When we walked on stage we were this punk rock band and when we came off, we felt that we had changed to a festival stadium rock band.

Mark Maher a.k.a 'Kram' of Spiderbait

Hi Kram and thanks for taking the time out to speak with us at Musicology.

You are set to headline the Come Together Festival which includes some classic Australian acts such as Superjesus as well the riotous up comers Rackett. It must be a nostalgic and invigorating prospect knowing that you have performed alongside some of these acts for years as well as being blown away by some new talent?

It’s funny because just recently I did a show on Double J for Australian Music Month and it was basically a 90’s retrospective and some of the guests I had on included Bernard Fanning, the boys from JET, Angie Hart…heaps of people but one of the guests was Dylan Lewis who was the host of Recovery and we were reminiscing about Recovery and how much we miss it. It was such a good TV show, lots of bands used to play on it, including us and looking back on a few old clips, one that came up was Superjesus and it was Sarah (McLeod) playing guitar. I hadn’t heard of them for some time and then fast forward six months and we are playing with them on this festival so it is going to be really cool to play with them again. Also, I have heard a lot about Rackett and it is always the case when you play a festival and there is a new band on that everyone is talking about which is really cool to hear, so I like both sides of the coin in terms of the way I play with someone that I have in the past and discovering something new.

Spiderbait have been a mainstay in the music scene for almost 30 years which a staggering length of time to remain at the top of your game and a testament to your work ethic and timeless tracks you have created. Based on what is already in the Spiderbait catalogue, how has your view of the music you have made changed over the decades?

I am a great lover of history and in many ways history is the ultimate example of retrospect and when you are looking at things at the time they were made you don’t really get a chance to appreciate them or are able to analyse them as accurately as you would when you look at them 20 years later. That is a really good example for me personally. I know when we did the Ivy and the Big Apples tour last year, first and foremost we were blown away with how successful the tour was and that people would come out and see this record live. One of the spin outs for us was because bands don’t really listen to their own music much after they have finished making it, we had to go back and listen to it and learn some of the songs again and we were so pleasantly surprised at how good the record was. It really stood up and some of the stuff on there was fantastic. So in a way I don’t think you would be able to have that same perspective at the time it was made or a little bit after and there are also little hidden gems that as you listen back on your work certain songs at the time weren’t singles you think arrgh shit that should have been a single and another song that was a single you think well actually that wasn’t that great. Sometimes it is hit and miss but it is always nice to go back and listen to stuff and see the sort of emotions it conjures up for you.

I guess it is fair to say that music has been one of the underlying constants in your life and the prism through which the world is viewed, analysed and reimagined. Such a heavy reliance on music and more precisely playing music can be an alienating yet liberating form of expression. As you move through your years does performing music become more or less the vehicle that drives you?

Definitely the older I get it becomes more of a spiritual experience. We just finished doing the Day On The Green tour and was with Veruca Salt, The Living End and The Lemonheads. Some American bands that haven’t seen us for a long time and we are really good friends with Veruca Salt and used to play with them years ago and they were really blown out by the reaction we got from the shows and the audience and the whole energy from the performances. It was nice to have a perspective from someone from the other side of the world and Louise (Post) who hadn’t seen us play live before reminds you of what it is like for someone to see it. These days when I walk out on stage I am very much in the moment of the next hour or so and for it to be a euphoric experience for myself and for the three of us as well as for the whole audience. It is a really powerful experience to be able to play the instrument and perform these shows because I think for many years you are still trying to get ahead, find your place, get as successful as you can and now days we have kind of done all that so we feel because we have achieved so much we can just enjoy it.

With so many performances under your belt and so many more to come, can you share with us a truly stand out show and what made it so personally remarkable for you?

There is a couple of answers to that question and they come from the two opposite lengths of our career. One was our first Sydney Big Day Out in 1995 and everyone in Australia was talking about us and in particular Melbourne but we were still very much doing pubs and clubs and doing the punk ethos. We got offered this main stage show and we played at about 3pm and it was the old Big Day Out which used to be at the Showgrounds, a glorious venue right next to the SCG and I think they got about 35,000 people there which was a massive crowd for that time. We walked out on stage and I remember vividly when we played the song Old Man Sam and although it has never won the Hottest 100 or anything, it has become this iconic song for us, something our crowds always go crazy for and I remember the reaction to that song was so massive. Thousands of people singing along, laughing and going nuts in the breakdown sections and us transforming. Transforming literally in those three minutes of that song, not just the gig itself but that particular song and when we walked on stage we were this punk rock band and when we came off, we felt that we had changed to a festival stadium rock band. It was a huge injection of confidence in ourselves but also something had changed in our performance and we had realised we could cut it on a big stage in front of thousands of people. I don’t think we would still be here today if it wasn’t for that transformation. We needed to make that change to become a big crowd act to survive.

