The Australian jangle rock greats return with their first album in 12 years
It’s early morning in Sydney, Australia, for Hoodoo Gurus frontman Dave Faulkner.
But he’s upbeat when he calls, with cheerful assurances that he’s already had his morning tea and he’s more than ready to talk about Chariot of the Gods, the beloved alternative rock band’s first studio album in more than a decade (released on March 11 via Big Time/EMI).
“I’m just really happy that we’ve made a record that stands up with everything we’ve done,” Faulkner says. “Now we’re going to see how it strikes people. It’s a little dark in places, which is a little strange. There are a few negative things that have been coming out in the songs. But I see it as a defiant sort of album, rather than defeated.”
He hopes fans will find it worth the wait (their last album, Purity of Essence, came out in 2010). “This is the longest gap between albums ever, twelve years. Ridiculous,” Faulkner continues amiably. “We had a lot of things going on within the band, dynamics that we had to get around, [like] our drummer, Mark Kingsmill, wanting to retire. He didn’t want to do an album, we found out eventually, because that would mean doing more gigs, and he wanted to go do less, and eventually do none. So it took him retiring before we finally were clear to what’s in front of us: ‘Do we want to continue and go through the trouble of getting another drummer? Will he be as good?’ We were very worried about that. So it’s been a very long process for that reason alone.”
They did find another drummer, Nik Rieth (who Faulkner says is “fantastic”), and began recording this album two years ago. Then, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic threw another wrench in the works, further derailing the band’s comeback plans, including forcing them to cancel U.S. tour dates. Now, though, Faulkner is gratified to see that fans have remained loyal and seem excited about this tenth album in the Hoodoo Gurus’ discography.
Those fans should be happy to find that time away from the spotlight hasn’t changed the Hoodoo Gurus – they’re still masters at impeccably catchy, jangly riffs, with Faulkner’s clever lyrics and emotive vocals at the fore. It’s the same approach that has long made them one of Australia’s most adored bands for the past 40 years, thanks to hits such as “I Want You Back” (1984) and “What’s My Scene?” (1987). Along the way, the band has won, and been nominated for, several ARIA awards (the Australian equivalent of the Grammy awards), including being inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 2007.
AUDIO: Hoodoo Gurus “Don’t Try To Save My Soul”
As the band’s main songwriter, Faulkner thinks his songs resonate with people because he often writes about the “search for identity and feeling uncomfortable with yourself. There’s a song on the new album, for example, ‘Don’t Try To Save My Soul,’ which is a continuation of that theme. It’s song about self-acceptance now. I’ve reached that point where I’m going, ‘I got some things that I was going for but couldn’t get, but I’m here and I’m doing okay.’ That is one of the benefits of age, where you care less about what other people think of you, and even what you think of yourself. You just go, ‘Well, I can’t be that bad – I’m still here and I’m doing my best.’ You’re more comfortable in your own skin, really. A lot of my songs have been about that.
“We’ve had a lot of success at different times, and a lot of people put that down to the melodies, and the bounciness of the rhythms – we are a very open sounding band,” Faulkner continues. “It’s high energy and quite infectious, I guess you’d say. So people think we’re lightweight, because it’s too easy to like, and they think that this joyful sounding music actually means the lyrics are all joyful and twee – but in fact, I’m talking about things that really matter to me. They’re coated in this music, but it doesn’t mean this message is necessarily all sweetness and light.”
Faulkner says he always felt drawn to music, starting during his happy childhood in Perth, a city on Australia’s rather isolated Western Coast.
“Music was always part of our family,” he says, recalling how he’d often sing around the house with his parents and sister. “I’d do the harmony parts and they’d do the melody. I felt like it was a grounding in this structure of harmony and the chordal basis to the melody.”
He wrote his first song when he was only ten years old. “On the way back from the shop, I just started singing a melody, and the words were about my dog. It was a love song!” he says with a laugh. “I didn’t know it was called ‘writing a song.’ I was just expressing myself, and that’s how it came out: a joyfulness.” He went on to form bands while he was in high school, and continued to refine his songwriting.
Still, it wasn’t a smooth path to musical stardom. “My parents were quite adverse to the idea of me becoming an artist, so I was being guided to do something more mainstream,” Faulkner says, “so I studied architecture for one year at a university – but I was so busy playing in bands and doing music that I wouldn’t go to lectures and I failed architecture immediately. I had to basically look at myself in the mirror and work out what the hell I was doing with my life. It was obviously music. It was the only thing I cared about.”
Faulkner’s successful music career during the ensuing years proves that his instincts were correct. Though he’s played with other bands throughout the years – including a stint with The Fleshtones – he has remained loyal to Hoodoo Gurus, and has been the band’s only constant member since its inception in Sydney in 1981.
His ups and downs with the Hoodoo Gurus – and the music business in general – means that Faulkner seems largely unfazed by all the current pandemic disruptions. Seeming to take a “this too shall pass” attitude, he promises that the band will tour once they’re able – but in the meantime, they supported Chariot of the Gods with a March 10 livestream, where they previewed the album with a special pre-recorded performance (as well as playing some of their best-known tracks).
VIDEO: Hoodoo Gurus “Carry On”
For Faulkner, this streamed show revealed the very essence that makes Hoodoo Gurus so special.
“It shows that the truth of the fact of, we are what we say we are,” he says. “We don’t have to construct something and fake it up in the studio with trickery, with smoke and mirrors. We are quite happy to stand by the way these songs sound when the four of us just play them.”