'Still Here' May Mark The End Of Beasts Of Bourbon, But The Beasts Are Just Getting Started

14 February 2019 | 7:00 am | Steve Bell

After losing two members in quick succession last year, Beasts Of Bourbon are Still Here, if in a new form. Tex Perkins talks to Steve Bell about The Beasts' renewal.

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Back in 2013, legendary Oz rock miscreants Beasts Of Bourbon celebrated their 30th anniversary with a series of shows in Sydney and Melbourne, the three gigs over consecutive nights in each city covering all chapters and line-ups of the band’s long and storied career.

When it came time to document those sweaty anniversary shows they labelled the pursuant triple live album 30 Years On Borrowed Time, a nod to the incredible survival rate of the members from this notoriously hard-living rock’n’roll brotherhood.

Sadly it’s the nature of the game that all such charmed runs must come to an end eventually, and in 2018 the Beasts Of Bourbon were hit hard by the loss in quick succession of two core members: first long-serving bassist Brian Hooper, and then founding guitarist Spencer Jones, who alongside frontman Tex Perkins had been the only constant member among the band’s many iterations.

Yet from this tragedy a new band has been born: The Beasts. Following Hooper’s funeral a consortium of surviving Beasts Of Bourbon members – namely Perkins, Jones, Charlie Owen, Boris Sujdovic, Tony Pola and Kim Salmon – convened in a Northcote studio and quickly banged out a batch of their trademark gnarly blues-rock, the resultant album Still Here rife with gallows humour and paeans to lost comrades.

“The reason it all came together is tragic and the whole album is about that,” Perkins offers, “but the flip side – or the takeaway really – is that we have this whole new version of the band that we’re all really enjoying on every level.

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“We’re all just enjoying being together, and I have to say after what has happened I’m sort of cherishing every moment that I’m sharing with people, especially these friends that I’ve known for, Jesus Christ, 38 years or something.”

The idea was first floated during a tribute show for Hooper last April at St Kilda’s Prince Bandroom, which sadly proved to be Beasts Of Bourbon’s final show, and when Hooper – who’d triumphantly performed at the gig himself in his wheelchair – passed away a week later they honoured the idea.

“Well, it’s not The Beasts Of Bourbon,” Perkins reflects of how The Beasts became an entity. “When we did that Brian was determined to play at his own benefit concert and amazingly he gathered the strength to do it and it was the most heroic and inspirational thing any of us had ever seen.

“I think it was Brian’s idea – ‘Let’s go into the studio!’ Actually he called me and said, ‘Let’s make a punk rock record!’, which his wife interpreted as some sort of delusion in his state, but she said, ‘Humour him.’ It just sounded like Brian to me.

“But after the benefit it just seemed like anything was possible, and it just seemed like time was running out, but before we could do anything Brian died a week later.

“Everyone gathered back in Melbourne and that ended up being the time that everyone could get together – getting into the studio really just for our own sake and mainly just to spend time together in that context. We had no expectations – we might have been happy with a song or two, a couple of scrappy covers or whatever.

"He was a fighter Brian, he was incredible like that, he always fought to the end."

“But everyone agreed to it straight away – ‘Yeah, let’s do that!’ – and I think Spencer was the first person to contribute a song and it was At The Hospital, so that kinda set the precedent and the tone of the record, that the record would be about what was going on, about Spencer and Brian’s battles.

“It’s very self-referential, and it reflects on the band itself and what it means to be in this band with this legend and this mythology around it for excess really, and what are the consequences of that – obviously we see the consequences of that.”

Banging out albums quickly is nothing new for this bunch – Beasts Of Bourbon’s debut The Axeman’s Jazz (1984) was infamously put down in eight boozy hours for the princely sum of $100 – but it still seems incredible that such a strong album could emerge from such ad hoc beginnings.

“We didn’t really plan this out – it wasn’t, ‘Let’s do a recording and then we’ve got an album and we’ll put it out.’ There was none of that,” Perkins continues. “I put up the money for the two days in the studio and said, ‘Let’s just go there and be together,’ that was what I wanted. But also the idea was to get Spencer down one last time and share some time with him.

“But what I didn’t expect that was everyone brought kinda really well formed songs. What was helpful was that we chose some really great songs that already existed, like Drunk On A Train is a James Baker song from his band The Painkillers, and What The Hell Was I Thinking was a Brian Hooper song and Boris Sujdovic had Don’t Pull Me Over.

“Then My Shit’s Fucked Up by Warren Zevon seemed an irresistible cover to do because it just fit perfectly into the scenario and a couple of songs I brought [On My Back and Just Let Go] were really about trying to put myself in their shoes and empathise with Brian and Spencer: especially Brian, because he had that long battle in hospital on his back but remained defiant.

“He was a fighter Brian, he was incredible like that, he always fought to the end. The guy broke his back and was told he would never walk again, so he had a good track record of saying, ‘Fuck you!’ to tragedy.

“The only two songs that were written in the studio time were It’s All Lies and Your Honour: I had sort of demos for the music of the songs I had written and really I just had to complete the lyrics within the new construct of where they were going to appear – I think they were perfect for this record.”

And while the subject matter may be sombre the overall vibe of Still Here is anything but, the album more akin to a twisted, swamp-infested celebration of lives well lived than a collection of funereal dirges.

“No, I mean we’ve always – even when it’s not about our own deaths – had a dark humour about these things, so it would be inconsistent to suddenly be all ‘boo hoo’ about stuff that’s actually happened to us,” Perkins chuckles sadly. “Again, Spencer set the precedent with At The Hospital – that’s just as poignant and heavy as it is really funny and irreverent. I think we’ve always strived to hit that balance between those things.

“[Spencer] was totally into it, but he was very ill at the time. Just like Brian at that benefit, he was very sick and it took a lot out of him to do that. We were lucky to get one song out of Jonesy: he just came to the studio and we set him up a comfy chair and basically just said, ‘Play whatever you like whenever you like.’ A lot of the other times he would just lie on the couch and just listen – the original intention was just to be together really, and we did it.

“And as I said, as much as it is about the Beasts Of Bourbon and because of the Beasts Of Bourbon, this actually really feels like a renewal and I’m genuinely excited to have this new configuration of players and I’m cherishing every moment that I’m with them.”

Fittingly The Johnnys - that other ‘80s band of massive ill-repute and great music to have Spencer Jones grace its line-up – are playing support for many of the shows on The Beasts’ album tour, the perfect addition to an already poignant party.

“I couldn’t think of any more appropriate band to come along with us on this tour,” Perkins says. “They’re some of my oldest friends as well and it’s going to be beautiful. I can’t wait.”