Interviews and Reviews
Bastard Life or Clarity
by Jud Block
When I first heard that single, strident trumpet note rise to the surface in the opening of Thirty Odd Foot of Grunts debut release, Bastard Life or Clarity, I immediately knew this wasn’t going to be the usual foray into roots rock. And I wasn’t mistaken; hell, I guess I still have the random lucid moment now and then.
The band hails from the land of Paul Kelly, also known as Australia, and they combine an intriguing mix of 80s new wave, pop, and rustic bar rock to create a sound that borders American roots rock, but still maintains a distinct Aussie quality. If they’d added a little didgerido to the equation, who knows? This just might have qualified as part of the groundwork for Aussiecana.
Thirty Odd Foot of Grunts is comprised of Garth Adam (Bass), Dean Cochran (lead guitar), Russell Crowe (vocals, guitar), Dave Kelly (drums), Stewart Kirwan (trumpet, vocals), and Dave Wilkins (guitar, vocals). Not surprisingly – – especially when considering, as Kinky Friedman or one of his cohorts said (I think), Texans are the closest thing to Australians we have in this country – – TOFOG’s first real U.S. popularity began in Austin, Texas. And since, in my opinion, Austin and New Orleans contain two of the most knowledgeable music crowds in the country, to be accepted in either town is usually a good indication that you can play. The Austinites are rarely wrong, and their streak continues with Thirty Odd Foot of Grunts.
The first noticeable feature of TOFOG’s sound is the vocal similarity Crowe has at times to David Bowie, especially when Bowie sings in a lower register. It’s not an imitation, you’re not going to put on the CD and think it must be Bowie’s latest project, but there is a parallel. The song that first caught my attention on the disc was the second track, “Memorial Day.” It has a slightly melancholy undercurrent to it, which seems appropriate when considering what the day actually stands for; in fact, it provides a much needed reminder that the day is more than an excuse for an extended weekend.
Look at the green grass
All the stone white masts
Your ship ain’t going nowhere baby
You can’t sail away from this
Come every April
I hear the shadows call
By the time May comes around
I know that history only exists
Because of war
“Hold You” is all about lust and the pursuit of the unattainable object. It conjures the feeling of when sober desperation becomes drunken possibility; slightly dangerous, primal, and exhilirating.
This time is no different
I control my urge to feed
Stalking your scent
Through the kitchen
This type of social gathering
Leaves openings for speech
And I would talk to you
But I’m twisting
If you knew what I was thinking
You’d probably drown me
In what you were drinking
I’d swim for sure
To hold you
To hold you
Crowe, who either wrote or co-wrote all ten of the tracks, delves into the socially conscious side of things with “The Legend of Barry Kable.” It’s about the brutality of addiction and life on the streets. If Bukowski had been Irish, he may have found this one at the bottom of one of his bottles.
Painter and Docker, piss-head and boxer
But a Rose of Australia was mad Barry
Dog in the moonlight, gentleman when he was right
He just dropped dead in the bottle shop of the Gaslight
Well he’d ride with me, spit on me,
Take me on in Crown Street
He crossed that road like a river
“Somebody Else’s Princess” is what pub rock would sound like if it had been written by members of The Cult and Sisters of Mercy. Hard rockin’, slightly ominous, and enough sexual tension to kill most fundamentalists. Just add ethanol, and you’ve got yourself a volatile concoction.
Red hair deep blue eyes
My baby gets me so good
She got the franchise
Take me away
She takes me up
Feed my needs
Keeps me sharp
Keeps me pumped
I’m splitting out of my skin
She’s got me in a mess
So deeply imbedded
In somebody else’s princess
Thirty Odd Foot of Grunts might get publicity, but more than not it will be for all the wrong reasons. They are a talented group who have a made a CD that deserves to be taken on its own merit, outside of cinematic considerations. If you don’t know what I’m referring to, good; if you do, put aside your prejudices, and pick up a copy of Bastard Life or Clarity. Aside from having the best title of the year, it’s also some damn fine music from down under.
by Jud Block
St Petersburg Times
30 ODD FOOT OF GRUNTS, BASTARD LIFE OR CLARITY (ARTEMIS)
It should be no surprise to moviegoers that manly actor Russell Crowe (Gladiator, The Insider) makes music with plenty of raucous testosterone. But the latest effort of his oddly named band, 30 Odd Foot of Grunts, is no woman-bashing, Eminem-style rant.
Bastard Life or Clarity is full-on, grownup aching. Call them Aussie folks or the little brothers of Down Under powerhouse Midnight Oil, the Grunts, with gravely voiced frontman Crowe sharing songwriting credits on every track, tackle topics not found much in contemporary music made by guys.
Memorial Day is a tribute to fading soldiers, and lines like “I know that history only exists because of war” have more significance at this time. The Legend of Barry Kable is the story of a young man who loses his battle with drugs, and of his father’s dedicated work with street kids.
Then there are the love songs. More than songs, they are confessions about being lousy partners!, making stupid choices and being confused or angry about the ways of women. “I know I’ve got to get out/Gotta run away/Can’t afford the maintenance baby” sings Crowe on Things Have Got to Change. (Could this song be about Proof of Life costar Meg Ryan, whose quick affair with Crowe was reported widely?)
“Now I am legally bound and morally appalled” is a haunting verse in Judas Cart, about a women who casts aside her daughter after keeping her from her father.
Crowe chit-chats before, during and after some of the songs, which
strangely fosters intimacy. There is something so personal about these songs that what would normally be distracting is not. Storytelling is the strong suit here with driving roots rock the backdrop. TOFOG has managed to do something that seems almost impossible these days: make original, meaningful music.
Metro Gig Review
30 Odd Foot of Grunts
The Metro, October 19, 2001
This eclectic bill began incongruously enough, comedian Russell Gilbert warming up the early evening crowd with a selection of his better routines. It soon became obvious why though; this was to be a determinedly Australian night’s entertainment. With most of his jokes aimed at himself, Gilbert set the tone appropriately, foreshadowing Russell Crowe’s anti-style later in the night. Gilbert returned at intervals to sprulk for his mate, but it turned out TOFOG was its own best advertisement, a train-like rush through the roots-rock bushscape, in which the quiet bits are only there to make the loud bits seem louder. Well, that’s not quite all there is to it, but you get the picture. The crowd loved it, and so did I.
Danielle Spencer played an acoustic selection of songs from her debut album, hard work in a cavernous Metro still filling slowly. Singing and playing electric piano, she was accompanied by cello, voice and acoustic guitar, in a short but effective set. The essential catchiness of her songs (in spite of their somewhat introverted nature) was undeniable. At times Laurie Andersonesque, at others echoing Tori Amos, but these were worthy comparisons and Spencer should be pleased with her effort.
She got the gig, we assume, on the strength of her longstanding friendship with Russell Crowe as much as the quality of her work. Evidence of Crowe’s steadfast refusal to be sucked into the Hollywood round of bullshit and PR opportunities. They first worked together on the 1990 film “The Crossing” and she was still at his side at this year’s Oscars. It’s an endearing trait of Crowe’s, this ordinariness, of which TOFOG is perhaps the best example of all. A defiantly good-time pub-rock style of rootsy band that works hard at a no-frills job. If Crowe wasn’t a media face, it’d still be a bloody good band. On the strength of tonight’s performance it would have blown away about 90% of this year’s Byron Bay Blues & Roots festival bands. I get the feeling that would please Crowe as much as winning an Oscar.
Before the Grunts, we were treated to Burnum Burnum, an Aboriginal duo of didj and dancer, performing one traditional number. Dangerous ground perhaps. But no tokenism here. Just an intensely Australian experience that sat well with the honest approach to the rest of the night’s entertainment. A gesture of respect, not dissimilar to Crowe’s wearing of his grandfather’s MBE (he was a pioneering filmmaker in NZ) at the Oscars.
This was TOFOG’s home town showcase. Was there a touch of nerves in Crowe as he came on for the opening numbers? Perhaps. He did it though, thrusting himself straight into the spotlight, appearing without his guitar for The Photograph Kills. With just his voice to rely on, it still worked. Tonnes of charisma quickly swept away any doubts he can cut it. The crowd responded enthusiastically, and the song set never dropped below that big opening. In fact it got stronger and stronger, Crowe’s disheveled front man (with a taste for ciggies and beer) finding a perfect foil in the dapper cool of guitarist Dean Cochran, something of a master of roots styles who nonetheless obviously enjoys guitar overdrive and feedback.
Trumpeter Stuart Kirwan added a glorious Hunters & Collectors feel; and when all three guitars kicked in together the locomotive power of the unit was spectacular. Well-drilled and hard working (just off a US tour helps) there was still a nonchalance that took away any preciousness. Just good songs from across the band’s longish history (all the way from Crowe and Cochran busking together in the late eighties) to a new single about to be released. Highlights? White Circles, Wendy, What You Want Me To Forget, and The Legend of Barry Kable. Insightful songs about fairly average people struggling to get by. The closer, a long and deconstructed version of Folsom Prison Blues, dedicated to Johnny Cash, finished it with a bang.
