more. As a kid things just come and you treat them like that’s normal. I spent a lot of time touring America and Canada and looking back I think I should have savoured that a bit more but I’m not really one to dish out advice.
You mentioned you were at university, what were you studying?
I was studying composition in music. I was always a musician, writing songs and in bands from a very young age so I was always going to end up in music but I was probably going to be a music teacher or something along those lines.
Let’s rewind a bit, what did you grow up listening to?
I guess like every other kid under ten it was pop music. I don’t know too many kids that listen to Bach or Mozart, maybe some did but in general I was listening to pop. In the 80s it was Bon Jovi, Rick Astley and Yazz.
Can you remember the first live concert you ever attended?
It might have been The Chantoozies at Sea World on the Gold Coast or maybe Dreamworld. I thought they were terrible but I don’t really remember too much else.
You played your first Big Day Out in 2000, what do you remember from that show?
Wow. Nine Inch Nails and Red Hot Chili Peppers were headlining, two massive American bands so I remember quite clearly the sense of ego back stage. Trent Reznor was carrying on and he trashed his room and did all that sort of stuff. I remember we had really good shows. I had been going to the Big Day Out as a punter so to eventually play one was awesome. It took them a while to add us though, we’d been around for five years, it wasn’t until the release of our second album Easy that they came to the party. We ended up doing I don’t know how many more of them but they were always great fun.
You spent 18 years as a band. What were some of your favourite memories from touring with Grinspoon?
I get asked this question a lot and I don’t really have one particular memory that I go to. There were obviously many highlights of touring but sometimes you just get to the same stage. I remember playing CBGBs in New York before it closed down, we were one of the last acts to play there so it was kind of cool to tick that off the list. Our first Annandale show in Sydney was a big deal as it sold-out and you know, once you sell-out the Annandale you really feel like you’ve made it. The Hordern Pavilion was another big one. But you know, sometimes some of the smaller shows were some the best ones. There has been so many, I don’t really have a specific anecdotal memory from 18 years. It’s a fucking great job, Jesus Christ, I’ve had the best fun in the world.
What were some of the pitfalls of Grinspoon’s ‘success’?
I don’t really think there are too many downfalls to playing in a band onstage for one hour in a day. There’s a lot of waiting around, does that count as a pitfall? 23-hours of the day you do nothing and then you play for an hour but that’s a luxury really. I didn’t particularly like doing video clips at all, I find them really tedious. I think we shot about 25 of them and I would dread doing them, it was the worst. I am way too impatient, I just want to do it and get it right, I’m like that in the studio too. Which isn’t a pitfall of Grinspoon it’s a pitfall of me. I really can’t think of anything negative!
You’re coming back to the Gold Coast to do a solo set at Surfers Paradise LIVE festival. What can people expect from your show?
Well I will probably wear a nice suit. I’ll have a guitar and a harmonica and I’ll play a bunch of quite intimate and quite quiet songs. It’s the opposite of Grinspoon in that respect. I do some Grinners tracks but they’ve been fairly heavily rearranged to the point they are somewhat unrecognisable. Then I do some solo songs and I’ll see if I will do a cover or not. I’m really stoked to be asked to play as I’ve always had a nice affinity to the people of the coast. The show is all ages and alcohol free, and it’s free I believe. It’s going to be a lot of fun.
What do you remember about Gold Coast audiences?
They’re crazy! We played there a lot in very early days, like in 1996 when we weren’t very successful at all. We learnt our chops during those shows and people saw us grow as a band, they were there at the infancy. I remember we supported Henry Rollins at a venue called The Playroom, which has been pulled down now. I also met my wife on the Gold Coast. I have a fond thing with the Goldie. I also love the people at Gold Coast Harley, Steve is a fantastic friend.
You’ve achieved so much as part of Grinspoon but also personally as well. What do you see as your greatest achievement?
Achievements are easy to chalk up when you’ve got awards or album sales, but I tend not to reflect on it that often because I think there is still more to do and more to come. I am pretty proud of the fact that we were able to release seven albums, I think that was a huge achievement. Seven albums is a lot of records, a lot of studio time and a lot of songs went into them, it was an honour that people responded so well.
Are there any Australian artists that you’re really in to at the moment?
I’m actually really impressed with the American artists on the Groovin The Moo line-up, there’s an artist called RL Grime who does electronic dance music, ASAP Ferg, he’s a hip-hop guy out of New York, they’re both excellent. I went and saw the Twerps on Saturday night, they’re a great Melbourne band and I love Violent Soho, I have loved them for ten years. They actually supported us at the Cooly Hotel ten years ago believe it or not, when they were a young little band. I think Courtney Barnett is doing really amazing things as well, I’m a big fan of hers. Kingswood make interesting music and I’m watching San Cisco a lot, I think they’re really clever and Scarlett, the drummer of that band, is just incredible. The Delta Riggs are fun. I saw the Hilltop Hoods the other night and they are unreal! They are so slick these days they’re like totally professional and there is so much energy.
If you could form a supergroup with people living or otherwise to play music with, who would be in it and why?
I don’t want to play music! I’m thinking about my superhero costume. I think I would probably be Spiderman and I’d get Tim Rogers from You Am I to be Superman. We’d get Adalita from Magic Dirt as Catwoman, Chris Cheney from The Living End as Robin (Batman’s sidekick) and I reckon Kevin Mitchell from Jebediah as Batman.
Do you have any advice for people who are keen to pursue a career in music?
I think the words career and music are somewhat an oxymoron so if you’re thinking it’s going to be a career you’re probably in it for the wrong reasons. That’s my first advice. You don’t really make music or do any type of art for any monetary reward, it’s just because you love doing it. Take the ‘career’ out of it and do it because you love it. Some of the guys from British India said that they would do it even if they weren’t getting paid and that’s exactly the same as me. I never set out to make huge amounts of money and I think it shows in the way that you deliver your music. If you’re thinking about the bottom line all of the time it can come across as a bit contrived and somewhat fraudulent and hence making your music seem less impactful. That’s my only advice, do it because you love it.
What’s next for you?
Groovin The Moo finishes on Sunday in Townsville then I’m kind of back to normal-ish life. I’m building a house at the moment which is kind of crazy. I go to Japan at the end of June and then I’m back to do a tour in Western Australia in August and then I guess we’ll wait and see. It’s all going on though, there’s lots happening.