You are pretty much a legend within the music world both locally and as far as they eye can see. give us a little bit of backend about the man known as Al Creed.
image via Al Creed
You have been in some pretty incredible punk bands spanning an impressive catalogue. Whilst many may be most familiar with Aberration, you have mixed with a vast array of talent kicking off with Government Downfall back in 1982 to Execution Mask (that garnered airtime what was then THE only alt music station JJJ), hooking up with another mate of ours Phil Van Rooyen in the Panadolls, we now find you kicking it with Novocastrian dudes in East Coast Low. Each band has had it’s distinct style of punk: what draws you in to each strand and how has it impacted/influenced your creativity.
I’m not sure about the word legend. I grew up on the northern beaches of Sydney, from a working class family. I discovered at an early age that I preferred guitar to the old upright piano I used to bang out Beatles songs on (badly) – I pretty much loved the Beatles, the Who and the Kinks. That was until when tuning in to 2JJ late one night sometime in the late 70s, I heard a punk rock song blaring out over the airwaves. I’d never heard anything like it (it was the Sex Pistols). It pretty much changed my life from that point on.
I forgot about football practise; I discovered rock and roll, cigarettes, booze and drugs – all pretty much incompatible with a sporting life. I left school at the age of 15; I left home at 16 and moved into a giant dilapidated old Victorian mansion in Manly (aptly dubbed Cockroach Castle) with a bunch of other punk rock and skinhead kids who were at most 2 or 3 years my senior. There were 13 of us. I think the rent was $13 a week. The rest of my $37.50 a week dole money went on getting as loaded as I could. Some of it went on food. I lived in what was little better than a hallway most of the time.
image via Hell Crab City
It was there I played in my first proper Band that played actual gigs. It was 1982 and the band was called Government Downfall – hardcore punk rock more inspired by the second wave of British punk than anything else. We’d rehearse in the lounge room which would usually see the cops descending on the place and telling us to “turn that shit down”.
I hated the northern beaches and the yob and surfie culture I was never really a part of. I yearned to be in the city – I spent most of my time there anyway – and moved to Waterloo, near Redfern in 1983. Government Downfall died a natural death and with some mates we formed another punk band, Execution Masks. It all really just progressed from there. But playing hard and fast music was always the goal, regardless of how scrappy it was.
image via Aberration
Heh, just on the early JJJ: it used to be great, back when it was in the old building on William St in the Cross. You’d navigate the hookers and trans hanging about and just walk in and hang out with the station staff and DJs. I remember dropping cassettes in there and, yeah, they’d actually play some of it on air. Years later, Helen Razor discovered the Execution Masks track, ‘Vegemite’. I guess she thought it was hilarious; it WAS pretty funny.
I think what draws me in to each band is – well, loud and fast guitars obviously – but an edge, and a passion that may at times exceed the actual musicianship. I think a lot of the stuff I was involved with earlier was better live than anything we did in a studio: there was often a feeling that it might fall off the precipice at any moment, but somehow hold it all together. Most of the time.
But some of the studio records I’m proud of are the Panadolls “From the Glitter to the Gutter” album. I thought we did a pretty good job of that and it was a touch eclectic too – not following a standard punk format. A lot of that was Kenny too. His Itchy Rat style. A bit left of centre and post-punk inspired. And he was quite poetic too. I think he had a Bukowski- like presence. The band really propelled me to find more interesting stuff to do on guitar.
I really liked doing the New Christ’s album, ‘We Got This’. Although I was pretty messed up most of the time making that record, I was pleased with the outcome and it’s one of the few things I’ve been involved with I can still listen to. Stu, who now plays drums in Aberration, played on that record too. Rob Younger is a really talented man and one of this country’s finest lyricists – and has produced some great records. Personally, to this day I’m a bigger fan of NC than RB (sacrilege?). The band has lived under the Birdman shadow for so many years but i think they created better material. Distemper: what a record! Rob always pushes you to do better; I always found it to be in a positive way. I think I became a better player as a result. I mean, you’ve got to come up with the goods; you can’t just rest on your laurels.
There’s a bunch of talented dudes in East Coast Low and they write great songs. It was the songs that attracted me to the band when they asked me to join as Troy Scerri’s replacement. Big shoes to fill. He’s up there in my list of fave Aussie guitar players. The new album is shaping up to be pretty fine, I reckon, and a step evolution from the first album, Open The Sky.
