Powderfinger's metal moment and the hypocrisy of anti-corporate 90s bands

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Kram speaks to Bernard Fanning about Powderfinger's debut album and the weirdness of 90s fame.

If you’ve never explored any of Powderfinger’s earliest material, then please have a quick listen to this song.

 

‘Tail’ was taken from the Powderfinger’s first album, 1994’s Parables For Wooden Ears. Needless to say, it’s a very different Powderfinger than the one that gave us ‘My Happiness’ just six years later.

In his second Artist In Residence program, Spiderbait drummer/vocalist Kram reminisces about how much he loves the song and asked his special guest, Powderfinger frontman Bernard Fanning, what he thought of the song 23 years on.

“It’s kind of confusing,” Fanning says of the grungy, prog-rock single.

“I think it’s pretty representative of the influence that the Brisbane music scene had on Powderfinger at that point. We were playing with bands like Pangaea and Brazilia, bands like that who were all really super musos and played pretty technical stuff. Lots of kind of metal-y kind of chops. 

“That rubbed off, particularly on Darren [Middleton] and Haugy [Ian Haug]. They started to write a little bit more technical kind of stuff like that, like ‘Tail’.”

Fanning says that ‘Tail’ was a departure, and the music they went on to make later in the 90s and 2000s was more of a return to the sound of their earliest work.

“That was our first single on a label,” he says of ‘Tail’. “We actually had two EP’s before that and there was song called ‘Reap What You Sow’ that was a rock song, but a pretty melodic rock song, that came out prior to that. And was probably a little more indicative of where the band ended up going later in the 90s and the early 2000s.  I think, if anything, that first record is kind of a bit stand apart.”

 

Fanning’s love of Bowie and The Beatles influenced a great deal of Powderfinger’s melodic work, but he says his own limitations played their part as well.

“The reality was, I wasn’t very good at that kind of screaming type stuff, anyway,” he says. “I thought I was better at writing simpler melodies.

“I was always into much more folky mellow stuff like James Taylor and Nick Drake. Which, as uncool as they were, especially at that time, totally influenced the way I thought about melody and singing as well.”

Powderfinger went on to be one of the most successful Australian bands of all time. Fame so big that it presented its challenges at the time, Fanning acknowledges.

Speaking with Kram about dealing with success, Fanning notes there was a kind of hypocrisy in the way he and his peers dealt with fame. Particularly the way they used disinterest and anti-corporate sentiment as part of their image.

“I guess that kind of rose up a little bit out of that whole grunge thing and the idea that Nirvana and Pearl Jam and all those bands were like, which was very anti-anything corporate. Which was kind of a load of shit, really,” Fanning considers.

“You know, most of us were on major labels and all that stuff anyway. I was a little like that, but I also could sense the bullshit in that pretty early.  And the hypocrisy in that. I think there was a lot of hypocrisy in that idea and especially the way that the labels marketed that and pushed that type of culture as well.”

Hear Kram chatting with Bernard Fanning, as well as Wolfmother’s Andrew Stockdale, in this week’s Artist In Residence.

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