The Whitlams’ Tim Freedman on ‘the moment I would either become a one-hit wonder or have a career’

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The Whitlams’ Tim Freedman on ‘the moment I would either become a one-hit wonder or have a career’

The Whitlams
words by tyler jenke

Any artist will tell you it’s hard to top your biggest achievement, as The Whitlams’ Tim Freedman remembers, that’s exactly what he was faced with back in 1998.

Having already done the impossible after returning following the passing of founding member Stevie Plunder in 1996, the group released their third album Eternal Nightcap, the following year. Any Aussie music fan would recall its impact: along with lead single No Aphrodisiac topping Triple J’s Hottest 100, it won the group three ARIA Awards, including Best Independent Release, Best Group and Best Song.

But where do you go from there? It was a chance for Freedman and the band to prove themselves. This year, they are playing a tour dedicated to celebrating 25 years of the project that showed the world they weren’t just a flash in the pan, but rather major forces to be reckoned with who would forever be recognised as legends in Australian rock music history. 

The Whitlams: Love This City 25th anniversary  tour

  • The Whitlams are touring Love This City for its 25th anniversary
  • They’ll be playing dates around Australia from October 4 – December 7
  • Thursday 3 October – Corner Hotel – new show, tickets here
  • Friday 4 October – Corner Hotel – selling fast, tickets here
  • Saturday 5 October – Corner Hotel – sold out
  • Find tickets and more information here

Keep up with the latest music news, features, festivals, interviews and reviews here.

“We’d been a pretty raggedy do-it-yourself group for our whole history, then we’d done 100 shows from when Eternal Nightcap came out in September ’97 to mid-’98 – playing full houses – and it had been relentless,” he recalls. “Then I took the pedal off, realised we’d signed with Warners from our own label, and that I have to have an album out in 12 months.”

“I didn’t take the success for granted and I knew that it was the moment I would either become a one-hit wonder or have a career.”

Recording at the likes of Sydney’s Festival Studios, Garry Gary Beers’ Mangrove Studios, and both Ardent Studios and Joe’s Garage in Memphis, the resulting album was Love This City, a record that would hit #2 on the ARIA Charts and go two times Platinum. However, Freedman concedes that his insistence on releasing the Machine Gun Fellatio-penned Chunky Chunky Air Guitar as the first single may have been a misstep.

“In retrospect, if I had put out Blow Up The Pokies first, that would have been in the Hottest 100,” he says. “Because I waited until the third or fourth single, Triple J had sort of given me their enthusiasm, and they were ready to sort of move on from the album. 

Blow Up The Pokies was only on commercial radio; it was Triple M’s best-researched song in ‘99,” he adds. “It was blaring out over building sites to the people that actually sort of might have been tempted by the pokies in the pubs.”

Alongside tracks that were critical of the upcoming Olympic games and songs that were overtly political with lyrics touching on East Timor, tracks like Blow Up The Pokies proved rather prescient given that founding member Andy Lewis would pass away in 2000 after struggling with a gambling addiction.

Followed up by singles such as Thankyou (For Loving Me At My Worst) and Made Me Hard, the record ended up being a massive success, and now 25 years later, The Whitlams are taking a look back at the full album with a series of live shows. With the set featuring brass sections to fully flesh out the record, their appearance at Melbourne’s Corner Hotel this November will serve as a link to their earliest days as a band.

“I’ve always loved Kim Salmon and Ashley Naylor’s work, and their appearance is sort of inspired by the early Whitlams, which started at the Sandringham Hotel where Stevie Plunder, his big brother Bernie Hayes, and myself used to do tag-team solo afternoons,” he remembers.

“Each person would get up and do two songs, and the next person would get up and do two songs,” he adds. It’s quite nice because you get sort of thematic veins going through the afternoons, people sort of respond to each other, and that’s what Ashley and Kim will be doing – a tag-team opening act.”

For Freedman, revisiting the album in such a setting will be an interesting experience, given that while songs from Love This City aren’t far from the live set, relistening to the record has left him with ideas of how to revise things for the upcoming shows.

“One reason why I sort of like revisiting these albums is because I see how I think we can improve on how they feel in a live setting,” he explains. “It won’t be anywhere near as lavish, of course, but it will be more cohesive because it’s six people who’ve worked on making it flow as an album.

“It makes me tired just listening to it,” he admits. “The amount of textures and layers in it are quite surprising to me and quite pleasurable to listen to, but I find sometimes I rush the vocals a little bit. I have an ambivalent attitude to it at times, but I am proud of it.” 

You can find tickets to the tour and everything else about The Whitlams here.

This article was made in partnership with The Whitlams.