It’s edging closer to midday on a Monday morning, and Phil Jamieson’s life has just begun – or so the old saying goes. The Grinspoon frontman celebrated his 40th birthday over the weekend with a party attended by close friends and family. Rather than nursing a hangover, however, he’s manning the phones for his first proper run of press interviews in years.
“I went for a run this morning,” Jamieson reports. A pause, before a humble correction: “Well, let’s not get too excited – I went for a walk, at least. I’m doing my best to make sure that I’m in good condition for the tour. I’m singing Guide To Better Living every night – and that’s a fast, furious record that’s 16 tracks long. It’s going to be pretty intense.”
Indeed, the return of Grinspoon is imminent – after amicably parting ways in the middle of 2013, their upcoming national tour will see them celebrate 20 years since the release of their debut album, Guide To Better Living. A genre-hybrid beast described by Jamieson as “rock-and-roll-pop-metal-whatever”, the album spawned five singles and achieved platinum sales in Australia.
Although the band may have had bigger mainstream hits later on in the form of ‘Chemical Heart’ and ‘Hard Act To Follow’, Better Living held a special place in the hearts of those that originally obsessed over it in their coming-of-age years – a place it holds to this day.
“We knew that people liked the record, so originally the plan was just to reissue the album on vinyl,” Jamieson says. “That was something that we’d never done before, so it made sense. Touring didn’t even come up in the discussion at the time – we’d done the tour with [Cold] Chisel, and that very much appeared to be a one-time thing. We just focused our effort on the deluxe editions of the album, and they turned out really well – it’s a really nice package that took forever to get right, and I’m really proud of it.
“Eventually, once we’d gone through all of the material – all the old songs, the live material, the demos, all of it – the idea of the tour was floated. I was like, ‘What? I don’t even know where my guitar is!’”
Despite Jamieson’s initial reticence to get the band back together, he has obviously since seen the light – and fans didn’t need a second invitation. Shortly after the tour went on sale, shows began selling out across the country. The full itinerary now runs from the end of June until the end of September, with extra shows added to meet the demand.
“Gregg [Donovan], our manager, has been amazing,” says Jamieson. “He was the one that convinced us that it was going to work. We went on sale, and the response was genuinely overwhelming. I know that rock’n’roll is very much alive in this country – Violent Soho, Dune Rats and Tired Lion all immediately come to mind. To have that affection shown to us after all this time, though… holy shit, dude. I felt all the feels that day.”
You may have done the maths in your head regarding the trajectory of Grinspoon in comparison to how old Jamieson is now, and it comes as a surprise to figure out just how young he was when the band first properly took off.
“I was 19 years old when we recorded it, and I was 20 by the time that it came out,” Jamieson says of Guide To Better Living. “Pat [Davern, guitarist] had turned 25 during the recording. When people say, ‘It feels like a lifetime ago,’ I’m like, ‘It literally is!’ I hadn’t listened back to the record in years, so it was kind of a shock when I did. I was like, ‘Woah, I’m yelling a lot! I’m angry about heaps of stuff!’”
Jamieson laughs, before catching himself: “I mean, I was either angry or I was stoned. It was one or the other. It’s going to be a lot of fun to play this album every night – some of [the songs] have never even been played live before.”
The problem was that we were being marketed as a metal band.
Released in September 1997, Guide To Better Living saw the Lismore band riding several musical waves at the same time, all the while never quite fitting a particular mould. The hooks were big and catchy, but the guitars were crunchy and tough in demeanour. The album held a degree of accessibility, but it was handled poorly outside of the band’s immediate Australian market.
“I remember that we were signed to Universal in America around the time of the birth of this record,” says Jamieson. “When I think back to [1996 EP] Licker Bottle Cosy and Better Living, I think of touring in the States. While this record was going gangbusters back home, we were on the road in America. It’s all a little hazy now – Pat would probably have a better memory than me – but that definitely took up most of 1997 for us.”
Despite claiming a somewhat vague recollection of Grinspoon’s attempts to break the American market, some aspects ring loud and clear in Jamieson’s head. For his money, Grinspoon were misunderstood – to the point of ultimately falling short of international recognition.
“I think the problem was that we were being marketed as a metal band,” he says. “We were touring with bands like Anthrax, Life Of Agony and Vision Of Disorder. Over there at the time, you had to be in very specific little boxes so you could get serviced to the right radio. This was a time when nu-metal was kicking off, too – bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit were everywhere. It was pretty difficult for us.
“I was definitely not dressed like a metal singer – I was wearing lipstick and nail polish. I wore hair clips. They didn’t know what to do with me, and they didn’t know what to do with the music. We definitely weren’t a metal band, either. I developed a real animosity towards the whole thing, and that really came through on [second album, 1999’s] Easy.”
It may not have worked out in their favour, but there are certainly some fans – potentially including the person writing this very sentence – who commend Jamieson for sticking to his guns and not compromising the music or his image. In particular, Jamieson served as a first experience for some – again, not naming names – of the concept of androgyny, particularly through videos such as the aforementioned ‘Repeat’ and ‘Just Ace’. This is met with a cackle from Jamieson.
“Really? You’d never seen that before?” Truly – it was those videos and Powderfinger’s ‘Don’t Wanna Be Left Out’. Jamieson laughs again: “I don’t remember that one! What was he [Bernard Fanning] wearing?”
Within seconds, he’s looked up the video on his phone, watching it while the interview continues. “Oh, look at that! He’s doing the whole Bowie thing… he looks good! Wait, when did this come out?” 1998. “That’s the same year we did the ‘Just Ace’ video! They were copying us! Always behind, Bernard!”
The Guide To Better Living 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition is out Friday June 23 through Universal. Grinspoon play the Enmore Theatre on Thursday July 6 and Friday July 7.