Growing up together in small town Finely in New South Wales, Janet English, Damian ‘Whitt’ Whitty and Mark Maher (better known as Kram) were raised listening to commercial radio and their parents’ varied record collections.
Despite their shared interest in music, it was only after they had left high school that the three childhood friends decided to form the band that is now known as Spiderbait.
“I used to love listening to the radio and I just loved rock and pop music when I was a kid. I’d go down to my cousin’s place in Melbourne and they would always have heaps of pop stars posters on their walls and everyone loved glam rock and AC/DC and stuff so it was a real part of my childhood. One day I just started tapping chopsticks on the table and I found I could keep a beat, eventually I started learning the drums at high school and one thing lead to another and I ended up studying it,” Kram says, who is also one of the band’s vocalists alongside English.
“We got into punk and indie music when we were at university and back in those days there wasn’t really much of that stuff on the radio. It was very exciting music and we really liked the sound. We all started getting into it as friends and we thought we should start a band. I was studying music at the time and I was drumming, and Whitt and I had been jamming for a few years as kids on guitar and drums. We thought we’d get Janet in and see if she wanted to play bass and then we all started jamming. Our first jam was on her parent’s farm in the shed where she kept her tractor, so we had to move the tractor out. One of our earliest photos is of us playing in this shed surrounded by all this farm equipment, with a giant tractor parked out the front. It was really cool and we still very much have a close friendship with each other that extends from being friends from the same town for so long. That’s been a big part of shaping what our band is.”
It’s been a while between drinks for Spiderbait, with the trio on hiatus to work on individual projects and concentrate on their personal lives. However, over the past couple of years the band has gradually been working on a new record and are about to head to Los Angeles to finish it off ahead of its release later this year. This will be the first album they’ve released in nearly ten years.
“We started recording our new record and we’re about to go to America to finish it so that’s really exciting. We did it with a guy called Franc Tetaz … he’s been a great producer for us, he really has brought out brilliant things in all of us and he’s a great friend, the record sounds fantastic. It’s our first record for a long time so we’re looking forward to going to LA and finishing it,” he says.
“Some of it’s really heavy, I’m back into metal and heavy rock, and some of it’s very pop as well, sort of glam influences. It kind of sounds like the history of our whole band in a way, there’s some stuff you could have heard us play 20 years ago and there’s some stuff that could be really futuristic, I guess. We really tried to explore everything this band is about and what we’ve always tried to be, and even looked deep into things we didn’t realise we were. We did spend a long time writing the record, about two years, and we’re really proud of it. It’s sort of like the record of our whole lives, it’s just really dynamic and it will be an interesting record.”
Brisbane audiences may be treated to a couple of these brand new songs when Spiderbait headline Winter Festival.
“We’re not quite sure yet, we don’t really know what we’re going to do until we do it, we’re a fairly spontaneous band. We don’t really know what’s going to happen when we play, we have our set list but spontaneity is a big part of our show. I’ve always believed in a very strong way to keep things fresh, ‘cause if you play for a long time it can get boring, say if you play too much and you play the same thing the same way all the time. For me a live show is very much about spontaneous interaction with the audience and just seeing what happens on your instrument. I’m sure it will be exciting and lots of fun, we’ll just kick ass and go crazy,” Kram laughs.
With talk of a possible tour in support of the new record, live Spiderbait shows may not be as rare as they have been over the past several years. It doesn’t sound like these three will be putting down their instruments any time soon and Kram puts their long career making music, both together and individually, down to their friendship outside of the band, as well as their genuine love for the artform.
“I think the friendships are the most important thing, and that everyone gets an equal share in the profits of the band and what goes on, that’s a big part of it too. It’s great to be able to make good money and have a living in music but everyone’s got an equal share in what goes on, everyone’s happy and in a band that’s really important. Also, I think we’ve been lucky to have a really strong fanbase and to sell a lot of records; we’re still a big band 20 years down the track. Triple J is still very supportive of us and commercial radio too, so we’ve always managed to somehow keep a good support base in different parts of the industry, so we’re very thankful for that. We just love playing music together,” he says.
“It really is a fantastic thing, I really like writing too. I’ve done a lot of collaborating with different writers and I’ve done a lot of different shows with different people outside the band. Music itself is a very broad and varied artform where you do all sorts of different things, but it’s actually really simple. The simplicity of writing a great song and singing it is a great feeling and playing drums is just so fun, it’s like driving a sports car and skiing down a slope all at the same time. That gives you some idea of why I’m still doing it, it’s just really awesome and it’s great for the soul and a great way to express yourself. Johnny Cash made records until he was 80 years old, so I think ask any musician, the main reason you do it is for the love of the artform.”
Spiderbait, alongside British India and Kingswood, headline Winter Festival at Eatons Hill Hotel July 20.