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Ray Ahn: 'How Keish Came Back To Punish The Hard-Ons'

5 November 2019 | 12:29 pm | Ray Ahn

After permanently returning to the fold in late 2015, original Hard-Ons member Keish de Silva now features in recorded form again with the release of the band's latest album, 'So I Could Have Them Destroyed'. Here, the band's bass player Ray Ahn reminisces on the band's history and de Silva's return.

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I have been asked to explain the presence of Keish de Silva (original drummer/lead vocalist) in the Hard-Ons’ line-up for the benefit of The Music’s readership.

A lot of people familiar with our band, the Hard-Ons, already know that the three original members Ray (bass), Blackie (guitar) and Keish (vocals/drums) met each other at Lakemba Primary School back in the mid-’70s. That means that we went through, as friends, the advent of the 1977 punk explosion together. This is not as insignificant as you might think.

The ethos found in that punk explosion gave the Hard-Ons unlimited inspiration to forge our own path, away from the conventional. Initially this included Keish playing drums at break-neck pace and singing lead vocals – hardly any bands, let alone punk bands, had this format but it seemed to suit us.

When we broke up initially at the end of 1993, it felt like we’d said all that we wanted to say with the Hard-Ons. Breaking up was a tremendous relief. It was not as if the three of us would stop being artists. We’d just do other things that would provide different challenges and stimuli. Breaking up was the best thing ever.

We reformed in 1998 when the challenges of reconstructing a dead band became intriguing enough. All the while the three of us continued making music with many different musicians across various projects. Playing music with lots of different musicians would influence us greatly and we would take this back to the Hard-Ons, to what we saw as great effect.

Keish then left in 2001 when he lost interest.

Blackie became lead singer and we drafted in Peter Kostic from Front End Loader, who, as an extremely talented drummer, was asked to shoe-horn his style to suit our band. In reality the band evolved to account for the strength of Peter’s drumming: peerless precision and seemingly unlimited power.

After Peter quit in 2011, Murray Ruse grabbed the drum seat and his style fit somewhere between Peter’s and Keish’s. Looser and sloppier than Peter, Murray was a veteran in obnoxiously brutal drumming across several musical outfits. His abundant talent in fast and heavy drumming was a handy thing to have.

In 2014, the Hard-Ons celebrated the 30th anniversary of our inaugural pub show by going on tour around Australia. Keish came back to the band as lead singer, Murray stayed as drummer. I think Keish found that notion challenging and fun. On that tour we played a “request only” set comprising of our fans’ favourite tunes from our earlier days. 

"Some people will tell you that being in a band is like being in a marriage. In our case, nothing could be further from the truth."

That 30th anniversary tour proved to be the catalyst for Keish to re-join the band full-time and he became a permanent member by sometime in late 2015. Murray, Blackie and I thought that a permanent four-piece would be a fantastic idea. An extra dimension would be added musically because of Keish’s singing ability. Keish admitted that he missed playing in the Hard-Ons, not just the musical aspect but also just being in a rehearsal room with us and so forth - playing in the Hard-ons was something that kicked off when we were in our mid-teens, so I was not surprised that he missed it.

Blackie, Keish and I had known each other for such a long time that it didn’t ever feel strange that Keish was back full-time. Nowadays we know each other’s musical strengths and weaknesses back to front, and we know what will work and what will not work. Generally speaking, we are brutally straightforward and honest with each other, so we gain musical focus very quickly. Also the band is not a musical democracy. It is a unit that only works if egos are flushed down the toilet and each member does their clearly defined job. If Keish’s vocal approach is unsuitable at any point, he is told so (usually by chief songwriter Blackie) and we duly adjust and move on. Same, of course, applies to every other aspect, whether it be bass playing or something else. Keish and Murray are so easy-going that if they were any more laidback they’d be dead. Blackie is incredibly focussed and intense in his ambition. He drives the band relentlessly. Every band needs someone like that to get things done. I am like lukewarm water. But I can organise decent-looking and witty merch for the band like nobody’s business. That does not mean that any member is a foot soldier of the band, as a unit, we think we are a pretty good band.

Keish coming back into the band has freed up Blackie to concentrate on guitar a little more on stage. Blackie also has a lot of ambitious ideas for vocals as the main songwriter, and with Keish in the band, we can achieve a lot more vocally on stage. 

Keish has assured us that he does not miss drumming and singing at the same time. He is quite enjoying being just the vocalist, it is something unique for him and he enjoys the challenge. I think.

Keish also has a bit of a career as a solo artist, just himself with an acoustic. Some of his songwriting ideas are suitable for the Hard-Ons, and on our latest album, the first one with Keish back full-time, there is a track that he has written. His tunes sound nothing like Blackie’s. It is really up to the band to flex their musical muscle and knock them into shape - to turn them into Hard-Ons songs. So far it is working out well.

You could not get four such vastly different personalities into one band. Some people will tell you that being in a band is like being in a marriage. In our case, nothing could be further from the truth. It is just a killer hobby that means the world to us, and we just have to sound good from record to record and from show to show. Playing music at any time is purely magical I can tell you, and for sure, I am not alone in thinking this. So far, we have been happy with it. And if it all comes to an end tomorrow, fuck it, we’ve had a good run.