Maria, Darren and Andrew interviewed during the recording of the glorious second collection, tentatively titled Searching For The Venus Fly, by David in January 1994.
Maria: “Not to be confused with the Sydney Ampersands, who we don’t know anything about.”
I think you’d better just get your record out there first. (They did.) What’s the history of the Ampersands?
Darren: “Maria and I had a band consisting of the two of us and Bart called Brer Rabbit’s A Rascal, when Bart decided he basically wasn’t interested in playing in that format any more. Maria and I were invited to play a show in August of 1991 by Girl Of The World and the Sugargliders and Andrew played on a couple of songs. That night, we asked Kim to play as well and so we embarked on playing as a four-piece. That was the first Ampersands show.”
Maria: “Kim came along to watch to see if he’d be interested, and then we were playing pool at the famous Red Triangle at four o’clock in the morning and he said yes.”
Maria: “Darren writes the most. He gets the biggest APRA cheque.”
Darren: “We write individually. Some are officially collaborations but probably shouldn’t be. I write about fifty percent.”
Maria: “Because I don’t play an instrument, I write the words and sing the harmony for Darren to play on the guitar.”
What drives you to do all this?
Maria: “I like playing live — I like the adrenalin — and I like writing music and putting in the fiddly bits of recorder and percussion. There’s also the interaction part: playing in a band with people and the scene of people.”
Darren: “I hate my day job and don’t want to have to work and would really like to make a living out of music, but playing music with some sort of integrity. We lose lots of money, but it’s all part of the big picture. Fame is more important than money, though. With honour.”
Maria: “It gives a balance to your day-job to be doing something creative.”
Darren: “With a job, you can afford to do it and you’re more driven to do it. Maria and I have both had time when we’re not working and we became really apathetic and didn’t produce much. As your work pressures increase, you have more reason to play in a band. And more to write about.”
So, Darren, when’s Zeeeeen! coming out?
Darren: “Zeeeeen! is dead, long live Zeeeeen!”
Tell us about You’re Standing On My Hula-Hoop and Zeeeeen!
Maria: “We still have a cupboard full of stuff. If people bother to write, we’ll send them stuff! At the moment, the band takes so much of our time that we haven’t got time to think about the label or the zine or the compilation tape that isn’t out.”
History of band members?
Andrew: “The Ampersands were the first band I ever played with ...”
Darren: “That’s bullshit!”
Andrew: “... and I’m grateful to them for putting me into the spotlight after all these years.”
Maria: “Many years ago, Andrew lived in far Western Australia and played in a band there called Fresh Trout.”
Andrew: “Do I have to? I could bore you with a story that goes nowhere. When I was twenty-one, I wanted to go overseas. I didn’t have any money, I had an awful job I was sick of and didn’t want to do, so I quit my job, went to Western Australia, got a job in a mine to make some money and joined this awful R & B covers band that played around the North-West for six months and broke up. It was pretty awful, but we made some money. If I make money again, I’ll give up.
“Years after that, I played with Ian in the Hardhat Cowboys and with Stuart Mathieson in the Safari Dogs. And I was in a Detroit/hardcore band in about 1981. That’s enough. And Bart pressured me into doing the Tremelo Fuzz tape.”
Darren: “Our first band was Brer Rabbit’s A Rascal, the precursor to the Ampersands. Bart and I used that name to record when we had no four-track, no instruments, no musical ability and no songs. And we did one with Maria ten years later. Also the O’Shanassy Pipeline, basically the bedroom equivalent of the Cat’s Miaow. The Normal Frogs are people whose voices I sampled.”
The Ampersands did a first album, Half Folklore, Half Lies, which you gave away to people rather than selling.
Darren: “In June or July ’92, we’d been playing together for about six or eight months and recorded fifteen songs with Simon Grounds, the intention being to release a CD or twelve-inch vinyl. Which didn’t happen, but when Andrew visited America, he met with a guy called Tim Alborn in Boston, who does a fanzine called Incite and a label called Harriet in Boston, who put three of the songs out in seven-inch format (the present single). If anyone wants a tape, they can write to us sending a C-46 and return postage and they get a cover and a booklet free.”
Andrew: “Most bands I like or know put their records out overseas, because people here aren’t interested, so we sent a tape overseas. Perhaps this new album will be more to the taste of local record labels.”
Darren: “We spent three months — twenty-one hundred dollars — eighty-four hours — recording it. Since the three of us work, we paid for it as we went.”
Maria: “We started this album in November last year and we’re still working on it. We’re doing seventeen songs and a few bits. We’ve got a lot more guest people on it. We’re hoping the second one will actually come out.”
Darren: “We’re pretty pissed-off the first one didn’t come out, but there’s not much we can do about it. We did find someone interested in doing three songs, so it wasn’t wasted. But I’m glad we did it. It was good fun, and it was fantastic having the final mix there to listen to. It was an excellent learning experience in the studio.”
Maria: “I still like it. The songs still sound really good, even after having played them live for ages.”
You like it as a document, how is it as a statement?
Darren: “It’s not a statement, just a document. The single is a pretty good excerpt — ‘Postcards’, a thrashy two-chord thing which is an extreme of the type of music we play, and the other side is ‘Dull Light’ by Andrew, an extreme in orchestrated balladry ... it may not have been written like that, but that’s the way I think it ended up. And ‘8826’, an extreme in quirky acoustic stuff.”
Maria: “Tim picked the songs for the single. He picked ‘Postcards’ and ‘8826’ and we put ‘Dull Light’ on there to better represent us.”
