They're older now, but in many ways not much has changed.
Over three decades this band of misfits have won the hearts of punk rock fans the world over. From being personally requested to open shows for the likes of the Ramones and Red Hot Chili Peppers to inciting riots on stages through Europe, Hard-Ons are one of our biggest punk rock exports.
They initially dealt in breakneck pop-punk, with Blackie, Keish and Ray channelling The Beach Boys and Motörhead in equal parts. Over the years a significant dose of psychedelic rock and sludge metal has crept into their sound, making them brutal and sweet in almost equal measure.
These characters of the Aussie music scene have plenty of stories to tell and so many incredible songs for us to play. Grab some drinks and turn it up loud when we present the Hard-Ons J Files, Thursday 20 November from 8pm.
Thirty years ago, three teenage mates – Peter "Blackie" Black, Ray Ahn and Keish De Silva – set up drums, guitar and bass at De Silva's family home on Ernest St, Lakemba, in Sydney's west and formed a band called Hard-Ons.
We'd alternate between playing a song and diving under the bed and pulling out the Playboys and reading them for a few minutes.Ray Ahn
"We used to practice in his bedroom because he didn't have a garage," bassist Ray Ahn told ABC Radio's Wide Open Road in 2008. "It was a typical Sri Lankan house. I think there was a picture of Jesus somewhere, very well manicured garden, there was a big fish pond in the back, they used to get me to come and give them a hand with their fish. Every now and then his next door neighbour would come and yell at us.
"His bedroom was really tiny, tiny and smelly, that's all I remember. Bad foot odour, a single bed with an infinite number of Playboys underneath he bed. We'd alternate between playing a song and diving under the bed and pulling out the Playboys and reading them for a few minutes."
Within a couple of years, the band were one of the most exciting outfits on the Australian punk scene, drawing thousands to shows around the country where kids would go bananas to songs like 'Surfin’ On My Face', 'Girl In The Sweater', 'What Am I Supposed To Do' and 'Bye Bye Girl'; fast, aggressive songs with sugary pop melodies.
Hard-Ons are still around – having split for just a brief period in the late '90s – and while the record sales and live numbers may be smaller than those early days, it will soon become obvious why they keep on going.
Are Hard-Ons a pop punk band? A heavy metal band? A prog band? A noise band? A hardcore band? Truth is, the band have music that fits all of these genre descriptions and more. The passion for music the members of the band express means they can't tie themselves down to one style.
"They have continued to evolve, they've never stayed in one place, they've always done what they're drawn towards and what's going to make them happy as musicians and as creative beings," says Matt Reekie, from Unbelievably Bad magazine.
While none of the three teens knew how to play their instruments at first, Blackie told Double J that he did have talent on another instrument.
"My parents, at a very young age, put me in the Bankstown Police Boys Club Band. I played the trumpet since I was about nine," he says. "I could read music really fluently, played in a marching band, did ANZAC parades, did solo recitals which I won medals for. The only thing I regret about punk rock was that I could read music so well and then when I got into punk rock I was like 'who needs this shit?!'."
While they loved metal and hard rock, it was punk that was the most appealing genre for the three teenagers.
"I think the reason punk made more of a big deal to Hard-Ons than any of the other stuff was we could relate to it on a musical level, it was very reachable with our small means," Ahn said on Wide Open Road. "The other thing was no one else knew about it, it felt like we were privy to a secret world so you felt kind of special.
"We had struggling parents, all three of us. We weren't rich punks like some other bands, we were poor punks. It seemed like the only kind of music we could attempt was punk music. The fastest most direct, most brutal, most in your face, most 'how can I make a statement in two minutes' kind of music. We were impatient little kids. It was punk music, that's all."
"We grew up with AC/DC," Blackie told Mark Dodshon on triple j in 1986.
"And we love the Ramones," added Keish.
"There's a lot of good rock'n'roll bands, whether it's heavy metal or whether it's punk or whether it's power pop," Blackie continued. "You can tell when you hear it, you can tell those people, when they're doing it, that this is what they really like doing. There's a big difference between listening to a band like Ramones and the Dead Boys compared to listening to some arty farty stuff."
The departure of Keish in 2001 brought on a marked change for the band. New drummer Pete Kostic hit harder than the founding drummer and lead vocal duties were passed on to Ray and Blackie.
