INTERVIEW WITH IVA DAVIES OF ICEHOUSE

PLUS: WIN TICKETS TO OZ ROCK BUSSELTON HEADLINED BY THE BAND!

 

So far as Aussie music icons go, Icehouse are practically an institution. The band, who formed in 1977 amid a thriving Sydney rock scene, quickly evolved from typical ‘pub rock’ style to more of a ‘new wave’ flavour, making them stand out as a sophisticated lot amongst the ‘rougher’ likes of The Angels, AC/DC, et al.

Four decades on, and Icehouse is still going strong, ready to headline Oz Rock Busselton on Saturday 24 January of the Australia Day Long Weekend.

Having played West Australian shores dozens of times before, lead singer Iva Davies and his fellow players know the need to give fans something different each time, which is why they’re introducing a fresh acoustic-driven set as part of this particular show.

“Half our band are in Melbourne; half our band are in Sydney,” tells Iva, “so it means is that when we do get together it’s almost a novelty… and that leads to a positive energy in the performances.”

Suffice to say, 38 years of successful recording and touring, eight Top 10 albums and 20 Top 40 singles, and countless YouTube hits of classic videos, all hint that we’re in for a bigger and better show than ever before.

 

Interview by Antonino Tati

 

Hi Iva. Let’s go back to the beginning when you and the band were known as The Flowers. You had a huge hit with the single We Can Get Together. Why, after such huge success, was there a change in the band’s name? Was there a particular legality there?

It was fairly simple, really. We released The Flowers’ album in Australia and New Zealand without difficulty, but the success of it produced a lot of interest from international record companies. Ultimately we signed a deal with Chrysalis Records for the rest of the world, and the first thing they did was do a search on our trading name. Being a young band, we never thought of a band name being like a trademark, but in fact that’s exactly what it is. Unfortunately we discovered two other artists were trading using the name Flowers. One of them was a famous session bass-player called Herbie Flowers, and you’d know his work. He’s the man who created the bassline to Lou Reed’s Walk On The Wild Side. So the name was simply not available anymore. It’s not the first time it happened to an Australian band. It happened to Sherbert, and the Angels before they got their ultimate names.

 

It’s a pity we didn’t have the internet then to do a simple Google search.

Absolutely. Anyway, the name of our first album was Icehouse so, by default and overnight we became known as Icehouse.

 

Under that name, the band really began to gain momentum, delivering hit after hit, not only in Australia but in Europe and the US. In fact, your songs provided a soundtrack to much of the Eighties and Nineties. How does it feel to know your music has been a soundscape for so many Australians?

Well, looking back at over 30 years of work is very interesting because at the time it was like running on a treadmill that was going faster than I was. The process of writing and recording and touring kept us incredibly busy so the last thought I had in mind was how long these songs were going to last. Our vision at the time was fairly short-term; each album only took care of about a year or 18 months’ worth of our existence. I basically tried to do things that wouldn’t date but, really, one of the least considerations in my mind was whether these songs were going to be listened to in 30 years’ time. Generally speaking, it would be fair to describe most of the popular music of that period, and other periods, as being fairly disposable.

 

Well let’s take a classic example: Great Southern Land. That song has gone from pop status to practically becoming Australia’s second national anthem.

It seems to have become that… The process of writing that particular song is a lot clearer in my mind than writing some of the other songs because I knew at the time it would be a dangerous thing to get wrong. Having said that, it was the first of 12 or so songs that I was virtually commissioned to write for our second album – which was an obvious priority. Great Southern Land happened to be the first song I wrote when we got back from our first international tour and with hindsight it’s fair to say part of the reason I took on that subject was because, for the first time ever, I had gone a very big overseas trip and become incredibly homesick. I had a renewed kind of respect for Australia when I came back!

 

I read somewhere recently that you were told by your record company to be ambiguous with your treatment of the song, so that it didn’t come across as too patriotic. I understand you were told to say in interview responses that the song wasn’t really about Australia…

Well I was specifically instructed by my managers not to admit that the song was about Australia – which was quite an absurd directive, really. So it was very difficult for me to answer direct questions like, ‘Is this song about Australia?’ I never denied it flatly, and I never told a lie, but I did a lot of fancy political-type side-stepping of the question. The motivation of that instruction from my managers was quite simple: and that was that they wanted us to be perceived as an international band and not be locked into an Australian identity. At the time it might have made logical sense to them, but it made my life very difficult.

 

It brings me to a question about the here and now. Are you fascinated by how broadly embraced Australian music is today by the rest of the world?

