Can you remember what you were doing 20 years ago? Were you even old enough to be walking around and having opinions? Bodyjar haven’t been able to forget what they were doing two decades ago, because 2014 is the 20th anniversary of their formation. Their Facebook feed has been filling up with old pictures uploaded by fans, which their frontman Cameron Baines says have “brought back heaps of memories”. Mostly, they’ve been memories of bad 1990s fashion.
“There was one of when we played with NOFX for the first time,” he says. “It was probably ’97 and Grant [Relf, bass] is wearing these humongous shorts, they’re down to his ankles and they’re pulled up really high. There’s some really bad ’90s fashion things going on. But generally they’re just reminders of what you’ve done. I think we’ve all had a really good time, a fun time as a band. Can’t complain.”
To celebrate 20 years of Bodyjar – minus a few years in the middle when they were on hiatus, but still – they’re touring their 1996 album Rimshot! Although Baines calls it “weird” to be playing old songs again, they’re definitely in favour of the classic-album tour format, having previously tackled it with their 1998 album No Touch Red. “You learn the old songs, you remember what headspace you were in at the time, and it sort of reminds you what you are. I reckon every band should do it. Every band should go out, learn their old albums again.”
Relearning this old album has taught Bodyjar a few things about how different they used to be, and how back when they weren’t sure what they were doing, they had an interesting way of covering it up. “When we wrote Rimshot! it was our second album, we were really young. We’d just worked out how to write songs. We tried to throw as many riffs as we could into every song, just make it complicated and technical and fast. It just has energy. There’s songs we could never write now, they’ve got this intensity about them and they’re hard to play.”
A perfect example of that is ‘Adnam The One Armed Bricklayer’, which Baines calls “probably the most complicated song we’ve ever written”. The second track on Rimshot! doesn’t mess around; it’s as busy as a one-armed bricklayer in Baghdad, as the saying that inspired its name goes. “We were dreading having to learn that again. I think we’ve got it down now. It’s got that weird timing,” he says, humming the tune. “I don’t know what the fuck we were thinking, but it works live. It’s got some kind of energy to it.”
From there they slow things down for ‘Glossy Books’, a song with a message that finds them sounding almost like Bad Religion. “We read this story in some magazine, probably Who mag, about these two sisters who were having a competition who could get the skinniest. They both had bulimia and anorexia and they looked at models in magazines who had been airbrushed and compared themselves to them and tried to get as skinny as them, and it was a really sad story. I remember me and Granto, we used to live together, and we wrote that song together when we both had the day off, after reading about those two sisters. They both ended up dying, it was a real tragic story.”
While most of Rimshot! was an energetic, youthful scribble of what punk could be, there’s also one extremely straightforward song in the tracklisting: a cover of ‘Next To You’ by The Police. The original plan was that every Bodyjar album would have a cover song on it, says Baines, “but then we ran out of ideas”.
Baines is still a fan of ‘Next To You’, though, and there’s no irony in their version of it. “It’s got a punk rock intensity to it – like live, if you listen to Police live albums, they sound like a really intense punk band with a little bit of reggae in them, and then as they went on they developed into a Top 40 act. But on those early albums, Outlandos d’Amour and Synchronicity and that, they’ve got some really good, snappy punk songs on there.”
Bodyjar have spent the last five weeks rehearsing, getting into the mindset they were in back in the mid-’90s when Recovery was still on the air and the world was young. As well as working through the album, they’ll be finishing the shows with a bunch of fan favourites, so don’t worry that you’re not going to hear ‘One In A Million’ on this tour.
“We just want to make sure we know everything, so if people ask we can smash it out real quick and hopefully keep everyone happy. It’s basically gonna be, ‘What do people wanna hear?’ – because we’ve been around for 20 years, it’s about time we just played the songs people wanna hear.”
As well as their youthful vigour, Baines puts the sound of Bodyjar’s old songs down to the freedom they enjoyed in the early days, before they were signed to EMI. “We didn’t have a producer or label telling us what to do,” he says. “We had Shock but they never gave us A&R so we never had anyone, we just produced it ourselves. We had a producer but he didn’t do any pre-production; we just recorded the songs we had, so everything on those albums is flat-knacker the whole time – in your face.”
Things changed in 1999 when Bodyjar were picked up by a major label, and though the deal only resulted in two new albums, How It Works and Plastic Skies, it was an important period in the evolution of their sound. Having someone making suggestions actually resulted in one of their best songs – their duet with Adalita, ‘Too Drunk To Drive’.
“Our A&R guy, he was like, ‘You should get someone to collaborate on a song’; we were like, ‘Can we get a girl?’ Because we wanted to get a girl on the album before that but nothing ever happened, and he suggested Adalita. We were like, ‘Fuck yeah, Magic Dirt! That’d be sick.’ And she was into it. We sent her a demo and then she made her own version of that, she brought in this 16-track recorder thing and she put so many harmonies on it and made her own little version of the verse she wanted to sing. It paid off, she was really professional and she’s just a good chick.”
Becoming independent again after that gave them back control, but wasn’t great for their productivity, with an eight-year gap between their self-titled album and last year’s Role Model. Baines says they’re already thinking about a follow-up and this time the gap will be much shorter.
“We usually wait till we get a shitload of songs and then start picking through them and arranging them. After this tour, when we finish learning all these old songs, we’ll start writing new ones a bit more seriously, I reckon. We’re coming up with ideas now of who we want to produce it and mix it and stuff. I reckon we’ll get it out next year for sure.”