The bookend to that story is that we played Splendour In The Grass about three years ago and we walked on stage and it was a similar energy to that Big Day Out show. This euphoric energy on a Friday night at about 6 o’clock and I brought my four year old daughter out on stage, she waved at the crowd and they went crazy and it was a super meaningful, emotional gig. People still talk to me about that show all the time. So those two shows twenty years apart say it all about us I guess.

In what ways has the dynamic between yourself, Janet and Damien changed or become tighter considering not just how long you have all played together but also in the ways that you inevitably grow as individuals and artists?

We have been through so many changes and we were really tight when we first got together. It always started with me and Whit (Damian Whitty) when he would come back from his boarding school in the holidays and we would jam in the backyard. It’s funny because I am in my house in Bryon Bay right now looking out into my garden and I could just imagine these two dudes with a drum kit and amp playing in the backyard because that is what we used to do in Findley, we would play outside all the time. One time we asked Janet who we met during summer working on this farm because it was always us and a bunch of other uni students working on the sorghum and the corn and the hay, really country, hard yakka that paid well and you could have a beer at the end of the day sort of work and that is where we met Janet. Not long after that she was playing with us and I remember how excited we were and that we wanted to get a band together. Since that time we have been through so many changes but the relationship between us has always stayed really solid. We are closer than ever and we really do love each other so much and that is such a big part of what our band is all about. I think the audience can feel that and it has such an effect. I would include our manager Fiona Duncan in that as well because she has been with us for over twenty years. There is a real equality in the personalities in the group. I think to begin with I was a little dominant but I have learnt to let things be and that everyone has their own space, to be supportive of them and give them what they need.

As an artist always in flux can you elaborate on your personal drivers that not just sustain a solid musical career but ignite that fire which is as inspiring now as when you first entered industry?

The main one is live performance. I think our shows are different to other bands because for me they are an outer worldly experience and the reaction from the audience to our shows is something that is nuts, it’s crazy. Maybe we have cultivated that over the years with the way we perform or maybe it’s symbiotic between us and the audience. Both parties are there and know what we need to do and both really celebrate that one hour or so that we have together. Those shows and those reactions and how big they have become gives you an injection of adrenaline and it never gets tired or forced in anyway.

Another one is the instrument itself and the interaction between the personalities and the instruments of all three of us. It is the joy of playing the instrument and it is like a great relationship that you never want to end.

The third is our manager Fiona who just gives us such confidence and belief and is always there for us. It is a weird thing being an artist because your ego is all over the place sometimes but not so much when you have been doing it for over twenty years and you are established. I would love to hear what someone like Paul Kelly or Nick Cave would have to say about that because you tend to not care so much about all the other stuff that you have no control over, you don’t really give a fuck about it anymore and just get up and do your thing and that makes you do your thing even better.

I often ask the question to artists what words of wisdom have been spoken to you that really resonated with you and altered the way you approach your craft and it is surprising how many artists (Richie Lewis of Tumbleweed, Hannah Findlay of Stonefield, Phil Jamieson of Grinspoon) actually reference you personally. One such example is was Richie Lewis of Tumbleweed who was advised by yourself to “embrace the beautiful stuff” which leads me to ask the same of you… what words of wisdom have been spoken to you that really resonated with you and altered the way you approach your craft?

It’s funny because as you mention all those personalities, they are all friends and I think everyone does. I actually take on board everything that everyone says to me. From where I live in Byron I do spend a lot of time in nature and in a space that I can forget about it all sometimes and when I do interviews I remember oh that’s right this is what I do, this is who I am and it is a beautiful surprise to hear someone like Hannah who I love so much and Jamo the same for Richie who I just adore, who is one of my oldest and greatest friends to say those things is really great because I can think of each one of those guys just by their enthusiasm by something we did or something we played. One thing I remember was something Richie told me was remember the humour that you guys have, there is something about your humour that gives people joy. There is often a lot of emphasis on music about being serious. It’s the Nick Cave mentality of if you’re not being serious you’re not real and not everyone has that expression. Richie was always like make sure you embrace that and I remember it was just before we were about to put Black Betty out and people were talking about this song that we had done a cover of and it was Richie and Al Lynch who came along to one of our shows in Sydney and said that humour is something I love you about but rather than it being a piece of advice in saying I think you should do this, it is more of I love how you do this and that is another way of you being reminded by just listening.

One of my favourite things is just having so many friends who are other musicians. Say Stonefield they are some of my closest friends and they are really young whereas other friends I have are older than me in there fifties and sixties. They are all musicians and we all speak the same language so it is a beautiful thing and I am here to learn as much as I can. If I do have something to impart onto someone else I want to do it from the point of I love what you are doing and keep going.