Over a year ago (13/08/2008) a dude we’ll call Joel Dan from Adelaide with an insane turnaround request of 24 hrs posted a bunch of questions over to The Axemen MySpace site for us to peruse. His plan, eh, was to get the thing published in Plan B magazine (UK).
With their usual lightspeed aplomb the trio elucidated the following memory bytes:
AXEMEN INTERVIEW QUESTIONS ‘n’ ANSWERS 09/09/07
LSM: Little Stevie McCabe
BB: Bob Brannigan
SK: Stu Kawowski
* How/when/where did the group start?
LSM: RE: Start -1983 – spring equinox although there was a pre-kawowski big bang prior to this with the twins first gig at dunedin orientation / the st clair school fair
BB: school fair was Queens High, that was in May. Queens was the school for girls only. I went to Kings, the school for really fuckin ugly girls only, but I did some Latin classes at Queens becos Kings had removed Latin from the syllabus when they discovered that “God Defend New Zealand” in that language came out as “All principals are poo garglers.” Queens didn’t have a principal, just a headmistress. I called her the Madhisstress. She let Steve and me use the music room to record some songs. I showed her some of Steve’s lyrics since she insisted and she went all quiet after that, but I noticed when we turned up at the fair, where we shared the musical bill with some Crass-alike vege-punks called Circadian Deregulation, she kept on flipping me peace signs and flashing at me bits of what she must have thought were nipple but I saw as squashed saveloy; I think she was on acid. Meanwhile George D Henderson who turned up to drum for us and whose leg was in a cast WAS on some kind of hallucinegenic drug– I found this out years later– I noticed he kept laughing + crying all at the same time and sometimes he would stand up and growl, but there was very little he could not do to a snare with a pickle.. We were the Whinin’ Plums for that gig.. The kawowski bigbang wasn’t orientation becos the drummer for that gig was Mike Morley who I was sometimes in a band called the Witchdoctors with- Stu turned up later that same day and me and Steve as The Twins supported Stu’s band the Bilders at the Empire, when Stu just bowled up and drummed for us. Then he told us how all the planets were aligned etc + showed us the potato-stamped tickets + we resolved to do the equinox gig.. which took place either the next nite or maybe a few months later..
SK: The band formed Spring equinox 1983 when Stu filled in as drummer for a two-piece guitar unit… (Bob + Steve – who had previously released 2 tapes as AXEMEN) … at Dunedin pub, The Empire (also as AXEMEN) a pub that they would eventually be banned from 3 times, and Stevie was even evicted from there mid-set once for underagedness, only to return in disguise and finish the set as his brother, Laurence. Stu very quickly realised the enormity of the occasion and quit his other band to seal the triumvirate’s fate.
* The line-up seemed to change/mutate a lot, correct?
LSM: RE: Mutate: the arrangement was always flexible and ranged from 2 – 14 members, usually but not always containing a ‘critical mass’ of two out of three of stu, bob and steve.
Notable fact: virtually all Axemen gigs were taped and have been preserved for future historians…
BB: I once did a gig all by myself as the Axemen but no one came, which was a shame cos it was really REALLy excellent, definitely up there with the top gigs ever. For the big finale I smashed the cassette recorder with a hammer.
SK: See Bob’s list of members… below… I’ve added to that as well. It was kinda outrageously kooky how “open door” we were in regard to letting people play with us, I mean beyond the stable of guitar heroes, saxophinists and bass players lurking there were literally hundreds of would-be “birds” and rattle players ampin’ to leap on stage and shake their booty. When AXEMEN all lived in Auckland we reverted back to a 3-piece again, it was quite a relief!
* Can you tell me who was involved and when?
BB: 1983/spring equinox/dunedin.mccabe+brannigan+kowalski (A3) + damon crowe + george d henderson + m s agro + al rite + lisa preston + gary scott + the hamilton brothers rent, shorty & doug + b b ryan + Gordon Baird + Paul Lee + Pete Rees + Peter Hall Jones + Mono man + + kevin hawkins + Johnny Cash-in + jessica walker + jane walker + Brian +gaylene + dragan stojanovic + joanne billesdon, schoolgirl reta & her schoolgirl friend + bev + arthur sheep + dancin davy g + prancin b s hayward; A3 1983-1992, most others 1983-1987, stojanovic 1988-9, last 2 dancers 1991-2.
* Where were the Axemen based?
