Interview conducted by: Sheldon Ang
For four decades, Mick Thomas has been writing and performing music. If the name doesn’t sound familiar, then the tracks of the four-time ARIA award winners Weddings Parties Anything will certainly spark those memories of some of the most sing-along high school anthems such as Monday’s Experts, Step In, Step Out and the ARIA song of the year (1993) – Father’s Day
Even in the momentous year of 2020, the former lead vocalist of one of Australia’s most iconic bands is still dipping his passion into the art of music making by releasing a nine-minute isolation-inspired track, See You When I’m Looking At You, accompanied by a video taken during the Covid isolation. The outcome is a culmination of a collaborative effort involving twenty individuals with the likes of Angie Hart (Frente), Vikki Thorn (The Waifs), and Dana Gehrman. This single is also available on Mick’s Bandcamp – and unsurprisingly the altruistic nature of the Melbournian shines – as all proceeds going to the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre (ASRC).
The single is somewhat a poignant teaser to his latest album, See You On the Other Side: A Postcard From April 2020 – an album conceived in April and released in June, which consists of seven tracks with slight features of Thomas’s famous DNA blending into the jolly boot-scooting tempo that features more accordions than in any other albums. With three albums released in three years, it seems Mick will ride on this momentum for another decade or two.
Mick Thomas speaks with Sheldon Ang on the epic single and album, his specific style of music writing, the passion for the human rights…and finally taking us back onto the magical journey of Wedding Parties Anything.
Sheldon: I noticed all of the Bandcamp’s proceed from the single See You When I’m Looking at You goes to the Asylum Seekers Recourse Centre (ASCR). Why is this important to you?
Mick: Everyone wants to do something with a positive effect. The ASCR are really small and needed some help. And from my perspective, every dollar you put into them will go to them. Asylum seekers in a way have very little income and they’ve been waiting for years not knowing whether they’ll be allowed to stay. And the people I deal with at the ASRC are volunteers and they run on bare bones. They pretty much run on a tin shed at Footscray. And when I said all proceeds of the single sold at Bandcamp will go to them, I’m thinking maybe about two and half thousand bucks.
Sheldon: So you know Kon Karapanagiotidis?
Mick: Yes! And I like Kon…he’s a good bloke and an old fashion activist. But there are other people and artists who raise awareness, look good and raising a public profile, and there are some high profile ones who don’t do much.
Sheldon: I got a feeling that this track single See You When I’m Looking at You that goes for nine minute was written not just for people like you and me…but also a dedication to the asylum seekers, and the nine minutes that it goes for is symbolic of the timescale for the time the asylum seekers spent in detention.
Mick: From my perspective after spending decades as a musician in the industry, I know it used to take take a year to release an album, because it might be in someone’s office for three months sitting around and getting their shit together. I like the idea that it came out like really, really quickly. That was that was one of the factors for me. But the appeal of it is the song is kinda general. But I tend to write specifically, and I like specifics in writing and I like specifics in art, but this track is kind of atypical for me and as soon as I started writing this lyric, I thought it is very atypical. So when I started to write I felt that it was out of my depth because of the general kind of rhetorical appeal to it, so what I’m trying to say in a very convoluted way is that all do I try to focus on a very specific point of time, but the artistic work itself is much broader.
Sheldon: There are many artists on See You When I’m Looking at You. How did this come about?
Mick: My wife and I sat and I wrote this verse and chorus. And I started playing in my home and my wife said, “Hey, that is good!” And I said, “Here’s my idea, I want to set up two people and get them to contribute.” Initially I sent out to five or six people, and the first person to get back to me was Angie Hart (Frente), and she said, “Mick this is really good for me…” And she’s been really encouraging from the word go. And she worked on it and as soon as she sent back her work, I dropped the verse into the song. And this is really good, I thought. She sings the verse and I sing the verse. So we were building form and people said, “Why don’t you just do between yourselves – like a duet who are missing each other.” But then, Vikki Thorn (The Waiffs) sent hers, and then I sensed these tentacles that grew across Australia…geographically – that was really interesting. And all of the sudden Dana Gehrman sent her guitar solo from Brisbane. And every time I sent out (for more collaboration) I get a couple more. I guess what I’m trying to get through is, I did not send a blanket thing to twenty people. We, as in me and my wife, sent out a couple out, we got couple back. And my mantra was, I didn’t want to hassle anyone. But there were twenty people who were involved in the making of the song. I really wanted to be balanced between the boys and girls, and also between new and older artist.
Sheldon: Your last album was only released last year. Usually there’s a two or a three-year gap between albums.
Mick: During isolation, I started writing and all the sudden I got things on the boil. And it is great to be positioned to write a bunch of songs. If you’re a writer, there’s always something to write about. And it seems that we are living in this momentous time and there are always stuff to write about everyday on matters that have felt profound. I was sitting in the office and sat with Warren Costello of Bloodlines – who released my last half a dozen album. He said, ”Look, we could release your album, but we wouldn’t get it out till the end of the year.” But there is this thing about record companies that they will not bring an album out at the end of the year unless it is some Christmas album (chuckles). So which means that we would release at the start of next year. And I felt it would lose its relevance. Music should be relevant to something, somewhere. And I felt that that everyone is living in this momentous point in history. And everyone remembers 2020 as something that’s big in your life. And I felt let’s get this out and after spending forty years in the music business and knowing that creating a physical record is cumbersome and big. But the good thing about digital release is that it can cut through some of stuff and come up quicker. Imagine that the album was conceived in April, and here me talking to you about the release, is amazing.
