Dave Graney On 30 Years Of The Coral Snakes' 'Night Of The Wolverine'

17 July 2023 | 12:18 pm | Dave Graney

Dave Graney recalls the making of the seminal Coral Snakes album, Night Of The Wolverine: "I had a fantasy life that was just out of reach, but which I was probably actually living, about a heroic, rootless player, like someone out of Willie Nelson’s song Night Life."

Dave Graney and the "Contemporary Wolverine"

Dave Graney and the "Contemporary Wolverine" (Source: Supplied)

1992. Lure Of The Tropics came out at the same time as I Was the Hunter And I Was The Prey (which had been on the shelf at Fire Records in the UK for a couple of years. In the meantime, with no bass player to anchor the sound and deliver the space, we did semi-acoustic turns, which we billed as Soft ‘n’ Sexy shows. We were reloading all the while. Unconsciously, I found a new way to sing and think about music. How to deliver it, what to stress and how to cruise. We had a notion of making a lyrical record. When it happened, it happened quickly. 

This dark, earthbound period, full of wild dreams of flight and escape, I had given me a brace of even more fantastic illusions. All the show business of Custer and Hickok and co. led me to great places. Places to think on and step out into. My own eternal return to Australia and then the Australias within that country and city, artistic and brutal, gave me some weird notes to play around with.  

Those downbeat South Australian towns like Penola, Keith, and Bordertown had sung to me when I’d been living in London, never to return. “Exile is a rampart into the past.” I’d read that somewhere. Now these new songs ran fast and tight with fabled names like Wallace Beery, Ava Gardner, and Terry Southern, along with those deadbeat, hopeless wide spots on the South  Australian country roads.  

I’d always had this kooky idea that I was following a trail. One thing leads to another. Stupid. In my hopped-up showbiz Custer funk, I’d read how he would lead his men into battle, yelling, “Ride, you wolverines”. Then I was reading James Ellroy’s Blood On The Moon. I turned a page, and there was one word in bold black: WOLVERINE. (The killer is juiced on speed and white jazz and chews his female corpses with a set of wolverine teeth). I liked the word, “wolverine”. It was like a noun and an adjective.

The word recurred a lot in early white jazz cosmology. I am nothing but white jazz. I also like film titles like The Night of the Iguana and the less dramatic Night of the Lepus (a horror flick with giant rabbits). There was also The Night of the Hunter. And Night of the Living Baseheads, from Public Enemy. I had a fantasy life that was just out of reach, but which I was probably actually living, about a heroic, rootless player, like someone out of Willie Nelson’s song Night Life. I wrote it up in a song called Night of the Wolverine.  

Apparently, Lenny Bruce used to put black duct tape over the hotel room window as soon as he put his bags on the bed. He liked to live in a general night-time mode. When we recorded Night of the Wolverine, it went down in a day. We mixed it in another day or two. The band was hot, a real unit, and there was some drama and inspiration. Equals energy. 

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The song had three parts to it. It went down in real time to tape. No digital fingering or editing. I arranged it around a template from Lou Reed’s Street Hassle. It had an opening part, then a key change part spoken by another voice (Lou asked Bruce Springsteen, I asked Tex Perkins). Then it came home hard with a driving returning and shifting section.

The first part was a musician deep into life: the player and the mover. I’d been there before with a song called Everything Flies Away. I was back, chewing at the scenery again. I loved that life, but I couldn’t have it. Not that I thought, anyway. Then it moved into an underworld theme with “If I could‘ve stayed home”, another pulp reference to the writer Horace McCoy.  

Then it was a return to Lenny Bruce, who once said that he was a bum and a loser as a showbiz comic because he could always make the band (who sat behind him, in the shadows) laugh, but not the people in the audience. He struck the notes the hipsters could hear but not the mugs, the punters. 

Most rock musicians have to spend their time convincing people that they have some content of interest. I was the opposite. I knew I’d put everything I’d found on my trip into some sort of order and arrangement, and it was all in the songs: the textures, the temper, the tempo. I wanted people to find it, but I didn’t want to stand there looking like a goog. A heavy and self-important rabbit! I got in there and made paths so people could approach the stuff. The real stuff! It was loaded. And fizzing!  

The album was mostly recorded in one day, with Tony Cohen at the desk. He had just come from a Cruel Sea album that followed a Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds album. He was pretty wrecked but made it to the session a mere five or six hours late. He was forgiven, as he possessed skills that no one else had.

He had mad charisma and great ears. He wielded an editing razor to multi-track tape like a swashbuckling pirate. He had the mozz on people like us. We believed he was capable of real witchery. We were still recording onto tape and used it sparingly, having learned wisely from Stephen Cummings

The album has a nice mellow tone to it, probably due to Tony’s ears still ringing from the two long, intense album sessions he’d completed before he walked into our room. The studio was initially AAV in South Melbourne, where so many great Australian albums had been recorded and also where I’d been hanging out with Billy Miller and Andrew Duffield. Then we moved to Atlantis, which was just up the road, in a side street that’s now underneath a part of Crown Casino. Clare and I walked home with the tapes, talking through the cobbled lanes of South Melbourne about how we’d made something really cool.  

The album was released on Compact Disc but will be available at the shows on our Night Of The Wolverine 30th anniversary tour in a limited edition double gatefold sleeve vinyl edition.

You can catch Dave Graney & The Coral Snakes as they celebrate the 30th anniversary of Night Of The Wolverine in July and August.



Friday 28 July – The Street Theatre, Canberra ACT

Saturday 29 July – Blue Mountains Theatre, Springwood NSW

Thursday 3 August – The Factory Theatre, Marrickville NSW

Friday 4 August - HOTA, Surfers Paradise QLD

Saturday 5 August – The Old Museum, Brisbane QLD

Sunday 6 August – The Imperial, Eumundi QLD

Friday 11 August – The Royal Oak, Launceston TAS

Saturday 12 August – Noman Room, Ulverstone TAS

Sunday 13 August – The Palais Theatre, Franklin TAS

Friday 18 August – The Corner, Richmond VIC

Saturday 19 August - The Gov, Adelaide SA

Friday 25 August – The Heritage, Bulli NSW

Saturday 26 August – Drifter’s Wharf, Gosford NSW