"Some nights you feel more fucking demonic than others."
Band anniversaries can probably (in some addled minds at any rate) be compared to footy milestones in many ways. A lot of footballers get selected for their first grade team in their given code, but only a select few make it to the glorified 200 game milestone. Similarly, a lot of bands form, give themselves a name and knock that nerve-wracking first gig off the bucket list, but very few of them are still fit and firing 20 years later (especially without having taken a substantial break in that period).
Firebrand Brisbane rock'n'rollers SixFtHick have just reached those rarified heights of surviving 20 years in the game, and it's probably no understatement to suggest that some people out there doubted they'd make it this far. Not because they're not a great band (they are), nor because they're not cut out for it (they to a man come from fine Queensland stock), it's more because over the journey their gigs have caused more mayhem, blood, sweat and (probably) tears than any one bands has the right to be responsible for, and very few people assumed they'd all make it this far alive.
"I just feel an extreme sense of impending doom and anxiety if there's no show booked."
This is especially true for irrepressible co-frontmen (and siblings) Geoff and Ben Corbett, the unpredictable wildmen whose antics over the last two decades are collectively too manic to even contemplate let alone accurately describe. Indeed, the fact that they've named these celebratory gigs the '20th Anniversary of Being Too Stupid To Quit' shows probably speaks volumes of their current predicament.
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"I think so," Geoff Corbett agrees. "I don't know any different, so it's not a case of not quitting probably just that the alternative is more scary than being in the band itself."
Has the impending milestone prompted any reflection on the band's behalf?
"It kind of has, but at the same time you want to be looking forward all the time - I think that's what's kept us going, that we're not the sort of band that goes, 'Let's break up and then do a reunion', so there's always got to be a show," Corbett continues. "We've only had a few extended breaks in 20 years - this is the longest break at eight months and the other one was about three months - and I know personally that I'd get a bit unsettled if I didn't know there was a gig booked down the track. It would just freak me out, I just feel an extreme sense of impending doom and anxiety if there's no show booked."
Corbett believes that when they started out all those moons ago reaching the 20-year mark wouldn't have even been a consideration.
"I don't think it was, because we didn't have a benchmark," he ponders. "We'd all been in bands before - Fred [Noonan - drums] was in Blowhard and that was probably going for a while by then, but as far as I knew bands lasted 18 months and then broke up and you made another one. We didn't sit down and develop a secret handshake and go (adopts ominous tone), 'We're gonna be doing this for 20 years', it wasn't like that. It was, 'Let's just do it, let's make a band with a performance edge to it'. We were getting a bit tired of the grunge/shoegaze scene that was the fashion at the time - it was this weird thing like 'Nirvana versus Rollins Band' and Black Flag and that sort of stuff, but we went the other way. Brisbane kinda liked the shoegaze-y, long-haired stuff a bit better. And I like it too, back then at any rate. I look at Rollins Band's Low Self Opinion film clip now and laugh.
"I think the main thing [behind our longevity] is that we're a band of mates who can get along with each other in a van, in close confines. There were no real offensive personalities in the band, where you go, 'I can't fucking stand being around that person!' and then you do it for two years and break up sorta thing. We learned to cope with each other's quirks I guess, and we're also very intuitive about knowing when to give someone some space - that's a factor too.
"We learned to cope with each other's quirks I guess, and we're also very intuitive about knowing when to give someone some space."
"Plus we were also realistic about how far it would actually go - being grateful that we ever got anywhere is the most important thing. If your aspirations are too fucking big then you're only going to be disappointed constantly, but if you wake up every day and you're constantly amazed that anyone ever came to see you in the first place that's a good way to be. I'll take that."
Over the years the 'Hick have become renowned for that crazy party vibe that they emit so effortlessly, but as is so often the case there was a lot of hard work in the mix as well as partying.
"We did over 50 tours to Melbourne by road, and then the penny dropped that we could fly down cheaper," Corbett laughs. "I don't know how many times we've done it since - a lot, I've lost count. I think all up we've done approaching 1800 shows, maybe more. It was a lot. I know for the first five years of going to Melbourne regularly and doing that, we would play in Melbourne every three weeks with four for five shows in a weekend."
That workload must have been taxing for involved but especially for the Corbetts, whose wild antics caused (themselves) all manner of unforeseen pain and suffering.
"Fucken oath!" Geoff thunders. "A lot of the time people think that you've got to be physically fit - and to an extent you do - but at the same time it's not the sort of shit that you can go to the gym and train for, or go jogging every day. To be match fit for rock'n'roll you've got to keep doing rock'n'roll - it's like concreters with beer guts, they can fucking lay concrete because that's what they do and how their bodies have morphed into. We're built for rock'n'roll, and that's it."
Was the performance aspect of their live show a calculated aspect of the band or something that developed organically over time?
