Ron S Peno has one of those deep, guttural drawls as he responds to Tone Deaf’s questions over the phone. He is preparing for a gig later that evening at the Old Bar, with his new project Ron S Peno and the Superstitions. However, it is as lead singer of iconic Australian band Died Pretty that Peno is best known, who are the headline act at upcoming Cherry Rock 2011. Anaya Latter caught up with the Australian music legend for a chat.
“Died Pretty wasn’t a bad band for its time,” begins Peno, when asked about the influences that informed their sound. “Velvet Underground was a big influence on Brett, and we had early Roxy Music and glam from the seventies, and things like The Doors and the New York Dolls and The Stooges. And then later on I discovered REM they were a big influence also in the later stages of the band and we became less rock and more pop I suppose, a bit more jangly and less jammy I guess.”
Died Pretty formed in the early 80s in Sydney, and Peno describes what it was like to play at that time: “In the 80s in Sydney it was a really healthy scene you had bands like us and the Hoodoo Gurus, the Lime Spiders, Celibate Rifles, Nick Barker and the Reptiles, Wet Taxis, and The Moths and you had other bands like The Triffids and The Go Betweens and The Stems from Perth.” Things have changed however, Peno feels, observing that “Melbourne is where it’s at now musically, things have fallen by the wayside in Sydney… I don’t know it seems to be a bit dull musically in Sydney now and very few venues to play at.”
A dearth of venues tends to starve the scene, and with the closure of the Hopetoun Hotel and rumours that the Annandale is up for sale, Peno believes it’s much harder for bands to thrive. When faced with the closure of the Tote last year, Peno says, “At least the people in Melbourne got up and said we don’t want this… I walked in the SLAM rally I think there was 20,000 people on the day it was pretty amazing, they’re pretty loyal in Melbourne.”
Died Pretty broke up for a period of about six years in early 2000 and their sound evolved over the course of their history as a band. Peno locates their change in sound around the late nineties:
“In 1997 we turned left at Albuquerque so to speak, we released Using my Gills as a Roadmap and we were using electronic effects, sampling and looping and doing different things. We started exploring new territory both Brett and I had always loved a band called Kraftwerk and the whole Krautrock sound from the Seventies. We felt we had to evolve from what we were doing in the mid 80s when we started out. Critically it was received well but I don’t think the fans liked it much. It didn’t have that classic Died Pretty sound.”
But rather than be too self conscious about how fans received their new creative territory, Peno says that they just wrote their own songs and explored new sounds regardless.
“Fans are great and stuff but we didn’t like to pander really, we just wrote our own songs and did what we felt like doing, trying to keep ahead of the times, get away from that whole 80s thing.
Peno’s creative focus is now understandably devoted to his new project, Ron S Peno and The Superstitions, which he describes as cinematic, and reminiscent of Scott Walker. “I’m co writing with Cam Butler who is from a band called Silver Ray from the late 90s who are a guitar based instrumental band similar to the Dirty Three, but guitar led and more symphonic and instrumental. So it’s unusual for Cam to be working with a singer, I’m giving him lots of vocal melodies and he’s putting it to (guitar and) orchestral music.”
Peno is audibly excited about the project and their new album due to be released in July, called Future Universe “Some of the tracks on the album have a 12 piece string section which sounds gorgeous… some of the best songs I’ve ever written” he says.
“We’re sort of older now, we’re heading toward middle age, we’ve got to do it with a fair amount of dignity. I don’t want to be an old rocker. That would be embarrassing.
“I never want that to happen, you know how you see bands from ages ago and they’re still wearing paisley shirts and stonewashed jeans and they’re in their bloody mid forties and their hair’s receding and they wont cut it. I mean, I’m bald but I thought I can’t have long hair anymore, I’ve got to get it close cropped.”
Peno says Cherry Rock goers can expect a classic bunch of Died Pretty songs – mostly from Doughboy Hollow, the album that people seem to love the most, as well as various songs from all of their albums.
Died Pretty haven’t played at Cherry Bar before, and Peno had to do a ringaround to see if everyone was available, as three of the Died Pretty members are in Sydney, Peno is in Melbourne and their drummer is in Thailand; so it took a bit of toing and froing but they all agreed in the end it would be fun to get together and do it again.
“It should be fun, we’re really looking forward to it. It will be great to get together again and play. We’ve all remained friends so it will be a lot of fun.”
Died Pretty are playing at Cherry Rock Festival 2011 this Sunday May 1st
Ron S Peno & The Superstitions are playing at The Retreat on the 8th May and The Union hotel on May 28th