"They started making this really wild, heavy music with Blackie screaming that wasn't as poppy," Reekie says. "It was a big shock to a lot of fans. It was a lot more aggressive and a lot more punk rock.
"I think a lot of fans gave up on them at that point. They didn't understand this new direction and why they wanted to pursue that. I think what it took was a lot of years to go by before they almost found another audience. A younger audience came in and really appreciated their experimental nature and the fact that they weren't bound by convention."
Speaking with Richard Kingsmill on triple j in 2003, the band said they had received criticism about their ever-changing sound, but suggested that there was no other way they could operate.
"A lot of people reckon the Hard-Ons sound the same album after album," Ahn said. "But a lot of people think our big problem is we change our sound from song to song and album to album.
"You couldn't please everybody, we had a wide taste in music so that reflected in the songs that we did. A lot of people just liked our metal stuff and a lot of people just liked our punk stuff."
"I like a lot of different music so I want to try a lot of different music," Blackie added. "I personally get bored if I have to listen to an album where every song sounds the same. I don't want to be in a band like that. I'm not just going to play one type of music."
Some of Australia's finest bands have been formed by immigrants. Members of The Easybeats, AC/DC, Cold Chisel and The Saints largely came from British or European backgrounds before their families settled in Australia. But Hard-Ons were a different prospect altogether, Unbelievably Bad’s Matt Reekie tells Double J.
"One of them had Croatian heritage, one of them had Korean heritage and one of them had Sri Lankan heritage, which was kind of this racial rainbow," he says. "I can't think of another band who had that. I don't think these guys ever really looked at the colour of one another's skin, they just saw kindred spirits."
I don't think these guys ever really looked at the colour of one another's skin, they just saw kindred spirits.Matt Reekie
Ray Ahn spoke to ABC Radio about coming to Australia for the Wide Open Road series in 2008.
"I grew up in Seoul until I turned 9 and my family emigrated to McMahon's Point, across the water from Luna Park," he said. "It gave us a pretty false picture of what Australia was like. We were there for about six months. My dad lost his job, so the money flow wasn't too good, so we moved to Punchbowl. There were a lot more olive skin people, Lebanese people, Greeks, Italians, a hell of a lot of Yugoslavs and Macedonians, as well as other Mediterranean people. Egyptians, a lot of Chinese.
"When I was growing up there in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s the big movement was Vietnamese migration. As kids you don't really think too much about it. You've got cheap groceries, you've got mosques, you've got churches, you've got schools – for rock'n'roll it's a wasteland."
The band has encountered racism throughout their career, forcing them to adopt a way of combating the aggression of hostile crowds early on.
"The first gig we ever did someone yelled out 'Channel 0 band', because SBS back then was called Channel 0," Ahn remembers. "That got the crowd chanting ‘Channel 0’ every now and then.
"We came up with plans to combat booing and racism and stuff, one was to play as hard as we can. It might have meant that we had to get drunk or something, but we'd play as hard as we can so there would be no chance we could ever get blown off the stage by another band or give anyone the chance to yell at us. Play as loud as possible, play as fast as possible and, if possible, not have gaps between the songs. In half an hour we might have played 22 songs."
Ahn said that racism was perhaps even more prevalent in punk rock than the suburban hard rock scene through the 1980s.
"In a way it was almost like [racists] were an accepted part of the punk scene. An ugly face of punk," he said. "People put up with it. So you hung out in the same circles. People who would wear mohawks and the studded belts, they tended to be the more fascist and racist. I would feel more comfortable going to a hard rock gig in the suburbs than a punk gig where a lot of them were just out and out racist. Or snobs.
For a while the band used their trademark humour to goad the intolerant punks, proudly professing their Punchbowl roots. But the backlash became too intense.
"We thought it would be fun to take them on and put handbills out saying that we were from Punchbowl," Ahn said. "It got to the stage where we were getting death threats and stuff so we made handbills that said 'no racists' and 'no fascists'. It got to the stage where it wasn't fun anymore."
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that a band called Hard-Ons have attracted a degree of controversy. The name itself was an initial cause for concern, with some radio stations refusing to play the band's music because of it.
"Well that's their bad luck, I couldn't care less," Blackie told Mark Dodshon on triple j in 1986.
The young punks had no intention of changing it, though.