LSM: RE: Where – Technically Oamaru as we constantly travelled between Dunedin and Christchurch – Interestingly with the convenient amount of travel time between the two cities and the availability of an Intercity bus pass i was able to have no fixed abode for the first 18 months, simply sleeping on the bus and busking with bob in dunedin. however this depended on ‘syncing’ our travelling, much as women living together sync their menstrual cycles – we once got out of sync for three weeks, only realizing when we met at a lunch break in timaru
BB: at the intersection of south dunedin + sydenham, 2 steps from the blues, under the boredwack/over the brainbow, behind the aleph..then axile in awkwardland.. People with hearts and minds who played chords and riffs.
SK: All over the country, Dunedin, ChCh, Wellington, Auckland… we hardly ever all lived in the same town, although we did share home turf in ChCh for a spell, and later in Auckland all 3 of us were there around 1990, 1992…
* How did you feel you fit into the ‘music scene’?
LSM: RE: Fit in music scene – i think we were slightly on the fringe of this, but as virtually everyone involved in nz music at the time played with us at some time there was a certain fit in a jigsaw puzzle kind of way – in my personal opinion the involvement of these other artists with the axemen was a big factor in the future success of artists like henderson, faigan, segovia, knox, gutteridge, walker, mixture, heyhood, hawkins, stojanovic, baird, preston, graham, hamiltons, scott, white, maitland, kean, ruifrok, rage, leQuesne et al and that being sucked into the axemens field of gravity they emerged at the other side with their consciousness slightly warped, this is known as the axemen wormhole relativity Doppler replication effect, and has recently been recognized in Scientific journals as the closest survivable experience to being glanced off the event horizon of a black hole as is possible for a human being.
SK: AXEMEN were loved openly or secretly by lots of other bands, also envied for the prodigious number of brilliant songs that would spew forth from the tag-team of Brannigan vs. McCabe. Every gig would be a new set of new songs, so as drummer I was never “rehearsed” just “flying off the seat of my pants”. Exciting stuff. We also played support for our favourite bands Gordons, Skeptics, Fetus Productions, Scorched Earth Policy all of whom had wicked PA’s and there was sometimes Brent McLaughlin’s big ass Ludwig drum kit I could play on while he mixed us live! Oh yes, great drum sound.
See Stevie’s topographical map in our MySpace pics for full visual explanation of the NZ music scene c. 1980’s – 1990’s.
BB: Fit like a s-bend pipe in a silk purse..
* who did you feel were your peers?
LSM: RE: peers: we simply had none – although white noise and the 3ds were probably closest in concept, and the gordons promotional ethos, being on the edges of the industry and use of feedback had resonance with us.
Personally my biggest influence of all was the Perfect Strangers/And Band gig at the band rotunda on the Avon River (with the associated experience of getting completely and utterly drunk for about the third time in my life and also meeting George Hamilton for the first time).
Once we were gigging and the Axel Grinders came along we had something comparable from an anarchic perspective but they tended to play a lot of covers initially which i consider cheating if it makes up a majority of the set- axemen would generally perform one or two covers at a gig, just to ‘keep in touch with the kids’
SK: Hmmm, those bands mentioned, Gordons, Skeptics, Fetus Productions, Scorched Earth Policy plus Rent Hamilton & The Connoisseurs, All Fall Down, McGoohans, And Band, Perfect Strangers, Toerag, Great Unwashed, White Noise, Gillmen, Octopus Ink, Bilders…
BB: People with hearts and minds who played chords and riffs.
* Furthermore, how did you feel about your relationship to/with Flying Nun?
LSM: RE: Relationship with Flying Nun – I always felt a little uncomfortable about being on a label with an unspoken rule that all its groups were openly gay.
BB: tried to kill them. failed. tried to kill us. failed. so, a pretty well-balanced relationship all round.
SK: They agreed to press 667 copies of THREE VIRGINS but freaked out when we delivered the full-colour gatefold artwork that cost so much to prepare and print that we never really saw much royalties for the sales. Thought about pointing a gun at Roger Shepherd a couple of times to get some money, but Bill Direen had already tried that.
* Axemen are noted for their sense of humour – something not necessarily pronounced re: the Flying Nun ethos. What was the Axemen’s aesthetic – how would you define this?
LSM: RE: Humor – I didn’t personally find Roger Shepherd to be a barrel of laughs, but his beard was pretty amusing at times.
Were I to be made to select the ten people I would choose to take to the ‘Get Smart/3 Stooges/Marx Brothers’ marathon weekend I doubt that any of the Flying Nun crew would make my shortlist, but they had their moments – I still recall Roger literally burying his head in papers on his desk when we presented the final artwork for ‘Peter Wang Pud‘ and he flipped the page to the infamous centerfold photo – good times, good times.
