Ratcat Reflect On The Hits: 'It Was Never Our Intention To Leap Into The Mainstream'

10 October 2023 | 3:32 pm | Steve Bell

“In a funny way, I always thought that Ratcat only had a certain lifespan, but now it’s 30 years later, and we’re making something new. I’m really surprised and happy that after all this time, it’s still a workable project.”


Ratcat (Source: Supplied)

For a while there in the early ‘90s, Sydney indie rock outfit Ratcat genuinely had the world at their feet.

Having signed to burgeoning label rooArt - the indie label founded by late then-INXS manager Chris Murphy - after years building a following in the fertile Aussie underground, they first broke through in 1990 when the supremely catchy That Ain’t Bad captured the public’s attention and pushed their Tingles EP to #1 on the Australian singles chart.

While that in itself seemed like a massive achievement in its own right, it was quickly dwarfed when the runaway success of their second album Blind Love (1991) - and its infectious fuzz-pop lead single Don’t Go Now - found Ratcat becoming the first ever Australian independent band to achieve a simultaneous #1 album and single on the national charts.

It was heady times indeed for Ratcat - who in a ludicrously short period of time vaulted from the inner-city pub circuit to massive arena shows opening for INXS in their prime - although sadly, the momentum was short-lived. After a stint overseas and the release of two more albums in the ‘90s, the band seemed to have run its course.

Ratcat officially announced their split in 1998, although it was only a few years until they reunited for a run of shows, and they’ve continued to be coaxed back for the odd festival or support slot ever since. Importantly, their timeless rock’n’roll has continued to reverberate through the years, those early hits continuing to find new ears decades after the fact.

Now the current incarnation of Ratcat - founding frontman and songwriter Simon Day these days augmented by the great Nic Dalton (The Lemonheads, Godstar, Sneeze) on bass and Reuben Alexander on drums - are revising those halcyon days of their early career with All Stripped Back, a collection of acoustically reworked tracks selected from the early Ratcat releases.

Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter

“It’s a funny thing. I’m not even sure why I started doing this, but I just did,” Day smiles. “Maybe I was listening to The Beach BoysPet Sounds or something and thinking, Hmmm, maybe I could do something like that?’ The songs themselves have their own life so that familiarity was appealing to me. 

“But I’ve approached the project in a way that there’s no fuzz pedals - really, there’s just some compressions on the recording and a little bit of reverb, and that’s it. 

“I explored mandolin resonators and 12-string acoustics and nylon-stringed guitars for most of the rhythm, there’s ukuleles and whistle-slides and percussion - Nic’s playing a ukulele bass through it all - and I’ve got Reuben playing the kit with brushes and hot rod sticks as well as playing djembe. And I’ve got autoharps and glockenspiel, and there’s harmonies galore - it takes a lot of work to make a quieter sound, apparently!”

Evidently, a lot more thought and effort has gone into the project than some of those old Unplugged sessions, which would find bands bashing through their key songs on acoustic guitars.

Unplugged is fine as a concept,” Day muses, “but if you watch Nirvana Unplugged, Kurt [Cobain]’s actually playing a guitar pedal in it, and I didn’t want it to necessarily be like that, I wanted it to be a lush environment which lets the songs speak for themselves in a funny way.

“It was a really interesting time exploring the songs again, actually. I started doing it, and then as I was listening and playing, I’m hearing other melodies and other harmonies throughout it, so I changed a few things up. Like Don’t Go Now is quite slow and almost like a sad song now, which is a bit odd. 

“But, all in all, it was just an experiment in producing something that was rich but not reliant on texture from the guitar noise so much. I really like it; I’m really happy. Plus, we got to make vinyl! God, we haven’t done that since we were on RooArt - I think Blind Love was the only album of ours which came out in vinyl, and then CDs took over.”

Barring reissues and compilations, All Stripped Back is the first new Ratcat release in over 25 years, so understandably, Day has some reservations about how people are going to react to these new reimaginings.

“It’s kind of exciting; it feels like we’re going back to the Waterfront days when we just used to make vinyl singles and EPs all the time,” he tells. “Although it takes a lot longer now to get things pressed, it’s crazy.

“I hope people like it. It’s one of those things where I’ve made it, and I’m kind of going, ‘I have no idea what my audience are going to think of this’. If they already like the songs, I think they’ll understand what I’m doing, but if they just like the noisy fuzz-pop stuff, then they might not? So, I’m a little curious about how it’s going to be received.

“We’re going to be doing an acoustic gig in Sydney - plus a noisy set as well - to launch it, which I’m super looking forward to. Some songs we’ll probably do in both sets - the ‘hits’, like That Ain’t Bad and Don’t Go Now and whatnot - I haven’t actually had the chance to write the setlist, but they’ll be two totally different sets, it’s going to be great.”

All of the songs from All Stripped Back are either tracks found on Blind Love or which predate the breakthrough album, and Day admits that the track list came together quite painlessly. 

"For me, it was just about picking songs that I felt would sit well together in this new environment,” he reflects. “Also, stuff that we do play live but are not necessarily hits, that helped the selection process, I guess.