"Nup, are you kidding?" Blackie said. "I didn't change it for my Mum, I'm not changing it for anyone else. It's a matter of principle. It was a good filthy name and it catched on."
"It was chosen by our bass player Ray," Keish explained to Dodshon.
"He said, 'when we start playing live we can have posters that say the Hard-Ons are coming'," Blackie added. "That was really funny."
The band's album covers, largely designed by Ahn, have also been largely controversial. The band's most well-known single 'Girl in the Sweater' featured a graphic covered drawn by Ahn, in which a naked woman was impaled by a bass guitar. The cover was banned in Queensland, with retailers forced to sell it in a paper bag.
"Before it got put out, Waterfront [Records] went and got written permission by the Attorney Generals or whatever," Blackie told Dodshon. "So there's nothing about the cover that's not legal.
"See that lady over there? She was attacking us, man!"
The cover for 1993's 'Crazy, Crazy Eyes' single was a grotesque photo of someone holding around a dozen eyeballs.
"We went to a Vietnamese butcher, you can buy a whole stack of them for three dollars," Ahn explained to Kingsmill in 1993. "Or if you cut them out of the pig yourself they don't cost you anything. I started cutting out a couple of them with a butcher's knife they gave me, but after two I just couldn't do it anymore, they're just so hard to get out. They're stuck in there with tendons and stuff. So they cut 'em out for me for three bucks."
But, by the early-'90s, the band were tired of talking about the controversy they stirred up. They explained that they were just trying to have fun.
"A lot of people were interested in the controversy side of the Hard-Ons when we first started, but that's old news now," Ahn told Kingsmill in 1992. "We've explained what it means, we've explained our side of the story – it's comedy – so there's not really much to say."
The Hard-Ons' audience clearly became desensitised after a while as the cover art stopped eliciting such a heated reaction.
"We put out a single called 'All Set To Go' that had the three of us dressed in Ku Klux Klan outfits on the front cover and had 'White Folks Suck' written on it," Ray Ahn told Richard Kingsmill in 2003. "I thought we might get hate mail for that because we were making fun of racist people.
"We got this kid sending us a smashed record. He wrote, 'That's what I think of it. You guys have gone hardcore, you should have stayed traditional punk'. All our fans loved our humour. Not many people had problems with it."
The band's song and album titles show their humourous side perhaps more than anything else. 'Live at the KKK Rally', Dickcheese, Most People Are A Waste Of Time, 'Fuck Off Cunt Features' and Eat Shit, Listen To Horrible Music are just a few examples of their wordy prowess.
"They're actually autobiographical," Ahn told Myf Warhurst on Double J earlier this year. "'Smell My Finger', that was something that our ex-manager Rick was saying to us. We kept on saying 'Get us the money, we've finished the gig' but he goes 'Before I go and get you the money, please smell my finger'. That was one of the most absurd things we'd ever heard, coming from a manager"
"We're Aussies, we love taking the piss," Blackie added. "We're massively influenced by Paul Hogan."
On the Wide Open Road program, Ahn noted Hard-Ons humour ought not to be understated.
"Our sense of humour was the most important thing," he said. "None of us took each other really seriously. For some reason in the Australian society, if you take yourself too seriously then you're called a wanker. We took that concept and really ran with it.
"We made a big deal about coming from Punchbowl whereas we actually really hated being there. It was such a dead end. What would you do there? What would you do in Punchbowl on a Friday night? It's just rows and rows of houses. But we made a big deal of coming from there. We were a band that was ripe for taking the mickey out of everything."
Peter “Blackie” Black is an Aussie punk rock legend, a keen jujitsu practitioner and a strict vegan. But none of that pays his bills.
When he's not on the road with Hard-Ons, his other band Nunchukka Superfly or as a solo artist he's one of the 24,000 taxi drivers working on the Sydney streets. Blackie agreed to take us for a ride in his cab this week.
All I wanna do is music, so here I am in possibly one of the lowest jobs in the work/social rung. It's the only job where I can still be as flexible as I need to be.Blackie
"I'm not eating today, I'm having a little fast," Blackie says as we cruise the streets of inner-Sydney. "I do that once every couple of weeks, it's good for you. It's an ancient tradition that I adhere to. Between 36 to 48 hours, nothing major. Just give yourself a good internal cleanout, keep yourself sharp, keep those fucking riffs blistering in your head."
