Catching up with Australian punk icon Ed Kuepper
Few musicians on any continent come with the same measure of accomplishment as Ed Kuepper.
The Australian guitarist powered punk pioneers the Saints not only with his six-string excellence, but also with his songwriting, penning or co-penning classic songs like “Know Your Product,” “Memories Are Made of This” and, of course, the immortal punk standards “This Perfect Day” and “(I’m) Stranded.” His Saints stint alone would enshrine him in the hall of rock legends, but he didn’t stop there. Following his separation from the Saints in 1978, he started the Laughing Clowns, a brilliantly iconoclastic postpunk act that pioneered a distinctive guitar-and-horns sound that mixed free jazz, punk and groove. When the Clowns ceased to be in 1985, Kuepper began his still-active solo career, taking everything he’d learned up to that point and applying it to records that continually pushed his own boundaries. Pop, folk, electronica, postpunk, jazz rock – all of it was and is grist for Kuepper’s endlessly creative mill.
Then there are the Aints!. Originally conceived as what Kuepper describes as “an extrapolative, almost psychedelic jam band” on early nineties albums like Ascension and S.L.S.Q., the current version of the group – Kuepper, bassist Peter Oxley (Sunnyboys), drummer Paul Loughhead – convened in 2016 to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the Saints, before evolving into a platform for older tunes. “This Aints! (note the very important exclamation mark) was put together for a specific and defined purpose,” Kuepper explains via e-mail from his Brisbane home. “To do the Aints! Play the Saints tour, then to perform and record songs I’d written back in the day that mostly weren’t played or recorded by either the Saints or Laughing Clowns.”
The result is The Church of Simultaneous Existence, an album of smart, punky rock & roll that maintains the high degree of songcraft endemic to any Kuepper project. “You’ll Always Walk Alone,” “Elevator,” the tongue-in-cheek “The Rise and Fall of James Hoopnoch Eefil” and the single “Red Aces” are easily as strong as anything on the Saints or Clowns records. “The time they come from was a very productive time for me,” says Kuepper, “and I was always looking at wanting to do new things. So they just got filed away because I thought I’d moved on, which I had. But they persisted and kept clawing at my doors and windows, calling my name from the bushes at night until I could deny them no longer.
“If it wasn’t for the run of 40th anniversary shows, it’s unlikely most of them would have seen the light of day,” he continues. “The story of the original Saints has never been documented all that well, so I thought I’d give a glimpse of what might have happened in a different set of circumstances.”
Kuepper maintains not only the quality of his writing, but also his eclectic style, incorporating horns, acoustic guitars, stylistic detours and the other elements that keep his music fresh over the years. Indeed, “You Got the Answer” sounds like a blend of all of his previous projects – a mix that doesn’t necessarily come from conscious effort. “It’s funny, isn’t it?” he says. “When you’re in the middle of doing things, it often seems like you’ve made some kind of great leap forward, and when you revisit the material some years later you realise that there’s much more overlap than you thought at the time. I’ve come to peace with that concept these days, and basically say everything I do sounds the same, and they’ll all part of the one greater piece.”
“Writing for me is largely just a matter of being disciplined enough to sit down and do it – a kind of ‘if at first you don’t succeed’ type of thing,” he elaborates. “Most of the time I’ll have come away with something passable at the end of these sessions, and ideally I would do this every day, though that’s not always possible. The determining factor as to where the material is used often comes later, and it’s then arranged with that particular project in mind.”
With no Saints reunion on the horizon and his solo career “put on hold for a bit,” there’s a strong possibility the Aints! will continue, especially since Kuepper’s closet of buried treasures isn’t empty yet. “Actually, there are quite a few things still laying around, at least another album’s worth from the time period we’re looking at,” he says, “and some of it seems quite strong in hindsight. So yes, there is a chance that we’ll do another. It may be a bit different because I don’t think we need to repeat TCOSE exactly, but it all really depends on how this one goes. I’d quite like to, because the band is fantastic – probably the best I’ve worked with. But really, if it continues, it could go wherever we want it to, all the time maintaining The Aints!’ very distinctive aesthetic and identity.”