At the end of the day, even at $40 [AUST] a pop, you’d have to be a miserable bugger to not have got a kick out of this.
Rove Album Review
From the opening single Things Have Got to Change through to final track Judas Cart, Bastard Life or Clarity by Thirty Odd Foot of Grunts (or as I like to call them to save on space, TOFOG) have produced a fine album to wrap your auditory senses around.
Although, much to my disappointment, there is surprisingly little grunting to be found on the album, there are plenty of good hard-rockin’ tracks such as Memorial Day and The Legend of Barry Kable which are tailor-made for people like myself who excel at air guitar to strum along to (tennis racquet optional).
Being the thorough reviewer that I am, I have also found myself taking careful note of the lyrics as well as the thumping tunes – try telling me that ain’t thorough! For example, in Sail Those Same Oceans, lead singer Russell Crowe suggests, “You can stay awake tonight, thinking up a dozen names”. Now, I tried that last night and could only come up with eight or nine, so this alone signifies to me why TOFOG are far greater people than I could ever aspire to be.
I actually keep asking them if I can join the band, even as a triangle player, but the boys assure me that “instruments of a shape-based nature or any other for that matter will not be required of you at any time in the history of this planet, thank you”. I guess I can only hope they change their mind.
Until that day comes, I will have to remain resolved that the closest I will get to TOFOG is by listening to Bastard Life or Clarity whenever and wherever I can. Thank God it’s such a darn good album.
Whos That Front Man
Toledo Blade, October 15, 2001
Oscar winner Russell Crowe laps the field of actors masquerading as musicians, succeeding where Bruce Willis, Eddie Murphy, Jeff Bridges, and a host of other thespians have failed. As lead singer of the improbably named Thirty Odd Foot of Grunts (TOFOG to its fans), Crowe proves himself an able frontman with a voice that owes a serious debt to David Bowie.
Earnest, committed, and at times a bit histrionic, Crowe carries his weight in a fine Australian band. The six-member group, with which Crowe has sung for years, uses a conventional lineup of guitars, bass, drums, and keyboards augmented with tasty trumpet fills.
As one of the chief lyricists, Crowe’s talents are front and center throughout the effort, which is a solid rock record in the vein of the Wallflowers or Counting Crows. Standout tracks include “Memorial Day,” a plaintive paean to war veterans with a haunting melody. “Sail Those Same Oceans” uses a swirling organ and hard-strummed acoustic guitars to drive its tale of lovers separated by their own restlessness.
For reasons that probably have more to do with ego than the Muse, actors have ventured down this path before. The difference with Crowe is that he seems to know where he’s going and he has a good band to help him get there.
Crowe at Cross Roads
Weekend Magazine, February 17th, 2001
He calls himself the master of unrequited love and says he sacrificed his relationship with Meg Ryan for life Down Under. Nui Te Koha spends a day on the road with actor and musician Russell Crowe.
Life is sometimes easily boxed. Or so Russell Crowe discovered when his film career began fast-tracking six years ago and the accumulated spoils and accolades of the job had to be shipped from Hollywood to me a far in northern New South Wales.
“When I first bought that property, I lived in a caravan for three years,” Crowe says. “I let my parents move into the little house and eventually I built some stuff… and there’s an office there for me now. And six years of stuff came out of boxes and bags, and got stuck on shelves and put on walls.”
“I sat in a chair and looked at this wall and it was covered in all these things. Very tastefully, mind you,” he chuckles. “And I had this perspective. I wasn’t chasing anything. I was in the middle of it: the thing I had been looking for in terms of getting myself to a platform of being able to do work of the highest calibre in a medium I had chosen to work in.” “Here I am,” Crowe says without a hint of pretence or ego.
“I can take a little bit more time. I can take a deeper breath because it’s not the pursuit anymore, it’s the journey.” “To sit back and look at that wall – and this happened only recently – it was like, ‘OK, I can relax a little bit. I still have to work as hard, but I don’t have to work on getting the work.”
Crowe, 36 – actor, musician and, more recently, a man oddly famous for being in love with Meg Ryan – is at one of life’s crossroads. There’s no crisis, retirement plan or pangs of regret. He simply wants to make more time for himself after throwing much heart and soul into the “day job.” Crowe’s own downbeat term for his incredibly successful acting career. “It’s not about being selfish,” he says. “You have to be prepared to do something for yourself. Now and then you have to let yourself off the hook in terms of responsibility.” And, in a nice twist to the Crowe enigma, lately it’s been the musician inside the talented actor who’s bared his soul most on the trickly subject of life’s checks and balances.
Bastard Life or Clarity, the latest album from Crowe’s band, Thirty Odd Foot of Grunts, is about choices, good and bad. In a revealing journey of broken relationships, haunted pasts, sacrifices, real-life people and tragedies. Crowe’s characters shift between hope and hopelessness.
Personally, Crowe, an Oscar-nominated actor and one of this country’s most critically acclaimed thespians, says he chose clarity over a bastard life a long time ago. “I don’t think I could do the job I do and include all the things I do in my life without a certain degree of clarity.” “However, volume of work will always block out certain views. I do get fairly busy.” He smiles at the obvious understatement.
If the Russell Crowe success story could be described in one sentence it might go something like this: unwavering self-believe, perseverance and a willingness to start from the bottom. “I was petrified as a young fella because I didn’t have a certificate from NIDA,” Crowe recalls. “I didn’t have something official that said I studied this art form, I studied this craft.” “I thought the only way to combat this is you just do as much as you can, you do work in as many mediums as you can, you do everything until you’ve learned from that.” “So I did what I could for it, whether it was a training film for the Seventh Day Adventist Church, a television commercial or just stuff to get in front of the camera.” “You don’t get there unless you go back to square one and say: ‘This is what I want to do, and I am a student of whatever comes.'”
He was six years old when the music bug hit hard as the acting one.
He got a guitar in 1970. His parents bought it, “one of those mid-size, teeny-weeny ones, but it was still gigantic for me.” “I found out immediately it was a way to express myself, even without guitar lessons.”
Crowe juggled with several musical identities amid a receptive and supportive new wave scene in Auckland, New Zealand, in the 1980’s.
In 1984 he met guitarist Dean Cochran and formed the band Roman Antics. It was the start of an ever-changing musical trip that eventually led the partnership to Thirty Odd Foot of Grunts.
We are in a recording studio in South Yarra for a day-night session of rehearsal and jamming. The band, who haven’t played together since last August, power through tracks from the new album, a set list for a gig and new songs. Cochran extracts eerie guitar feels on an old song, The River, while the band – Dave Wilkins (guitar), Garth Adam (bass), Dave Kelly (drums), Stewart Kirwan (trumpet) and Crowe – reduced to a hush, watch excitedly.
“There’s a power that happens when we walk into that room,” Crowe says later. “It’s so cool.” “We walk back in and it feels like it’s better than the last time. That’s been happening consistently for seven years.”
Crowe is serious about this music thing. Always has been. But outside, perceptions of who he is in relation to the band still hound him.
“Its about other people seeing a commercial advantage from that,” he says. “There’s also the politics, strangely, that you are not supposed to be creative in two different media for whatever reason.” “I think that’s a strange thought process because it stands to reason that anybody who is creative per se is going to be creative in different media”
Crowe says he was especially bemused when broadcaster Andrew Denton recently asked why the actor wanted “two bites of the cherry.” “How is it that you see it that way?” Crowe asked. “How is it that’s the perspective you have? If that’s what it comes down to, it’s sad…because it’s about the songs.”
“If you don’t roll your eyes and just listen to the songs, you will hear there is a reason that we do this, and that’s within the songs.”
To Crowe’s chagrin, some have looked to the latest batch of lyrics for an open door to his private life and his highly publicised romance with Meg Ryan.
“Contextually, I don’t care if it’s scrutinised. Already in America they have started taking one song off the album (Wendy) and saying: ‘This must be about Meg because the character in the song has a boy.'” (The song is actually about a woman Crowe quietly observed while he worked at a beach resort 16 years ago). “People can scrutinise, whatever. Whatever the assumption is. It’s silly to me that in the magazines you are put into that small, emotional box: ‘You must be this insensitive man thing!'” “But in reality, how the f… could I do my job if I was that bloke, if I was that fella? It’s not possible.”
Crowe does explain, sheepishly, the context of two “relationship” songs, Hold You and Swept Away Bayou (Facing the Headlights Alone): thematic opposites, of love not returned, and love connected. “I’m an expert at unrequited love,” Crowe says. “I have, however, over a while, worked that out.” “It’s about seeing this ideal that’s unattainable, and you don’t want to just throw those thoughts away.” “To see somebody that you are immediately attracted to on a number of different levels…you should enjoy that.”
