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HEAVEN AND HELL

Red Engine Caves kicked off their career in 2012 and quickly built themselves a reputation that most bands could only ever dream of.  The Fremantle three-piece were a hot proposition live, inspiring the likes of Psychedelic Porn Crumpets.  And they produced some pretty decent tunes as well, leaning hard on bluesy psychedelia with a diamond-sharp edge.

And then, sometime in 2016, they disappeared.  Gone like so many other hot bands before them.  But not forgotten.

Earlier this year, rumours began to filter out across Perth.  Word on the street was, Red Engine Caves were working on something.  Around The Sound asked the Caves’ drummer, Callum Kramer, and he just said, “Nah, mate, not me.  I haven’t seen those guys in a while.  I don’t know what’s going on.  Nothing.”  But the rumours kept on.  Something was cooking.  So, a little while ago, Around The Sound sat down for a fireside chat with the aforementioned Kramer and his Red Engine Caves compadre and bass player, Ralf Sunbird.

“Cal said he’d be here in a minute,” was the greeting I got from Sunbird, as I took a seat in the leather armchair by the fire in his Freo local, “But that was half an hour ago!” he said, laughing uproariously, as he would many times during our conversation. 

While we waited for Kramer and the clock ticked by, we got to talking, starting with those lost years after the band evaporated in 2016.

“Cal’s been doing the Cal show,” Sunbird mused .  “Mister Ricky (Mandozzi, guitar and vocals) had to go away and live the quiet life for a while.  He’s been on islands, he was on a yacht for a while, he’s been on a farm. He’s hard to catch up with.  He’s one of those people who could just climb through that window 30 seconds from now and you’d be like, ‘Oh, there you go.’  He’s that sort of guy.”

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We glanced at the window behind Sunbird, half expecting the mythical Mandozzi to climb through, but not today.  Instead, Sunbird moved the conversation along to how things have been since they got the band together again.

“The response has been amazing,” Sunbird told us, “and we’re just so ready to play.  When we jammed, the new songs made our old stuff sound like pop music.  We’re so ready to play rock and roll.  I’m so excited for the new stuff.  It’s just balls to the wall rock and roll, we’re having some fun.”

Part way through this introductory chat about where Red Engine Caves are up to now, Kramer eventually arrived, dressed in rock star white from head to toe, to announce that he was in dire pain.  Ever curious, we asked why, and the conversation went on one of the many unexpected detours it took during the afternoon.

“Do you mean the perineum?” we asked.

“I got bitten by a spider,” Kramer announced, before beginning to overshare a little, “Right in that bit between my nuts and my arse.  It’s swollen up that big now!” he exclaimed holding up his hands like he was signalling that the ball had just gone through the big sticks.

“Do you mean the perineum?” we asked.

“Yeah, that’s it!  That’s the word I’ve been trying to think of all day.  Thanks, mate!”

Then he sat down, and we proceeded to get some in beers and began to muse on whether we’d prefer to end up in heaven or hell.  Because, why not?  Here’s how it unravelled.

…here at Around The Sound, if we’re going to create controversy we’d like it to be for the right reasons.

RS:  “Who’s going to hell first, me or you?”

CK:  “I’ve got a pretty good chance, I think, but if I ever did come to the pearly gates, I think I’d be able to sweet talk my way in.”

We fucking love Kramer’s self assurance.  Who knows?  He probably could!

RS:  “All the best musos are in hell.  But would you rather be with everyone in heaven or a lord in hell?”

CK:  “Here’s a theory for you.  If morality and everything is a thing and you were judged on the positive and the negative influence you had on most people’s lives, so musos and people like that who might have been a cunt directly to someone, but had helped millions of people, wouldn’t that just tip the scale in their favour?”

RS:  “That’s a funny one, because let’s take maybe John Lennon or someone like that, he was a bad man.  Or maybe Kurt Cobain, where everybody sees them in a different light.  Where would they be?”

CK:  “They were troubled souls.”

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RS:  “So do troubled souls go straight to hell?”

CK:  (Long pause.)  “I think that it would still outweigh it.”

RS:  “So we’ve just got to write a few hit songs!” (Laughs.)

Let’s just rewind a bit before we continue, because here at Around The Sound, if we’re going to create controversy we’d like it to be for the right reasons.  Look beyond the obvious religious connotations of the conversation, talking one’s way into heaven, do heaven and hell exist, all of that malarkey.  These two gentlemen just dissed John Lennon and Kurt Cobain, in the one sentence, no less.  This piece is going out online, so please feel free to join in the pile on.  The temerity of it.  We love it.

Then, as he most often does, Kramer got around to the point.

“Then with that comes the inner struggle of the creative, so to speak, because then when they get to, if there is, theoretically, another fucking place, they get there and that is why they went through that struggle, the tormented soul, they don’t know that they were the martyr to themselves to get there. They don’t even know that they made such a positive impact in the world, but they get there and they find out that was their job, that was what they were assigned to do.”

Let’s face it, after spending some time exchanging pleasantries with these two young gentlemen, one thing is very plain, these two (and, we assume, Mandozzi) were put on Earth to create music and play it to as many people as they can get to listen.  They see their calling as making a positive impact on the world and we’re heavily disinclined to disagree with them (because we heartily agree, but rock stars hate journalists telling them they’re rock stars).  So, forgive them if they sin, we’re sure Lennon and Cobain already have.

Eventually, we spoke a bit more about music, specifically what Red Engine Caves are up to right now.

“Don’t try to pin us down to a particular style,” Kramer told Around The Sound, “People have tried to do that and they’ve all got it wrong.  We’ve got a hard edge to us, that grit that only Aussie bands seem to have, but we just play what we play.”

