A couple of years ago Phil Kakulas assumed that The Blackeyed Susans, the band he’d formed with fellow Perth musicians Rob Snarski and the late David McComb, had run their course.
A couple of years ago Phil Kakulas assumed that The Blackeyed Susans, the band he’d formed with fellow Perth musicians Rob Snarski and the late David McComb, had run their course. “I was all ready to wind the band up, but then I was persuaded otherwise,” Kakulas recalls. The release of The Blackeyed Susans retrospective box-set in 2009 provided the catalyst for a run of shows in Melbourne and interstate, and The Blackeyed Susans concept was revived. “We’ve been working on some new material,” Kakulas admits. “I feel like there’s life in the old dog.”
Kakulas says the band were flattered by the reaction it received to their 2009 shows. “The shows went really well overall,” he recalls. “People were very appreciative, and we felt very heartened by the whole experience.” The Blackeyed Susans were joined by good friends The Ukeladies and the shows also coincided with a rare break in guitarist Dan Luscombe’s commitments with The Drones. “It was the first opportunity we’d had to play with Dan for a while,” Kakulas smiles happily.
At first glace it’s almost forgivable to construct The Blackeyed Susans as something of a floating collective, with members coming and going according to the whims of logistics. Kakulas concedes, however, that The Blackeyed Susans have always been creatively focused around himself and singer Rob Snarski. “It [leadership of the band] depends on what aspect of the band you’re talking about,” Kakulas explains. “Creatively, it’s Rob and I, but it’s a benevolent dictatorship.”
With songwriting duties spread across the band, The Blackeyed Susans have always had the benefit of not relying on a single songwriting protagonist. “Rob has always had the power of veto as the singer,” Kakulas notes. “We used to have a bit of a tug of war in days gone by in deciding which songs to do. But over the years I’ve realised it’s better to follow Rob’s lead. In fact, when we were doing the retrospective I could identify the songs that I’d pushed Rob into doing,” he grins.
In approaching the daunting task of writing new material, Kakulas says The Blackeyed Susans have stayed true to their original sound, while avoiding the temptation to stay on a predictable course. “I like to think that our sound is still evolving, and that it’s not just the process of refining” he figures. “My idea of going forward is actually going backwards. I like the idea of digging deep. That’s why I really liked the covers album that we did (2001’s Dedicated To The Ones We Love). I like pre-rock ’n’ roll songs; World War II songs like We’ll Meet Again,” he nods.
Kakulas says developments in technology – specifically, the ability to remotely exchange song ideas and instrumental parts – have helped the process of writing new material. However, there’s a still a basic reality that needs to be addressed, regardless of technology. “Technology can help, but the process can also go forever. Eventually you have to be together so you can finish it all off,” Kakulas points out.
“But technology does allow you to realise ideas without relying on other people. I think it’s great that the means of production is in the hands of the people. But you still have to have a good idea when you sit down – and would that ever change?” Kakulas asks rhetorically.
For their upcoming Christmas show at the Thornbury Theatre The Blackeyed Susans are polishing up their catalogue of Christmas songs, as well as looking out for interesting old tracks to give the ‘Susans treatment. “We’re always on the hunt for great songs,” Kakulas admits. “There’s something about a great song – that mysterious union of lyrics and music.”
The passage of time hasn’t diluted the band members’ enthusiasm for The Blackeyed Susans’ cause; Kakulas concedes, however, that attitudes have matured. “When you start out as a young band, it’s a mission, a crusade,” he explains. “These days it’s more like a fishing trip with your mates.”
THE BLACKEYED SUSANS play a very special Christmas show at The Thornbury Theatre on Saturday December 11 with guest Lisa Miller. Tickets from thethornburytheatre.com, Polyester Fitzroy and City, and Basement Discs (Dinner and show tickets also available). THE BLACKEYED SUSANS box-set Reveal Yourself is out now through Liberation.