“You don’t have to discuss it with anybody or bring it to anybody’s attention, but why not just allow yourself that experience, even if the situation is incorrect?”
In real life Crowe doesn’t play the victim. He enjoys his lot in life and knows full well the flipside of celebrity. “There are no complaints. I’m pursuing the things I’ve always wanted to pursue. But a separation began a while ago between me consciously in the public eye and this other thing that became this ‘Russell Crowe’.” “I look at it from this perspective and think, well, how did that happen? How did this sudden desire, this thirst for absolute rubbish, happen?” “You become this product.” “You have to have a sense of humour about it, man. The only way you combat that is through the strength of your work.”
Misconceptions – there have been a few. But he doesn’t care. “I have a lot of routines about this s…, man. I got married three times this year. I had half a dozen babies, every woman I talked to I impregnated, so I’ve got the most fertile breath on Earth.” “I don’t care what the misconceptions are. I’m a bad boy. I’m Lothario. Whatever, mate.” “At the same time all that stuff was being written, I was ear-tagging calves, so, whatever…”
Crowe reveals a nifty shirt trick he brought into action at the height of the frenzy. “It got to the point that wherever we went, people would be sneaking up on us with cameras – and that’s me and whoever,” Crowe says, then giggling: “I initially blamed Jodie Foster.” “So I just started wearing this shirt, which isn’t popular with anyone, but I really like it. If I got to a place and hadn’t really scoped it out, I just put on this shirt.” When photographers pounce, “it doesn’t matter what the headline says you are doing, or where they say you are doing it, if you are wearing the same clothes, the possibility of (misconceptions) is lessened in some people’s minds.” “If you keep wearing the same shirt, a certain number of people will say (of the report): ‘Oh, bulls…’.”
This much is true: Crowe romanced Ryan during, and after, they worked together on the film Proof of Life. Asked what Ryan brought to his life, Crowe replies, in an instant: “A lot of light, mate.” “Meg is a beautiful and courageous woman. I grieve the loss of her companionship, but I haven’t lost her friendship.” “All these things that you read about us, the arguments here and there, and slamming this and that – that’s just all absolute rubbish. It’s complete garbage.” “The bottom line is, I have a big life here. I have got to be here. When I’m off the hook with the schedules, I have to come home. I can’t sustain myself through the course of the year without filling up on home.” “And she has the same needs. We both have huge schedules, so who knows about that sort of thing.” “She is a searcher. She’s got an incredibly inquisitive mind, so it was very easy for us to be in the same room together for hours and hours and hours, just talking. That was very special.”
In the studio the band, tight and firing a few hours into the session, have crossed on to a wonderfully melodic ground. The song, Sail the Same Oceans, dedicated to actor Jack Thompson, is lyrically about Crowe removing himself from Australia and home-grown relationships in order to have a serious stab at the day job. These days, home equals balance. “Home is my space,” he says. “I get to wake up in the sun. I get to walk around under the trees, I get to hang around with people who understand things without me having to re-explain myself.” “It’s really simple things. It’s rough being away from your dog for six months. That’s rough stuff, man.”
From Oceans the band moves to The Night Davey Hit the Train, a darker narrative based on real-life conversations with guitarist Cochran and actors Daniel Pollock and Ben Mendelsohn about suicide. The track is dedicated to Pollock, Crowe’s co-star in Romper Stomper. Pollock was hit by a train.
Crowe recalls an 18 year old Cochran saying that jumping off a famous suicide bridge in Auckland would at least be something he’d have control over. “You jump off,” Crowe replied, “but not with the point of death, with the point of life. Whatever the thing is that’s going to fulfil you, you have got to go for it. It’s so easy to settle for something else – even death.”
In a world of manufactured pop, slick productions and even the huge budgets Crowe must enjoy in his day job, Thirty Odd Foot of Grunts is an interesting proposition. They approach the music seriously, but thrive on the unrefined, organic feel of the room, a sort of as-is ethic.
Crowe revels in his role as storyteller, chain-smoking his way through vivid tales of loss and gain.
Kirwan’s horn lines also lend the music a disarming edge: sometimes solemn, sometimes sexy. And for now, it feels like an animal that Crowe and the rest of the band can control. Happily.
The Grunts are not signed to a record label, there are no corporate obligations, and all creative decisions are channelled through the band.
If Crowe puts the same level of commitment into the Grunts as he does into his day job, does he want to achieve the same level of success with the music? “I would really rather not,” he says.
“The point is not the good or bad stuff people are saying about you. You don’t drive yourself on praise, and you are not slowed down by other people’s criticism.” “The point is the artistic expression and whether you will give yourself over to it. That’s the point.”
6 Odd Foot Of Grunt
from The Sunday Age, February 18, 2001
Russell Crowe may just have received his second Oscar nomination, but right now he’s more concerned with the fortunes of his rock band.
By Michael Dwyer.
The newsstands of Sydney’s Circular Quay are awash with tidings of “Russell’s New Aussie Love”. No need to ask “Russell who?”
For the likes of Tom, Nicole, Brad, Jennifer and now the Kiwi Gladiator Russell Crowe, they’re unnecessary. Russell – our Russell, the man fleetingly pegged as Meg’s New Aussie Love – is suddenly a recognised fixture in the tabloid’s Hall of Fame.
That doesn’t mean he’s entirely comfortable in this exalted company. Just metres away from the newsstand, in a plush hotel overlooking the harbour, Russell Crowe is holding court in a boys’ club. There’s indelicate language. A pack of fags sails across the room. Cartons of grog are on standby. Crowe’s band, Thirty Odd Foot Of Grunts, is in the house.
Now don’t laugh. Don’t roll your eyes and lament the hubris of a grown man whose runaway acting career really ought to be enough to quell his juvenile yearning for the microphone and the mosh pit. Though it must be said, these are standard responses.
Given Crowe’s acknowledged gifts on a different stage, it’s a strange prejudice. How does a man twice nominated for an Academy Award (for the Insider and now for Gladiator) rationalise this mean-spirited view of his parallel (and, for the record, much longer) life as a musician, singer and songwriter? “How do I rationalise it?” he growls, blowing smoke at the floor in his eagerness to tackle the question. “How do I rationalise having 10 pounds of bullshit written about me on any given day around the globe?”
The rhetorical rejoinder hangs for dramatic effect. “It’s the same thing, man. That’s got nothing to do with me. That ‘s the thing that Russell Crowe has somehow become and it has nothing to do with me. I just have a sense of humor about it.” He says this in a humourless tone, before adding: “I have a sense of pity for those people.”
I’m not entirely convinced. The beefy 36-year-old’s level gaze, his dense three-day growth and his deep thespian voice make for an intimidating combination. But the pugilistic demeanor soon softens. I understand it, mate, because I am as cynical and sceptical about popular music as anybody of my age who’s seen the things that come and go,” he says. “But I have the naive belief that if I keep doing it as honestly and as genuinely as I can, then sooner or later people are gonna listen.
“Sooner or later they’re gonna realise there hasn’t been any hyperbole, it hasn’t been shoved down their throats, we’re not on a major label and we’re not trying to find some kind of marketing strategy to kid people into buying something that they don’t need.
“I just maintain the belief that if I do what I do from that point of purity, sooner or later other people will care about it.”
People certainly care about Russell Crowe the film star. In March, Oscar or no Oscar, he starts work on A Beautiful Mind with director Ron Howard for a reported $US15 million. Not even the most ardent admirer of Romper Stomper could have predicted that eight years ago.
“Russell doesn’t make decisions with the purpose of pleasing anybody else,” says guitarist Dean Cochran, Crowe’s musical right hand since they met in an Auckland nightclub in 1984. “The number of times a record company or somebody else has said to us ‘It’ll never work, it’ll never work’ – those are most likely the things that end up working.”
Crowe’s optimism is not without foundation. His band Thirty Odd Foot Of Grunts (the narne refers to a post-production dialogue direction Crowe found amusing while working on Virtuosity in 1995) pulled crowds in excess of two thousand on their handful of US live dates last year. It’s probably fair to suggest that many of those who paid scalpers up to $US500 a ticket for the privilege were there simply to see Meg’s new man rather than pay homage to the band.
The question of exploiting his screen success for the good of his music is a vexed one. There’s no question Crowe’s financial security has given TOFOG opportunities that most independent bands only dream of. Their new album. Bastard, Life or Clarity, was rehearsed in London, recorded in Austin and Sydney and mixed in Los Angeles. There’s no record company to foot that bill.