And then they just started riffing off each other and we sat back and enjoyed the show.

RS:  “We’re fully about the music, we’re a live band.  The hardest thing we’ve ever done is record music and make it sound like the gig.  We do everything live, so it feels real.”

CK:  “People have always tried to pigeonhole it.  The one thing that we’ve got that no one else has is Ricky is a fucking lunatic.  He’s like this mad professor who’ll come up with things and we’ll have to figure out what the fuck he’s doing.  And you try to explain it back to him and he’s got no idea what he was doing.”

RS:  “There’s a grit that I don’t think the rest of the world has.”

CK:  “It sounds tense.”

RS:  “We’re the only rhythm section ever that follows the guitarist.  He’s just on his journey.  But everyone follows each other, it’s like a three-way tug of war.”

CK:  “It’s its own thing, it sounds like Red Engine Caves.  That’s what’s cool about it.  We got back in a room together and had that first rehearsal and when we started playing it was like too easy.”

RS:  “Our gigs are hard on the body.  We jam like we play and when we started back we were like four songs in and I though, ‘Fuck, how will I survive this?’  I kept sounding out of tune because I was hitting the strings that hard that they sounded out of tune (remember, Sunbird plays bass).  Yeah, and we break a lot of guitars.  We really go hard at it.  Once we’re on stage, anything can happen.”

Red Engine Caves bringing it live
Red Engine Caves bringing it live

Then they took another detour, just to emphasise the ‘anything can happen’ quip, and at the same time added to the legend he and Kramer were creating around Mandozzi.  We’re not sure whether they were doing it deliberately, because Mandozzi wasn’t there so didn’t have right of reply, but if he ever reads this it’ll either be the making or the breaking of the band.

CK:  “That’s the beauty of this band and that’s what I’d say about Ricky, is having someone who operates completely unto themselves…”

RS:  “He’s terrifying!  I’ve known him for years.  I’ve known him from Melbourne.  I forced him to move over here with me and start the band.  He’s terrifying.  He broke my nose on stage.  I used to curl his strings because his strings would brush past my face and he’d get shitty because I curled them.  We always got close on stage, but never hit each other.  One time we played and I just remember this Whack! and I thought someone had thrown a glass, or a mic had hit me in the face, but it hit so hard.  I remember being so dazed that I just had to keep playing and I was leaning forward and I could see the blood spilling and someone was pulling at my hair and I was fighting them off.  It wasn’t until the song finished and I looked up and I saw everyone in the front row was covered in blood.  We’d left our gear at the venue, it was in Bondi, and the next day when we went to get it back it looked like someone had been killed in there.”

That there is a quintessential Red Engine Caves moment.  They don’t just talk rock and roll, they don’t even just play it, they live it, too.

“I fully can’t die.  I’m invincible.

Ralf Sunbird

But, wait, there’s more.  At some point, Sunbird started to talk about one of his many brushes with death.  Hearing about these, it kind of put the heaven or hell part of the conversation into context.  This man has done some living!

RS:  “I fully can’t die.  I’m invincible.  Proven.  About a year ago I had leptirospirosis (look it up, it’s vile)…”

CK:  “It’s his Greek cousin!”

Both piss themselves laughing for a considerable period.

RS:  “…It’s super rare.  I got it in Indonesia.  I thought I had alcohol poisoning and I fully manned up and got myself from an island in Indonesia back Kuta and I got to the point where I would take a few steps and collapse.  So I did this whole mission to get back home and it was when the volcano was going off last year, our flights got cancelled, so I thought I’d just stay in this hotel room by myself and I was ordering room service, forcing down watermelon juice and sandwiches.  I was delusional. 

“I faked it to get on a plane and collapsed when I got on board and, when we got back to Perth, the mates I was with dropped me off at emergency in an Uber. I nearly died three times that night.  I found out I had sepsis, my kidneys hadn’t worked for days, they removed my gall bladder, there was flooding in my lungs, so I’ve got scarring and a beautiful husky phone voice.  Now I’m a non-smoker and I sound like Marge Simpson when I sing.  My singing career is over before it began.”

CK:  “I remember when someone told me about it and said it was pretty serious and I remember thinking to myself, ‘He’s not going like that’.”

RS:  “I’d been in hospital for about a week and I had my first Tinder date in the hospital, with pressure stockings on!  The nurses loved me, I was renowned.  They said I’d never recover, so I trained, I trained like a motherfucker.  I’ve had meningitis, I went through the windscreen of a car from the back seat, horrific things like that.  I’m the Sunbird, the one and only.  I will rise from my ashes.”

It’s a tall tale, but there’s too much detail for it not to have at least a kernel of truth.  Who would make up shit like that and think to throw in a hospital Tinder date?  It does get boring just lying around trying not to die, we guess.

These two we could listen to all day.  They’re genuine rock stars.  Not in a look at me I’m famous kind of way but simply because they’re incapable of being and doing anything else.

These two we could listen to all day.  They’re genuine rock stars.  Not in a look at me I’m famous kind of way but simply because they’re incapable of being and doing anything else.  At one point they mused about whether they’d last as long as other rock stars like Ozzy and Keef and we sure hope they do, because, music aside, we really want to see what they’ll do next.

On that, we finished up by asking what’s next for Red Engine Caves after they play Freo.Social on 16 August, a question Kramer answered as only Kramer could: 

“Come the morning of the 17th, who the fuck knows what’s going to happen.”

And with that, they were gone.

Red Engine Caves have three brand new songs in the can and a comeback show at Freo.Social on 16 August with support from The Wilds, Marmalade Mama and Moth.  Get more information and tickets here.

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