Non-Thinking Man’s Jazz: Part I

CLASSIC UB INTERVIEW: BRETT CUROTTA, MASSAPPEAL
BY DANGER COOLIDGE
Originally published in Unbelievably Bad #4, 2006

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The first time I saw Massappeal was 1988, at a time when they were just starting to hit their straps as fully-fledged merchants of Aussie crossover. You’d see that awesome, distinctive Ben Brown flyer artwork in the shops, or in street press, announcing Massappeal shows with all kinds of bands – hardcore bands like S.U.X and Terrible Virtue, punk bands like the Hard-Ons and The Hellmen, thrash bands like Slaughter Lord and Mortal Sin, even would-be pop bands like Ratcat.
Nobody Likes A Thinker (1986) was the first “hardcore” record I ever bought. I was mainly into thrash metal at the time, but I fell under the spell of Massappeal after seeing them supporting Mortal Sin at an under age show at Sutherland Entertainment Centre. Their speed, their power, their energy, their volume, their attitude; the whole thing was beyond anything metal had thrown up for me at age thirteen.
I grabbed the Nobody Likes A Thinker 12-inch the next time I had some money, and saw Massappeal many times over the years as they developed their brutal hardcore sound from fast, abrasive skate thrash into some kind of flipped out mutant hardcore hybrid that guitarist Brett Curotta has difficulty defining even today.
In 2006, when Massappeal first reissued Nobody Likes A Thinker and their 1989 masterpiece Jazz, I sat down over a beer with Brett Curotta and came away with a slight stagger in my boots and o ne and a half TDK D-90s full of yack…

 

You were a surfer before you were a punk, right?
Yeah, I’ve surfed my whole life. Me and all my mates used to go in contests and all that growing up. I was part of a strong club at Manly and we used to travel up and down the coast to the different surf clubs and go in contests. I went over to Indonesia for a couple of contests and then I went to Europe. I was in Bali and a mate of mine was continuing on to Europe and he asked did I want to come and my mum lent me some money and that’s how I ended up over there. It was weird how it happened. We’d been down in Cornwall for the contest and I thought I’d head to London for a week and try to see some shows before I came back. I stayed in a hotel in Paddington and this Australian chick that ran the place asked if I was doing any work and whatever and it turned out her boyfriend was a painter and decorator and he just asked his boss if I could get a job and the guy was just like, “Sure, come to work tomorrow.” I ended up staying there for two years.

What bands were you seeing over there?
That was ’82, so we were just staring to get bands like Anti Pasti, Exploited, Discharge – the more aggressive second wave. Back in Australia we used to see good bands at the Manly Vale Hotel or we’d travel across the Harbour Bridge to go to shows at the Civic [Hotel] and see Kelpies, Progression Cult, Vigil-Anti, a lot of the bands that were on Bruce Griffiths’ Aberrant Records compilations. Within a week of being in London I’d seen The Meteors, UK Subs, GBH, Angelic Upstairs, this is what was going on there. I was going out three and four nights a week.

What were some of the more memorable shows from your time in the UK?
The Punk & Disorderly shows at the Lyceum, I saw the second and third of those. I saw a lot of good shows and a lot of good bands. Discharge, I saw Bones’ [guitar] last gig and Pooch’s first gig. I saw the first Broken Bones gig as well, which was only six or eight songs but I still remember the stand-out song was “Decapitated”, which later became the single. I saw Crass support the Exploited, which was a big deal because there had been the whole peace punk thing and the Oi! punk thing and agro going on between the factions and Wattie [Buchan] from Exploited apparently phoned up Crass and said, “We’re playing at the 100 Club…” you know, trying to bring everyone together. Seeing Crass was a standout because they were pretty full-on. The thing is, everyone bags Wattie and goes on about the Exploited and the punk thing, but I went to a bunch of their shows and even though they had idiots showing up, they were still a really good band. That’s the one thing you’ve gotta give ‘em – even though there was all that crap that went with them, live, they were a great band.