SK: Fuck it, let’s do it!
BB: make em laugh.
* What was Axemen live like – I’ve heard it was pretty ‘take no prisoners’ but also very funny…
LSM: RE: Live Having not actually seen a gig myself I can’t really comment – however I have seen tapes and did break into the occasional chuckle
My personal philosophy changed over the years from being a serious (if completely and utterly drunk) anarchist with enthusiasm and the feeling we would make it big any day and we were as good as or better than anyone else and could do what the fuck we wanted, to a slightly disillusioned and angry musician with a swag of songs and a swag of booze who could play and busk it with the best of em , make a cassette and sell 50 copies (no more, no less) and had a small but loyal following with little chance of growing and ‘making it’ not because of any deficit of talent but being born two years too late and not having a sense of socially acceptable ‘conformity’ that would let our version of ‘acceptable’ be accepted into the general world (but still doing what the fuck we wanted) …. to being a more accomplished musician and songwriter yet still ‘failing’ while succeeding in other areas of my life so more or less retiring… but making plans for what to do with the historical tapes which are still quite safe and in good condition…
SK: Spellbinding. “You had to be there”. Like a blast of fresh air blowing out all the old farts. Never repeated a song for the first 4 or 5 years, so nobody ever got requests or got to hear their fave song or nuthin’. So fans had to buy a tape to “hear it again”. And they did. (AXEMEN recorded every second of every session they ever played so somewhere there’s a trunk of cassettes, in Steve’s parent’s garage, his old lady’s place, I’ve got a big box, Steve’s got some plus a ton of reel to reels, Bob’s got a bunch… there’s also some in the NZ National Library, one copy of every release we ever did).
BB: There was always the sheer thrill of making noises, of creating a disturbance in assembled minds. Plus we were big fans of “Hogan’s Heroes.”
* Can you tell me about the two F.Nun records – ‘Two (sic) Versions…’ and ‘Derry Legend‘… and also about the tapes/etc you were releasing at the time…
LSM: RE: Flying Nun Releases – The Flying Nun Releases I Consider a ‘snapshot’ of the group at the time – three virgins was recorded on 4 track in a church hall we rented over easter weekend in a hall in the middle of christchurch and mixed over the next few weeks/months
People came and went over the weekend and there was generally always something happening – almost a commune-like situation – coffee wine and hot chestnuts turned up and were consumed – whiskey and vodka bottles came and went
sleeping arrangements were made and changed nightly – the resulting 20 hours or so were finally condensed down to what became the first and last flying nun double ‘semi-live’ album with gatefold color cover, a tribute to a genre pioneered by Peter Frampton with ‘Frampton Comes Alive’ (1974) and popular for some time due to its phenomenal success.
Derry Legend was a tighter and mopre ‘pop’ styled album which should have been a smash hit in an ideal world – probably around the peak of their creativity, most of the songs were written in the 10 days preceding the albums recording, and it was our feeling at the time that given the resources we could hve recorded another the next week and the week after. ‘
LSM: RE: Sleek Bott cassettes/ cds: The cassette back-catalogue is testament to productivity at this time and is still available, even on CD these days 🙂
SK: Yeah Bob pretty much sums it up discographically, we had a bunch of cassette recorders we’d use, I brought back a Sony recording Walkman cassette machine from USA in 1982, we recorded most of the first cassettes live on that. Steve had a bunch of stuff, including his grandparent’s 3-in-one stereo and some beat up old speakers that sounded great, all cardboardy and farty, and we did over dubs by jamming a piece of cardboard over the erase head and just recording again on the same piece of previously-recorded tape. Worked a treat. Later Steve had a 2-track reel to reel that was better sound qual. (remember there was no personal computers around yet), and much later we did a bunch of as-yet unreleased recordings at Frisbee Studios in Auck. on an 8-track Fostex. Wicked stuff, there’s 4 tracks of that on a 1992 tape called “Across The Universe in 3288 Days”.
Oh yeah, THREE VIRGINS was recorded Easter ’85 at an inner city church in Christchurch we hired for 3 days as the “Christchurch Folk Society” it cost $35/day and we even had keys for the grand piano and the pipe organ. Musicoligist Larence N. Shustak recorded us on his portable TEAC 4-track reel to reel rig, and we recorded about 40 tracks over the 3 days. The guest performer list on THREE V’s is quite long, (see album credits, if you can find a copy). 22 tracks made it to the 4-sided vinyl masterpiece. (Production mixing was done later in Auckland at Jed Town’s WOMB studio).
