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Motor Ace

When bands break up after giving their all, there’s a ‘pigs-might-fly’ aspect to the notion of ever getting back together. Too much has been gone through to ever go back and the salad days have well and truly been tossed.

For singer/songwriter/guitarist, Pat Robertson, the pig seems to have flown. His band Motor Ace, who made significant waves in the early-to-mid-2000’s have announced a 20th Anniversary tour.

“We probably didn’t bring up the subject until about 2013,” he says down the ‘line from his balcony apartment in Fitzroy. “We finished in 2005 but never entertained the idea until that time. It all just seemed a bit hard; a lot of us had families and it was hard to line up everyone. For me personally, I started a new band a few years ago called Nighthawk with Damo (Costin, drums) and after doing a few shows with that I thought, ‘I think I could actually still do it’. I didn’t know about getting up onstage and how it would feel and once I had done that and felt comfortable I said, ‘well how about we do a 20th anniversary tour of the formation of the band?’

“The record company had just released our first album on vinyl as well, so the stars were aligning a little bit. And it’s probably he last time we’ll be able to pull it off physically before we get old and feeble (laughs).”

While all are busy with their own life pursuits, there’s enthusiasm there in every corner and the tour has been scheduled for April. Enthusiasm here is the key. In a 2016 interview for his band Nighthawk, Robertson stated that looking back he may not have enjoyed his years in Motor Ace as much as he could have.

“I was desperate,” he says, looking back. “I was desperate to have a music career. I was 19 and probably like a lot of musos I felt like I couldn’t do anything else in life. I didn’t feel like I was equipped to work in an office like everyone else (laughs). I thought Id otherwise be a bum, basically, so I obsessed about working really hard at being successful, trying to reach an audience and trying to sustain a career out of it.

“In some ways that’s amazing because it drives you and it drives you really hard. And you can achieve good things. Not always, you have to have a hell of a lot of luck and we did, with support from triple j and other places.

“But I was definitely too consumed by success or failure. I was always worried about what was coming around the corner and there was nothing I could really do to fix that, obviously. That’s definitely something I regret. Being in Nighthawk is a funny one because the expectations are to have no expectations. So that’s fantastic and I’m not relying on it. That’s the thing, I was reliant on Motor Ace’s success to not have to go and get another job (laughs). Whereas now I’m not, so I’m freed up to do whatever I want, musically. It’s a double-edged sword and a tricky one. There’s no perfect scenario.”

It appeared at the time as though success came quickly to Motor Ace in 2001, when in truth the band had formed in 1998 and played a wealth of shows before opportunities came knocking.

“I started playing shows around Melbourne pubs when I was 15. In fact, I live about 100 metres now from the Empress Hotel which is where I played my first show at that age. I was doing one gig a month for years, I kept writing and trying to get better and I had some record label interest when I was pretty young, 16 or 17. I was working a long time, so by the time we actually ended up signing a deal with Motor Ace I was 21.  So that was like six years of already talking to record companies and trying to get some music out there and I felt like it was a long time in the making.

“Motor Ace were signed in 1998, and there was two years of concert touring before we started to get any kind of traction with the crowds and see them at shows. So I actually felt like I’d been doing it for six-or-seven years before we started getting that. I was still quiet young, but it felt like a journey.”

When they did eventually make a mark, it was definitely felt around the country, with the band becoming triple j darlings and finding airplay on commercial FM stations. Motor Ace’s 2001 debut album, Five Star Laundry, went Gold in Australia and led to lengthy tours with sold-out headline shows, festival appearances plus premier supports with the likes of Foo Fighters, Oasis and Blink-182.

Their 2002 sophomore LP, Shoot This, debuted as a Gold-selling #1 release, with its lead single, Carry On, being the #1 most played song on Australian airwaves for eight weeks on the trot.

“We were lucky enough to have radio support behind us. We actually managed to maintain a touring lifestyle in Australia at least. There was a little bit of success in Japan as well the second album did quite well there. But we never really got the exposure we wanted overseas in the UK and the US, which was a bit of a bugbear for the band, I guess. That’s kind of where we all wanted to be.”

In the meantime, the band’s previous single, Death Defy, was picked up as the theme song for the Network 10 drama series, The Secret Life Of Us, one of the most popular shows on Australian television at the time. It garnered a new audience here at home, but when the series was picked up in the UK it was somewhat perceived as Motor Ace’s main calling-card. In interviews this writer did with Robertson during that period the song seemed to have become a bit of an albatross around the band’s neck.

“A little bit,” he offers now. “To a point. Probably not an albatross in retrospect… it undoubtedly helped with commercial radio. It’s only speculation, but I think it probably soured us with triple j (laughs). I’m suspecting… you know what they’re like, once they lose ownership of stuff like that they tend to drop it. So I think we probably lost that which is unfortunate, because it’s very difficult to have a live following in Australia without that. Well, while it was back then I’ve got no idea now if that still is the case.”

Death Defy opened Motor Ace’s set when they played Joondalup’s Rock-It festival in 2005, bringing crowds from all over the oval rushing to the stage. One couldn’t help feeling that it was first-up partly because it was a banger, but also to simply get it out of the way.

“Yeah, it’s a funny one. I mean, we released that song as a single a year-and-a-half before it was on the TV show and it didn’t do anything (laughs). It definitely helps explain to people now who the band was, they know that one. So that’s good.

“I think what would have been great would have been to have the opportunity for exposure through social media and those kinds of things which we didn’t have at the time. To potentially reach an audience overseas without all those preconceptions would have been an interesting experiment for the band.”

In 2004, the band took a hiatus for 12 months. It was only a year off, but it was widely conjectured that they’d broken up.

“It was left hanging,” Robertson says, “so some may some presumed the worst, but it was a break I needed to have. I was certainly in a pretty bad mental place at that time, so I had no option but to do that, really. You know, it got me back into doing the last record. I don’t it would have happened, otherwise.”

Motor Ace, 2018

That last record was the band’s third album, Animal, released in mid-2005. It failed to gain the airplay of their previous albums and signalled the fortunes of Motor Ace both outside and within. It was just time.

“I think everybody had lost faith in our ability to get overseas,” Robertson notes of the band’s break-up. “A couple of the guys started having families. And I don’t think we’d necessarily done our best work, but we probably had done the best material we were gonna write. So it was like, ‘okay, how much further are we gonna go with it? If we’re not gonna go overseas, then…’ And that was the ultimate; that was really the actual goal – to go overseas. So it felt like it just wasn’t going to happen.

“When we decided to do that album, I think everyone realised it was going to be our last. I don’t think it was a massive shock for anyone. We eased out of it. It was a bit like ripping the band-aid off slowly.”

All the band members remained musical, with Robertson scoring film and TV soundtracks and forming Nighthawk with Damien Costin, who is also the director of the prominent 123 Agency. Bassist Matt Balfe plays in Melbourne outfit, Five Mile Sniper, with guitarist, Dave Ong, also in Melbourne working on his musical project, Joni Lightning

With the tour still a-ways off, expect some demos and other treats to surface from Motor Ace in the meantime. The band are celebrating the mark they made and are happy to have some fun.

“We’ve dug through some demos from both the first and the second album,” Robertson says. “We’re going to release some of those online, on Spotify or whatever. They show some of the formulation of songs that may be of interest to some people. That’s the plan.”



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