A lot’s happened to Powderfinger between 1989 and now. The Aussie favourites soundtracked a lot of lives and sold a shitload of their seven studio records. It was on Friday 9 April 2010 that the guys announced that their current tour – Sunsets – would be their last.
Even at that point, opinion within the band was divided with Ian Haug and Jon Coghill especially getting vocal about their perception that such finality was unnecessary. Frontman Bernard Fanning’s desire to release solo material (and the resultant Tea And Sympathy) was said to be a sticking point, but the band’s official line at the end was that they thought they’d taken Powderfinger as far as it should go.
This month saw the release of Footprints: the inside story of Australia’s best loved band an authorised biography (an accompanying album hit the shelves too – Footprints: The Best of Powderfinger 2001 – 2011) written by Dino Scatena. Guitarist Darren Middleton, now an elder statesman of Australian rock rebuked recent comments from Fanning in the lead up to the book’s release. Furthermore, after twenty-one years living in each other’s pockets, Middleton doesn’t regard the biography as any kind of closure.
“The whole closure thing, I think that takes a bit of time to unravel the threads that have existed for so long. The book is not something that we really wanted to do so soon, straight away after the band had parted ways…the reason that we had to do it, is that we were presented with the idea that if we didn’t do it ourselves and have a degree of control it would kinda be done anyway by someone else, and they’d just be printing Wikipedia stories and that sort of thing. So we thought, it we’re going to do it, let’s just do it and do it anyway.”
Tone Deaf: Sounds like a threat: “Do something you don’t want to do, or we’re gonna do something you really hate.”
Darren Middleton: [laughs] “Well, it wasn’t that heavy a concept but, you know, we have always been a group of guys that wanted to steer where we were headed so, we made the decision toward the end of last year and it’s about to be read. Hopefully.”
Oh, please. It’ll leap off the shelves. How was it working with Dino?
“We have known him for quite some time and we’re more than comfy to hang around and chat with Dino. And, you know, he did spend a good period of time with us toward the end of last year – on the road with us, just following us around and pulling us aside, observing us, making notes and that sort of thing. And for about six months this year he spent a lot of time on the phone to us, individually, gathering information.”
Was it nice to remember with him?
“Oh, with Dion, yeah. It was interesting remembering some of the earlier periods of the band; I mean, you don’t exist in a band to spend your time remembering everything that was. It was nice to recount some of the experiences from the past twenty years.”
Did you find that he pushed you a little bit?
“Yeah, there was a bit of that.”
It’s been weird reading the couple of pieces of press about the band in the last couple of days. “Bernard said this and then Haugy said that.” I don’t really buy it. I’ve got friendships that have lasted as long as your’s and some of those comments seem unnecessarily and unrealistically nasty.
“Look, I think it’s just a sensationalist headline…we’ve pretty much been a guys-next-door kind of band and there’s never really been much fighting to be had and in truth when you just read a headline like that you kind of think, ‘Oh, has it always been like that? Have I been misled?’ It’s just out of context.
When it’s in context – when you look at any group of people who have spent a large number of years together of course everyone’s gonna disagree occasionally.
Part of what makes it [a band] work is that people are passionate about something – and you don’t always agree. So, [laughs] it turns into an argument. But part of the reason we were still together for so long is that you can move past it.”
I guess it’s an unfortunate thing that a lot of bands would have to deal with, but one thing that struck me as pretty awful was when Bernard’s wife Andrea had heart surgery and he had to leave her to tour. I mean, the ramifications of cancelling a tour would be massive, but that sort of push and pull would be immensely difficult – even for you to have to say to your friend, “Shit, that’s shocking. But, let’s go to work.”
“It’s not fun for anyone, those sorts of situations…”
Well, you’ve got young children. I guess you’ve all had to deal with periods like that…
“Oh absolutely, I’ve had to go on the road with a really young baby at home, our first child, and leave my wife right out in the lurch basically. So, that’s all that stuff to go through and it’s not easy on any side of the fence. We were always quite passionate about this thing [Powderfinger] that’s driven our life for the last fifteen-odd years and you’ve got to try and balance it. I guess it all adds up.
You hear people say, ‘Well, the band must be King.’ I met a band the other day and all of them had packed up and moved interstate for the good of the band. I mean, it’s such a young man’s game.
“Yeah, it is. The band is your life and it kinda has to be.”
There have been quite distinctive periods in my life, within Powderfinger’s career, where the band’s songs have soundtracked it. And I reckon there’d be a lot of people out there for whom that is also true. So, I know this will sound very selfish and I’m sorry that you had to go through all that stuff, but it was worth it.
[laughs] “You know, there are a lot of people out there who bookmark bits and pieces of their lives with the band and that’s incredible. How flattering is that? I find it amazing. It’s weird that it’s spanned so many age groups as well.”
So, what’s post-Powdie’s life like? Cleaned up the back yard and had a few day’s off then?
“Yeah, yeah, done a little bit of that. Took my family on a six-month holiday, actually, overseas and now we’ve relocated to Melbourne for a change of scenery. I’m just starting to fall in love with music again and started writing. So I’m going to see what happens. Do some more producing and mentoring and helping out other bands – which I have tried to do over the past ten years or so in Brisbane.
I’m open to all sorts of projects – I’m a pretty keen photographer so I’ve joined a photography club and we do our little excursions and outings.
It’d be quite a change of scenery for you coming from laid back Brisvegas to mental Melbourne.
It is, yeah. It takes a while to get settled in. I mean, I’ve got a lot of friends here but I don’t have my close, old, friends that exist in Brisbane. I miss my mates up North but I love this city: Melbourne’s a really good city to be in.
Are you getting out to see any bands?
Mostly friend’s bands at the moment, and artists that I’ve worked with over the years who live down here.
So what are your venue picks now that you’re here?
I don’t know yet. I ventured out to 303 in Northcote recently to see a friend from Brisbane play… [laughs] I’ll let you know.
– Melanie Lewis
Footprints: the inside story of Australia’s best loved band is out now, as is album Footprints: The Best of Powderfinger 2001 – 2011. Head to Powderfinger’s website for more details.