To be sure, there have been offers. Trouble is, they tend to entail a degree of compromise that the band’s singer, main songwriter and de facto leader flatly refuses to entertain. “The multinationals we’re met with won’t let me be just a part of the band,” Crowe explains. We were pretty far down the track with contractual discussions just recently and it came down to a change of (album) title, a change of album cover, a change of song list, use of photographs, supermarket promotions. I left the meeting and said to (manager) Andrew Watt, ‘I can’t do it, mate; I cannot do, it that way’. It would be of great benefit to him if we signed a multinational deal, because his contract is all about percentages, but he agreed with me. He cares about it too much to pass it off that way.”
It’s a tough call for all concerned. TOFOG’s new record might be a smash if it were released with a picture of Crowe on the cover. Instead, it’s going out with a faintly discomforting shot of a squealing baby under an enigmatic title that could find it wrapped in brown paper for the US retail chains.
Crowe knows he’s making life hard for himself, but he’s fine with that. “I didn’t just start making hard decisions the other day,” he says with a stoic shrug. “I’ve been turning down easy money since I really was desperate for money.
I only got the opportunity to do Gladiator because of the quality of work on The Insider. I only got to do The Insider because of the quality of work in LA Confidential. And that’s been the case all the way back. I never assumed I’d get the opportunity to make movies. What I thought I was aiming for was, at best, a lead role in an Arthur Miller production with the Sydney Theatre Company, preferably at the Opera House. That’s what I was aiming for. He allows himself an indulgent chuckle.
Beyond the critical preconceptions, and regardless of the relative merits of the Grunts’ workmanlike urban folk-rock, there’s no question Russell Crowe the singer-songwriter is every bit as serious about his work as Russell Crowe the actor.
Making music Crowe ponders with some intensity it’s the same thing with the acting. It’s not something I ever considered not doing. There is no other option for me. I get all those clever questions these days: ‘Do you think, in another time, you might have been a gladiator?’ And I just try to explain to people that even if it was 300 years ago I still would have been an actor or a performer. It’s just what I do.
Fair enough, but I’m reminded of something pop singer Bjork once said, having turned down repeated offers to act (prior to her experience on Dancer in the Dark, which she claims will be the last time she acts): The world is full of dentists who want to be race-car drivers. But for the life of him, Russell Crowe can’t see a conflict of interest. Given that somebody is creative, it’s totally understandable to me that that person is creative in multiple mediums.
(Music and acting) are completely different things. Acting is such an introspective job. It’s really about sitting and thinking something through and planning it and then a year later seeing its effect on an audience.
Music is about absolute immediacy of emotion. There isn’t any artifice in it for me. I sit down and write and sometimes the lyrics I write are not very complimentary to the author; that’s just the way it is. It’s still got to come out.
I was talking to that bloke from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers about this it’s Anthony (Kiedis), right? He got really serious about it and he said, ‘If I felt I could make a contribution to the artform, then I would act’. I thought well, that’s a very sturdy answer but I think the whole thing is your contribution to yourself. You are the artform.
Ironically, that’s where Russell Crowe and the supermarket tabloids agree. Russell is the objet. His acting, let alone his music, has already been eclipsed in some quarters by what he does, or is imagined to do, in his spare time. And yet, as 30 Odd Foot of Grunts fill the evening air and stars twinkle over the Opera House, blond bombshells remain in scant evidence. Where oh where is Russell’s New Aussie Love?
The fact is, right he says, piercing gaze daring me to call him a liar, Peta Wilson lives in the area I live in. She doesn’t live adjacent to my property, as has been reported in some of the media. Apparently there’s photographs of her on a bike ride with me, even though she was in America at the time I was on that bike ride. Over Christmas I have a very open-door policy. It’s a very family-orientated thing that happens up on my farm and Peta popped in a couple of times with her little I think they’re either cousins or nephews. But that doesn’t constitute a romance.
I just try not to let it affect me, he concludes, clearly agitated nonetheless, because what’s the endgame there? How do you stop it? You stop doing what you love? You stop putting yourself in a position where you’re working at the highest calibre in an artform which is the most expensive medium that exists on the planet? Who wins then? It’s just stupidity. And it all comes from some kind of barren series of intellects and I don’t feel I need to respond to them. I’m just gonna keep doing what it is that I do.
Eluding paparazzi aside, A Beautiful Mind is shaping up as the biggest challenge of Crowe’s career. He will play Jewish-American academic John Forbes Nash Junior, a Nobel Prize-winning mathematician who has spent most of his life battling schizophrenia. Crowe is yet to meet him, though he clearly already knows his subject intimately.
I like to come at these things a little slowly, come at them from the outside, he says. The incredible thing about John Forbes Nash was that he out-thought the disease. He had such a powerful mind that he stopped taking the drugs that were provided for him and he worked out in his head a way of being able to understand actual reality, as opposed to his imagined reality.
For somebody in Crowe’s position, coming to grips with that dichotomy sounds like a valuable exercise. Like everything else, it’s not a challenge he’s taking lightly. Right now, as I’m talking to you about it, I have no idea whether I’ll get anywhere near where it’s supposed to go, he confesses with a nervous laugh
At the moment, it’s just some gigantic mountain in front of me and I’m staring up at it thinking, ‘Maybe they’re got the wrong bloke’.
As Russell Crowe’s star began to rise in Hollywood, it wasn’t long before the major record companies started waving their cheque books at his band 30 Odd Foot Of Grunts. In the last three years, particularly, with LA Confidential, Michael Mann’s The Insider (for which he was nominated for an Oscar for best actor) and the $100 million Gladiator which was best selling DVD in Australia over Christmas, the 34-year old has become a hot item.
But Crowe soon discovered that their motives for being interested in his music were much different from why he played.
“We spoke to some of the biggest record companies in the world, he says seated in a hotel penthouse, chain smoking. It became obvious they didn’t give a **** about what we were doing. I guess I can understand that. They’re there to sell records, and that would mean cashing in on the singer’s Hollywood celebrity, and riding on the coat tails of the hit movies.
We almost signed a deal with one label, and then I said, Oh by the way, you can’t release it for another six months. They freaked. They couldn’t see the sense of not releasing it near one of my new movies. As far as I’m concerned – and I realise, I’m in a privileged position where I can make these stands – if the record is going to sell, it should do it on its own merit. Listen, music is such a passion for me. I don’t want anyone to prostitute it for me. If I wanted to be a slut, I’d do it myself.”
Instead, he went the independent route. 30 Foot were one of the first Australian bands to embrace the Internet as a marketing and selling tool. Earlier releases like 1998’s Gaslight album, 1996’s debut EP The Photograph Kills and the 1997 single ‘What’s Her Name’ sold well. Their website www.gruntland.com has got three million hits.
But their new album Bastard Life Or Clarity, out February 26, goes through the Sanity music chain’s Stomp label, which for the first time sees the band’s releases
in record stores.
Crowe is deadly serious about 30 Odd Foot Of Grunts, in which he sings and plays rhythm guitar. He knows that trying to mix acting and music puts a credibility dampener on both. But he doesn’t really care what anyone thinks. They are both as important to him, he says. Both offer his fans a look into his soul because they both come from the same place,” he says. He did his first acting stint at six, and was playing in a band at ten. Acting allows him to slip into different characters. He’s very good at it, too. In Gladiator, for instance, he completely commanded the screen.
But music allows him to express himself, primarily through the lyrics. He’s drawn to storytellers like Billy Bragg, Tom Waits, Lloyd Cola and David Gray. When he was home sick from school as a 12-year old, his mother bought him an album by a ’70s songwriter called Jim Croce, who had hits with “TelephoneOperator ” and ” Bad Bad Leroy Brown”. Crowe was fascinated with the strange characters in his songs.
Is it coincidental these characters roam around on the band’s album?
“I don’t think about in those terms,” he shrugs. “That’s for someone to make that connection. A lot of what I write is just stream of consciousness.”
Crowe writes about the people he knows, but puts them against a larger picture. The Night That Davey Hit The Train was about the suicide of Daniel Pollock, a co-star from Romper Stomper. It’s more about the guilt felt by the ones left behind. “Ten years after Daniel died, it was still going through in my mind our relationship, and wondering, what else I could have done?
The Legend of Barry Kable”, is about an alcoholic and violent painter and docker in Sydney who would drink three bottles of port a day. Guitarist Dean Cochran, wh worked with the Sydney Mission, used to pick up Kable every day. “It was an eye opener for Dean” says hell raiser Crowe who flew in cans of VB to Malta during the shooting of Gladiator. “There but for the grace of God went he”.
Memorial Day was inspired by his grandfather, a decorated war photographer (“but he’d never wear his medals because he associated them with destruction”) while Judas Cart recalled the time he had to pick up his niece from his brother’s house after a messy divorce and drive her away to her rnother’s.
The title Bastard Life Or Clarity comes from when Crowe told Dean Cochran he had come up with two possible titles “Bastard Life” and “Clarity” and asked him to choose. “I want both”, the guitarist replied.
