Storied WA singer and inventor of Grunge (more on that later), Kim Salmon, is currently touring Australia, giving punters an opportunity to get up close to a genuine Aussie rock star, whose star is on the rise again. And then there’s the Doug Galbraith penned biography, Nine Parts Water One Part Sand: Kim Salmon And The Formula For Grunge. So, plenty to talk about.
“We had a ball that night. We really felt like something was happening in that moment. It does make you feel good, music. Rock and roll keeps you young in a way.”Kim Salmon
Kim Salmon’s career began in Perth in 1976 with his formation of one of the city’s first punk bands, the Cheap Nasties. His next band, The Scientists, made an indelible mark on rock music and is widely credited with influencing acts like Sonic Youth, Mudhoney, Nirvana, The Drones and The White Stripes. In some quarters Salmon is even known as the ‘Godfather of Grunge’, with The Scientists’ songwriting template cited as an influence by many from that era. Post The Scientists, Salmon is best known for his outfit, Kim Salmon and the Surrealists and as a member of The Beasts of Bourbon, alongside Tex Perkins. Salmon’s recorded output spans 30 albums, with more in the making.
Around The Sound spoke to Salmon down the line from Melbourne with memories of his band, The Scientists’ induction into the WA Music Industry Association’s Hall of Fame, late in 2019 still fresh in our mind. Two of the highlights of the night were a powerful three-song set from The Scientists, which had every young, up and coming muso in the room taking mental notes; and Salmon and his fellow Scientists grooving along at front of stage to fellow Hall of Fame inductee, Johnny Young’s, rendition of ‘The Real Thing’. It was quite the night and one that showed that the Godfather of Grunge and his compatriots still have plenty of life left in them.
Asked about his memories of the evening, Salmon said, “We had a ball that night. We really felt like something was happening in that moment. It does make you feel good, music. Rock and roll keeps you young in a way.”
Salmon went on to explain that, “We recorded it (new single, ‘Dissonance’) over in Perth when we were over getting our award in the Hall Of Fame. We sneaked two days in a studio, and we’d done a bit of work before that, so we got about thirteen tracks over Saturday, Sunday and Monday and we’re just putting the finishing touches on it. It’s really exciting.”
Yet to be released, The Scientists’ new album will ride on the crest of a wave of momentum for Salmon and the band that has been swelling for a couple of years now. In 2016, Chicago label Numero Group released A Place Called Bad, a boxed set incorporating all of the Scientists’ studio releases along with a disc of live tracks.
“Those boxed sets have become a bit of a renaissance for that band,” said Salmon. “It’s led to a European and two US tours. We’ve got an open visa for the next three years to go to the USA. I’m all kind of geared.”
Overlapping this renewed interest in The Scientists, Doug Galbraith’s biography on Kim Salmon, gives us insights into the musician and artist’s life and career that have the subject of the tome somewhat out of kilter.
Asked what it was like to read his own life story, Salmon started with, “It’s weird. It’s like you know it all, but it’s all different, because it’s somebody else’s experience in a way, through some strange filter. It also makes it interesting, because a lot of things in the book aren’t strictly how I remember them. I’ve read other people’s books about things I’ve been involved in and it’s always the same; everyone’s got a different memory. Memory is a really strange kind of a plastic thing, it’s not really hard like people think it is. I think they (memories) kind of get embellished over time.”
In the rock music pantheon, memory is, indeed, a strange companion. It’s difficult to sort the actual from the apocryphal and events are filtered through so many people, perspectives and perception-enhancing potions that truth telling becomes a secondary consideration. You’ll get the picture when you read Salmon’s introduction to the book.
And then there’s the spectre of grunge that has been part of the Kim Salmon legend since, well, the invention of Grunge in the 90s. The book has the word in its title and contains 113 references to grunge across its 320 pages. Salmon’s current press kit says, “…while others try to claim the word, Kim Salmon has tried forever and unsuccessfully to shake it. The word has haunted Kim since the Scientists and no amount of ghostbusting has been able to extinguish it. ‘So what can you do?’ he thinks. ‘Might as well own it. It’ll annoy people whatever.’ Dealt with!”
What do we take away from that? The book is a great read, but don’t expect it to help you win any pub quizzes on the early influences of a certain genre of 90s music. In the end, we all have to make up our own minds, about everything.
Seems that having his life story committed to print also has helped Salmon make up his mind about some aspects of himself and his career that he’s found just a bit surprising. Asked what he’s learned about himself from reading the book, Salmon paused for a long time and then said, “People think I’m an artist. I didn’t think I was an artist as much as people do, which is kind of nice.”
