Boom Crash Opera: ‘We Play It As Hard As We Can, Full Tilt’

21 December 2023 | 12:17 pm | Noel Mengel

As Boom Crash Opera prepare for a national tour with 1927, founder members Dale Ryder and Peter Maslen open up about the band’s chemistry, a traumatic accident, and finding out a younger audience loves their songs.

Boom Crash Opera

Boom Crash Opera (Supplied)

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“There is only one way to play our music and that is on 11,” says Peter Maslen, who has had the best seat in the house for Australian rockers Boom Crash Opera right from the start, driving the energy from behind his drum kit. “Over the years we’ve learnt that we have to play the music in a certain way. We have tried pulling it back here and there but that doesn’t work. We play it as hard as we can, full tilt.”

Their name sums up Boom Crash Opera, who arrived with a suitable bang in the mid ’80s, a prime era of Australian music with contemporaries like Midnight Oil, The Divinyls, Hoodoo Gurus, INXS, Hunters And Collectors and The Models. The band’s dynamic live performances and radio-ready hits like Great Wall, Hands Up In The Air, Onion Skin and The Best Thing won them a devoted following at a time when the competition was intense.

Many of those early fans have stuck by them ever since. But what the band didn’t see coming was how well those songs translate to a younger audience, as they discovered playing Good Things festival this month in a line-up including Fall Out Boy, Limp Bizkit and Spiderbait. “It worked because people were there for the music,” Maslen says. “Initially they might have been there for the metal but we had these big beat songs they could sing and dance to. And they knew the songs.”

Thanks, probably, to the record collections of their parents.

The band’s lead singer Dale Ryder was as excited as their new fans. “What a wonderful feeling to be playing to a completely new audience,” Ryder says. “And it was great to hang out with some of the bands like Jebediah and Taking Back Sunday. You realise that no matter what music you play, we are all musicians doing what we love. We met some really nice people.”

He admits he was worried when they were invited to play Good Things, a different kind of bill for a band whose natural audience was their older fans. Ryder says: “I thought, ‘Are you serious?’ But it all went off really well. It’s nice to be reminded that good songs will prevail.”

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Ryder took a three-year sabbatical from the band from 2016, replaced by Andrew de Silva. Then there were further delays as he recovered from a serious accident.

“I had a cramp and stood up then passed out,” Ryder says. “I fell face forward and broke my neck when I hit the wall. A helicopter took me to hospital, the whole bit. Recovery is a slow process but it is mainly nerve damage I am suffering now and I am coping with it. Watching all the videos of the band playing I realised how much I missed it. I am raring to go and very happy to be back. It just felt like coming home again when I rejoined the band.”

For Ryder, music was always going to be his calling. “I would get up at any party that was happening. I always wanted to be a singer and never wanted to be anything else. I did the garage band thing at school and when I was 16 I sang in an Italian wedding band. Like anyone who wants to be a musician I was obsessed. Unless you are obsessed with it you are never going to do anything. That’s the typical story of any musician really.”

As with any band that finds success, there was an element of luck in finding the right chemistry to go with the obsession, the talent, the desire. Ryder sang in a covers band in Melbourne. The drummer was Peter Maslen, who had come down from Cairns trying to turn his passion into a career. Maslen says: “I really didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I was playing in three or four bands. One of them was just a money-making covers thing, with Dale on vocals.”

But far off in left field …

“I was also playing in a jazz-rock confusion band, with odd time signatures, making a lot of noise. We never did a gig. And the guitar player was Richard Pleasance.”

Pleasance, too, was wondering where this would take him. “He pulled me aside and said, ‘Do you like this stuff?’ He told me he was writing songs with Peter Farnan: ‘We want to get on Countdown and be in a pop band.’ And I said, ‘Cool!’”

Farnan was already a bright young prospect on the Melbourne scene with the edgy new wave of Serious Young Insects and their 1982 album Housebreaking. Pleasance briefly joined the band before it broke up. Maslen recalls: “They said, ‘Can we come around and play you some stuff?’ And, ‘Do you know any singers?’”

Ryder recalls that he and Maslen were on their way to Canberra to play a covers gig when the drummer played him a demo in the car. “I loved the song, I was surprised at how good it was. I said, ‘Yeah, I’d like to join that band.’ And we pretty much clicked straight away. Peter and Richard had different tastes, they liked alternative stuff. I was into R&B but also bands like XTC. Any good music I like, it doesn’t matter what kind of music it is or where it comes from.”

That mix of influences suited the songs Pleasance and Farnan had, like Great Wall. By 1985 Boom Crash Opera were tipped as next big things in the press, the kind of label that young bands often struggle to live up to. Not Boom Crash Opera, however. Maslen says: “We knew we had a thing going. We were young and a bit arrogant but I think you are respected if you have a bit of that arrogance and you deliver. We were confident, and we spent 24/7 manipulating the whole art of the group. We made sure we had the arty bits and the pop bits too.”