"It's certainly become its own beast over time," Corbett tells. "I guess it came out of all that constant touring, and going, 'We've just got to set ourselves apart from other bands and be fucking seen and heard - make an impression'. But it helps definitely by facilitating the process of getting into the fucking music, where nothing else matters - you leave your day job behind and you leave the drive home behind and you're just there for an hour and 15 minutes to completely shut down from everything else and just actually enjoy yourself maybe for the first time in a long time. First time in 24 hours."
Was the expectation that the Corbetts were going to do something inane every night sometimes a burden on the brothers?
"Definitely, definitely," Geoff admits. "Sometimes people would come up after the shows and go, 'That was good, but it wasn't as good as the last time I saw you because you did this and this and this'. We try to keep it relatively fresh - sure we've got a suite of signature fucking moves that we can pull out, but it's not fucking theatre, it's a rock'n'roll show. You can come to theatre production maybe one day. That's how it started out, there's no script but it's just like anything — some nights you feel more fucking demonic than others."
"You leave your day job behind and you leave the drive home behind and you're just there for an hour and 15 minutes to completely shut down from everything else."
And this wild streak has often overshadowed the fact that behind it all there's a really strong rock band with a catalogue of really strong songs.
"Yeah, a lot of people have said, 'Great fucking show but your songs are fucked!'" Geoff chuckles. "And I can take that, I don't like every band's song either, that's how it works. It's cool if they're interested in that aspect, and I reckon it's good if someone doesn't like the songs but will still come to see us! Just turn the fucking sound down then mate."
Did they ever go too far with the wildman shtick (he asks, knowing the answer only too well)?
"All the time, all the time," Geoff admits sadly with a shake of his head. "That's the beauty of it I think, that there was - and still is - those moments where you don't think and you do something fucking stupid, and then it's, like, 'That's fucking brilliant! Why haven't I been doing that all along?' Then you wake up the next morning and go, 'Oh that's why! I've got stitches!'"
In recent years both Corbett brothers have assembled strong side-projects that are much quieter in tone and less rowdy in nature - Ben firstly with Gentle Ben & his Sensitive Side, followed by Geoff's project Shifting Sands - has this experience given him a new appreciation for his musical day job?
"Yeah, definitely," Geoff continues. "'Hick in a strange way was a benchmark for Shifting Sands, in that I wanted to do something that was the complete antithesis of that band, and in a lot of ways it is. Performance-wise I'm nailed down to a barstool, so all I've got to use performance-wise is my dry, laconic wit and as far as my hand can stretch a bit of wild gesturing here and there. Also the way I sing is completely different, so it's not punk rock-soul belting like it is in SixFtHick, it's more 'beaten down old man' low register biz. Careful, his heartbeat might get up and he'll die! If he falls off that stool he could kill himself!"
It seems that there's not many bands these days celebrating the danger and wilder side of the rock'n'roll experience, but Corbett reckons that this is just part of the normal cycle.
"I think we're just going through that cycle of highs and lows - it's what people want," he considers. "With the more psych-rock thing it's come back more to instrumental sounds and it's not so much performative, but if you look at some of that psych-garage stuff that came before it there was still that performance edge - bands like Thee Oh Sees and bands like that put on great shows, but it's not the focus. I think the kids like to think that they've taken acid and are getting into some far out fucking sounds."
Over their 20-year tenure SixFtHick must have had some pretty full-on adventures, and Corbett has no problem recounting just a few of their more memorable moments.
"We've done some of the weirdest shit out there as far as touring goes," he smiles. "Everything from being in a light plane with Front End Loader going to central Queensland to do a gig - somewhere south of [Mt] Isa - and we went out there as part of this suicide prevention thing. We set up and there was a couple of hundred kids there, and as soon as we started playing they all went off into the bush into the dark and started drinking. Then we got back on the light plane and came back to Brisbane. We had an impact, we changed lives that night!
"People were climbing eight metres up the wall on these drainpipes and then throwing themselves off backwards and doing these backwards stage dives!"
"But going from things like that to touring Japan with the Zoobombs, and we were told, 'Japanese fans are very respectful, so don't be surprised if they stand there and watch you and then politely clap at the end of the song', and we were, like, 'Oh yeah okay, that's cool'. And we did a few shows like that, and then we played in Nagoya, which is an industrial city in Japan, and it was one of the most off tap fucking gigs we've ever played! There was 800 fucking people in the room, and for some reasons there were some drainpipes going up the walls and people were climbing eight metres up the wall on these drainpipes and then throwing themselves off backwards and doing these backwards stage dives! The whole fucking room was going nuts, and we were, like, 'Okay, politely standing there, hey?' It was nuts."
And of course they've played with some pretty great bands over the journey as well, and not always playing before them.
"We had The White Stripes support us, true story," he tells. "We toured with bands like Rocket From The Crypt, Nashville Pussy, [Jon Spencer] Blues Explosion a heap of times, we've done just about every festival that's worth playing over the last 20 years. It's good stuff."