DERRY LEGEND was recorded around 1987 at Skeptic’s wicked brand new studio Writhe in Wellington, later destroyed by fire. Can’t remember how we afforded it, maybe we extracted some cash outta Aunty Nun, can’t remember. When it came to mixing, we did a swap for Stu K’s SKEPTICS A.F.F.C.O. video. D. Legend also features Dragan Stojanovich, a virtuoso performer and regular AXEMEN for a few years about that time.
BB: 3 VIRGINS was our vinyl debut. 20 years later it still sounds like the last great album on earth.
DERRY LEGEND was recorded a couple years later but it didn’t come out until 1989. It’s shorter than 3Vs.
Before 3Vs we’d made a series of cassette albums we screenprinted the LP-sized covers for and released ourselves, “Equinox,” “Mick’s Dancefloor (Mix),” “Big Cheap Motel” and “A Scar Is Born.” Each album came with lots of extras, mini-newspapers, stickers, diagrams, manifestos, reflecting the collective consciousness of the extended axemen family. For all we knew, we’d never actually get to make a vinyl LP, but we weren’t gonna let that hold us back.
Post Derry Legend we made another bunch of cassette albums, “Mass Hysteria,” “Instant Kiwi,” “The Dirty Den Sessions,” “Recliner Rocker.” We just had hundreds of songs by then.
* What do you feel is Flying Nun’s lasting legacy? And what are your thoughts about the Axemen’s place within this? – I tend to think a certain ‘version’ of F.Nun is perpetrated which leaves out some key groups who were not as ‘careerist’ but just as important…
LSM: RE: Legacy:
Given it being such a relatively small label and even its bigger hitters being minnows in the ocean of worldwide music i think (but i would, wouldn’t I) that all the releases should be given some weight over time as they all become part of the history and are points on the timeline
I still remember fondly going to the EMI shop in Colombo st in chch where Roy Montgomery and Roger Shepherd were working at the time and buying the Pin Group, Playthings and Toy Love singles when New Zealand vinyl were as rare as hens false teeth
LSM: RE: Axemen’s place in FN History
I think a definitive relational ‘tree’ of the players within the system would be a worthwhile thesis project given the geographical isolation of NZ and the relatively small size of the participant group would make an ideal anthropological study group – i know Bob has a partial map of this but sure there are a number of uncharted groups and entities , McGoohans, Bottletops, Thunderbirds, National Sex Grid, Pastry Cooks, Scab Union, Wastrels, Androidss,… with the current availablity of webspace i think some of this could be represented graphically and with images and sounds representing each strain in a way that may not be possible in a less isolated community…
Personally I think the Axemen served their purpose in encouraging others to ‘have a go’, a slightly more anarchic version of the punk ethos of ‘anyone can do this shit…’ (as the punk that came out of england at the time was still relatively polished, for all its claims of being raw and anarchic, due to the geographical difficulty of obtaining it)
We should also mention something about Hamburg….
SK: Hmmm well the historians always create the story that they want everyone to believe. I personally don’t buy into those FN docos and histories that much… nor the compilations that exist, cos even when AXEMEN were included, such as on the FN DVDs, there are other bands that deserved to be included and weren’t. AXEMEN were not part of any FN sound, we just used them to get some shit released. We did all our own marketing and retail for the cassettes, and saw the vinyl thing as a bit of a financial issue, so we welched off the Nun for that reason. Y’know, we were around and doing our thing alongside the FN show-ponies, but we were really into our own scene. Brewed our own wine, picked our own cacti & mushies… y’know self sufficient to a point. If we thought we could get something for free, or could use someone or thing to our advantage, we’d go for it! Most of the bands we did stuff with existed with or without FN. Most bands we liked were really independent, did their own recording, made their own videos etc AXEMEN were famous for their pop street publicity – plastering Christchurch with posters, stickers, graffiti, massive big AXEMEN hit & run murals, many of which stayed up for years … The cops knew Bob & I well, as we were the graffiti painters from hell for a few years there. I’d walk thru Cathedral Square and hear, “Gidday Picasso” – coming from some bobby on the beat ;^) Shit we even wrote a song about those cops heh heh… If you asked anyone in Christchurch around 1985, have you heard AXEMEN? The answer would be either, “Yes”, or, “I’ve heard of them”.