The new Aberration album is really taking form too. It’s definitely moving away from the material on the first album, which, let’s face it, was mostly written 30-35 years ago. A lot has moved since then. It’s great working with Stu and Tony – you couldn’t ask for better. We have a really good connection and it’s been interesting to create the album during lockdown with none of us actually playing any of the material together, except maybe one or two songs.
Let’s touch briefly on Pink Tone-Ale Records. In a time when recording labels were the backbone of the underground scene compared to how readily and somewhat slightly more easily to start up currently: what have you seen as being the major shift when it comes to recording and mixing back in the day to the digitalised domination that now dominates.
After Pink Tone-Ale, I worked at Oracle Records for a few years – this was in the late 90s. The digital revolution was really still in its infancy. I remember we were talking with the people at mp3.com.au about digital downloads but it was way before the fledgling digital space had come into its own and streaming was just a dream. Napster wasn’t even a thing yet. But the writing was already on the wall. When stuff went down with big record store chains going under, it hurt Oracle and they never recovered.
image via East Coast Low
Now digital recording has completely revolutionised the landscape again. It’s become totally affordable for a band or artist to put together a recording setup and produce music for release. That’s really hurting the studios though. But it has put a lot of extra creativity into the hands of artists. There are pluses and minuses. You still need a good acoustic space to mix and master in with decent outboard gear.
I’m sold on digital recording. With Aberration, Stu the drummer has a decent setup in his garage where we can track drums – he’s doing heaps of stuff there; I’ve played on some of his own stuff and he’s played on my yet-to-be-released solo stuff. Most of the first Aberration album was tracked there and at my place, with just some of the guitars done in a proper studio. The same has been the case for the latest album. We’ve done most of it separately during the pandemic. I’ll record a demo version; Stu records the drums, then we go back and re-record all the other stuff.
Touring: friend or foe?
I love touring, I wish I could be doing it more. I’m really missing it right now – as well as simply playing live anywhere! It’s really just a rock ‘n’ roll holiday with your mates. Hahaha.
I’d love to be able to tour overseas again but who knows what the future holds with that. But even Melbourne or Brisbane would be great right now! Anything!!!
What gives you the most creative lease in life: performing, collaborating, recording or photography (for as we know photography in itself has musicality not only to the subject but to the observer)
I think performing live is – and will always be – my first love. Though I’m discovering the joys of the home studio – which as I said before has been a real boon during lockdown time.
Execution Mask (image via Al Creed)
Photography is absolutely a love and passion of mine. Although I’ve devoted less time to it in recent years than what I used to. I have a ton of gear and lenses just sitting there most of the time. For me there is something special about capturing a particular moment in time and freezing it forever. And the fact you can stick ten photographers in the same spot and you almost always get ten different interpretations of the same scene. I think music does that too – you take a particular genre or style and focus it through your own personal lens of the world.
How has life been for you musically since this COVID lockdown kicked in as we have seen your streamed gigs (which must be odd given part of the live gig is feeding off the energy of punters whether it be good or bad). Where do you see the live scene heading and will it actually ever recover?
Frankly, it’s been really hard. And i’m sure it’s been really hard for many people. But not being able to play live is killing me – metaphorically. In the last seven months we’ve done one live streamed gig with Aberration which had a max audience of ten punters. It had an OK vibe despite being small. I can tell from watching it, though, we were so pent up from not playing for ages.
I’ve tried to do a few live streams from home too – to greater and lesser success. It was kind of weird, actually, I did a little impromptu video of a song on my phone to promote the facebook live stream. It wasn’t particularly good quality or anything but it started getting heaps of plays – ended up with nearly 26,000 plays – way more than anything I had ever posted. I’m still scratching my head as to why. Sadly, the stream had nowhere near that amount of views. Hahahaha.
The future of live music is not looking particularly bright right now. No doubt the venue operators and others working around the scene have been hit super hard. And I really feel for them. But I do think that the scene as a whole will find a way. Obviously, many are going to fall by the wayside – and that’s tragic. But, think about the 50s, 60s, 70s even. A lot of live music was in dance halls and surf clubs back then; not in pubs. Perhaps there will be a move away from the traditional pub circuit as it has been since the 70s. Perhaps more impromptu gigs. Maybe warehouses and other types of “unofficial” venues will spring up. Who knows? Naturally, I hope – like most other artists and punters (not the government, it seems, mind you) – that things don’t completely fall apart for live music entertainment in this country.