“Loud, sloppy, energetic punk” – that’s how frontman Jesse Coulter of Grenadiers describes his own music. He has wandered off to a quiet spot while waiting for Against Me! to play Groovin The Moo in Maitland, and between sets he lavishes me with tales of touring, personal politics, and that one time they accidentally started a fire while filming a video clip.
“The first time that we attempted that film clip [Summer] we actually burnt down some of the house that we were trying to film at,” he laughs. “The film clip that you see is the second attempt. You know how there’s a barbeque being cooked in the background? In the first attempt, which was at a different house, the gas bottle exploded!
“Our friend who was playing the role of the barbequer for the film clip, his initial reaction was to try and turn the gas tap off with his foot, but it was spewing these metre-long flames. In doing so he kicked it over – the pressure from the flame kind of caused the bottle to spin around and it was on a 45 degree day, on grass, and just set the whole fucking backyard on fire, and then that caught onto the shed, and then the back patio. The fireys came, there was a massive fireball, we thought we were gonna die.
“It’s a shame we couldn’t capture what was going on,” he laughs, “we were too invested in trying to save our own lives to capture the madness.”
True to their punk rock ethos, the Grenadiers back up their explosive name with more than just incendiary tunes – they’re all seasoned veterans of different scenes, and though Coulter describes them (half jokingly) as “difficult fucking assholes”, there’s a mutual love that comes from working with mates for a long time.
“All three of us come from a more heavy metal background… My old band and Jimmy’s [Balderston, drummer] used to tour together ten years ago. Phil and I met a little bit later… He’d never picked up a bass ever before we asked him to join the band. But he’s been in it for five years as of yesterday. Punk life man, it doesn’t feel that long, but I’ve know him for six or seven years and Jimmy for at least ten… I feel fucking old when I talk about this shit!
“When you’re young you have this youthful antagonism ingrained in your psyche, you just want to be contrary and against the grain all the time, which is good because you can produce from that, but at the same time when you get a little bit older and you kind of settle into understanding a bit more of who you are and your position in the world, who your true friends are, it does give you a bit of perspective and I think that dribbles into your music.”
“The first record [Songs The Devil Taught Us] was really my baby… and then with Summer it was a different line-up entirely. I wrote most of the songs before we started rehearsing but they morphed a bit once we started jamming. A couple of them we wrote communally… Jimmy is a very, very good drummer and a tuned ear – he’s an engineer by trade and owns a recording studio. I guess that changed the record a fair bit.
It seems that the release of new single Suburban Life is heralding a third album in the works. “The next one is actually pretty different to both of them – the first record was four-to-the-floor, pretty obvious ball-tearing kind of rock. The second record had more to it in terms of time signatures, different tones and instrumentation… This next one we’ve kinda stripped it back a lot – the songs are faster and more melodic, kind of really harkening back to what I think of as the ‘golden era’ of Australian music, which is the ‘80s with bands like Radio Birdman, The Screaming Tribesmen, The Hoodoo Gurus, that kinda golden era of Australian pub rock, and when we find ourselves at a loss of what to do, we always ask ourselves; ‘what would Midnight Oil do?’ There’s more planned, but it still sounds like us.”
“With the new album I tried not to be to didactic with the lyrics. You want people to listen to your song and relate to it; that doesn’t mean you have to dumb down what you want to say. On the last album I think I was guilty of being obscure sometimes… There’s no consistent theme throughout the whole [record] other than my observations on society and culture.
“Summer had a real lyrical theme, it was mostly about anxiety and shying away from social life; I was in kind of a bit more of a dark place when I wrote those lyrics, I’m not so much anymore. A song like Suburban Life is neither condemning nor celebrating; just kind of observations of growing up in Australia.
“There’s a couple of love songs on the album, which is something I’ve never done before… Not love songs in the sense that you’re gonna get rickrolled – no Michael Bolton moments.”
I jokingly ask if there is a sax solo, but it turns out I’m not far off. “Well we tried! We actually really wanted to get a saxophone solo on this album… We’ll try for the next one. We did get a bit of new instrumentation on this album, which is cool; there’s guest vocals, just back-ups to give the album texture. There’s cello on a couple of songs, there’s a bit of steel guitar, we tried a trumpet part but we didn’t end up including it… so we experimented a little bit with different sounds.”
Our conversation drifts into song meanings, with their most recent film clip Suburban Life‘s lyrics so poignantly about our country’s everyday life and values. “What is a really positive thing about Australian culture is that there is one now,” he jokes. “You hear about the cultural cringe, which was a real thing around the ‘80s, ‘90s. I think Paul Keating spoke about it a fair bit.
“I don’t think national identity needs to be formed on the basis of a war. It’s actually becoming a national thing, a tangible thing, Australian culture. I think that Australians are some of the most intrepid people. Henry Rollins says that wherever he goes, there’s always Australians… I think that sense of intrepid travel and excitement to see other cultures has broadened the Australian horizon.
“The worst thing is the polar opposite – for every person who travels and tries to gain an understanding of how other people think, there is always that sense of insular kind of thinking that Australia is very guilty of. If you look back through our history, Australia had a White Australia Policy, it had slavery, and there’s still that kind of thinking; ‘If it ain’t white, it ain’t right’ and ‘If you don’t like it, go back where you came from.’
“I think it’s the same in most countries, but there’s a certain brand of it in Australia and it’s disconcerting. With relation to [Suburban Life], I don’t think I was being critical of Australian life as much as I was just kind of thinking about all the imagery surrounding you when you’re growing up as a kid in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s – I’m thinking lawnmowers and speedos and cricket, y’know? Quintessentially Australian things.”As they begin their headline tour down the East Coast, Coulter leaves me with a description of what’s going down in the next few weeks: “Touring is an avant-garde camping trip and its 30+-year-old men living out the dreams of a 15-year-old boy, and it gets pretty fucking messy.”
Come get messy and possibly on fire with the Grenadiers, shredding balls-to-the-wall punk rock at a pub near you.
5 May, Crowbar, Brisbane
6 May, Miami Shark Bar, Gold Coast
12 May, The Chippo Hotel, Sydney
13 May, Rad Bar, Wollongong
19 May, Workers Club, Melbourne
20 May, A Day Of Clarity, Adelaide