Kim Salmon and the Surrealists
Kim Salmon is one of the most important figures not just in Australia, but also in Europe and the states. A highly influential figure that has influenced music scenes all around the world with several bands. Kim's latest release proves that after all these years he’s still pushing bounders and making new and exciting music. Kim Salmon and the Surrealists have just dropped Rantings from the Book of Swamp, their first LP in ten years, a double LP that was an improvised affair, featuring some ripping songs that only the godfather of grunge could muster up.
Munster: How are you holding up in these odd times?
Kim: It's tough for a lot of people and people can get bored. (laughs) Today's been a good one, I’m keeping myself amused. I’ve been doing a few paintings and I know I’m not alone. There’s gonna be a lot of COVID art that will come out when this is all over, whenever that is. Certainly gives me the chance to do something I’ve been putting off for years. Playing Music has almost been a distraction. (laughs) What I originally set out to do what become a visual artist. And I’m not alone with that either.
Munster: Do you think some great art will come out of this lockdown period?
Kim: I can only speak for me but I’ve tried not to write songs that have metaphors about loneliness and isolation. But there is a COVID song in my list of songs that will come out when we emerge from it.
Munster: I saw you the other week on Monday Evening Gunk and you did a live streaming with the Surrealists. What’s your take on all these streaming gigs? Deniz Tek mentioned how his gigs are high energy and you really need the audience participation and that gets lost in streaming gigs. Is that an issue for you and your music?
Kim: I get what he’s saying. I think the Surrealists are a high energy band I think we are as high energy as are the bands Deniz plays in. We rely on the same sort of dynamic feel. It’s an individual thing.
This Surrealists LP that’s coming out, would refute that idea for me anyway. Everything about a live streaming performance, you need a different aspect, a close up isolated view of the same thing but you do need high-quality high rise visual and great audio to pull it off.
I think they pulled it off well at Cherry but the thing we did from the studio (with the Surrealists) when we did Ranting from the Book ofSwamp, there were 8 cameras and high resolution, I think was a different experience as to doing a Stageit type of show.
Munster: The New Surrealist’s LP, Rantings from the Book of Swamp, was that true this LP was all improvised?
Kim: (It) was all improvised, yes. In that we made up the songs on the spot. We did have ideas that we brought along.
If you look at any band that does any kind of improv, if say the Necks or Chris Abrahams, they bring there scales and theories, they don’t just come with nothing and forget everything they ever learned and every idea they ever put together.
And part of the concept for this was I’d bring lyrics and some melodies that I thought up. We went there and we didn’t know what was going to happen so it was a situation of adapting to what was being thrown down. Stu (Thomas) started off with a few things. Phil (Collings) is probably the most accomplished musician in the band, in that he’s studied it, he’s a jazz player, so he was happy to jump into whatever we dished out. Once you toss him a bone he’s’ happy to makes a feast of it. He really does compose on the spot.
A few of my ideas, like Burn Down the Plantation, and another song, Did you Pick it Up in the Playground, they were songs I kind of just sang to myself. I wrote it down even though I had a song I was singing to myself doing walks around the neighbourhood. So I had come up with some little ideas, and I figured it was in the key of D and had a soul vibe, so was easy to throw it out and have the band play something that fitted.
The fact we made it up gave us that edginess that we wouldn’t have had if we went into a studio, which would have been a bit middle of the road for the Surrealists. Stu Thomas must have played every chord on his fretboard on that recording. I threw some stuff up and how the rose to the occasion. I’m amazed he did actually. (laughs) I couldn’t think of anything in one song and thought, "Oh God! What's he gonna do?" And what he did was absolutely brilliant. It’s what people do when they're in this kind of mode, flying by the seat of your pants.
Munster: And I guess being in the middle of it, it must have been great watching Stu and Phil and seeing what they came up with, as opposed to what you said just doing a standard recording?