Darren: “I think the ‘Postcards’ 7” would stack up pretty good next to Stacey Q and Cold Chisel. It’s a good pop single. Can we just say that our producer, Simon Grounds, was in Shower Scene From Psycho? I just thought it might add some credibility to say that we’re in the Simon Grounds stable of bands. He’s our permanent mixer.”
Who sessions on the new album?
Darren: “Ian plays guitar on one song. Leisal Florien, the single’s cover star, does backing vocals. Angela Calligan does backing on one song. Stuart Mathieson, who played flute and mandolin on our first lot, will be playing flute. Shane O’Shanassy plays a bit of didgeridoo. Simon is going to play again; he played theremin on the first one — he built one — and he’ll be playing sax. And Sönke Rickertsen will be playing cello on the first song on the album. It’s less loungeroom.”
DIY as something that happens, but not necessarily as a religion.
Andrew: “Still a good religion, but.”
Maria: “All the songs on the second one were written for the Ampersands, rather than being brought.”
Darren: “It’s just natural progression. When I write, I think of songs as being for the Ampersands’ setlist.”
Andrew: “For me it depends on the song where it goes. If the Cat’s Miaow are halfway through a cassette or whatever.”
What was the Ampersands’ main influence when you were first starting out?
Darren: “Oh God, David. When Stan first played us the Cannanes in 1986, we hero-worshipped ...”
We were trying to work out the structure of the international pop underground on Wednesday — the Cannanes as the Beatles, Beat Happening as the Stones ...
Darren: “I think that’s an accurate theory and a valid comparison. We could be Gerry and the Pacemakers.”
Your first album fits right in the middle of that stuff, but your second stretches the form a bit. Discuss.
Maria: “When we first played the second bunch of songs at the Richmond Club, some friends said the whimsy had gone out of the songs and they’d become more serious. I thought that was accurate.”
Darren: “I don’t think our songs are serious. Jesus. I just think we’ve gotten away from this Cannanes tribute band mentality.”
Maria: “They’re friends, and we know they’re stars, but we don’t play in their mould.”
Andrew: “The first one is a transition, anyway; half the songs were pre-Ampersands. You can pick a slight change in the direction of the songs we’ve written for the Ampersands as such.”
How do you feel about being called the Ampersands?
Darren: “‘What’s an ampersand again?’ Just tell ’em shift-seven.”
Maria: “We did the numerology on the name and it’s a nine, which is not a very successful number. Brer Rabbit must have been an even worse one. We wouldn’t change it because longevity is an important part of being good.”
The Cannanes, Survivor, the Rolling Stones ...
Maria: “The Cannanes’ new album wouldn’t be as good as it is if they hadn’t been together for years.”
Andrew: “I’m hoping it’s ‘The Ampersands do Neu!’ next. Not the jackhammer bit, though.”
Darren: “We’re struggling at present to expand on the instrumental format. We’re not that bloody proficient. I have trouble playing anything other than chords; Maria’s not the greatest singer in the world; Andrew’s not the greatest bass-player — I mean, he’s no Bart or anything; Kim can’t keep time. So we’ve got to rely on a lot of things that aren’t in our musicianship, like the songwriting or Maria throwing flowers at the audience. I’ve just been reading this interesting article in Cross magazine about the donkey’s rôle in pornography ... One of the things that makes the new songs a lot more solid is that we actually play a lot better.”
Do you get people getting into it at shows who you don’t know and who aren’t friends of friends?
Maria: “There are always new people we haven’t seen before who come up to us afterwards, which is lovely.”
So what do you each do for a living?
Darren: “Maria works for the Directorate of Education.”
Maria: “I’m a consultant in the area of the education of girls. I love my job. I’m actually very committed to it. I’m the ideologically-sound influence on the band.”
Darren: “Whereas I read books written by male authors. And I have a collection of pornographic leaflets. That’s what the Ampersands are about: pornography and correctness. I really wanna know how those guys actually get a whole fist up their arse.
“I work for the ANZ Bank. I work for all the country branches, consulting for all the people who lend money.”
And who are you a consultant to, Andrew?
Andrew: “I don’t actually make boilers as such, boilermaking’s just the name of the trade itself; I just construct things out of steel. I try to convince myself that I don’t like it, but I really don’t mind. It’s good fun to make things — grown-up Meccano or something.”
Darren: “Every band should have a mike stand made by Andrew.”
Maria: “If you can lift it.”
Andrew: “I’d like to see the singer of Pearl Jam smash one of my mike stands.”
Since this interview, Andrew has left the band but is finishing up his stuff on the album. Write to YSOMHHP for the first one (remember return postage on the tape!) and release the second one if you’re a label. Thank you.
Famed member of the Zeeeeen! collective, based in the Victorian country town of Leongatha, about seventy kilometres out of Melbourne. Member of Girl Of The World and the mind behind Cat’s Miaow.
You’re Standing On My Hula Hoop Productions produced ten issues of Zeeeeen! and a pile of cassettes from 1989 to 1991. Write for a list: 66 Newry Street, Fitzroy North 3068.
Tape through YSOMHHP.
Tape through YSOMHHP.
Try Toytown, PO Box 295, St Kilda 3182 — SASE for full catalogue.
Tape through YSOMHHP.
PO Box 649, Cambridge MA 02238, USA.
Caveat Emptor by the Cannanes, recorded in 1991 and released 1993 on Feel Good All Over.
2012 note: Darren's put the Ampersands stuff up on his Soundcloud.