30 Odd Foot Of Grunts includes long time members Garth Adam (bass) and Dave Kelly (drums) and newly arrived Dave Wilkins (guitar and vocals) and Stewart Kirwan (trumpet and vocals), who were brought in to augment the vocals at gigs.
“Bastard Life” is the band’s most confident record to date. It’s a mix of bar room rock (“Things Have Got To Change”, “Somebody Else’s Princess”,”Swept Away Bayou”), country (“Sail Those Same Oceans”) and folk (“Memorial Day” ,”Wendy”). It was co-produced with Kerryn Tolhurst, whom the band wanted because of his work with Paul Kelly and Black Sorrows.
The album was cut at a time when Crowe’s personal life with Meg Ryan was under close scrutiny from the tabloids. In between Crowe’s acting commitments, they met in London to work through ideas, playing a show at the Borderline. Then when recording began at Arlyn Studios for six weeks over August and September, they played three sell out shows in Texas. They broke the house record at the famous Stubbs Amphitheatre when they sold 6,000 tickets in four and a half hours.
“The second night at Stubbs was the best show we’ve ever played. It was the first time we realised just how deep people had got into our music. I took my face away from the microphone and heard 2,500 people sing our songs back to me. We had a bet how many tickets we’d sell at the Borderline. Highest was 1,000, lowest was 150. But we sold 4,000 tickets in 45 minutes. It’s largely been through the ‘Net. We don’t get much radio airplay. But the bond is created through the website (www.gruntland.com). I like the idea of playing to people who are having a good time. Pub rock is a maligned word but I don’t see it as a negative. Being brave enough to stand in front of a bar and singing your own songs is a cool thing.”
Crowe makes a spoken word cameo on the next Wendy Matthews record, his Proof Of Life movie is out here in March, he starts shooting Beautiful Mind with Ron Howard, and then hopes to tour with the band in August.
Of course, this is much ado about nada to Crowe, who casually refers to his fast-track acting career as his ‘dayjob’ and shuns the limelight like a seasoned vet. Crowe’s driving passion, and the one that’s more or less responsible for keeping his feet on the ground through-out his meteoric rise, is his music, and more specifically his work with the band Thirty Odd Foot of Grunts – a name taken from the film Virtuosity.
TOFOG, as they have been known to fans for the better part of a decade, combine a folksy, vaguely pub-rock sensibility with Crowe’s innate gift for spinning hardscrabble yarns about bad luck and busted hearts; if they weren’t from ‘Down Under’, the only other place they could hail from would likely be Austin. The trio of Stubb’s shows they’re performing while here in town laying tracks for a new CD should ease a few minds restlessly recalling the last time Keanu Reeves’ Dogstar played here.
Crowe spoke with the Chronicle from London, where he’d just wrapped the lengthy Proof of Life shoot, about the band, it’s music, and the subversive pros and cons of Napster. This is from a bloke who asked me to make sure and list his band-mates [see below] and also to insert his name “down at the back somewhere, and misspell it if you can.”
So without further ado: Russell Crowe.
Austin Chronicle: How long has TOFOG been together?
Russell Crowe: I met the guitarist, Dean Cochran in 1984, and we did our first record together in 1985 with a band called ‘Roman Antics’, ironically enough. That band was together for about two and a half, three years, when Dean and 1 started writing songs together. That’s the seed of Thirty Odd Foot of Grunts.
Around ’92, I was feeling the pressure, the weight of the films I was doing in Australia. I really wanted to get back into what I used to do, with the music, so we started doing it again regularly. Bassist Garth Adam has played with us since ’87, and drummer Dave Kelly has been with us for about five years. For the last two and a half years, we’ve been playing as a six piece, with Stewart Kirwan, the trumpet player, and Dave Wilkins, who was the support act for the last tour and would sit in with same backing vocals, adding the missing thing.
Austin Chronicle: Where do you play when you’re on your home turf? I hesitate to call this a bar band, but I can really see TOFOG in that sort of Smokey, late-night venue…
Russell Crowe: Yeah, we don’t do concert halls, we do pubs. In Australia they’re called beer barns, and some of them are pretty big. They take a couple thousand people. Pretty much like Stubb’s, I’d imagine.
Austin Chronicle: What kind of audience do you draw? I imagine there are plenty of folks who come to the show just to see Russell Crowe the actor.
Russell Crowe: We still have people that come and see us who were buying Roman Antix records in New Zealand in the Eighties. It’s funny, though, because it’s developed and grown so much. If Dean and me weren’t still fertile as a song writing partnership, then we would have stopped it years ago, you know? But every time we get together, we just walk past each other in the studio and another song pops out.
As long as it’s healthy, it’s a completely credible medium for me to be creative in as far as I’m concerned. And you know as well as I do, mate, that there’s nothing credible at this point in pop-culture history for doing both, right? I don’t do it for anything other than the fact that I love doing it. I’ve been writing songs since I was a little kid, and it’s really just a part of me. And that goes for all the sort of performance-art things that I do.
They’re all lifelong commitments.
Austin Chronicle: Give me some idea of your musical background. Were you one of those kids who grew up in a musical household with all sorts of instruments and prodding?
Russell Crowe: Funnily enough, my parents had a really limited music collection even though they were great music lovers. They used to go out quite a bit and socialize at dine-and-dance restaurants, which were a big thing when I was a little kid. My mom had an Elvis Presley bootleg called Elvis Sings Go1den Hits that she got off some American sailor who was in town, and the title was the only thing in English – the rest was in Cantonese or whatever.
When you’re a little kid, you get obsessed about certain albums so you don’t really get to know music in general – you specifically get to know a bunch of songs. Then you move on to the next discovery, applying the same sort of thing. You play these albums to death and then get more and more of them. It was a musical household from that point of view, but not from the fact that they played instruments or anything. They would both sing a little bit, but only in the shower variety.
Austin Chronicle: How did you decide on Austin as a place to record your new album?
Russell Crowe: The whole seed of this idea started the last time I met you [during the LA. Confidential press tour in 1998]. I was just walking up and down the main road there –
Austin Chronicle: Sixth Street.
Russell Crowe: – Right. Taking in all the sounds and thinking this is the ideal place to record. You can just walkout of the studio, walk along, get a bit of inspiration, get some Shiner Bock – cracker! – and then wander back into the studio and have another go, right? It’s small enough in terms of being a containable town- transport’s easy, all that sort of stuff – but it’s really about the way people focus on live music.
I went and saw the Asylum Street Spankers and a few other things when I was there, and it was really a very inspirational place. I’d rather the band be city like that than lost in a sort of jungle in New York or something – and plus, our songs, they need a bit of space, you know? They need an audience that likes to listen to more than their own voice. Which is what you tend to find in Los Angeles and New York, in my opinion.
Austin Chronicle: You have a pretty unique idea of distribution for the band, in that you rely almost exclusively on the Website to get the music out there, right?
Russell Crowe: I have a cottage-industry attitude toward it. A number of years ago, the band decided that we wouldn’t bother with contracts anymore; we’d just have the Web site [www.gruntland.com] and do our own thing. We get about 12,000-15,000 hits a week on the site, and the cool thing about it is that people just discover it for themselves. They don’t get it forced down their throat by advertising budgets set up to get the high-rotation, FM radio-friendly sort of thing. When people find it, they take it to heart, and they really commit to it. A lot of fans of the music are really annoyed that I’m even a movie actor.
Austin Chronicle: So what’s your take on the big controversy surrounding Napster?
Russell Crowe: I totally understand it from the band’s point of view, because the audience that’s downloading that music are the core music fans, the ones that normally would be paying for the band’s music. On the other hand, I can still see it from Napster’s point of view, too. I used to do the same thing off the radio with a cassette, you know?
Austin Chronicle: Has your increasing celebrity impacted the band in a positive or negative way? Obviously the bands draw has been increasing exponentially.
Russell Crowe: Yeah, but see, we’ve been selling out shows – live shows – for the past four or five years. I’m not sure, because of the places we play and the style of venue we play, that there’s much more headroom for an increased audience that we want to be comfortable with, you know? We just turned down a stadium tour, with all these big bands because that’s just not our thing.
I think the type of music we play really has to have a sort of personal venue, and I think about 2,000 people is where we top it off. That many people can still be a very personal experience. We just take it as it comes along, and sure, the Web site did get a petty massive increase in attention just recently, but I think the cool thing about it is that people don’t come back unless they discover something cool that they like.
Austin Chronicle: One last question for you: How does Russell Crowe describe TOFOG’s music?
