Running Amok

18 July 2012 | 8:30 am | Brendan Telford

“At that stage we had this purple fluffy drum kit... Bek had an outfit made out of the leftover purple furry material... One of the guys in the crowd called Bek a ‘fucking Gobbledock Sinead O’Connor’ and said that he had a dog that farts better music than that!”

Whilst the wonky Casio, twee subject matter and devil-may-care attitude may not seem that incongruous in today's musical environment, when Brisbane kiddie-punks Clag – Bek Moore on vocals, Rachael Cooke on guitar and Alison Bolger on bass, with a revolving door of others – formed in the early-'90s, there was nothing like them, for better or worse. Embracing the use of plush toy props, out-there costumes, unorthodox stances (they weren't afraid to play an entire set facing away from the audience) and antagonistic banter, Clag straddled genres, stuck the forks up at their dour grunge-laden counterparts, and wrote some of the most underrated punk songs in Australian music. Although the band never broke up, their hiatus has extended as the success of the members' other bands (such as Minimum Chips, Panel Of Judges and Beaches) took precedence. Now, almost 20 years since their inception, a Clag retrospective called Pasted Youth has hit the streets.

“It may seem like it's come out of nowhere, but it's actually a project I've been working on with Guy Blackman (of Melbourne label Chapter Music) for about two-and-a-half years,” Moore explains. “The Clag relationship with Guy goes back twenty years, from when I worked at 4ZZZ and he worked at 6RTR in Perth. One of the 4ZZZ presenters moved to Perth and took Clag stuff with him, then we all ended up in Melbourne. It took him fifteen years from that point to come to us about putting something together. Maybe he's just indulging me!”

With much of the Clag material written when they were in their late-teens, the propensity for mawkish embarrassment at such puerile sentiment as songs about security mall guards and goldfish could be overbearing. Revisiting the music hasn't been that arduous a task though.

“Everyone asks me this question!” Moore laughs. “I can understand why though. I remember when I was seventeen and the Buzzcocks came into 4ZZZ for an interview, and they were only in their forties but that was ancient to me. Already I was thinking, 'God, these old bastards are going to get up on stage and play Orgasm Addict and talk about picking up teenage girls; that's embarrassing. I'm never going to do that.' There's something a little twisted about us getting up on stage now and singing about bikes and goldfish, the twee-er end of the Clag spectrum. There are cringeworthy songs, so we left them off the album and off our setlists. It's actually fun – because we don't sing about picking up teenagers, it just comes off as a Wiggles-esque childish show that offers the warm and fuzzies, a more nostalgic kind of thing.”

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“It's been a while though. For the Melbourne launch, we practiced every Sunday for six weeks – I had to listen to the CD just to work out some of the chords again,” Cooke chuckles.

“The funny thing is that when we all got together it was so easy and natural,” Moore asserts. “It shocked me that I remembered all the words. They would start playing something and I'd think, 'Shit, I don't know this one!', but then I'd just start singing, it was like muscle memory or something. But above all else it's about getting back together, having fun, playing some songs, having people come up and have a good time. Clag was always about fun, and about poking fun, at ourselves and at everything else. I think that's universal, that idea of pissing people off yet having a laugh at yourself at the same time.”

Clag have always played with public perceptions, even before they were a band, something that came back to bite them at their first ever show.

“Rach and I start playing games with Clag when we both went to Queensland Uni,” Moore explains. “We were writing songs, hadn't played anywhere yet, but we ripped off a Benson & Hedges ad at the time and did some Clag poster runs all around Brisbane. We would hear people at uni looking at these posters and saying, 'Clag are that new band, I saw them two weeks ago, they're really great!' We had a chuckle to ourselves, all these people thought we were an established band…”

“Our first show was Custard's first CD launch,” Cooke continues. “It was to a huge crowd. We had been together for two weeks, and we only had five songs. I had to make Alison learn to play bass in two weeks.”

“Dave McCormack joined the band for all of three seconds,” Moore says. “He introduced the keyboard, asked us to play the show. We had spent the past year going to their shows and heckling them, throwing ice at them, and he waited until the night of the show to come up and say that he couldn't play. I was like 'What?' We were scared – we were seventeen, eighteen, it was our first show. He said, 'I'm playing in Custard, I can't play with you,' and it was his ultimate revenge. But I lived with John Swingle (of The Melniks) and he had heard our songs – they were pretty much his songs that we had rearranged and ripped off anyway.”

“And I think that is how Clag became the band it was. We learnt to write songs in an hour and heckle the crowd as time filler to finish out our sets,” Cooke adds.

The idea of confounding their live audience has been an integral element of the Clag aesthetic since their inception. Finding themselves in a Brisbane scene that was male-oriented and discovering the dirge of grunge, the girls' penchant for weird costumes, lyrics about inane topics such as chips and gravy, and incessant crowd-baiting ensured that Clag would never fit into the musical wasteland, a fact that Moore says they are very proud of.

“Half the people we used to abuse in the crowd were our friends – it just added to the show. There were a few touchy times though – we had one gig up at the Sunshine Coast where we had to do a runner from the show, with a guy attached to the front of the car…”

“At that stage we had this purple fluffy drum kit,” Cooke continues. “Bek had an outfit made out of the leftover purple furry material. A friend of ours was videotaping the show and asking the crowd what they thought of the band. One of the guys in the crowd called Bek a 'fucking Gobbledock Sinead O'Connor' and said that he had a dog that farts better music than that!”

“We want Clag to be more than just a musical experience,” Moore espouses. “It sounds wanky, but we were probably performance art – we didn't want to be six people getting on stage, playing music and getting off. We used to go to shows and stand right up the front, Custard or Screamfeeder shows, and heckle them, but it was always fun rather than mean, and if we could do it, we should expect the same.”