It’s an interesting thing. I was recently having a conversation with someone about the very early Australian music exports – bands like The Easybeats and The Masters Apprentices – and how difficult it would have been for them to land in London and attempt to compete with the likes of The Beatles, The Who, and so on. The fact of the matter is that Australia is still a very long way away from what it is perceived to be by the rest of the world but, because of the internet, things are becoming quite a different prospect so far as actually being able to launch music. I think Australia has always been incredibly strong with music, particularly our live scene. I remember first arriving in London and being incredibly disappointed. It was perceived to have been the mecca of music but there wasn’t the same kind of pub culture that we had in Australia whereby on any given night – if you were in Adelaide or Sydney or Perth or Melbourne – you could go out and see 50 fantastic bands.

 

How do you mix things up when you’re playing live, so that audiences are hearing and seeing something fresh each time?

Well, for Oz Rock Busselton we’re introducing a kind of acoustic break in the middle of the show, which is something we haven’t done before. Having three guitarists gives us the opportunity to strip the band down and try something new. And that gives us a springboard to kind of gear up again as well. Part of what we’re introducing into the set with this acoustic moment is the opportunity for me to be able to tell the story of how some of these songs were written and to give away some of the more personal information about the songs than you might get from just sitting down and listening to a CD. And there are many stories attached to a lot of these songs!

I’m sure there are. You’re quite a champion of seeing new talent take on classic work. You released the Meltdown album over a decade ago where you gave DJs of the day carte blanche to do what they wanted to your music. And more recently you and the current lineup of the band delivered reggae-tinged versions of Icehouse songs on the DubHOUSE album.

My philosophy on letting people loose to reinterpret my songs is quite simple, and that is that the originals exist – and some of them have existed for more than 30 years – and they’ll always be there in terms of their original structure, but [to hand them over to new artists] means I’m not threatened by the prospect of having other people reinterpret them. My brief to all of the artists involved in Meltdown was that they should have absolutely no fear in recreating and rerecording these songs in their own way. I gave them absolute license and at no point was I involved. I simply sat back and waited to hear the very interesting things they came up with. I think it was very important not to meddle with their work. And I still have that appreciation. For example, Missy Higgins recently brought out an album called Oz which features cover versions of Australian songs, and one of mine is among those. I get real joy in hearing the way in which another artist will interpret a song; I find it endlessly fascinating.

 

Icehouse has always stood out on the Australian music landscape, not only for your great music, but for your ambiguity. Everything about the band appeared to go against the grain of the traditional Aussie ‘ocker’ mentality… Heck, you even featured drag queens in your music videos!

A lot of that was influenced by the fact that I had quite a strange beginning in music myself, in terms of musical background. I didn’t advertise it at the time but as I was growing up I had a stringent classical training. By the age of 16 I was playing the oboe with classical ensembles and [on the side] I was playing guitar in the band. So I had these parallel lives happening at the same time. I guess that meant I was never going to fit into the stereotype of a conventional rock’n’roll person. From the very beginning, Flowers were an anomaly and to some degree the reason we chose that name was because it was in direct defiance of what would be expected of a pub rock band. We were at the time a peculiar hybrid of pub band, rock band, and synthesiser technicians. For us to actually go into a pub dressed the way we did, with the name we had, could have got us into a lot of trouble. But luckily we survived it!

 

One final question, Iva. Where is the strangest place you’ve heard an Icehouse song being played?

I get caught out every time I go to my local supermarket. I’ll walk in there and hear myself quietly being beamed around the aisles. It’s quite a surreal experience to be collecting my groceries and hearing Baby You’re So Strange in the background.

 

ICEHOUSE HEADLINE OZ ROCK ON SATURDAY 24 JANUARY AT BARNARD PARK, BUSSELTON. SUPPORTING THEM IS AN IMPRESSIVE BILL THAT INCLUDES JAMES REYNE, DIESEL, ROSS WILSON, WENDY MATTHEWS, AND MANY MORE AUSSIE ARTISTS. TICKETS ARE AVAILABLE THROUGH TICKETMASTER.

 

COURTESY OF OZ ROCK, ROCK CANDY HAS 10 X DOUBLE TICKETS TO THE EVENT. TO TRY WINNING A PAIR, SIMPLY TELL US THE NAME OF YOUR FAVOURITE ICEHOUSE TRACK. SEND YOUR RESPONSE ALONG WITH YOUR NAME, ADDRESS AND THE SUBJECT HEADING ‘ICEHOUSE’ TO COMPETITIONS@CANDYMEDIA.COM.AU NO LATER THAN MONDAY 19 JANUARY. TICKETS WILL BE POSTED OUT THAT AFTERNOON AT 5PM TO BE RECEIVED IN TIME FOR THE EVENT!

LIVE PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY TONY MOTT.

 

 

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