Russell Crowe: Well, instead of going though some elaborate kind of description, I just tell people its folk music. You know? In most people’s heads, that makes them think of some kind of dusty, acoustic setting, which obviously isn’t really what the band is about. But I don’t think there’s any more accurate description of what we do. It’s folk music, with true stories, and every piece of music has a narrative. Some of them are a little oblique and maybe you can’t necessarily follow the story A to Zed, but that’s not a bad thing either. It just makes you think.
by Kilmeny Adie
With Thirty Odd Foot of Grunts set to tour there are sure to be connections made between the skills of Russell Crowe as an actor and musician. But before you judge the sound of Thirty Odd Foot of Grunts forget all those preconceptions that you may have of Russell Crowe as an actor and prepare to listen to him as a musician and as part of a band.
“If you respect me as an artist give me a minute, let me show you another artistic expression that I do, that I do at the same level, comes from the same place, same soul” said Crowe, the conviction apparent in his voice.
The band is set to perform in Wollongong as one stop on a tour which includes an appointment in Los Angeles.
“We have never played, done a single show in Wollongong.’Äù Crowe said. “Considering we have toured the last three years in a row, we are really looking forward to playing there.
The band is Garth Adam on bass, Dean Cochran on guitar, Dave Kelly on drums, and Russell Crowe on vocals and guitar. The sound of Thirty Odd Foot of Grunts is raw, atmospheric and passionate. The lyrics of the band are heavy and emotive, with songs like The Legend of Barry Kable, Circus, What’s Her Name? and You Treat Me Like Chocolate certain to stun the audience with their power. The new album from the group, Gaslight, follows in the tradition of 1996’s debut EP Photograph Kills and the 1997 single What’s Her Name? Thirty Odd Foot of Grunts is planning the tour as a chance for not only its old fans to catch up with their favorites but also as a chance to introduce some new songs.
“We are going to open with some new stuff, play pretty much of the album. It was a matter that we had so many songs recorded that we had to let some of the kids leave the house, go out into the real world,” Crowe said with a laugh.
Rock And Crowe
“It’s virtually impossible for the band to be listened to objectively,” he says.
“There seems to be a political level to it when I’m associated with it because of what I do for a day job.” “I don’t begrudge people their cynicism when you know what’s happened to popular music in the last few years; of course people will be a bit dodgy about things.”
Crowe’s ‘day job’ is his successful movie career which spans 19 films, with another three in the pipeline, and two AFI awards. Crowe and fellow guitarist Dean Cochran formed Thirty Odd Foot Of Grunts in 1994, producing a unique blend of folk/rock music which encompasses the raw songwriting talents of both men. Their latest album, Gaslight, offers 11 tracks (plus three unlisted bonus tracks) featuring a variety of sounds from the gritty opening number Circus to the Bowie-esque She’s Not Impressed. There’s the bluesy What You Want Me To Forget, and The Legend Of Barry Kable, which tells the story of a man forced to live on the streets of Sydney. Even rap gets a workout with the funky Nowhere.
The Real McCOY
They’re not interested in record deals and couldn’t care less if you don’t like their songs. Go! journalist LISA ZANARDO spoke to 30 Odd Foot of Grunts front man Russell Crowe about their music. It didn’t take me long to realize Russell Crowe is passionate about music, especially his songwriting.
As an actor, he spends so much time being someone else, writing and playing music is one way Crowe can be himself. This philosophy extends to the rest of his band, 30 Odd Foot of Grunts, whose latest album, Gaslight, I can only describe as a series of emotive stories based on real life and put to raw rock melodies.
In its six-year existence, the band — made up of Crowe on guitar and vocals, Garth Adam on bass, Dean Cochran on guitar and Dave Kelly on drums — has shunned commercial pursuits in favour of freedom — freedom to play their kind of music the way they like it.
“The product is what it is,” Crowe said. “It’s like, I’m in a band, this is our album, this is its cover art, that’s us and that’s life,” he said. “The point of being in a band is not about singing other people’s songs or taking a past hit and redoing it, but when you’re in a commercial environment that’s what it becomes. When I’m playing with these three guys it’s a powerful thing. We’re the real McCoy, and I don’t care if people don’t like a song, because I didn’t write it for them … I wrote it for me.”
Gaslight is an extended playlist that Crowe said was an example of the band’s work during the past five years. It jumps between live and studio-recorded tracks, which demands listeners ‘bend an ear’ to each and every song.
“I wanted it to be an uncomfortable listening experience because it’s not the sort of album you can get into at arm’s length. “You really have to listen to it to understand and appreciate what it’s about.”
Despite his acting pursuits and ability to play guitar, Crowe hasn always considered himself a Iyricist and admits his songs chronicle a certain emotional passage of his life.
“Music is about story-telling, distilling moments, and I couldn’t ever possibly lose that.”
Asked if he had put his acting career on hold for 30 Odd Foot of Grunts’ national tour, which takes in the Ballina Club RSL Club on Tuesday, Crowe just laughed, saying: “My acting is never put on hold; even though I’m thousands of miles away, the finger can still reach out and touch me
Return Of The Anti
By Megan Turner
You’d be hard pushed to find Russell Crowe’s name on Thirty Odd Foot of Grunts’ new CD – it’s no Hollywood vanity side-project as Megan Turner discovers Russell Crowe. Now there’s a name with clout; a name that fairly shimmers with both Hollywood stardust and artistic credibility. A name that could, surely, launch a thousand songs into high rotation on the nation’s airwaves. But you’d need an eagle eye to find that name anywhere on the packaging of Gaslight, the new CD released by Thirty Odd Foot of Grunts, the raw and rootsy guitar band Crowe fronts. The star of such films as Romper Stomper, Virtuosity and LA Confidential is the anti-frontman, deflecting rather than courting the limelight, keeping his much-prized integrity intact.
“The requirements that a record company would put on me would take the band to a different place and I’m not prepared to do it that way,” he says. “I know that with one turn down that corridor, I could make money for jam. But that’s not what it’s about. I’m sorry folks.”
And so there’s no corporate marketeering, no shameless posturing or prima donna rock star trip, just a direct relationship between the band and their fans via the internet (Gaslight is available only through mail order) and live performances (in an itinerary which, incongruously, sees them playing The Viper Room in LA four days after the Ballina RSL). Thirty Odd Foot of Grunts evolved from a friendship Crowe struck up with guitarist Dean Cochran in New Zealand in 1984. Together with bassist Garth Adam and drummer Dave Kelly, they share in a collective songwriting history of nearly 14 years. While Crowe’s “day job” demands the lion’s share of his time and the band project is kept deliberately low-key, Crowe is emphatic that TOFOG is more than a diversion.
“I treat it seriously,” he says. “I wouldn’t do it on the basis of something to do on my summer holidays. It’s another creative expression.” “If you have any respect for what I do as an actor you know I’m not a fucking soap star. I don’t have an empty attitude to what I do as a screen performer. I do work that has content to it. If you acknowledge that, give me the opportunity to show you the same artist coming to you in a different medium.”
TOFOG play the kind of music that seems tailor-made for a long, beverage-filled
night in a sweaty room full of testosterone-charged punters, but Crowe shuns the
definition “classic Aussie pub rock”.
“That implies there is not much of a narrative thought process,” he says. “If a song doesn’t have a narrative it doesn’t have a point. Those ‘oh yeah baby’ songs, they fit in a certain place, but for me it’s got to be about the story. I’m not a musician’s musician; I’m a storyteller.”
And the inspiration for Crowe’s impassioned and honest, “these are the facts, jack” lyrics? Ask a cheesy question, expect a cheesy answer.
“Real life, baby,” he growls in the classic film noir patois of his LA Confidential character. The sounds on Gaslight are a disparate as the times and places that spawned them.
“Every song takes you to a different place,” Crowe says. “There are live tracks that pop up in the middle of the album; it finishes on a whisper and starts up again with the hidden tracks . . . The very last uttering on the album is a sigh. Then you go and lie down and have a little think.”
“The schedule is killing me, but at the same time I have no complaints about my life.” Crowe said. Showcasing songs from its latest album Gaslight 30 Odd Foot of Grunts will bring to the punters a unique blend of Australian rock and folk music.
The Real Crowe
He might be an internationally famous actor who has played Jack Thompson’s son and Sharon Stone’s love interest, but for Russell Crowe, music has always been the touchstone of reality.
Crowe and his band, Thirty Odd Foot of Grunts, will play at Central Coast Leagues Club on Thursday and Crowe is looking forward to the gig as a break from his “day job”.
“As an actor you have to get into someone else’s life, consider their pressures and influences, but when I write and perform music I use my own experiences,” he said. “It is the true expression of who I am and it is wonderful to be able to communicate that. “It breaks down a lot of barriers — there’s not much glamour involved in riding around in a beat-up Tarago that smells of other blokes’ feet. “I’m just one part of a band whose members all have their own story to tell. “It’s a real, full, deep experience.”
Crowe has always had the acting bug; he made his debut as an extra on TV when he was just 6. But for many of his formative years, the music took over. He has been playing with guitarist Dean Cochran since 1984; bass player Garth Adams joined them in 1987 and drummer Dave Kelly came on board only in 1995. Crowe has achieved great success as an actor, appearing first in some high-profile Australian movies, including The Sum Of Us with Jack Thompson, and launching into a Hollywood career with the movie L.A. Confidential opposite Kim Basinger. But he has always made time to work with the band.
“Sometimes it’s hard because of my schedule but I will always find time to play music,” he said.
This year the band has released its latest album, Gaslight, and midway through 1999 hopes to do a full tour of Australia. Meanwhile Crowe’s latest film, Mystery Alaska, is due for release in April. He has just finished work on an as-yet-untitled film in which he plays a 54-year-old research scientist — a role which he found a tremendous challenge.
“Playing someone so opposite to myself was very interesting,” he said. “It’s wonderful to have had the opportunity to work with actors like Gene Hackman [in The Quick and the Dead] and Al Pacino.” “I’ve always had a great respect for what I do and I think that has paid off.”
Russell starred in THE QUICK AND THE DEAD (his first American film) opposite Sharon Stone. His love interest in L.A. CONFIDENTIAL was Kim Basinger. The MYSTERY, ALASKA release date has now been pushed back to the fall of 1999
LA As The Crowe Flies
It was meant be – so Danny Devito’s character often said in the movie hit L.A. Confidential – on the QT and very hush-hush.
But, Russell Crowe’s Viper Room gig with his band: 30 Odd Foot of Grunts snowballed into one of the most sought-after tickets in Hollywood last week. Crowe’s L.A. Confidential co-stars Kim Basinger and Danny DeVito were in the house as Crowe fronted a set of assured, no-nonsense rock.
Oddly, the Grunts have met with media and music industry reluctance in Australia, but at Johnny Depp’s Viper Room, they laid down a tight and confident set, including some rockin’ country tunes, Australiana banter and High Horse Honey – Crowe’s alleged lyrical swipe at Sharon Stone.
Crowe personally invited Dave Wilkins, from Sydney band Utopian Babies, to open the show.
Wilkins arrived in L.A a few hours before he was set to go on stage – and to add to the stress, his guitar disappeared. He borrowed Crowe’s. “I needed to start somewhere in terms of introducing myself to the people,” Wilkins said, “and there’s probably not a better connected place in L.A than the Viper Room”.
The support slot seems to have paid off. Wilkins spent the past week locked in meetings and plans to return to LA with his band. The Utopian Babies are supporting US rock band Fastball’s upcoming Australian tour.
Interview With Russell
(from ‘The Daily Telegraph’ Sydney, Australia December 1998)
Last time we spoke, you told me that you’ve no desire to be a rock star. I’ve also read that you’ve said that the band is not a hobby. So can you please explain it for me, where the whole thing is for you?
People want a far too simplistic definition of it in my life? It’s a creative outlet, man. You know, I don’t predict when I’m going to write a song, you know? Or what it’s going to be about, necessarily. It’s just something that’s part and parcel of my life and how I express myself. So I don’t know if it can be any more defined than that.
That’s cool, yeah. But how about the rest. I imagine the time you dedicate to the band is obviously your time off from acting.
So when do you get to chill out?
(laughs) This is a very good question, Dino. One which has been on my mind in recent times. It is my considered opinion that it is not possible.
(laughs) Sometimes I stop and go, “what the hell are you doing?” I can remember two years ago being so fucking tired and everything that I had on was so overwhelming. And the only thing that has happened in that last two years is that more stuff has come into the schedule. It’s only just got bigger. So if I was tired a couple of years ago, I don’t know where I am at the minute.
I can say that but, at the same time, we get a massive amount of stuff done and it’s all fascinating and interesting. So, in Mudgee with the Australian Chamber Orchestra, although fraught with tension and the fear of making a complete dick of oneself in a polite environment, there’s also an enjoyment level.
If you don’t get a charge out of it, if it doesn’t actually make your stomach ripple and get the butterflies going, then why do it? From a performers point of view, that’s the adrenaline rush, that’s the jumping out of the plane thing. In its own way, that’s absolutely relaxing to do.
Okay. Now you’ve got the album Gaslight out there. Why is it only available through mail order?
Because I was sick to death of trying to work with record companies. It’s just a really boring process that doesn’t get anywhere. You spend a whole lot of time talking about things that never improve what the process is supposed to be. The process is supposed to be getting CD’s into the hands of the people who want then, right? It’s a really simple process but somehow that gets really really complicated.
We’ve done two tours with two different record companies and both times have acquiesced to the way they wanted to do things because, you know, you’re starting a relationship from a business point of view, you don’t want to necessarily rock the boat. So you do what you’re asked and it gets you nowhere. For example, we haven’t sold CD’s at the venues on the last two tours because the record stores get upset. But, quite frankly stiff fucking shit. The record should be available where the people come to see the music.
You know, the records available on the Internet. We’ll just leave it at that, mate. It doesn’t need to have a corporate marketing attitude to it ; it doesn’t have to have anything. It’s very simple. Eventually, sooner or later, the people who want it will get it. And it’s actually selling pretty good.
The Odd 30 Foot
Mark Hughes from Concrete Press, Newcastle Australia
It’s a strange name but a good one! I bet it caught your eye. So read on as we find out more about this band from singer/guitarist Russell Crowe.
30 Odd Foot of Grunts, has it always been Grunts? I was under the impression that it was grunt.
Yeah, a lot of people just can’t get past that. It’s grunts, it’s plural not singular. It wasn’t meant to refer to the word grunt at all. And the name, I can tell you where it comes from, I could tell you half a dozen ways of explaining it by the reality is, we just wanted a name that meant nothing. It was just a series of words, which just rolled off the tongue.
I’m assuming a lot of the songs off this album gaslight were recorded different
place, different times, is that just because that’Äôs how it fitted in with your
That’s how it works with us, yeah. We do in reality spend pretty much the same amount of time that any other band would spend focusing on their music, like in terms of recording or being in the rehearsal room together or playing. We don’t just get that social time in between. So when we get together it’s usually for a specific thing.
Usually to record something?
Yeah. And I’m very much a believer in time and place for the recording. When I write something I want to record it as soon as I possibly can. I don’t care how much it develops over the next five years I want to know exactly where it started from, in case at some point I destroy the song and I want it back to what it was at the beginning. Because sometimes you can over-do something.
What I liked when I listened to your album was the differences in sound, especially like when you played the Legend of Barry Kable. (Live track)
I think it has a lot to do with the types of songs though as well. I didn’t want this to be a safe listening experience. I don’t like that. I like albums that in total, are a whole experience. But some things make you feel uncomfortable and some areas of the album, when you’re coming up to it you’ll go “Here’s that nasty song again” Or “here’s that songs that makes something go in my imagination, I don’t like albums where 1,2,3 are the songs you’ve heard on the radio and every groove matches into each other it’s a very smooth, user friendly experience. I like a little more rock with my roll. I want a bit more excitement and involvement. So, it’s not a comfortable album to listen to but you’ve got to give yourself over to it.
What about the photograph of Lebanon on the front cover?
It implied a certain era of Australian music but it was shot to shit. It was all kinda like exploded and stuff and it was implying we don’t fit into the music industry. To me it was an imagery of an old battered landscape, which represents how we sometimes feel in the band. We cop a lot of shit, even from people who’ve never heard the band.
And you’ve proved on the album that you guys can play together live.
I’m just one part of it. Individually as a musician I don’t amount to anything but as one part of this particular growling animal’
No Hiding Crowes Feat
(from ‘The Sunday Telegraph’ Sydney, Australia December 6th, 1998) by Angela Saurine
In the space of a week, Russell Crowe and his band, 30 Odd Foot of Grunts, will perform at the Ballina RSL and Johnny Depp’s infamous Viper Room in L.A. Despite the incredible contrast in culture, the actor/singer/guitarist insists the two gigs won’t be much different.
“Rock ‘n’ roll clubs are similar all over the world,” he says. “The Viper Room is the same as most Aussie clubs – it’s just smaller.”
Crowe formed 30 Odd Foot of Grunts 14 years ago, and would been just as
happy for the band to remain anonymous. But his fame as Russell Crowe ‘Äúthe
actor” meant people were constantly pointing the finger at him to push the
band. Finally, he gave in. But his passion for music will always remain his
“There’s absolutely no credibility crossing these boundaries and I get sniped at all the time” Crowe says. ‘”I don’t do it because I enjoy punishing myself; I do it because I care about music.” ‘”I’d never prostitute one creative outlet to drag the other one in front of people.” ‘”I was doing music a long time before I got into acting – it’s just our albums were always rocketing straight to the bottom of the charts! ”
The band’s latest album, Gaslight, is basically about storytelling – a factor Crowe considers a crucial part of music.
“I like anything that can get you on an emotional level. I really like lyricists, people that can use words cleverly,” he says.