Why did you come home?
I went surfing! Two years later, the surf contest came back again and I went down to Cornwell to see friends of mine and I bought a board off one of the guys and that October a girlfriend and I went to the Canary Islands for a holiday and I went surfing and by that Christmas I was back. My biggest piss off about coming back was that I was totally into Crucifix and I was playing their record Dehumanization (1983) all the time before I left and then after I got back they went over and played England about two weeks later. But it was cool being back because the local pub, the Mosman Hotel had become a bit of a punk gig and the bar that was there – they totally ruined this pub – had this really good venue next to it and everyone from that area, Manly, Seaforth, Mosman, would hang out there. A lot of the guys I knew were going there, guys from the beach, and then you had all these punks from the area and then you had a whole bunch of bands or people who ended up being in bands. It was a pretty unique thing that happened. One of the most popular bands that used to play there amongst us punters was Grong Grong, from Adelaide; they were just insane. They were one of our favourite bands that used to come up. The early Psychotic Turnbuckles gigs were pretty incredible. The local bands were Execution Mask, Certain Death and Decontrol, which had Victor [Levi] who went on to start Ratcat with Simon Day.

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How did Massappeal get together?
Randy [Reimann – vocals] and Kevin [McClaer – bass] have a better idea of what went on but I think I met Darren [Gilmour – drums] at a Hard-Ons gig and he had a Verbal Abuse T-shirt on and at that time all the American bands were coming through so I’d gravitate towards anyone who was into this stuff. Just before I left England I had seen Dead Kennedys, then Black Flag and then Bad Brains and that was the end of English punk as far as I was concerned. Seeing Dead Kennedys and also MDC, who came over to support them in 1982, it was totally different to all the English stuff. MDC were like full-on thrash hardcore, short songs, and they just looked like normal dudes, they didn’t have all the Mohawks and all that. I think I felt an affinity with that because I was just like, “Hang on, here’s these guys in jeans and a T-shirt up there being more full-on than all the guys in the fucking get-up.” Then in February Black Flag came over and once I’d seen Flag I was like, “Okay.” They just wiped the floor with everything. I was totally into Black Flag then. I realised there was something else going on with these American bands and I started going to Rough Trade Records and asking for the American bands and I was buying all these 7-inches. Obviously there were a few people in London who were into this stuff and I remember Rough Trade had this one crate of American imports and new shipments would come in all the time. Black Flag were incredible, seeing them was like a lightning bolt. Then a couple of months after that Bad Brains came over and it was just like, “Fuck, this English shit is a fucking joke.” The American hardcore was just so much faster and heavier and more agro, but when I came home everyone was still into the English stuff back here. So it was a personal thing for me, like I made up these cassettes of all the seven-inches I’d bought and I got Ben Brown [The Hellmen] to drawn me up some cover artwork. It was called The Septic Yanks and I used to flog it off for five bucks but it was just me bootlegging all the 7-inches and it turned on a lot of people. So I met Darren and all of us in Massappeal basically met at Hard-Ons gigs. I first saw the Hard-Ons play with Vicious Circle at the Bondi Lifesaver and after that we used to see them all the time around the area. I don’t remember much of this but I think I first saw Darren at a Hard-Ons gig with a Verbal Abuse T-shirt on and then, at a different Hard-Ons gig, Darren saw Randy with a Suicidal Tendencies T-shirt on, or something. Randy was in some band with Kevin out at Canley Vale and then Darren said, “Do you want to be in this band I’m doing with Brett?” I remember the first rehearsals were done in the wake of DRI just releasing Dealing With It (1985). That was full-on, short songs, hardcore and that was one album that blew us all away and the first rehearsal the whole idea was to do a DRI-style song. I still remember I taped it and I went up to this guy’s flat in Mosman and was playing it to Tony, who later was in The Hellmen going, “Listen to this.” I was really proud.