“There’s one really obscure track (You Get Me By), which was a song written for the RooArt Youngblood II (1990) compilation album. Before we actually signed to rooArt, they’d do these things where they’d out a whole bunch of different bands in studios and say, ‘Give us a song, and we’ll see how people like it, and if people like it, we’ll sign you’, kinda thing. 

“That’s the one song that’s perhaps a little curious, and there are some tracks from our debut album This Nightmare (1989), but most the songs are from Blind Love with a couple from Tingles as well.”

One of the more recent times that Ratcat were dragged back into the public consciousness occurred during the last 12 months when a group of high-profile fanboys - namely Tim Steward (Screamfeeder), Clint Hyndman (Something For Kate) and Lincoln Le Fevre - formed the cover band Catrat, bringing the songs of Ratcat back to life in a run of well-received shows. 

“We played Spring Loaded festival recently over near Bribie Island, and we got Tim up to play guitar on That Ain’t Bad, which was great,” Day enthuses. “In a funny way - and I still don’t know why I decided to make this record - but it could be a little bit to do with stuff like that, and me thinking, ‘If other people are doing our stuff, maybe I need to revisit it?’

“At first, I wasn’t sure how to take it, but then I was, like, ‘This is Tim from Screamfeeder and Clint from Something For Kate, and they’re amazing musicians and great people’, so I was, like, ‘This is actually really cool, don’t get weirded out!’ 

“And they’re all super genuine about it - there’s no irony or anything - and Tim was so excited to get up and play with us. I didn’t realise that he was such a fan because Ratcat and Screamfeeder played together heaps of times back in the day, and I love Screamfeeder. They were such an amazing band.”

When Day reflects on those heady times 30 years back, when he and his bandmates were suddenly co-opted into the mainstream, he’s somewhat incredulous about the experience.

“It was incredibly intense and incredibly surreal,” he tells. “A whole bunch of new people got to hear our music; it was exciting but scary. I remember one time walking into a pub after we got successful, and this woman just stormed over and kicked me in the shins really hard and yelled, ‘You sold out!’ She had these really large skinhead dudes with her - although they didn’t give a fuck, they were, like, ‘Oh yeah, whatever’ - but she just came over and booted me, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is too much!’

“It was either people didn’t like that we’d gone mainstream - and obviously every band wants to be successful - but then there was a whole new raft of audience who were even more kind of intense in a funny way.

“Playing with INXS was a real eye-opener. Fans back then, oh my God… you’d exit the back of the Entertainment Centres that we were playing, and they’d be screaming so loud from behind a fence that it was deafening. It was a really big eye-opening experience; it was crazy.”

Especially given it was only a couple of years since Ratcat had been on influential Sydney indie Waterfront and playing inner-city pubs with their friends and contemporaries like the Hard-Ons and The Hummingbirds.

“It was a surprise,” Day admits. "It was never our intention to leap into the mainstream - it was a big surprise - but by the same token, we did work really hard and want to improve ourselves and build our audience. 

“I remember going from Waterfront to RooArt, and we were hoping to double our sales - I think we’d sold 3,000 copies of This Nightmare, and we were hoping to sell maybe 6,000 copies of Blind Love, that would be cool - and then all of a sudden, we sold 100,000 records and we’re like, ‘What is happening? What? What?’ I didn’t know what to think.”

With success in Australia reaching fever pitch, it was decided to give Ratcat the chance to break through internationally.

“For about three or four months, we went off to England - we based ourselves in London and travelled Europe - it was essentially like starting again in a lot of ways,” the singer recalls. “It was nice for me because I didn’t get stopped in the streets, and I didn’t get hassled, so that was kinda cool. 

“And we went to America as well and worked really hard at - and did really well at - building cred within the Polygram label, but then RooArt changed distributors, and that really interrupted our momentum, like derailed it entirely. That was disappointing, but what do you do? That’s life.

“In a funny way, I always thought that Ratcat only had a certain lifespan, but now it’s 30 years later, and we’re making something new. I’m really surprised and happy that after all this time, it’s still a workable project.”

While it wasn’t a long stint at the top, not many bands get to experience the heady thrill of number-one albums and singles - especially back in the days when you had to shift serious units to breach the charts - looking back is Day proud of what he and his bandmates achieved?

“It’s funny, I don’t really think about the past that much,” he muses. “I work in television these days as an editor, and I sit in a room for ten hours a day - I’m still doing stuff that I love, and it’s creative, and it’s part of popular culture - so I guess I‘m super-happy that we’re at a point now where we can make some vinyl and just need to sell a couple of hundred copies to get our money back.

“So, I’m back in the headspace that I was in during my early 20s in terms of the music, which is nice. But by the same token, I’m really proud of having had a number-one album and a number-one single, and we sold enough records that we had a really big audience. I wouldn’t have thought back then that we’d still be doing this now, so to have that longevity is really nice.”

All Stripped Back will be released on Friday, 13 October, via MGM Distribution. You can pre-order your vinyl or CD copy of All Stripped Back here.


Launching the new album All Stripped Back

Friday, 8 December 2023

2 Exclusive Sets + Special Guests TBA

FACTORY THEATRE - 105 Victoria Street, Marrickville, NSW

Tickets are available here.