The Stranglers’ Jean-Jacques Burnel isn’t letting Scott Morrison off the hook

The Stranglers’ Jean-Jacques Burnel isn’t letting Scott Morrison off the hook

Words by Kate Streader

We caught up with the renowned songwriter and chatted about everything from the climate crisis to the band’s next album.

In 1977, The Stranglers asked, “Whatever happened to all of the heroes?”. It was the same year that they sang “Something better change”. Almost 45 years later, these musings seem just as pertinent as when they were first written.

Coming up in the heyday of punk, The Stranglers have never been ones to bite their tongues. As much becomes particularly clear when chatting to the band’s songwriter and bassist, Jean-Jacques Burnel, about the band’s impending Australian tour inevitably leads to talk of the bushfires currently devastating the nation.

“There’s a bit of a backlash against Scott Morrison at the moment, isn’t there?” he says, not really asking. “Well look, I don’t think it’s the best approach to go on a holiday to Hawaii when the whole country’s burning up, it’s probably not the smartest move.”

If there were any question whether The Stranglers had softened with age, it’s quickly forgotten as JJ chastises the Prime Minister while making a point that Australia is the biggest exporter of coal in the world.

Currently recording six new tracks Burnel hopes will form an album, he says the present political climate ruled by Morrisons, Trumps and Torys has certainly infiltrated the band’s writing process.

“The Stranglers always tended to write about whatever was going on around them, I mean we’re part of the world, and maybe that’s the reason we haven’t written too many love songs,” he says.

“Everyone should be thinking about the world they’re living in. Anyone not doing that is like an ostrich sticking its head in the sand,” he adds. “We’ve all got to be conscious about the world that we live in and our contribution, whether it’s good or bad, because each one of us has an impact on the planet.”

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Burnel is acutely aware that few bands can claim the level of success The Stranglers have seen throughout their career. Making their beginnings as loudmouth punks playing in seedy bars, there was no telling it would all lead here.

In the band’s salad days, tours and out-of-town gigs meant stuffing themselves and all their gear into an ice-cream van their drummer Jet Black had acquired through his former day job slinging cones.

Burnel laughs as he compares those scrappy early days to The Stranglers’ last Australian tour in which they were loaned a fleet of motorbikes for a day trip to Margaret River while visiting Perth.

Choice of transport aside, Burnel ascertains the biggest change the band has welcomed through decades of touring is, “That we don’t get arrested so often. People don’t come to smash up our shows anymore, people come to actually listen to our music”.

The eager ears of fans have served the band well over the past year, in particular, with Burnel and co. using their recent live shows as an opportunity to road-test new material.

The could-be new album will mark The Stranglers’ first in eight years, and while many bands in their position would opt to keep a lid on what they’ve got cooking in favour of some grand, surprise release, Burnel sees little point in attempting mystery.

“The days of being conscious of new material or keeping it a surprise are over,” he says. “The modern way is that you play a new piece that hasn’t been recorded yet and by the time you get back to your hotel, it’s already on YouTube.”

Rather than keeping their new tracks to themselves, The Stranglers hope that bouncing them off audiences will help them to shape and refine what they’ve been working on.

Besides, after almost 50 years of playing their hits on stage, Burnel is more than happy to take a run at something new.

“It’s exciting,” he says. “It’s got the potential for a car crash, but it’s all part of it.”

The Stranglers come to The Forum on Friday February 7. Grab your tix here.