Salmon’s realisation that he is an artist came alongside the early gestation of his biography. Doug Galbraith, his biographer, first met Salmon when the musician was giving guitar lessons. The two got to talking and guitar lessons turned into Galbraith drawing stories out of Salmon about his life and work and, in the end, suggesting that he write Salmon’s life story.
“So, it started with guitar lessons and then me having to do a Pozible campaign to fund an album,” Salmon reflected, “and really not wanting to do what people do for crowd funding, like play in someone’s living room, I just didn’t want to do that. So, I thought I’d do some drawings and that got me really into firing up my art some more and that kickstarted, to use the Pozible pun, my art a helluva lot. After giving away so many drawings, I thought I should do more of them and more painting and I kind of went crazy on it for a while there, and that sort of tied in. It’s like all these things have come together and it’s kind of reached this critical mass.”
That critical mass now sees Salmon touring again, at the moment as Kim Salmon, but with yet to be announced dates coming up with The Scientists to back up the release of their new album sometime this year, hopefully. Salmon is genuinely excited by all this activity, you can hear it in his voice as he speaks about where things are up to. But he also speaks with the voice of experience. It doesn’t temper his enthusiasm, it just makes his understanding of how precious opportunity is all the more acute and poignant.
Talking about the momentum he’s currently riding and looking ahead, Salmon finished up by saying, “But I might just deflate like a soufflé.”
Salmon’s observation is a reflection of his age and the experience that comes with having lived a bit (a lot!).
Looking back to the early days of his career, Salmon said, “You’re kind of thinking that it’s all forever and … (laughs) I’m in my 60s, so I could go any day. Who knows?
“It makes me more aware to just try and look after myself and enjoy every day, make sure things don’t go to waste, if there’s an opportunity to seize it. It’s been a big lesson for me. I feel a bit privileged, because some of my friends have paid for that lesson. I’m very careful. You have to be, you really have to be. They’ve been very good friends, Brian (Hooper, Kim Salmon and the Surrealists and Beasts of Bourbon) and Spencer (P. Jones, Beasts of Bourbon). The amount of touring I did with Brian and how close we got to be, I do think that I owe it to him.”
Continuing his reflection, in particular his recent ‘discovery’ that he’s a visual artist as well as a musician, Salmon said, “Another thing is, I do a lot of things and they’re all interwoven. They’re really the same thing. I’m not an accountant, I’m an artist and I do things that way. Now that it’s happening at a stage of my life — I’ve made mistakes over the years — maybe I can not just let it all go to waste, I can avoid throwing it all away. It’ll be like I’m learning to be more prudent about those things and learning to, not be miserly, but to be careful about things, and not too careful, but…” [Tails off into silence].
But, this isn’t the end, it’s just another beginning in what has been a career of more peaks than troughs. Looking back on the early days of The Scientists, Salmon skewered the camaraderie and sheer comedy that comes with being young and in a band, saying, “Sometimes that band was like me and then there’s the three stooges over there. Sometimes, it was like four stooges!”
Connecting those days to the current iteration of The Scientists, Salmon said, “With Tony (Thewlis, guitar) there now, it’s much more like being in a band than me writing a bunch of songs and seeing if they fit. It’s like being in a band when you’re in your 20s or when you’re a teenager. It’s got that vibe about it which is fantastic. It’s really exciting when that happens.”
He may be older and a little bit wiser, but nothing’s going to hold Kim Salmon back as he rides yet another career wave to who knows where. Perhaps that biography will need a few additional chapters in coming years?
Kim Salmon is playing dates across Australia throughout February.
Friday 7th February 2020 – Crown & Anchor, Adelaide SA
Kim, Claire Burchall, Pete Howlett, Shakey McGee, Amr Zaid
Saturday 8th February 2020 – Bassandean Hotel, Bassandean WA
Sunday 9th February 2020 – Grumpy’s Music Bar, Perth WA
Kim, Claire Burchall, Todd Pickett, Pete Stone
Friday 14th February 2020 – The Tote, Melbourne VIC
Kim, Claire Burchall, Douglas Galbraith, Jeff Hooker
Thursday 20th February 2020 – Smith’s, Canberra ACT
Friday 21st February 2020 – Union, Sydney NSW
Kim, Claire Burchall, Douglas Galbraith, Sam Worrad
Saturday 22nd February 2020 – Junk Bar, Brisbane QLD
Kim Salmon Solo
Saturday 29th February 2020 – Tanswells Commercial Hotel, Beechworth VIC
Kim Salmon Solo
For more information, click here.