The Whitlams To Celebrate “Eternal Nightcap” 25th Anniversary At The Gov

The Whitlams classic Eternal Nightcap turns 25 this September, and the band will mark the anniversary by playing the album in its entirety in a series of one-off concerts around the country. The album single-handedly brought the piano back onto the youth airwaves in 1997 and propelled them to Best Group at the 1998 ARIA Awards, where they dropped to their knees before Gough Whitlam who had just announced, “It’s my family”.

Eternal Nightcap captured the hearts of a generation by describing a whole decade of its life – the mad, emotional, love-hungry contagion of the late teens and 20s. From love (Melbourne) to heart wreck (Life’s a Beach), mad parties (You Sound Like Louis Burdett) to tragic friendships (The Charlie trilogy), the album kicked off with the offbeat #1 No Aphrodisiac and never looked back. Tim Freedman speaks to Hi Fi Way about Eternal Nightcap and playing their home away from home The Gov in Adelaide

Adelaide must feel like a home away from home particularly with the special relationship the band has with The Gov?
Indeed, I’ve always loved finding a room that works and returning to it in every city but none have lasted as long as The Gov. In Sydney, we went to The Metro for a long time and now we’re doing the Enmore Theatre, in Melbourne we do five nights at The Corner Hotel. On this tour we’ve got ambitious and are playing The Forum which is a two thousand seater. In Adelaide, we’ve decided to keep things relaxed and comfortable to quote a very mediocre Prime Minister. I was also conscious that we have a visited a lot in the last nine months and The Gov was one of the only shows we managed at the end of last year. I played that with Terepai and our new bass player Ian as a trio. It was very heart warming that people still turned up even though it was seated and socially distanced. Then we did a double to close the Adelaide Festival, we have hit the market a few times and very gratified that we have managed to sell out these two as well. It is an album we would have played there twenty three years ago.

On reflection can you believe that you are celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of Eternal Nightcap?
I don’t think it has moved too fast, I have been able to fit a lot in and there has been another four or five albums since then and lots of touring. I even took ten years off to make sure I lived to an old age, I feel like it was half a life time ago, I really do.

At the time did you thinking that this album would have such an enduring and powerful legacy?
Not for a second, my ambition for the album was to be a successful indie artist and sell ten thousand units and get to play four hundred seaters then in a few years maybe make another record. It just got a life of its own and it surprised people in the industry as much as it surprised me because it was on our own label, no marketing budget, no video clips, it was one of those moments where songs got played on the radio and people decided that they had to own it. I was trying to write an indulgent and personal album and get it out of my system because I had such a tough time the previous two years. When you don’t think about commercialism and if it is done well people will take it in to their heart. It was a bit of a lesson for me and showed me what songs could do. It sounded fresh on the radio because there was so much grunge and house music at the time it sounded sweeter than it does now, which between Mudhoney and Nirvana and disco, which is what it was on the national airwaves back in ’97 with Triple J were kingmakers.

Do you feel humbled when you see the crowd sing these songs back to you and see how much these songs mean to them, even seeing more of a younger crowd at your shows?
I always have loved the way that there are kids at The Gov, there used to be a lot more ten to twelve year olds in the front few rows than there are now. But some of those people are now thirty when they come to the merch stand after the show. It is very heart warming and humbling. If you look at my Facebook page I put up a competition giving away a signed test pressing of the new vinyl which has just arrived and I have asked people to write down the most memorable time they have heard the album. There are some beautiful stories of people playing the album going through tough times and finding some solace in it. I suppose I was finding solace from difficult times when I wrote it. That is the effect that it had on some people. It wasn’t always Berlin by Lou Reed. There are moments from You Sound Like Louis Burdett and No Aphrodisiac that are quite humorous in my opinion. There are moments of levity that lighten the load.

Did it make harder making that album knowing that your still living those struggles or was it more therapeutic?
Not so much therapeutic, it was more that I really had something to write about and I was memorialising moments I found very important because I had lost people, I was memorialising girlfriends and relationships, band members and I was getting it down while I felt deeply.

Were any moments from the time Eternal Nightcap was released that stand out for you?
Getting crew to lift my piano at the end of the night was exciting! I was dragging this sixty kilogram Roland around the country and my back was gone. There are practical things, suddenly having eight hundred people in the audience was marvellous. I felt like I had been raised in the depression and was sitting down for a feast because I worked pretty hard for a decade before that album came out. I was a bit older than people realised, I might of looked young but I was thirty-three and I had been around the block. I appreciated the success a lot more because I had done it tough and had been do it yourself for so long. Just seeing people put their arms around each other and sing the songs, particularly in the first month after the album had come out where they were singing a ballad like Buy Now Pay Later which hadn’t been on the radio. Seeing people being emotional about songs, what more does a song writer want?