Kim: It was but also very scary. We had 7500 viewers for that live stream, so I thought, "Gee we might blow it." And a lot of the time I was thinking I’d try something and it didn’t seem to be getting traction. I’d throw something out and I could sense it wasn’t working. Stu and I were in so much salvage patch up mode, trying to make it work. It was really going back over it and forgetting about all the ideas we had. There was nothing preconceived, and you’re grabbing onto things. When I listen back to it we had loads of stuff that I didn’t hear that for the first time. So that was what was wonderful. In fact, it gets better every time I hear it.
Munster: Do you think you may take this approach with live gigs, in the sense, you’ll have an idea and you can just see where things go?
Kim: I think with the Surrealists, there always was that feeling, even with our first LP Surreal Feel, I deliberately didn’t know how the songs would go when we went to recorded them. I wanted to see what would happen. I was into the idea of deconstruction back then, and I think the Scientists had an element of that. It's improvisation but not the way jazz players to it.
Munster: Is the Surrealists the only band you could do this with?
Kim: I certainly couldn’t do it with the Scientists, but there was a time in 1983 where the band kind of had that going, when we recorded Blood Red River. You listen to songs like Rev Head, we had no idea what we were doing we just did it. (laughs) We didn’t care we just did it. But that LP, there was a lot of ideas we had, and a lot we made up, thrown together, but it has some purpose that we discovered can only unearth that way.
Munster: Grunge will forever be the genre you are associated with, but you’ve done a whole variety of different style of music. Are you happy with that title or do you think, 'you know I’ve done other stuff?'
Kim: Well I don’t even think anything I do is Grunge, and it never left me alone, and I’ve never claimed I invented it. I get people saying, “Well I was making Swamp Music before him.” I know that’s the hand I’ve been dealt and it would be silly to distance myself from it even though it sounds like I just did. But if I’m the 'Godfather of Grunge' so be it, and sorry to those that want to claim it themselves. The hand everyone is dealt with isn’t always a good hand so you gotta live with what you got, so I’m not complaining. I’ve never been able to shake it off.
I think Neil Young is the other Godfather of Grunge and I’m a huge fan of his but we sound very different. And I don’t think Soundgarden sounds like Alice in Chains or Mudhoney. I can see a link between Mudhoney and the Scientists I can see that, kind of primitive blues based rock n roll, but that’s maybe the extent of it
Munster: Funny you say that. In that Mudhoney doco they all banged on about what an influence you are to them and that scene.
Kim: I love those guys. I had the feeling they didn’t like how my name keeps coming up. (laughs)
Munster: Nine Parts Water One Part Sand, by Doug Galbraith, your life story and the story of your musical career. You mentioned in the forward that you had had one or two attempts at doing it yourself. What happened there and what made you think Doug was a good choice to write your story?
Kim: There was an editor at Harper Collins who was a mate who suggested it. But he’s an editor not a publisher so he has a particular job. So he’s not in a position to release it. But he threw some ideas in and he helped me out. He suggested some directions and I went that way.
But I never had the time. It's a huge effort. For me I gotta play music to get by. So for me to go on hiatus I would need an advance. And the publisher said they liked the idea but they had done the James Freud thing, and I think Billy Thorp, and I think that did well, but they hadn’t done great business with music books. So they suggested Henry Rollins, who’s a mate. But that would mean me writing the book and giving it to him. So that’s what happened, I just didn’t have the time.
So when Doug asked I thought, why not? I trusted him. He was one of my guitar students, and he’s a competent guy. I got to know him and he's a good guy to do the job, so might as well. I’ve tried a few times and failed. I’m still gonna do it at some point. I've always got things I could write about and a few angles.
Munster: Reading the finished book, and reading what other people said about you. What did you learn about yourself that maybe you were unaware of?
Kim: How boring I am (laughs). I don’t know. I have some ideas looking from the outside, but not sure that’s the same as discovering something about myself. He (Doug) didn’t fictionalise it. He basically carved out a story that I gave him. I gave him lots of stuff and so did other people and he divined his way through it. It read well and was good, and I didn’t read it and think, "Well that’s wrong." The one big thing I took away was the fact I have the right to call myself an artist, and that was a big deal.