red roses for me

Go-Betweens Interview: June 22, 1999

Red Roses: How have the recent shows been received?

Robert Forster: The crowd varies from city to city. They’re always enthusiastic, but we’ve been playing for small numbers of people. But we play well with small audiences, like we’ve had in Albany [New York] and Newark, Delaware. The show in Newark was in a great club, the East End Café. The food there was amazing, and the people were super-friendly. But college was out, and it was a small crowd, though the room and food were really lovely.

RR: Are the small crowds disappointing?

RF: Yeah. I mean, I’m 41, and you want to be playing for more than 30 people. Those nights will come up, the ones when you think, ‘I’d rather be home reading,’ but they’re just dotted here and there. A little bit dispiriting, but not bad.

RR: What sort of audience have you been getting?

RF: The crowds are more mixed here [in the US], and the audience seems younger like in Australia and Europe.

RR: Sort of like a ‘nouveau audience?’

RF: Yeah, exactly. But in places where we haven’t toured as much, like in the Midwest, there’s an older audience. You can tell there’s been a ten-year gap, where things haven’t been moving like the rest of the country, and the music gets sort of stuck. We’ve been to Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, Minneapolis—that was a cool city, I got to see the place where Bob Dylan’s first gig was.

RR: What do you think of the ‘cult of fans’ that have been associated with the Go-Betweens? And what about the Internet’s role in music journalism?

RF: I think it’s really heartening, I like it. Especially with the Internet, things move a lot quicker. You make an off-handed comment to someone at a gig, and then they type it up and it travels around the world. You have to be more circumspect with what you say and what you do. Before that the news traveled at a slower pace, and you only had to be careful about what you said to journalists, since only they had access to the print media. But I still think that the Internet is a great resource for people that like what we do.

RR: Is the duo tour preferable to touring with a full band?

RF: It’s definitely easier, allowed us to do the tour without all the baggage. You move a lot slower with more people and more equipment. It’s going to be difficult to go back to touring with a band. At the moment it’s enjoyable to be able to move quickly. The songs carry it all and we carry it all and the guitars carry it all and nothing’s lacking. It’s an ideal scenario. But it would be better if we were playing for 2000 people a night.

RR: How did the Best Of and the Lost Album come to be?

RF: Beggar’s Banquet had planned for the best of to come out, they were the ones who organized that. We organized the Lost Album, and then all this happened. The first twinkling of the Best Of album was in 1997, that’s when the ideas started to come together. So both these records were coming out, and it was like ‘Well, what are we going to do? Are we going to hide under a bed or lock ourselves in a closet?’ So we’re touring now, just two songwriters with acoustic guitars talking and doing interviews and playing and just generally get the spotlight on what we’re doing. And we’re enjoying ourselves.

RR: Was it a conscious decision to have both albums come out at the same time?

RF: Yeah, definitely. It gives the songs currency. I mean, for me, I wrote these songs twenty years ago and the fans know that…they don’t mistake it for something I’m doing now. It was a part of our work, we always knew that. And no one else really knew about [the songs on the Lost Album] except people that saw us live in Brisbane. It is very much like a prequel. It puts everything else into context.

RR: There was a long gap between the songs that surfaced on the lost album and the songs that ended up on the first proper album, Send Me a Lullaby. Do you think that the course of the band would have been different if an album had been released earlier?

RF: That was definitely a big ‘what-if’ of our career. We could’ve recorded an album in 1979. And one of the songs might’ve been a hit, they were so poppy. We might’ve really been a well-known pop band of that time. It was our Monkees period, our early Beatles period. We could’ve been really pushed and promoted, and for a short time that might’ve made us popular. Probably more than anything else we’ve ever done, that was our golden pop period. But we wouldn’t have stayed in a solid pop band. We definitely would’ve moved in the direction we’re moving anyway. The music might not have changed, but the circumstances would’ve been different. I don’t say this with any sense of regret. It’s just that when you  listen to it, there was the potential for that to happen.

RR: How were the tracks selected for the Best Of? Was it a difficult decision?

RF: It was a very easy decision—we picked the tracks in twenty minutes. It was basically a lot of singles fleshed out with album tracks that we thought indicated other directions the band had been in. In terms of a best of album, it does stand on its own. It’s not really an ‘album album,’ but it’s definitely an album in its own right—a complete, justifiable entity, like a really good live album. A really good live album works, and a really good best of album works.

RR: Do you think that being perceived as THE music critic’s band becomes a disadvantage eventually?

RF: That’s something that I can’t change and wouldn’t really want to change. We make the records the best we can, the way we want to—we give them everything we’ve got. After that, they’re just out there. I don’t know if that really plays against us.

RR: What music have you been listening to lately?

RF: I don’t really listen to music on the road. When you’re playing your own shows every night, the last thing you want to do is listen to someone else’s music. But I like Grandaddy. They’re great, sort of like Pavement meets early mid-70s Beach Boys. They’ve had a bigger impact in Europe than anywhere else, I think. The album, Under the Western Freeway, is incredible. I’ve also been listening to Sleater-Kinney, Arab Strap, Belle and Sebastian, Mogwai…I like the Scottish connection, I always have. And I’m just getting into Miles Davis and Frank Sinatra, two artists I’ve never really had the inclination to get into. I always used to read about them, but now I go out and get the music. I’ve always got two tracks going, making the voyage of discovery to the new stuff and the old stuff at the same time.

RR: Do you know what the rest of the former Go-Betweens are up to?

RF: Lindy and Amanda are in Sydney. I think they're in a band at the moment, or talking about it. John is working on soundtracks in Brisbane, Tim Mustafa is living in Brisbane and acting, Grant is on tour with me, and Robert Vickers is king of New York.

RR: Are there plans to record new songs together? We've heard rumours of a new UK deal, anyway...

RF: Tell me who we've signed to! We're going to finish the tour first. We've talked about things as they come up on the tour, making it up as we go along. In August and September I'll be back in Brisbane with my family, where Grant is, and we'll record a demo. Then we see where we are in terms of how close we are to having an album's worth of material. No organization has been done in terms of labels, studios, musicians. We've only made a decision that we enjoy each other's company and will be in the same city for six weeks to write stuff.

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