After 30-plus years in the game, the Hard-Ons have established themselves as one of the true evergreen staples of Australian punk.
Time will long remember the commitment made by these lifelong mates to fuzzy guitars, rumbling bass and smashing drums. This, of course, is written in the future tense – the Sydneysiders themselves are far from done just yet. It was officially announced at the start of 2016 that the Hard-Ons would expand to a four-piece for the first time. Guitarist Peter Black and bassist Ray Ahn, the mainstays of the group, have been joined for the last five years by drummer Murray Ruse. Now, the band will also officially welcome back original drummer and vocalist Keish de Silva, who is set to become the full-time lead singer.
“He left the band originally at about the end of 2001,” explains Ahn, taking a brief moment of time away from his family to talk shop. “We got a new drummer, Pete [Kostic], and Blackie became our singer again after being the original singer back when we started out. So we kept going, but every time we’d do a tour we’d have Keish on the phone asking us to put him and all his mates on the guestlist! I told him that he couldn’t keep doing that – unless, of course, he wanted to come back and contribute.
“We were always telling him that he was welcome back whenever he was keen. We did our 30th anniversary shows where everyone performed – me, Blackie, Keish, Pete and Murray – and after that, he made the decision that he wanted to take on being just the singer. That worked really well for us, because we’ve all come to really love Murray and we love having him around. It’s come together really well.”
The new-look Hard-Ons will be doing two headlining shows in Sydney and Melbourne at the end of May, in which they intend to both road-test brand new material and also run through some of the deeper cuts from earlier in their discography. Before they take that on, however, there is one last thing to take care of. Ahn, Black and Ruse are set to headline the Housefox Fest at Narrabeen RSL on Sydney’s Northern Beaches this weekend. Ahn himself finds the end of the three-piece era of the band to be something bittersweet – as much as he is looking forward to the next phase of the Hard-Ons, he knows it was the condensed set-up that came to define the band’s sound to begin with.
“There’s definitely a different dynamic with Keish in the band,” he says. “That goes for both being a three-piece and being a four-piece as well. With any band you’re in, it’s good to play to your strengths. You utilise the abilities of whoever is enlisted in the band. Murray, for instance, is very capable at a lot of different styles but he particularly thrives in thrash drumming and using a double-kick. We found ourselves playing a lot more in that style when he began drumming for us. With Keish back in the band, we want to focus in on his singing. We think that he holds the melody really well. People tell us that he’s very charismatic onstage, too. We play a lot of different styles of music, but I think we’re focusing a bit more on the melodic stuff now. It’s about what works best for the individuals in the band.”
Of course, even with the band’s constant activity – new shows, reissues of classic albums, new material on the way – the world of punk rock is not exactly one of great financial gain. Blackie has spent the last few years as a taxi driver around Sydney, while Ahn will be a familiar face to the many metalheads who have weaved their way through the racks of Utopia Records in the city, where he is one of the chief store clerks. “I just wanted a job that still meant I was around music,” he says. “I was working in retail, but that was still good enough for me.”
It’s also worth pointing out that despite being around for longer than a lot of their listeners have been alive, the Hard-Ons have survived, watching bands come and go with a beer and a laugh. The secret to their longevity? Never losing their passion.
“I think you should do whatever it is that you love, and find a way to work your life around that,” says Ahn. “If you wanna go play golf every day, go play golf every day! As far as we’re concerned, we apply the exact same ideology to the band that we did when we first started it back in high school. We don’t have anything to lose – we just want to make good music.
“I can remember when Nirvana got big, and you saw all these people that wanted to be in an underground band and turn it into a vocational thing. Instead of playing because you love it, they wanted to just get on top of a current trend. You can play to ten people, 100 people, 1,000 people – any of it is a bonus if you’ve started from nothing. It’s about not treating it like a career – it’s about treating it like a high-class hobby.”