When the folk from A Day on The Green announced the cracking forthcoming line-up of Blondie and Cyndi Lauper it was a pretty bloomin’ good day for me. I was buying those Blondie records from the very first single in 1976, I met Debbie Harry on a promotional tour before the first album had been released and for me it’s a love affair that has been a constant for me that is entering it’s forty first year. A couple of years later (in 1980) Cyndi Lauper first caught my ear and eye when she was fronting the criminally under-rated 60’s flavoured power-pop band Blue Angel. Way before she declared that Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, she already had a voice that could shake the foundations at fifty paces. Seriously go to YouTube and look up Blue Angel Maybe He’ll Know, I Had a Love or I’m Gonna Be Strong. We’ll wait for you to get back! See what I mean Amazing!
There were two words that really jumped out of that ADOTG announcement for me. The Clouds.
In the late 80s and mid 1990’s Australian alternative music was hitting a never before (or since) seen golden era. The public was ready for some different sounds, Triple J, Big Day Out, Recovery all giving a massive audience to previously marginalized ‘indie’ music. Quite rightly too as there was a tsunami of fantastic bands making incredible music.
From the buzz saw pop punk of Rat Cat, the quirky songs of Custard, the techno rock of Regurgitator, the swamp-tastic Beats of Bourbon, the 60s garage sound of The Stems and Lime Spiders, the perfect Beatle-esque classic pop of Even, or the majesty of You Am I, it was an exciting time to be a music lover in this country. And for me, some of the bands that meant the most to me were a group of power-pop bands with jangly guitars, killer pop hooks, harmonies and fantastic songs. I am talking about the likes of The Hummingbirds, Falling Joys, The Whippersnappers and not least the incredible The Clouds out of Sydney.
Formed in 1989 around the tight harmonies of guitarist Jodie Phillis and bass player Trish Young, they released two outstanding EP’s before their first album Penny Century in 1991 containing the classics Hieronymus and Anthem. They were easily the equal of any of the ‘college rock’ acts coming out of the US at the time and their sound was as contemporary as Liz Phair, The Breeders or whoever. Over nine years they released four albums and more terrific EPs and singles like Say It, Cloud Factory, Alchemy’s Dead and Bower of Bliss, gained a huge and loyal live audience. Bower of Bliss can boast being the only song I can think of being heard on a national broadcaster to contain the lines “You can smoke my hair, You can drink my piss”.
With some touring in the USA and Europe and being signed to Elektra Records, the band broke up in 1997. Trish and Jodie had both worked on other projects over the years occasionally getting back together to play gigs as ‘The Girls From The Clouds’, but in 2011 they came back together as The Clouds and have been playing occasionally. Now they are releasing their first new music in twenty year in the form of the impressive Zaffre EP and touring with Cyndi Lauper and Blondie with A Day on The Green, which hits South Australia’s Leconsfield Wines in McLaren Vale on Sunday, April 9th.
We had a chat to Jodie Phillis to get us all caught up to speed and welcome back The Clouds.
The late 80’s through to the mid 90’s were an incredibly exciting and vibrant time for Australian ‘alternative’ music. Triple J had gone national, Big Day Out became a massive youth culture event and Recovery was bringing strange and beautiful noises into lounge rooms all over the country every Saturday morning. How was that time for The Clouds?
We don’t call it “The Golden Era” for nothing! It was certainly a creatively productive time for Australian music, music in general I guess you could say. It was a great time when real bands ruled, before technology turned everyone downside up and outside in. It was a time when you had to be really good and have something special, a certain energy that people could pick up on. A band had to attract a record company and industry support if anything was to happen. Nowadays you can do it all yourself on a computer (if you are incredibly driven and focused!).
I’m not saying it is easy, or that it will all work out for everyone but the tools are there right?! Sadly though there are no more great regular TV shows that everyone can tune into for the latest cool and groovy sounds. I’m glad Rage is still around and I know that there are web shows like Amateur Hour who are doing their bit but not many people know about it, so there isn’t that electricity that everyone feels at the same time… like there was every Sunday night with Countdown. We peaked right at the end of that era and now here we are 25 or so years later, embracing the digital medium!
Is there a case to be made that it all got too big a little too quickly? By that I mean when you had acts like Rat Cat suddenly becoming huge chart topping unit shifters did that put a different pressure on you and your contemporaries?
It was a very intense time but that’s what you want from rock’n’roll! There were publishers and managers and A&R people at every gig in the early days, all fishing around for the next big thing. I’m sure it is still like that in different scenes around the globe right now. Things did move very quickly which probably wasn’t very good for our mental health but at least it was exciting.
What are your favourite memories from that period?
Creating songs in the rehearsal room was always the best part for me. Chasing the goose bumps, that is what it was all about. The gigs were a lot of fun too but it was easy to take it all for granted because we were tired from so much travel and late nights and early flights. Other than that, seeing new cities, meeting new people and after show antics were a lot of fun. We did a lot of op shopping too in lots of different cities which was always enjoyable.
The Clouds originally split up in 1997 after some time touring overseas, did your experience internationally contribute to the split?
I’m sure it did contribute to it. For me though I was just exhausted and quite mentally strung out due to touring insomnia which I started suffering from quite early on in our touring life.
I guess without the support of a record label, it was going to feel like starting over again and I just didn’t have it in me to put that kind of work into it. I also became pregnant, which pretty much sealed the deal to step out of the band.
You and Trish worked together as The Girls From The Clouds for a while but it wasn’t til 2011 that the Clouds were reactivated properly. What changed?
We were invited by Rob G, who is now our agent, to be part of an east coast tour with British bands Jesus Jones and The Wonderstuff. We thought it would be fun and we were right.
The Clouds are about to release your first new music in twenty years with the Zaffre EP. Is exciting, scary or both for you to be The Clouds again?
It is exciting for sure and people seem genuinely happy to be hearing new songs from us. This release has really been an experiment to see how it would be received and also an experiment in recording digitally in different parts of the country. We started the drum beds at my place in Wollongong, then everyone recorded their parts wherever they were living and we sent all the tracks to Dave in Melbourne. He mixed it and it sounds pretty good to us! So we are very much looking forward to creating lots more new songs.
Are you looking forward to these shows with Cyndi Lauper and Blondie for a Day on The Green? Have they been favourites or influences on you back in the day?
Yes, what a line-up! We are excited and hope Cyndi will invite us up on stage to sing Girls Just Wanna Have Fun with her!
The Clouds new EP Zaffre is out now and you can catch them along with Blondie and Cyndi Lauper at A Day on The Green, Sunday April 9th at Leconsfield Wines in McLaren Vale.
Interview by Ian Bell