Was it a nostalgic process going through and putting together the deluxe edition of Eternal Nightcap?
There was a vinyl edition before but it wasn’t produced with any care and I had nothing to do with it. This one has been a labour of love and went through all my storage spaces and found the half inch tapes for nine out of the thirteen songs. They were twenty-five years old, they had to be baked in an oven so they could be played once and transferred to the high resolution digital format, which is high definition today. Then we remastered it and my instructions to the engineer was to not compress it too much to make it breathe. On vinyl, it has a lot of dynamics and a lot of warmth. We found the best plant to do the pressing to do the masters and mother which was in Germany. Anyone who loves the album will get a buzz out of the extra dimension that we managed to add to the vinyl. The CD is the same mastering and similarly from the half inch. Both of the new formats are lovingly created and will be very interesting to anyone who has memories of the album.

Was there any temptation to re-record or re-master some of those songs again?
We did remaster it all, there was one remix that happened. I couldn’t find the half inch for You Sound Like Louis Burdett which is what you put the final mix down on to but I did find the multi-tracks, i.e. all the original tracks. In order for that to fit sonically in to the new edition I got Matt Fell, the very well know engineer to remix the track putting in all the same parts as the original, which he did, but sounds better, that was one of the early songs we finished from Eternal Nightcap. We put it out in March ’97 and it stiffed actually. It didn’t get a life of its own until the album came out and radio reassessed it. You Sound Like Louis Burdett has been remixed and remastered, that is quite a revelation and very present now and playful. I like listening to that.

Do you think you would play the album start to end?
We have been in rehearsal and we are playing every song from Eternal Nightcap but we are doing it in the order that I think it should of been. Charlie’s songs are in order, they tell a story and Love Is Everywhere is later because I always thought it was a bit like a sore thumb at the front of the album. I’ve done a bit of re-ordering and it will be interesting for people as it won’t be the exact moment that they are used to the song starting and the other one finishes. I know it is a fun thing when you have got an album in your blood but I think it will flow, it will be far more atmospheric in parts and will stay atmospheric. When it gets going it will stay up whereas the track order was a little patch work on the original I’ve always thought.

Have some songs that you don’t normally play taken a bit of rehearsal to play live?
Oh sure, we play Love Is Everywhere once every ten years, it is fun to re-learn, I find the words embarrassing to be honest, a bit of under graduate nonsense but I’m putting my head down and getting through it because when this band plays it, it has great energy despite the rubbish that is coming out of my mouth.

Will it feel a bit different not having Warwick on bass now that he has retired and having gun bass player Ian Peres on tour?
Warwick was a solid and marvellous bass player, we have taken the opportunity of adding Ian to the line up in refreshing the arrangements and taking advantage of the fact that he is a brilliant keyboard player. He is adding second keys in parts as well as playing the bass. I’m also playing more than just piano, I have a new set up where I can play some organs. For anyone who has been coming to see us for twenty years they are going to get a bit of a surprise with a couple of extra dimensions.

The Black Stump Band is an exciting project which is really gaining momentum, is there a lot more to come?
There is, there is an album recorded which we are finishing off in the next few months. I’ll probably be doing more shows with The Black Stump Band than The Whitlams next year. I’m focused on developing it and we’ll come and play The Spiegeltent in March in Adelaide for a few nights. That’s a real challenge, the guys in that band are teaching me a lot. They are the real country music guns and I’ve always loved Americana. I’m finding it very rewarding and challenging at the same time which is the idea.

Does that give you a bit of a spring in your step and a sense of rejuvenation?
We just did ten dates and by the eighth show it was really sounding good. We are still learning to be a band/ The Whitlams can get up and it is in our bones, that’s what you get from eight hundred gigs. But The Whitlams Black Stump Band is a new act and everyone is playing these versions of these songs for the first time. It has got Whitlams in the name so people know what they are getting, three quarters of the songs are The Whitlams. It is a completely new dynamic. I’ll put out some of the Black Stump stuff, tour with those fellas and do some more recording.

Interview By Rob Lyon

The Whitlams play at The Gov on Friday 9 September (Sold Out) and Saturday 10 September. Tickets from The Gov

Catch The Whitlams on the following dates…

%d bloggers like this: