Released in 1989, Matchbook, was Cold Chisel guitarist, Ian Moss’s first solo album. Safe to say there was great anticipation; people were expecting big things from the Aussie guitar icon affectionately known as ‘Mossy’. What we didn’t expect was the mega monster hit of that summer and the enduring soundtrack to life in Aus that Matchbook became. This year marks Matchbook’s 30th anniversary and what better way to celebrate than by playing the album live at dates across the country, including Crown Perth’s Riverside Theatre on 7 December?
I knew when I was five years old that I wanted to be a musician.
When Around The Sound sat down for a chat with Ian Moss in a trendy Perth gastro pub, we were aware that we were in the presence of greatness, but Moss was having none of that. “I don’t think so,” was his simple way of brushing off the icon status we tried to thrust upon him. So, we settled in for a few beers and a chat and, bit by bit got under the skin of one of Australia’s best guitarists, vocalists and songwriters.
Reflecting on the passage of time and how he came to record Matchbook, Moss was candid about the Cold Chisel years and the arc of moving on from the band and then returning.
“When you were young, the days went on for ever,” he said with just a hint of regret in his voice, “and then you look back and it’s gone, and it feels like it was only yesterday.
“When Cold Chisel got towards the end and we started getting on each other’s nerves, I stupidly and naively thought I’d get out on my own and show these guys how it’s done, because I’m sick of how they do it. Then suddenly you’re on your own and it’s ‘Oh, shit! Where’s my support?’”
With the advantage of hindsight, it’s easy to see that Moss managed to work his way through the demise of Cold Chisel and the transition to successful solo artist in a way that few others have managed before him, or since. When we suggested that, on its release, Matchbook exceeded already high expectations, Moss couldn’t help but agree.
“There didn’t seem to be one bad word about it. You never assume that you’re going to have a hit song or a hit album, you just do your best. I don’t remember sweating over how I could follow on from Cold Chisel. I think I was just sweating on getting the right band and worrying about singing well and playing well.”
Always the astute musician, Moss also knew what he wanted to get out of the songs that became Matchbook. At the time, he may have been feeling the loss of the infrastructure that came from having been a member of Cold Chisel, but it didn’t cloud his decision making or his self belief.
Speaking about the making of Matchbook, Moss said, “I made the right choice with (mixer) Chris Lord-Alge, because when I head the James Brown Gravity album, there was just something about that, I just knew that I had to have the person who worked on that. I didn’t get a lot of support on that, because no one else seemed to hear it. Chris was the mixer there for some time and I spotted that early.”
The decision to break out as a solo artist also shines a light on Moss’s quiet determination and ability to back himself. It’s not an easy transition to make, more often a path to mediocrity or outright failure, so it’s a reflection of Moss’s extraordinary musical flex that he endures as a successful solo artist 30 years down the track.
Speaking about the transition, Moss said, “I didn’t have a band any more. Cold Chisel had split up! I knew when I was five years old that I wanted to be a musician. I could have started another band or joined another band. I’d developed a bit of a relationship with Roger Davies (manager) and I could have gone out on tour with Tina Turner when she was massive. And Jim (Barnes) was pretty keen, he really wanted me to hang in there and go out with him, but some part of me said, ‘No, Ian Moss’ has got to get going.”
And get going he did, although it’s refreshing to find that even artists of Moss’s stature can suffer even a little bit from second-album syndrome. “Yeah, I was pretty happy with that start,” he quipped. “The hard part was the follow up,” (Worlds Away, 1991) he said, as he looked across the table smiling contentedly.
My explanation was it’s been so fucking long since I’d released an album I had to self-title it just to remind people who I was.
Fast forward to the present and you’ll find Moss still feeling content about his output, resurgent even.
“I’m very happy with the album I did last year, the self-titled album. I would have been nice to do that about 20 years ago, and some of the songs started being written about 20 years ago.” But he was still able to be quietly self-deprecating about his career and choices along the way, saying of the decision on the title, “My explanation was it’s been so fucking long since I’d released an album I had to self-title it just to remind people who I was.”
Self-deprecation also extends to Moss’s estimation of his talents as a guitarist, although he’s also pretty comfortable with where he sits in the pecking order. When we suggested that he’s one of the greatest Australian guitar players of all time, Moss said, “That doesn’t sit that comfortably with me.” He continued by telling us, “You can see clips of people on YouTube who can play guitar better than me. Technically. People have said of my playing what I’d say of Jeff Beck, who is my favourite guy. Plenty of people could out shred him by a million miles, but his taste and his feel — those guys who can out shred him, they all sound the same. You hear two notes of Jeff Beck and you know that’s Jeff Beck.”
The same can be said of Ian Moss, and he knows it, he’s just not going to be the one who says it. He has the taste and feel, but he’s always going to leave it up to others to figure out what that means. Moss is a quietly spoken, reflective man who mostly lets his music do the talking. And, with the chops he’s got, why wouldn’t he?
You’ve always got to remind yourself to push it, experiment and try things and not be afraid to make mistakes.
Speaking of playing live, Moss said, “I never tire of it. The joy of having done a good performance is almost second to none. If I’ve put in a good one and stretched a bit, gone out on a limb and the limb doesn’t break, it’s really rewarding. You’ve always got to remind yourself to push it, experiment and try things and not be afraid to make mistakes.”
The Matchbook 30th anniversary dates are going to be incredibly special shows. Tickets are on sale right now, available here. Moss brings the Matchbook caravan to Crown Perth’s Riverside Theatre on 7 December.
It’s impossible to interview a member of Cold Chisel without asking about Cold Chisel, so here’s the scoop, straight from Moss himself.
“We’re keen on the idea of doing another record. So far we’ve got together and put down some demoes and we’re listening now to see if we’ve got enough for a record or not, or if we need to write some more. So far, it’s very promising, we’ve got some great material. The last comment was probably we could do with a few more rockers. The rockers take an extra bit of skill, I reckon, to write a good one.
“You should see a bit of action in 2020.”