Much of the material for the bands songs comes from the members’ varied backgrounds. Guitarist and co-founder Dean Cochran has worked for the Sydney City Mission for several years.
“He spends a lot of time pulling druggos off the streets. One of our songs, The Legend of Barry Kable, is all about that,” Crowe says. “The information I gather between jobs helps with my acting and fuels my songwriting”. “We’ve all got day jobs, and do lots of different things. It’s an indescribable, indefinable thing that happens when we’re together”. “We play such a variety of styles on any given night at a pub – and I don’t mean variety like going shopping at Big W – it’s reflective of our personalities and our broad taste in music.”
Although one of the band’s songs was used in the movie Virtuosity, in which he starred, Crowe says he has no plans to combine his music and his acting careers.
“I’ve been asked a number of times to do a music bio,” he says. “But they’re two totally separate things for me.”
The Actors Muse
Revolver Magazine (December 1998) by Yvette Chegiwidden
30 Odd Foot of Grunt’s Russell Crowe is an actor, but once upon a time he was Russ Le Rock . . . Russell Crowe is one of those actors whose voice is so seductive and corrosive in timbre that like William Hurt, you could watch one of his movies with your eyes closed and just listen.
It’s not surprising then to learn that for the last fourteen years he has been in a band called 30 Odd Foot of Grunts who have just released a new album Gaslight. Speaking from his home somewhere inland from one of NSW’s coasts (he asks that his hometown not be revealed), Crowe is the guy who, on celluloid terrorized the streets of Melbourne in a skinhead war against g***s’ in Romper Stomper, and the short fused cop who fell in love with Kim Basinger in LA Confidential. He also got to shag Sharon Stone in The Quick and the Dead, and starred opposite Denzel Washington in Virtuosity.
Given the way he excels at mad-as-a-cut-snake characters, you could be forgiven for expecting 30 Odd Foot of Grunts to be a musical interpretation of the same. It is however bruised but folky pub rock. The band’s latest album Gaslight contains characters and sentiments that could only have been borne from one place on earth – Darlinghurst, NSW. Crowe was once upon a time the subject of numerous sightings in pubs such as Oxford St’s Courthouse and the Gaslight Inn where his skill for partying grew into something of a minor local legend.
“It’s not named after the Gaslight Hotel as such,” Crowe growls amiably, “What I was intending was that it was not high tech. It was just another way of saying lo-fi. The album’s concept and the recording of the album and the way we do things is a little old fashioned, we don’t use all the machines and stuff.”
Was there any particular reason you decided to do this album now after mucking around with it for so long?
“Gee wizz you got a nice attitude.” he laughs. “Having ‘mucked around’ with it for so long.’ What do you mean by mucked around?”
I just thought acting would be your first priority…
“There isn’t any priority really, they’re both creative expressions at the same level and from the same place of commitment. But the day job does fuck with the band’s schedule, absolutely. Doing another release was about providing something for the people who follow the group through the internet.”
As a songwriter Crowe has that peculiarly Australian knack of telling narrative tales. He has the rugged demeanour thats one part fireside larrikin swaggie and one part inner city cool.
“Quite frankly, without a story I don’t really see the point of a song. I think regardless of how rambunctious our – sound gets at times, we’re a folk band, that’s what we do. We’re just telling stories. I’m a really big Billy Bragg fan I think he’s incredible,” he confesses. “He’s a very smart fella.”
One of the albums most interesting tracks on the tale of a painter and docker called Barry Kable who wound up living on that stretch of street around the Darlinghurst Post Office, surviving on cheap port and the kindness of people like Crowe’s bandmate Dean, who drove a van for the Sydney City Mission for seven years.
“Dean had to deal with Barry everyday for five years,” Crowe recounts with admiration, ‘and he knew at a certain point in his shift that he would have to go and collect Barry from the streets and try and convince him to go and sleep it off at a hostel.” “I think Dean’s a hero man, spending his life devoted to people on that level of charity. I mean there is very little to gain, personally or financially out of doing that sort of stuff.”
Crowe wasn’t always the big Hollywood star or even the big Australian star. There was a time when he lived in a scummy flat, splitting $3.20 a day between cigarettes and fried rice.
“I think about it all the time” he says almost somberly, “I look at my environment on a regular basis and remember where I was and say ‘by the grace of God , ‘ you know. I think you have to, you’re very silly if you forget where you come from.”
And that is something that is evident in his understanding of his music.
“As an actor I can jam with anybody. I can play my instrument at the highest level possible – that’s not what I think, that’s just the way it is, that’s why I get to work with the people I get to work with, you know. I just finished working with AL Pacino and the other year I worked with Gene Hackman.” “But as a musician I work on a much simpler level. As a musician, I can’t jam with other musicians. I couldn’t sit down with a great blues guitarist and do fuckin’ anything.”
Reality Of Musical Grunt
“The great thing about playing with musicians that are not session musicians and are not mercenaries, they’re there because they love the songs and they love the music.”
And that’s the whole point about 30 Odd Foot Of Grunts for Russell Crowe, the band’s singer, guitarist and one of the songwriters of this humble musical collective. Most readers will be more aware of Crowe in his other guise, as an actor, and more on his thoughts about that later, but for him, this is the real deal, the thing that roars quietly away in his spirit, the reality that gets him through the unreality of his ‘”day job”. And it’s not easy keeping a band together with that sort of day job.
“We have our conversations, we really do. And funnily enough it always comes out when we’ve had a really powerful night in a rehearsal room. The more we play together, year in year out, sometimes we go into the room and just casually start something and at the end of it we’ll be looking at each other going, ‘F–k.’ There’s a certain connection that we have when we play together, its indefinable. So we do ask ourselves where are we going to go with this — what I say is it’Äôll be whatever you want it to be. And I can understand the difficulty for these guys who are so passionately involved in music having to basically put it on the shelf but I have to do the same thing. When we come together, this is the real point in our otherwise unreal existences.”
Their debut album, Gaslight, is a mix of live and studio recordings from a variety of sessions both in Australia and overseas, and while there are 11 tracks credited, you actually get 14, so there are surprises throughout the listening experience.
“Actually it came from Dave (Kelly) and Garth (Adam) sitting around having a chat about how many hits we were getting on the Internet. We recorded two shows at the Esplanade last year, so we had these two 24-track digital recordings, and Garth’s idea was to put a live EP together because everyone was getting a bit restless on the Internet ‘ ‘cos they hadn’t had anything new lately. So that’s what we intended doing but as we were talking, we’ve got so many songs recorded because we’ve been playing together over such a long period of time, that it kind of gets in your way when you start thinking about what you’re going to do next. Though you’ve been writing new songs you start feeling a bit crowded, so I said we’ve got to let some of the kids go, we’ve got to let them out of the house and let them live their own life. So it went from being a live EP to a live and studio album that people on the Internet could access. That allowed us to be a little retrospective as well and bring some songs onto this album — things like Eternity and Wendy — which we may never get back to as a band in terms of recording.” Even so, the version of something like Wendy in particular is one that you wouldn’t expect to hear from any band let alone this one, recorded as it was on 8-track in an apartment in Los Angeles with about 30 people sitting around on the floor.
The fact that there are live tracks on there too allows Crowe to present another aspect of what makes this band tick, the Spoken Word introduction to The Legend Of Barry Kable, epitomizing the storytelling approach to the songwriting.
“All the songs come from some real point. Sometimes you combine characters, as any writing does, but it’s about personal experiences. What I do in my day job is I take on somebody else’s life and I project their thoughts, emotions and feelings and their time and place and geography, through dialogue and costume. But that’s a performance. It really has nothing to do with me. It is me, physically, and it’s me driving the train, but I don’t live in 1952, I wasn’t born in a computer, I”ve never been a neo-Nazi skinhead. But these songs, these are about my life, about things I have experienced. Not that I really believe anybody should give a shit, but I do and the way I express the things that I have seen personally is songs. It’s an absolutely valid creative expression, and it’s of no greater or lesser importance than any performance I do as an actor. These are all reality-based stories.”
Since 30 Odd Foot Of Grunts don’t have to answer to anyone but themselves as artists and their fans, the way they make music and the way they’ve made this album hasn’t been compromised by any commercial consideration or company pressure.
“A lot of people have questioned the way the album runs. I didn’t want it to be comfortable. I get so sick of buying an album where the first three tracks you already know, and then it’s so f–king safe and if there’Äôs anything a little untoward or extreme, they put it at the end. I thought you start off with Circus and then you go totally south by going to something like You Treat Me Like Chocolate, which a record company would probably encourage you to hide if not drop all together, but that’s a very sensual piece of music. From there you go into the middle of a room with 500 people! I wanted the feel of it to keep changing, so it’s an album that you have to get used to, that you have to know to enjoy. You can’t put it on as background music.”