It was obviously different to what was going on in Sydney at the time.
There was more going on in Melbourne from what I can gather; there was nothing really here. In Melbourne you had Civil Dissident for a while, Vicious Circle were going, because Vicious Circle’s early gigs in Sydney were a big thing for everyone here. I remember they were doing a Terveet Kädet cover, “Outa maa”, I still remember the song. So they had a full-on underground European influence, Alby [Brovedani] and Dave Ross and all those guys were into that. So there was an immediate connection between us and the guys in Melbourne. Because there was no Internet so everyone was writing letters and tape trading and that’s how we found out about a lot of stuff. Actually, the main inspiration behind getting Massappeal together was that we’d heard that Alby from Vicious Circle was talking about bringing out Youth Brigade from the States. And for us in Sydney, we were going, “There’s no fucking bands suitable to play with Youth Brigade,” and so that was the instigation to get Massappeal together. The thought was already there, but that was the catalyst to do it and do it now and get it done. Youth Brigade never came out, but Vicious Circle came up and did a gig at French’s on Oxford Street and I don’t know how it came about but we got asked to support them. We had no bassplayer at that stage, so our first gig was no bassplayer, six songs and about fifteen minutes long. I still remember getting up onstage and the place was full of punks, skinheads, whatever, it was packed because Vicious Circle had a good rep by then. There was a new feeling about things, it seemed like there was new people coming through and not that whole Civic Hotel crew, who were starting to fade away. It was younger people getting more into European and American influenced stuff because by then the records had started to filter into stores here. I remember we were setting up at this gig and people up the front were laughing at us, going, “Where’s your bassplayer,” and we go, “We haven’t got one!” And they were like, “You’re fucking joking?” We were like, “Well, we got asked to play.” They were all laughing, but I remember within about a minute we’d wiped the smile off everyone’s face. I’m not sure whether they were shocked or impressed, but I know there was no more laughing after we started playing. So after that gig we got Kevin, who was a friend of Randy’s, in on bass.

What were the shows like just prior to recording Nobody Likes A Thinker?
I remember we’d been playing for a little while and Tim Pittman, who was either managing the Hard-Ons at the time or doing their live sound, became interested in booking us. We booked a gig at the Yugal Soccer Club with The Hellmen and an early version of Ratcat and Tim said, “You might want to go and have a look outside.” And there was a staircase there that went downstairs and there was a queue going down the stairs from the paying table and out into the street. There was obviously something going on that we didn’t think was going on, a bit of a word of mouth thing. Like, we did weird stuff like the Deadheads T-shirt was out and about before we’d even played a show. And we had our lyrics printed up in a booklet that, again, I had Ben do drawings for. It was like four pages and we’d staple them up and put them in all the record stores. Fucked if I know why I was doing that, the band had never played.

How did you get affiliated with Waterfront Records?
At first we got asked to play with The Eastern Dark in the Waterfront shop, because they had started to do Saturday afternoon shows. The recording of that show is on the new reissue of Nobody Likes A Thinker and I put in on there because there are songs on there that we never recorded. It was just recorded on a ghetto blaster sitting on the counter of the shop. So we did the show and as we were packing up I think either Frank [Cotterell] or Steve [Stavrakis] from Waterfront came up and said, “We want to put a record out by you guys.” So that was November or December of ’85 and we did the demo the following March and then the following August or September we did the actual recording and then Nobody Likes A Thinker came out about a year later. Waterfront released it at the same time as the Hard-Ons [Smell My Finger] and the Spunkbubbles [“Metal Wench”/“Treat Me Good” 7-inch] and they had a poster with all the releases on it and it was just this cool thing. People were like, “Ah fuck, there’s something new going on.” Waterfront were a young label and a they had a new shop and they happened to come across a few cool bands that were happening at the time and so there was a lot of interest there. There was reviews in the Sydney Morning Herald and everywhere.

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I was listening to the reissue of Nobody Likes A Thinker and the funny intro bit of “Deadheads” stuck out more than it ever has and I tried to imagine that bit being actually recorded.
All the pot smoking and all the carry-on was done at Ben’s place with a bunch of mates. That’s actually the second time we did it. Something happened on the first one where it didn’t work out, I think something happened to the tape, and so I had to go back and redo the “session”. The remastered version I reckon sounds different, it sounds clearer, that’s maybe why you heard new nuances in the coughing that you didn’t hear before. It was all ad-libbing. I was over at Ben’s flat with my ghetto blaster and everyone was just going on with the whole carry-on and rigmarole. The guy talking about, “You’ve got to taste it…” and all that, he’s a mate of ours who we haven’t seen for a while, but he had the whole spiel goin’ on about “wax paper” and all the rest of it. It was Yahtz and Ben and Simon [Jones] who did all the talking. Simon is the guy whose head is on Ben’s cover art for Jazz. I didn’t smoke, so I was just sitting there recording it all.