They had all served their apprenticeship. They wanted to make great records but make sure their songs reached as many people as possible. “It was a time when you could experiment,” Maslen says. “It was the early stages of electronic drums and drum machines. We were dabbling in all that technology and that gave you a different set of tools.”

This was exuberant music designed to light up a crowd at a sweaty suburban beer barn, and to make a colourful splash among the pop hits of the day on TV. “We did aim for those big chanty choruses with unison vocals, the bombastic-sounding drums, angular guitars and pop lyrics,” Maslen says. “Throw that all together and that’s Boom Crash Opera.”

In the days before the internet and a national radio station for young bands, they usually had to win their audience one market at a time, hoping Countdown and the other TV music shows might notice along the way. “It was parochial,” Maslen says. “You made your name in Melbourne, then you had to do it again in Sydney, then Brisbane and so on. It was local, that’s how we did it and a lot of other bands did too.”

They were signed by the major label WEA and second single Hands Up In The Air took them to the higher reaches of the charts. Boom Crash Opera had three nominations at the 1987 ARIA Awards and Great Wall won best debut single at the Countdown Music Awards that year.

It was a different world for a promising young band with label support at that time compared to the tight budgets most bands work with today. The band recorded their self-titled debut album in London with hot American producer Alex Sadkin, whose track record included artists like Grace Jones, Robert Palmer, Duran Duran, Joe Cocker and the Thompson Twins.

“We didn’t think about money, we had management to think about money,” Maslen says. “At the time there was so much money in the music industry. Record companies were making an exorbitant amount releasing music that had already been recorded on the new format of CD. They were encouraging us to spend the money because if this hits, you won’t worry about the money you spent making the record,” Maslen says. “That was the paradigm at the time.”

The faith in the band was justified: Boom Crash Opera went gold in Australia. Second album These Here Are Crazy Times, recorded in Melbourne and the US with Jimmy Iovine contributing as a producer, was released in 1989. It went top 10 in Australia and hits like Onion Skin and Get Out Of The House kept the album in the charts for the best part of a year.

Ryder says: “For a young band to get signed and sent to live in London for three months to make an album with Alex Sadkin was really special. We did spend a lot of money that we didn’t realise we were doing. I do feel sorry for young bands now because record companies don’t splurge like they did then. Having said that, it was our money we were splurging.”

The band’s third album, Fabulous Beast, was recorded in Los Angeles, but they had to take stock when tinnitus forced Richard Pleasance to leave the band. Two more albums followed but despite their love of the live stage, greatest hits sets and an album of acoustic versions of their songs, there are no plans yet to record again. Maslen says: “Life doesn’t give you a lot of time to do that and it takes a lot of emotional energy for any band to record. I know that because I do a lot of session work. It gets more difficult to make records as you grow older, it’s just not that simple any more.”

The line-up of Ryder, Farnan, Maslen and bassist John Favoro finds the buzz of playing songs that audiences love is as strong as ever. Ryder says: “Lyrically they still make sense to me and the songs are still relevant as far as I am concerned. They are hard to sing, they’re high, it has to be loud and you have to project the songs. And thank God I can still do that.

“Peter and Richard were the main songwriters. Absolute geniuses, great musicians and prolific too. We are all very pragmatic about it. Everyone knows what their job is and it works like a machine. Everyone in the band is so talented. When we play live, I notice all that stuff. I never used to but I do now.”

What’s his advice to the next generation of bands? “Perseverance. If that’s what you love doing then that’s what you must do. Every opportunity you get, try to seize it, or at least notice it and not waste your time.”

And it seems the ties that bind this band are as strong as ever. “You could do a PhD on just one group,” Maslen says. “It’s like a family. That 40 minutes or an hour you get on stage will be the most peaceful time you get during the day. There is no telephone, no one can bother you. There are things about the job you get tired of, like the travelling, but it makes it all worthwhile when you get on stage and play those songs. You are doing what you should be doing, making people happy.’’




Friday March 1 – Geelong, The Wool Exchange
Saturday March 2 – Adelaide, The Gov
Friday March 8 – Frankston, Art Centre
Saturday March 9 – Melbourne, Corner Hotel
Saturday March 16 – Brisbane, The Triffid
Sunday March 17 – Gold Coast, Miami Marketta
Friday March 22 – Fremantle, Freo Social
Saturday March 23 – Perth, Astor Theatre
Friday April 5 – Sydney, Factory Theatre
Saturday April 6 – Thirroul, Anita’s Theatre