So far today Blackie has recorded two demos, done a series of vocal exercises, practiced his jujitsu and is now ready for a shift behind the wheel.
Blackie describes himself as a guy who is "bad tempered, pushin' 50 and fully loves music". His passion for that last point is impossible to miss.
"All I wanna do is music, so here I am in possibly one of the lowest jobs in the work/social rung," he says of his day job. "I drive a taxi. I do it because it's the only job I've found where I can still be as flexible as I need to be to drop everything and do whatever I need to do with the music. Whether it's a last-minute recording session, a tour that's just popped up or a show that's come out of nowhere."
Thirty years since he first plugged in his guitar in Keish's bedroom in Ernest St, Lakemba, Blackie is very proud of what he and his best friends have achieved.
"The Hard-Ons is the band I started with my two good friends since childhood. There's quite a bit of pride there. We look back at our body of work and feel very proud of it."
But for Blackie music is far more than the Hard-Ons. He has a burgeoning solo career and another band with Ahn, Nunchukka Superfly. He just loves playing music.
For me music is pure joy, it's totally joyous. It's a really, really wonderful part of my life. I consider myself, in terms of music, a lifer. I want to play until I can't play anymore. Hopefully I'll be able to play until I cark it.Blackie
"For me music is pure joy, it's totally joyous. It's a really, really wonderful part of my life. I consider myself, in terms of music, a lifer. I want to play until I can't play anymore. Hopefully I'll be able to play until I cark it.
"My ex-wife once said to me 'you had such a shit childhood, that when you discovered music you just grabbed on to it. It gave your life meaning'. That could be right. I've never psychoanalysed it because I've never felt the need. It makes me feel so good each and every day that I don't care why."
The secret to keeping a band active for as long as the Hard-Ons is in their personal relations, Blackie says.
"It's probably a different situation than a lot of other bands. We were buddies first. Ray I just knew as this crazy egghead Asian kid who could draw amazing pictures. When he had his little portfolio out at lunchtime I'd go and look at what his latest drawings were. I just liked him that way.
"Keish, we shared quite a few classes together and then thing that attracted me to Keish was he was an absolutely piss funny guy, he would always crack you up.
"We were probably 7 or 8 years old when we met each other. We feel really brotherly towards each other. It's just the way it is. I guess maybe we take it for granted, but it's just something we're really used to. I don't make friends very well, I'm not a very friendly person. I've got really close friends from 1000 years ago and I don't really need much more.
"I think it's one of the reasons why the Hard-Ons lasted so long. It's very brotherly."
For 30 years, Hard-Ons have thrived as one of our country's most innovative, exciting, funny, catchy and brutal punk rock bands. The band enjoy a certain notoriety in Australia, but don't necessarily pull the kind of crowds to their shows that many would believe they deserve. They have a fervent following in Europe, but there's only so often they can make the trek to the other side of the world.
"They've never compromised anything according to what was going to take them to another level, what was going to make them more popular or more listenable, or even appeal to the underground," Reekie says.
"They just did exactly what they wanted to do."
But is it all worth it?
"It's very hard," Ray told Myf Warhurst this year. "It's back breaking. So if we're still here doing it, it just means that we really want to be here. It does really separate the serious people who really want to be in a band and those who think it's all too hard.
"I should actually be about 80 or 90kg, at the moment I'm about 70, I can't put on any weight because I'm always lugging stuff. Playing in a band does take it out on you – it's not because of a deliberate choice, it's because our heroes have always done this do-it-yourself kind of thing."
"We love what we do," Blackie says of the years of work they put into the band. "It doesn't seem like a chore, that's for sure."
In 1993 a young Ray Ahn told Richard Kingsmill about his ultimate goal for the future.
"The financial gain connected with playing in a band is very unpredictable, up and down. I would like to get to a stage where I could play golf with Tom Jones."
While Ahn isn't hitting the links with the king of Welsh entertainment, the contribution he and his band have made to punk rock in Australia is beyond admirable.
"I don't think they've ever been given their proper dues. I think they've been a little bit overlooked,” Matt Reekie says.
"At a time when punk has more to do with fashion than music, the Hard-Ons are still completely punk. They completely embody the ideal of what it was to begin with."