Because “Deadheads” is obviously an anti-smoking song.
Well Poles [Andrew Polin], the drummer from Ratcat, he wrote the lyrics to the song. He wrote some of the lyrics on the first record and I wrote some – this was really before Randy started writing stuff. So later on Randy started writing and got better at it and eventually Poles stopped being a side-writer for us. “Deadheads” was like, Poles came over to my house with the lyrics and we were in my bedroom and I am playing guitar, like I can’t even play, and we just came up with that basic, most inane riff you’d think of.

It’s one of those classic fast hardcore songs where there are too many lyrics for the singer to possibly sing in that amount of time so you get abbreviations of lines. There’s the line, “Oh shit who had the last cone?” and it comes out like, “Who shit the last cone?”
Yeah, Randy is trying to squeeze it all in. But if you read it, the lyrics are so well written. It’s bullshit how Poles wrote that. And this is from someone who smoked and knew what he was doing and was able to turn it around and go, “Look, I know I’m being a fucking idiot doing this,” and was actually honest about it. He could step outside and see all the crap that went on with it. The thing is, everyone loved it, everyone laughed at it, and no one really took it as an “anti” thing. Some people maybe thought there was that whole straightedge angle there but it wasn’t really. It was just Poles sticking up a mirror to himself and a lot of people related to it because they knew someone like that or they knew they were like that themselves.

Another song that maybe tied in partly with some people’s idea of straight-edge was “Pissed On Life”, but when you looked at it, it was more about moderation than zero tolerance.
That was the thing, people were going, “Oh there’s the pot thing and then there’s the drink thing,” but I just wrote that song about a girl I was seeing at the time. She was just drinking too much or whatever and she was young and I was just like, “Come on!” I don’t write lyrics anymore and haven’t done since then but I just assumed that’s how you wrote – you see something going on and you write about it. Obviously this thing was affecting me because it was affecting my relationship with this girl. I mean, I still went out with her for another ten years, but it was one of those things we went through.

Was it like, “I wrote this song for you baby, it’s called ‘Pissed On Life’?”
I don’t know if she even actually knows to this day that that’s what it’s about.

But it was written quite universally and I’m sure many teenage kids related to it, even the opening like, “We are the pissed youth, of today…”
“We are the pissed youth.” That’s a good little line isn’t it? The thing is, I think people can relate because everyone does it. That’s why I used to look upon the whole straightedge scene as being pretty bizarre. To tell you the truth, less people carried on with all of that back then than what’s going on now, or in the same way that it’s going on now. Like, if you told me twenty years ago that that whole carry on would become what it has now, with kids walking around with crosses on the hands and shit… The way I always looked at, the people who were all militant straight-edge and used to go on about it, it was like a little umbrella for all those people to hide under and clamour to each other; like a group hug. A little umbrella to protect weak little individuals so they could all get under there and go, “Hey yeah, it’s us.” I’ve always wondered why they would turn something like that into a cult. I used to hear about Al [Barile], the guitarist from SS Decontrol going to gigs and smacking bottles of beer out of people’s hands; I used to read that and go, “What the fuck?” Then the next minute he got into metal, fucked off the whole scene and had taken up jet ski driving. It’s like, so you weren’t really into it anyway, you just went on a little berserk straight-edge rampage knocking beers out of people’s hands, a little phase you went through. Then it’s like, hardcore is dead now, I’m playing rock, and you make an AC/DC-influenced record that everyone thought was shit and then you fuck off music entirely and buy a jet ski.

How did you find out about the jet skiing thing?
I heard an interview with him. In the early eighties Boss from The Hellmen was living in LA with my brother and they used to tape this radio show, which was hosted by this guy Adam Bomb who was in the Nip Drivers, an LA hardcore band. But he used to get everyone on his show, I’ve still got the tapes, like St. Vitus and Lee Ving and the guys from Fear, two shows of El Duce from The Mentors and that is just fucking hilarious. So one show had Al from SSD on it and Adam asks, “So what are you doing,” and Al was like, “I bought a jet ski,” and this was like ’83 or ’84. That’s when I thought, oh right, after you’ve traumatized kids at shows, were you really into it anyway?

 

 

Nobody Likes A Thinker and The Bar of Life have recently been reissued by Desperate Records – available at the Nerve Gas site.

Part II of this interview coming soon…

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