Ed Kuepper, musician, The Aints
To learn from myself, in some ways, I came away having a slightly higher regard for what I did ...
When it comes to seminal Australian music outfits, few groups carved as heralded a legacy as Brisbane punk icons The Saints. From 1973 to 1978, The Saints produced numerous albums that heavily influenced the sound of rock and roll to come, and as one of the band’s key songwriters and guitarists, Ed Kuepper deserves a lot of credit for the band’s enduring legacy. Last year Ed Kuepper hit the road with his band The Aints, which saw the group perform songs that Ed had written during The Saints’ hey day. Those fragments and thoughts formed the basis for the band’s new record The Church of Simultaneous Existence, containing 12 tracks originally penned in the late 1970s. Once again The Aints are hitting the road, so we got in touch with Ed Kuepper to talk about bringing these songs to life and how the music of The Saints has stood the test of time.
I really dig your new album The Church of Simultaneous Existence! It’s been 40 years since you first penned these tracks or fragments – what prompted you to revisit them after all this time?
It’s actually a fairly long story (laughs). I’ll try and keep it concise. I did this album a few years ago called Lost Cities and I was thinking that I would stop after doing it, but then I had this notion that there was all this stuff that I had sitting around since I first started writing. An offer came through to do The Aints tour, which originally came up in 2016 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of The Saints’ first release. It didn’t happen that year so it got pushed over into the next, which was okay because with the original Saints there were three or four 40th anniversaries, so we were able to maintain that idea. I was initially a bit hesitant to do it because I thought I might rather to something else, but Tim Pittman of Feels Presents was quite persuasive. What I decided to do at that point – it dawned on me as being the perfect time – was introduce this old material. Most of it, I mean some of it pre-dates The Saints and some of it was from a slightly fuzzy time afterwards, all essentially comes from that era and in a way could have been a hypothetical fourth Saints album. It probably wouldn’t have been, because we would have been writing a lot of other stuff, but that was the conceptual idea behind it – to get it focused.
So it was as part of The Aints shows that these songs were first put forth – how did you go about working them in after so much time?
We started doing these shows largely playing The Saints material, which was advertised accurately as ‘73 to ’78, but there was all this other stuff that I’d written that hadn’t been included in that. I thought it would be really great for us as a group and also for the really hard-core fans to introduce this material and see how it goes. We started off with four songs in the set and they went over really well, so we started adding more and more until basically by the time we finished the shows the entire second set was new-old material. Every step of the way was guided by how people responded to it. I had no real agenda to push the stuff – if people thought it was shit-house then that was fine, there was enough other material. I thought it was good and I probably said so on stage (laughs). So that’s how and why – it was to add something a bit more special to the event, I guess.
Were you surprised at how these ideas and musical fragments stood the test of time, or was there a process of refinement to make the material translate?
I didn’t make any attempt to modernise it at all. In a lot of ways, without getting too obsessive with it, I thought it would be a good thing to not take it outside of its timeframe. You can do a lot of things with arrangements and the sounds to modernise stuff, but given that it’s now with different people and it’s many years down the track it’s still as close as you can get, as far as I can do it, to sounding the way I would have back in the day.
What were you writing about back then, message wise? Do you still stand by the sentiments you were penning at that point in your life?
I think I stand by pretty much all the material as it is. When you say messages, my main concern back then was to write songs – I cared less about the actual message than the writing of songs. In some way I didn’t care that much what the songs were about, and I maintained that with this album. There were some things that needed a little bit of completion – arrangement ideas and a couple of songs on the album that didn’t have horns in their original guides, which we added. Things like that, to make it work as a cohesive album. Chronologically, I sort of imagined that it would be a fourth album that came out after Prehistoric Sounds, so I was already getting into full horn arrangement mode by then, so that justifies and explains that aspect of it.
When you had worked all these songs into the live show, was the idea of an album the logical next step?
Once the songs were working live, I had no hesitations about putting them down in the studio at all – it made absolute sense to do so. There was quite a lot of other material there as well, so we honed it down a little bit. I didn’t want to swamp people with a double album, kind of thing. We’ll see how this one goes – there’s a lot of material, I was writing a lot. I think before we finished the tour we were already looking to record it. Everyone in the band was keen, so there was enthusiasm from the participants, which was important.
There’s also a lot of enthusiasm from fans as well! Your shows are filled with fans from back in the day and those coming to know your music now. What do you think it is about your music from that period that has stood the test of time?
Oh, if I knew that … (laughs) No, I have no idea! In a way I tend not to focus on that aspect too much. To me it sounds like music that is more or less from the era, I guess it almost has become classic or something, so I guess that’s why. I just wanted The Saints to be a really great rock and roll band. We were carving out our own sort of territory or niche, but it wasn’t like any of us would have felt like we were inventing something completely new in the process. It’s a hard question to answer. To me it sounds fresh, still – especially if we don’t play the stuff too much (laughs). I hadn’t really listened to a lot of that material for years, so it was sort of fresh in a lot of ways. As far as what makes it stand up, I have no idea!
For you as a creative entity and songwriter, do you feel that your creative ethos and methods have evolved over the years or do you see similarities between yourself in the 70s and how you operate now?
Yeah, there are aspects of what I do that I do exactly the same, but I do a lot of things quite differently – for different projects and stuff. I know things now that I didn’t know then. I write differently sometimes, but I also do things pretty much the way I always did. Maybe I have a broader approach now through using technology, or knowing how to do things now that I didn’t know how to do back then. In the process of going back to this – and it might sound really weird – I had to study how I actually played. If we were going to do The Aints play The Saints tour, I wanted the stuff to be played fairly true to, not note-for-note, but the intention or the aesthetic of the way things were played needed to be true. It’s easy to do updated versions and to send up material that you did when you were 18. I wanted to avoid all that – I wanted to get close to it and in the process of doing that I came to learn something from myself in terms of how I used to play and I managed to incorporate it. It’s hard to say specifically what it is, but stylistic things that I did back then that I just forgot about. It was educational, in a weird sort of way. To learn from myself, in some ways, I came away having a slightly higher regard for what I did (laughs). I know it sounds really egotistical but I actually feel quite detached from the time, because it was so long ago now. It was quite amusing and really good fun.