by David Robinson.
In 1980, the last time he toured Australia, Eric Goulden (aka Wreckless Eric) was enjoying great success on the back of a number of UK singles. Songs like Reconnez Cherie and the unforgettable Whole Wide World had propelled him into the centre of new wave consciousness when, surprisingly, he pulled the pin on the music business and adopted a do-it-yourself approach. It’s proven a workable strategy – he’s been doing it ever since. We catch up with Eric on the eve of his first Australian show for 38 years and ask him why 2018 is a good time to return.
“It’s never a good time; it’s never convenient or anything like that,” Eric laughs. “Nothing is ever ‘Oh, this is the perfect time’.”
Your music career changed pretty dramatically shortly after your last visit.
“When I came to Australia [in 1980] I’d been having serious doubts, for a year and a half maybe, about being with Stiff Records. It wasn’t the label that it was when I started there, and I was not the same artist. I felt that I wasn’t being true to myself. At the time, I felt that I was being manipulated by the company. Unfortunately, at that time I was also drinking very, very heavily. It wasn’t just hobby drinking and having a laugh; it was kind of life-threatening. And so that made it very difficult for me to think clearly.
“I came home from Australia and the first thing I did was set about extricating myself from Stiff Records, which took a long time. I fell in with a management that saw me as some kind of cash cow. They put me on the road in England permanently for about a year and a half until I was spent, my audience was spent, and nothing made any sense.
“Then I just kind of straightened up. I stopped drinking, I tried to get a job, and I became a dad as well.”
Where did you go after you broke from Stiff?
“I formed a group called the Len Bright Combo,” Eric says. “We were a strange, psychedelic garage band. We were doing four or five shows every week.
“This was in the mid-eighties, a strange time for music. People said ‘Why are you obliterating all your songs with this awful racket? You’re one of our great songwriters and yet you’re doing this. You can’t do this’. But I could. I could write what you might think are perfectly crafted songs, and then smash them to bits with this sledgehammer called the Len Bright Combo.
“I hated the music business, I hated the people in it, I hated the lawyer who laughed at me and said ‘I suppose next you’ll be telling us you’re going to record direct to piano roll’.
“My biggest problem is that I’ve got a brain. If you want to be in the music business you don’t wanna have a brain. You want the illusion of a bit of brain power so that you can do marvellous things like save seals and stand for political office and all of that but most people who do all of those kind of things, fuck me, they let everyone down in the end. Do you know what I mean (laughs)?”
I’ve seen some recent live footage and was happy to see and hear the old songs being performed as they were originally intended. Listening to your new album – it’s still part of the ongoing evolution of Wreckless Eric.
“I haven’t had to change the keys of my songs,” Eric explains. “People do that; they can’t quite hit the notes any more. And they change the phrasing because they get out of breath. I try not to let that kind of thing happen.”
“I’m very lucky, my sound is unique. I was just trying to play guitar like Lou Reed but I could never manage it. It became me; I don’t think anyone else plays like me and I have a voice that is unmistakable. And I think I’ve got a lot better, I can sing pretty good now. I can express myself with it. So if I make a record it is going to sound like me.
“After all these years, I’ve developed a lot and I think the sound and the production of my latest stuff, particularly the last two albums, amERICa and Construction Time & Demolition, are vastly superior to what I did in the old days. I address a lot more than I ever did in the lyrics; it’s developed.”
It appears that you are satisfied with where you are at, musically.
“You can talk about anything you like with music but the one thing you have to get firmly into your mind (that most people never do) is that your medium is sound. Without that medium, there is nothing. You can talk about vocals; it’s just a formalised arrangement of noises that you make with your mouth and your throat; it’s sound. You can talk about the soaring, searing quality of the guitar; it’s just noise, it’s sound. So, without sound, you have nothing. The medium is everything. So the ability to manipulate sound, in all its manifestations, is where it’s at. That’s what you’ve got to do. I wish more people knew that.”
So, it sounds like you are happy with your most recent manipulation of sound, Construction Time & Demolition.
“Aah, now you’re joining in,” Eric laughs. “I am very happy with it. But I can’t take all the credit for the way that record sounds. I recorded it at my place; I have my own studio, but then I took it to Nashville and mixed it with Andrija Tokic, who has a studio called The Bomb Shelter. Andrija is a brilliant engineer and producer. We finished it off together and it was a great experience to do it.
“There is nothing like that record and I stand by it a thousand million percent. And so does he; we’re both very proud of it.”
Your book, A Dysfunctional Success is a great read. One of the better rock ‘n’ roll autobiographies I have read. Very honest and extremely funny.
“Thank you very much. I didn’t want to write a book about celebrity, about being famous and all that; what actually interested me was the development of someone getting to that point. I really just wanted to write about what it was like being middle class in England in the fifties and sixties, growing up in that environment. And what happens to you when you finish being famous. That interested me more.
“I did a lot of research. Some days I’d just go out and sit on a wall, in the neighbourhood. Then the police would get called and I’d have to explain myself (laughs). And then move on. I’d take trips; I’d go up north to where I lived for a while. Walk around, have a look, photograph it, write little bits of notes and then come home and look at it all.”
Any chance of a sequel?
“It would actually have to cover something like, well, the first one stops in 1986, so it would be 30 damn years. I don’t know – I keep thinking that it would be good, but…
“There are quite a lot of people that would like me to write another instalment. It weighs on me. I think I will get to it, somehow. And it may be that I just take parts of my blog from over the years and base it around that. Because they are the truth of my life.”
What can Adelaide fans expect on Wednesday night?
“A top-class quality night out!” Eric laughs again. “I try and take it somewhere. It’s a journey, really, of one sort or another. I play my songs and I play the guitar and it might have a bit of the unexpected. It will probably get loud at some point.
“Sometimes I think I can be a singer-songwriter, I can be light and frothy, but I have a darkness about me – that’s why I can’t do the nostalgia. ‘Hey, didn’t we have a great time back in 1979, wasn’t that a lot of fun?’, you know, I can’t do that (laughs), I can’t be that.
“I’m a man on a mission. I’m always a man on a fucking mission! It gets dark, but it’s fun as well. Sometimes I can’t stop laughing when I get on stage. It’s like I’ve just done all of this fucking harrowing stuff and I stop and say ‘I’m sorry, I just realised how ridiculous all this is’ (laughs). I have to stop and pull myself together and then get back on it. So, I don’t know what they can expect on Wednesday!
“I do songs from all over my career. Sometimes it sounds really punk and busted up, and then it goes back to something lyrical and, you know, I just do my thing.
“I keep my clothes on; I think you’ve got to at my age,” Eric jests. “I’ve still got my own hair and teeth. To come and see a pop performer from my era with his own hair and teeth, that’s a good thing. But I don’t have a pole and I don’t do a trick with a ping pong ball; I don’t blow smoke rings or anything like that…”
Wreckless Eric performs at Governor Hindmarsh Hotel – Front Bar, 59 Port Road, Hindmarsh, from 7.30pm on Wed 14 Nov.
Bookings at thegov.com.au. Click HERE to purchase your tickets.