Back in the 90s Brisbane upstarts, Regurgitator, were ubiquitous. They were all over radio and television, culminating with no less than four placings in triple j’s Hottest 100 chart in 1998, all of the tracks coming from their seminal 1997 release, UNIT. It feels like they played just about every Big Day Out during the same decade and hundreds of gigs across Australia and the world. They were hot property and, 25 years after they emerged from the swamplands of Fortitude Valley, Regurgitator are still one of Australia’s hottest tickets!
We’re pulling out all the stops, including some surprises and we’ll play some songs we haven’t played for a long time.Ben Ely, Regurgitator
To celebrate, Regurgitator are touring across Australia during October and November with The Fauves and Japan’s Shonen Knife. They’ve also released a silver vinyl 25th compilation, Quarter Pounder – 25 Years Of Being Consumed, especially for those who like their old stuff better than their new stuff.
Due to play two dates in WA, at The Astor Theatre on 15 November and Metropolis Fremantle on 16 November, Around The Sound spoke to Regurgitator bass player Ben Ely to get the lowdown on this very special tour.
“It’s quite a big back catalogue,” Ely said. “We’ve spent a bit of time working out what we’re going to play. The show will be bigger, larger, have a lot more music in it than most of our shows. We’ve split the show up into sections honouring the different times of our lives together. Each section is introduced with a short film and we’ve got costuming and lighting for each section. We’re putting a lot of effort into this one, because it’s the 25th anniversary show. We’re pulling out all the stops, including some surprises and we’ll play some songs we haven’t played for a long time.”
Reflecting on the progress of the band affectionately known by fans as The Gurge, Ely cut straight to the heart of what it is that makes his band what they are.
“Originally we were a heavy band,” he said, “and we did all this noisy kind of stuff. We never considered ourselves pop in any way. I remember the first time Quan (Yeomans, vocals/guitar) wrote a pop song for our band, ‘Blubberboy’, we played it in rehearsal and it kind of scared us, because we went, ‘We don’t do pop,’ but then we went, ‘Why can’t we?’ We love that juxtaposition of music, how the lyrics can be quite hardcore, but the music sounds quite sweet, or pop. Quan enjoys playing with that sort of thing.”
It’s that ‘Why can’t we?’ attitude that’s made Regurgitator one of Australia’s best loved bands. From their ‘Band in a Bubble’ recordings in Melbourne’s Federation Square in 2004, inspired by reality television and broadcast live on Channel V, to coming out at recent gigs wearing spooky monster masks as their own support band, Regurgitator have always been known for their quirks as much as their music. They have an impressive back catalogue and they never fail to surprise.
Twenty-five years is a long time to be doing anything, let along being in a band, which, even if they do achieve any success, usually flame out in a year or two. So, on their silver anniversary, we asked Ely to reflect on some of the more notable moment’s in Regurgitator’s history.
With Regurgitator we’ve always really loved the rock band format, because you can express yourself in so many different ways.Ben Ely, Regurgitator
“There are defining moments with the band,” Ely began. “Originally we were with a major record label, then we weren’t. So, we split the shows up into different parts. With this show. we’re trying to put the ideas into the costuming and the film component of the shows, too.”
With Regurgitator being such a bundle of forward momentum, we were getting the impression that looking back might just draw a blank in Ely’s mind, but then he began to warm to the task.
“I think that’s what makes the band really, playing with ideas that aren’t supposed to work together, but it does. With modern music, so many styles have been invented and one way of going is to mix up things to make something original; do something to confuse people.”
That’s been part of the Regurgitator way this past quarter century, doing things to confound.
“I don’t think we could be together for 25 years if we just did one style. If we were a middle of the road rock band doing rock radio kind of music, I think we could have only lasted four or five years before it would drive you pretty crazy. With Regurgitator we’ve always really loved the rock band format, because you can express yourself in so many different ways. We’ve always liked visual art and there’s the costuming part of the shows and the audio visual. You can design images for t-shirts and album covers, then there’s live performance and the studio. There’s so many great ways of being creative when you have a band and, if you want to, you can push yourself in different directions.”
It’s true, for their entire career, the heart of The Gurge has been the most basic trio, rock band line up — bass, drums, guitar and vox. But they’ve never let that stop them from being ceaselessly inventive, experimenting within the confines of the trio structure with a mountain of different ways of making music, leaning heavily on electronics and effects, cherry picking from different genres and, basically, doing anything they damned well please. But what makes it work is the strength of the triangle that is at the heart of the Regurgitator machine. It means they can do pretty much anything, as long as they don’t stray too far from the fundamentals.
“We’ve grown a lot as a band,” Ely continued, ‘we used to play a lot of shows. We’d be on tour three-quarters of the year for a long time and we kind of drove each other crazy! When you’re young, we took everything quite seriously. Now we don’t do it quite so often and we have a lot of gratitude for the band and for the people who turn up to the shows and for each other. We enjoy each other’s company and we have this kind of naïve way of creating music together.
“When we’re writing songs, a Regurgitator song has to have certain elements to it. It has to have a pretty good amount of energy and this playfulness so that when we play it live it’s this kind of weird party thing.”
See, it’s the simplicity at the heart of Regurgitator that’s kept them going for so long, kept them relevant and inventive, kept them moving ever forward.
Ely continued by paying homage to The Gurge’s army of loyal fans.
“We do a lot of genre hopping and we’ve never really fitted in with the Australian music industry, but we do have this incredible following that allow us to do what we do as a band. So, when we catch up after not playing for a while and we have this crowd in, we say, ‘How good it this!’
…we…have this incredible following that allow us to do what we do as a band.Ben Ely, Regurgitator
“I feel so lucky to be able to do this crazy project and for it to still go on. And a big part of that is because of the people.”
And, when asked to share one last thought on Regurgitator’s upcoming 25th Anniversary shows, Ely said, “It’s funny, when you get older — we’ve been doing it for so long — it gets better. I watch video of us on Recovery and stuff from the 90s and I think, ‘That’s bad.’ We’re so much better now.
“We’ve put a lot of effort into these shows. We’re a little bit terrified, but we’re also really excited about these shows.”
Don’t miss these shows, Perth and Fremantle!
Support from Shonen Knife (Japan) and The Fauves.