The Blackeyed Susans are one of Australia’s most cherished bands. With a history stretching back over 20 years and a recorded output the envy of many acts in the country, they’ve also had members of some of Australia’s greatest bands pass through the ranks. Past and present members have also been part of The Triffids, The Drones, The Cruel Sea, The Dirty Three, Kim Salmon and The Surrealists, Hungry Ghosts  and Augie March – to name only a few. The band’s shows have been sporadic of late, with the commitments of members to other bands and projects making them increasingly special events. As the band prepare to play Christmas shows in Melbourne and Sydney, Tone Deaf’s Daubney Carshott caught up with them.

With so much of the band’s back catalogue to choose from and other commitments making gigs increasingly special events, how are you going about choosing the set list?

We line up the songs in single file, call them to attention, then make our way down that line looking for a crisp uniform and polished boots amongst the battle hardened veterans and the new recruits.  The strongest are chosen, the rest get to go back to the barracks and play cards.

Can we expect any special guests at shows? Who, pray tell, might they be?

Lisa Miller and The Spoils will be appearing as special guests on the evening. Both acts are old friends of the Susans and fine performers in their own right so we are much pleased they are performing with us. The Salvos will also be joining us to sing a few carols. All up I think it’ll make for a great night of music.

It could be argued that if you constructed the spaghetti-like family tree of Australian bands and their members from the 1980s onwards, the Blackeyed Susans would form a particularly dense part of the diagram. What do you think it is about the band that has led so many of Australia’s greatest musicians to play a part of it?

I like to compare it to a finishing school – they come in and we give them poise and elocution lessons. We teach them to sing and dance then send them on their merry way to fame, fortune and substance abuse…I dunno, they tell me they like the songs.

Have the recent gigs with The Triffids increased the perception of Dave McComb’s contributions to the Susans?

I think it has helped make the connections between the two bands clearer.  Dave’s post-Triffids work has been relatively neglected compared to the recognition The Triffids have received.  I’m pleased if people are taking a greater interest in his body of work – Triffids, Susans, Red Ponies and costar. I have seen our role in The Triffids shows as one of representing his post-Triffids  work and that is a role I am happy to take.

Rob’s new album being recorded with Dan – a strictly solo affair or will a few familiar names be cropping up in the credits?

Well the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree when it comes to Rob’s solo pursuits.  The last one was very much a family affair –which I thought was nice. I think it’s important for Rob to feel comfortable and secure with the people he works with. But having said that I’m yet to get the phone call from the studio this time. It would be interesting to hear him do something with some other folk – a collaboration with Itchy and Scratchy perhaps?

The band’s website is one of the most comprehensive in Australian music circles, making it easy to get a large chunk of the back catalogue on iTunes. How much work was that to set up and how important is the site for you to be able to interact with fans both new and old?

I suppose the website is the front door to the house of Susan. We’ve been working on it for many years now and have had a number of talented designers contribute to its development. It has taken a lot of work but I think it is very important bands have an online presence that not only reflects their sensibilities but makes it easy for people to purchase their music and assorted merchandise.  That is how bands get by these days and many a Susans’ tour has been underwritten by the proceeds of t-shirt and tea towel sales. Oh, and speaking of merch be sure to check out the new range of Christmas cards and rare back catalogue re-releases soon to be available through our website!

Any plans for an album next year?

Yep.  Hopefully released in the second half of the year. Working title  ‘So Where’s Your Maker Now?’

The Blackeyed Susans arguably have a very gentlemanly reputation as a band, not to mention refined music and performance. Surely there’s one of your less than well behaved moments from the annals that you can share with us?

Nick Cave once described ageing as a journey from disgrace to grace and certainly the younger Susans had their disgraceful moments. I’ll sketch one out for you. Mid-nineties at the Metro theatre in Sydney- too much booze, psychedelics and assorted diversions – band members cutting their own hair mid-set, others getting into showers with the support band, one abusing the audience, another asleep at the wheel.  A very messy affair both on and off stage. The review in the next week’s street rag asked pointedly what had happened to The Blackeyed Susans?

Indeed.

The Blackeyed Susans play some incredibly special Christmas shows in Melbourne and Sydney over the next ten days – snap up the last remaining tickets now!

Melbourne – Thornbury Theatre Saturday 11 December
Tix at www.thethornburytheatre.com

Sydney – The Vanguard Friday 17th and Saturday 18th December
Tix at www.thevanguard.com.au