Jane Gazzo Wants All The '90s Music History You’ve Got Locked Up In Your Head And/Or Shed

4 June 2020 | 2:01 pm | Sam Wall

With a little help from her friends, Jane Gazzo is piecing together the missing links from Australia's underground '90s music scene. Sam Wall chats with her about recovering the seminal era.

If necessity is the mother of invention then a nice bottle of plonk is often the midwife.

There’s definitely more than one idea that’s come spinning into reality with the help of a few drinks. These are usually pretty harmless (double kebab for the walk home) and occasionally very bad (triple kebab for the walk home), but they’re very rarely useful.

Sound As Ever is that rare boozy-genius lightbulb. Essentially it’s a lost archive - publicly sourced and documenting Australia’s indie scene in the '90s - which sparked up when Jane Gazzo was "getting very drunk over a bottle of red wine" one Saturday night.

"I was trying to research stuff on David McComb in the '90s, as in The Triffids, former Triffids lead singer," says the radio and TV presenter and music journalist, "and I've got all these books on the '90s, but there was... It seemed to me, in my drunken haze, I couldn't find certain bands and I couldn't find certain artists and I was just like, 'Why isn't there some kind of reference or a resource?'

After messaging Popboomerang founder Scott Thurling to check if there was something she was missing, Gazzo said 'Ok. I’m gonna start one.'

Thurling said he was keen to help and so Gazzo set up the Facebook page, expecting it to be "this little shoehorn", a place where diehards could come and swap memories. Within a month it had jumped to 10,000 members, with the current count sitting at around 13,500.

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A fixture on Australian radio from ’90 to ’99, both at RRR and triple j, Gazzo has "hoarded and collected everything you can imagine". It seems there where a lot of people with the same idea - from fans and bands to journos and industry figures.

Sound As Ever (SAE) has since been flooded with gig posters, live photos, old street press clippings, fanzines, rare footage, garage recordings and weird band paraphernalia - a whole decade’s worth of bric-a-brac that had been consigned to the country’s old shoeboxes, crawl spaces and sheds.

Via Sound As Ever. Art by Paul Curtis.

"There was somebody who posted a fan letter they got from Tim Rogers in the very early years of You Am I," says Gazzo. "Tim had written this letter to this fan saying, 'Oh, thank you so much for your letter. We're working on a brand new album and hopefully, you know, we'll be able to get some stuff up on this new thing called the internet.'

"Because it was obviously in its infancy at the time that he was writing this letter to this fan and, you just go 'Oh my god'."

With the SAE page up and running, "suddenly I had somewhere to put all this stuff that I've been hoarding," says Gazzo, "and it was welcomed and it was adored and it was praised".

"You post something and people just flock with their memories and their own stories. So I kind of just watched it grow literally overnight."

As well as informative, these stories can be very entertaining; tales from the pits of long-defunct venues like The Punters Club and The Vulcan Hotel; rowdy moments at gigs, like when Alfie Fester of Fester Fanatics fell through the stage at The Corner (they reckon he kept singing all the way down); hive-minds working in real-time to fill gaps in Aus gig history.

"I guess it's been a real educational tool as well," says Gazzo. "And it's really wonderful to see some of our more esteemed music journalists, you know, legendary esteemed journalists, being part of the page as well. And making their contributions. That to me speaks volumes, you know. Just having them utilising it as well and contributing, that’s been really special."

Taking hold the sudden momentum, Gazzo and Thurling have also built something bigger than just the page. Thurling digitised interviews from the period he had kept on cassette, loading the audio up on the SAE SoundCloud. They’ve also started podcast series diving back through the years with figures from the era - so far they’ve spoken to Pollyanna frontman Matt Handley and Magic Dirt’s Adalita - and there are plans for live events once COVID-19 restrictions have eased.

Maybe most impressive, they’ve even curated The Shoebox Diaries Volume I - a collection of rare and unreleased '90s recordings from Aussie bands like The Earthmen, Guttersnipes, and Tlot Tlot which is out on 3 Jul.

"We asked all the bands that are on the page," says Gazzo, "if they had any stuff that they recorded back in the '90s that never saw the light of day.

"We got such an overwhelming response that we've already started Volume II."

The question is, what is it about Australian music in the '90s that still like causes such a dedicated fandom? Particularly the indie scene. Amazing bands still sprout up, draw adoring local audiences and collapse before they ever get broader recognition, but it’s hard to imagine the twenty-teens getting the same fierce response in 20 years. Nostalgia plays a role, but Gazzo thinks it’s also partly because of the lack of accesible documentation. It might be old news but in a lot of cases it's the first time anyone's been able to see it.

"We didn't have social media so there's not a lot, well there wasn't, certainly before the page started, a lot of stuff around," she says, "apart from what people had in their collections, apart from the physical music; your vinyl, your 7" vinyl, your CDs, your cassettes, your posters, your flyers, etc. There wasn't social media documenting a lot of that stuff.

"And people have such fond memories. Most of the people that were out going to gigs... They’re a lot older, they've probably got kids and they're probably remembering a really, really fond time in their youth, or younger years. When they were going out to gigs. 

"I mean, that was currency then, we were going out to gigs every night of the week... If you wanted to hang out with people, you had to actually physically go somewhere."

It’s not just the original ’90s crew signing up though. I was more interested in The Little Mermaid soundtrack when You Am I released the debut album SAE gets its name from, and there are plenty of other members who would have been at least ten years too young to appreciate TISM's breakthrough moment. 

"It’s been amazing to see how loved TISM are," says Gazzo. "Or Were. TISM have really enjoyed a revival on this page [laughs]."

"Maybe we can get them back together again. It would be wonderful. They kind of went out with a whimper. You know, they didn't officially have their last show. They kind of played their last show at I think Earthcore or some festival like that. And that was it. They didn't even announce that it was their last gig. So I have to say, I think it's high time they got back together."

Seeing all the pieces threaded together, Sound As Ever's biggest achievement might be revealing just how continuing the influence of that decade has been.

"I think the mere fact that so many of the bands are still around making music," says Gazzo. "You Am I are still around, Regurgitator are still around, Magic Dirt are still around. A lot of the key players are still there, and the bands that aren't, the members of those bands are still active in music in some way, shape or form.

To find out more about Sound As Ever, head to their Facebook page and website.