Twenty years on and The Mavis’s are bringing ‘Pink Pills’ back to the stage
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Twenty years on and The Mavis’s are bringing ‘Pink Pills’ back to the stage

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By the time that Pink Pills hit shelves in April of 1998, its creators – Melbourne-via-Ballarat pop weirdos The Mavis’s – had been pushing the proverbial stone up the hill for over a decade.

They’d carved out a niche for themselves with their ambitious and versatile approach to genre semantics and bright aesthetics, but paydirt still escaped them. “We were thinking this was a make-or-break moment – something had to happen,” says Matt Thomas, AKA Matt Doll, the band’s co-lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist.

“By that point, we’d been doing The Mavis’s since we were teenagers. To feel like a veteran in your 20s is a strange thing – it had been such a long journey for all of us. We just kept building and building, and we were lucky enough to have a bit of a cult following just from putting the work in over the years. As grateful as we were, we knew that a change needed to happen – and it did.”

Thanks in no small part to the breakout success of their glistening retro-pop smash ‘Cry’, Pink Pills quickly became the band’s most successful work. It charted in the Top 20 of the album charts and picked up two ARIA nominations, while ‘Cry’ itself went Gold. For a band that hadn’t ever achieved even so much as bronze, it was a huge – and welcome – surprise. “We were definitely taken aback by it,” says Thomas. “It really felt like this album was a big part of people’s lives – we’ve definitely had a lot of people tell us how they went out and bought the record and came out to see us play when they were still teenagers. To think we were to them what bands in the ‘80s were to us, it means a lot. You never lose that fondness for that music you came of age to.”

The legacy of The Mavis’s lives and dies by ‘Cry’. Intriguingly, it’s a strange bedfellow when juxtaposed with other singles by the band – even from the very same album. One could argue, however, it’s this idiosyncratic nature that has allowed it to stand the test of time as one of the best Australian pop songs of the decade. It’s complemented thoroughly by its kitschy music video, which features an array of shimmery outfits and an ABBA homage for good measure. “We made that video with this director from Perth,” recalls Thomas.

“He had this set-up of lighting, and it had a really luminous feel to it. We thought it was really cool – it made the whole thing look like Xanadu! Obviously, we were just mucking around and having a lot of fun with that video. We wanted to embrace how camp it all was, and really take it to that realm. It was fun to do something that was, in a way, quite contrary to what we’d done in the past.”

Classic label conflicts and shifting priorities within the band meant The Mavis’s would go their separate ways in 2001. They’ve only partially reformed twice since – once for an acoustic show in 2013 that featured both the Thomas siblings (Matt’s sister Bek played keys and shared lead vocals in the band); the other a full-band show at the end of 2014 to coincide with Bek and guitarist Nik Gill visiting from their Stateside homes to be in Australia over Christmas. The forthcoming Pink Pills tour, however, will mark the first official Mavis’s tour in 17 years. “We’d been discussing it for awhile,” says Thomas. “We have a little group chat on Facebook that we stay pretty active in. The previous shows had all gone so well, that the idea came naturally.”

Only one burning question remains: Will any of the classic Mavis’s outfits be making an appearance on the tour? Thomas laughs, “I don’t think you’ll be seeing any miniskirts, let’s just put it that way,” he says. “I honestly don’t know if I could fit into any of the old gear – I was a skinny boy back then, and I’m a bit of a bloke now. Maybe I’ll try and find some of the necklaces we used to wear.”