Plus they have numerous jaunts to Europe under their belts as well (evidenced in 2010 doco SixFtHick: Notes From The Underground).
"Yeah, we've got a European tour for next year that's still on the cards," Corbett enthuses. "We were meant to go this year but that didn't pan out. We can go over there now and break even no problems, which is a great position to be in."
Europeans have always gone made for Australian underground rock, seemingly drawn our bands' lack of pretence and contrivance.
"Exactly, they pick up on that," Corbett agrees. "If you're too full of shit the French just fucking hate your guts, and they appreciate our down to earth approach to rock'n'roll and life and everything. Nothing's a problem, which is kind of good. They love Brisbane rock'n'roll in particular, which is good."
It's great that SixFtHick are still flying the flag for Brisbane rock'n'roll when so many of their contemporaries moved down south for logistical reasons, but Corbett tells that they used this tyranny of distance to their advantage instead.
"Well it's because in the early stages of going to Melbourne we put ourselves out there as 'We're SixFtHick from Queensland, from the Deep North, and we're coming to your town and we're going to fuck shit up on- and offstage for four fucking days! Then we're going to leave'," he laughs. "So no one ever got to see us working a day job, no one ever got to see us walking down the street or riding a bike, or doing anything apart from being completely fucking rock'n'roll. Then we came to the realisation that if we moved to Melbourne then we'd just be another Melbourne band, but the Queensland thing worked totally in our favour in that regard.
"It was interesting because at the start when we were first touring to Melbourne we were actually... dislike is a strong word, but the audiences in Brisbane were a bit 'meh' towards us. It wasn't until we were regularly selling out The Tote or the Gershwin Room at The Espy that Brisbane kinda thought, 'Oh, these guys actually do an okay show, we should check it out'. Which was kinda good. But now a band in Brisbane can become fucking huge in Brisbane, although I guess it was the case back then as well - The Dreamkillers were fucking huge in Brisbane and no one gave a fuck about them anywhere else, which was a weird thing. But I guess in Melbourne they like their country and they like their rock'n'roll, so we fit in pretty well with those shared interests."
Besides, pound for pound there's still a pretty great rock scene in Brisbane.
"You're from Brisbane so you're okay, at least you're not from fucking Sydney!'"
"Fucking oath!" Corbett almost shouts. "It's only behind Melbourne, and even then only slightly at times. And Melbourne realise that, and it was almost like 'it's better to join them' - that fierce rivalry was saved for Sydney and never aimed at Brisbane, it was like, 'You're from Brisbane so you're okay, at least you're not from fucking Sydney!'"
On the flipside of a band's duality is their recorded output - SixFtHick have released four strong albums over the journey and have been getting closer and closer each time to nailing the crazed essence of their live show in the studio.
"That's the hardest part ever, and I think that's that balance between 'the songs and the show' and what sort of record you want to make," Corbett reflects. "On our first album Chicken (2000) we just went into the studio and played it exactly how we do it onstage, with a lot of help - if you know what I mean - and it comes through on that record. Sound-wise, it's maybe not the best-sounding record, but I'll sit down and listen to that and go, 'That's a band that's about to die from a heart attack!' And there's a lot of great crazy memories surrounding the recording of that - we had Spencer P Jones producing it and Tony Cohen recording it, two of the wildest men in rock'n'roll. That was a steep learning curve in substance abuse.
"But we should go and record another record - and we will - it's just that songs happen slowly and I think with the way we do it now we'd probably nail it. It's taken us 20 years but we're getting there! Writing a song about having two mortgages! We do have a couple of new songs and we might pull them out over the course of these birthday shows - they're very Jesus Lizard-y."
Of course after a lengthy break from performing the 'Hick are chomping at the bit to get onstage again, which means that for fans these birthday shows in Brisbane and Melbourne are not to be missed.
"I'm looking forward to it," Corbett offers with malevolent understatement. "HITS were right there when we asked them to come play [the Brisbane show], and people are really noticing Deaf Cult so it's going to be a good night. I'm scared of the hangover already. It's three good Brisbane rock'n'roll bands, which can only be a good thing. Then in Melbourne we're doing a bit of a 'Hick and the side-projects bash - we're doing SixFtHick, Gentle Ben and Shifting Sands and then a bunch of Melbourne bands in the front bar at The Tote. That's going to be fucking huge as well - it looks like it's going to sell out before the night, so I'm looking forward to that."
Then once the dust has settled from their birthday bashes it's back to business as usual.
"We wanna get back in and do some more writing, and then aim to get to Europe next year - that's our goal," Corbett offers. "They've done a pitch to get SixFtHick, Gentle Ben and Shifting Sands to do a bunch of shows in France - they basically want to fly us over there to do a bunch of shows and I'm happy to let them. It's just about everyone being able to coordinate the other parts of their lives to get that happening. There's a few festival dates in there as well, so it's going to be fun if we can pull it off."
Happy birthday, 'Hick!