“Warren Costello and I chose the name ‘Bloodlines’ because it reflects ‘family’ and ‘pedigree’ and honors the past but, equally importantly, looks to the future.” – Michael Gudinski –
Sheldon: It was different back in Weddings Parties Anything days, I’d imagined.
Mick: Back in the Weddings, say we did an album in April, May, June we’d be mastering…in July we’d be doing the art work…August they’d be playing some stuff and then they’d say, “ah, too late in the year…we’ll bring it out February next year” (chuckles). And you’ll be sitting with the album for six months. And when it comes up there’d be some big fan fare. And in those days we’d be doing a lot more press and promo, and the record just sat and got fermented for so long. Just the other day I jput a pre-order online, and people have already ordered online for vinyl and CD of an album that was conceived in April, that we completed in early May. And I’m already talking to you in June!
Sheldon: Do you feel there are influences from Weddings in this upcoming album?
Mick: There’ll always gonna be our signature on albums whether you called Mick Thomas of Weddings Party Anything. You’ll hear more of the accordions on my record than most records! So what you hear is a moment of recent history that feels like it happened so long ago. I know what happened now is so momentous. The album has that support each other kinda feel. The word “dreams” is used a lot in this album. And if it transpires in a year’s time that we don’t play any of the songs, I would absolutely fine with that too. And if you’re an artist, you should try to reflect of what’s going around you now. And if I can’t bring that into art, then I shouldn’t be an artist in the first place.
Sheldon: Sometimes, your artistry reminds me of Mark Knopfler.
Mick: There is a song that Mark Knopfler did with Emmylou Harris and that album (All the Roadrunning) had a very profound effect on me. and really welcome that comparison because in a way he is always associated with a couple of big songs that he had, but he just kept producing the whole work the whole time, and he had a couple of songs that he had success which springboards to him to do other stuff. And he probably has the same mantra as mine – if people come to my show or not, it is up to them. And I keep thinking of that album; why does it have so much of impact on me. And I kept thinking, why do I like this album so much when I had ten of his previous album passed by. I asked and I’m thinking – it is the voice and counter point, the female harmony on his voice in every song was very valuable…and is something that I take it as a template – and you are the first person to raise that spectra of Mark Knopfler with me (chuckles).
Sheldon: He has a few hits too. You mentioned that you’d be ok if people don’t listen to your songs from the latest again comes next year. Then again you got Father’s Day which has been around for decades.
Mick: In a purely practical, publishing point-of-view when I get my statements back – yes, Father’s Day is the one that makes the most money. And that’s the one that gets the most airplay. Triple M called me in for Father’s Day to play the song in the studio…and we got an amazing song with great resonance. I’m totally fine with that because all we do is just make music often. It’s therapeutic for other people, and hopefully there’s more than song that they enjoy (chuckles). But I’m very happy with that song.
Sheldon: Of course Mick, as there are other songs from Weddings that became the anthems of high school years.
Mick: Someone told me, “the worst thing about just having one song to play every night of your life, is not to have a song to play every night of your life” – and that’s true. And you spent all your life to have one hit. You may have one, you may have two – just play the bloody thing, you know (chuckles). Doesn’t take me that long for people to hear most of our songs at gigs, and the crowd get really accepting with those song. For me to keep going and for me to do new things, I look at my set list and I said, “Man, I want to do new stuff.” And then I go back to my setlist that I played five years ago or 10 years ago and they look really different from what I play now. Maybe there’s some staples their likes Father’s Day and Monday’s Expert that will always be there…and so is Step In, Step Out. And some songs are those from the back catalogue that we overlook.
Sheldon: And it must be like a spring break that never ends for you guys in hay days of the Weddings.
Mick: Oh yeah we were in suspended state of adolescence, without a doubt (chuckles). And when you are at the age in your late teens , every month feels like a year, and all of the sudden by the mid-80s, it started taking off…and all the things that I wanted was realised. And people from the management level of the record company were getting involved…and we got onto the road…that was all I ever wanted. Someone said the moment he stepped off stage in Sydney, his rock and roll dream was realised – and that’s the same with me; all I wanted to do was just to play another town. I just wanted to go in and around and just go somewhere, and be on the road. All the sudden we were driving from Sydney to Brisbane Adelaide, Tasmania and flew Perth… and we were in America recording. It was such an exciting time.
Sheldon: What happened to Wedding Parties Anything?
Mick: What grounded the Weddings to a halt was that the last album “River’Esque” (1997) did not get that much traction which we had hope for. And I felt really strongly that the last album was a really strong piece of work that got over-looked a bit. But there are songs other than Father’s Day and Step In, Step Out that got overlooked.
Mick: Even the album before that King Tide (1993) which I thought had great stuff and Monday Experts which was close to a hit. And the songs in that record are still very strong that we still play. So, I’m saying there are lots of great songs…but they were overlooked, but we still play them and gigs.