Interview: Motor Ace vocalist Pat Robertson talks reunions and regrets

It’s been thirteen years since they disbanded, but Melbourne rockers Motor Ace are heading back out on the road early next year for a 20th Anniversary reunion tour. Our writer Jade, caught up with vocalist and guitarist Pat Robertson to find out more about the tour, whether he has any regrets and how things have changed in the years they’ve been off the road.

Let’s go back to the beginning of Motor Ace for a minute. What was your goal when you brought the band together in ’98?

Oh… I mean we were definitely extremely naïve. Probably over-confident, over-cocky, and I think we definitely saw ourselves as trying to be an international band. I guess, like our heroes, you know, when you’re twenty that’s what you want to do. But, I think we quickly realised that it was going to be a lot harder once we started getting a little bit of radio play and were still playing to ashtrays and tables.

I think we realised we’d have to do a lot more hard work and a lot more touring. I think from that first album’s release we probably resigned ourselves to hitting the road as hard as we could, and trying to do as good live shows as we could, and I think gradually that strategy kind of worked.

I mean, I guess Australia is a hard place to do that, because it’s so sparse and there’s only a small amount of people here to actually support a tour, so I think that was probably the only downside of that. I think it would’ve been nice to have social media and more of a global reach, I guess; back then we didn’t have any of that. But, you know, we did some good stuff and had a lot of fun and got to play with a lot of our heroes, so that was great.

Oh yeah, for sure. Critics said back then that you guys ‘sold out’ with your music being used for commercials and TV shows, but there wasn’t a lot of money to be made in music fifteen or twenty years ago, was there?

Yeah! Well that’s right, I mean without talking too much about the business side of things the main – almost the only – source of income that we ever got was from a few TV commercials and a TV show that our music was played in. With the live shows, when things were going well, we definitely had a bit of money coming in, but it was by no means enough to call it any sort of acceptable career [laughs].

Selling out is a ridiculous term, in Australia especially. Obviously, it’s possible to sell out – if you’re The Beach Boys and you’re putting your songs on Good Guys commercials or whatever – obviously that’s a sell out. But I think for most bands, and especially before social media, the best chance for exposure was through those sorts of channels, unfortunately. So… whatever! [Laughs]

Well I mean you’ve got to make money somehow, right?

Yeah, well I mean if you don’t make anything then you’ve got to get a job, you know? We’ve all got 9-to-5 jobs now, and that’s the reality. That’s just… life.

So how were you feeling back when you wrote your resignation letter to the band?

Oh, that one… That was actually after the second album, yeah. I was in a pretty bad state then. I think I… I don’t know, I think it was a culmination of four or five years going non-stop; putting a lot of pressure on myself and getting exhausted writing the material, and yeah, I don’t know, it was a whole combination of things.

I was only 24 or 25 at the time, as well, so I didn’t know how to deal with a lot of that angst at that time. Even though things were going well and I probably should have been enjoying it a hell of a lot more, I still wasn’t satisfied. So I don’t know, I think I just needed a break. At the time it wasn’t an official break up, as such, it was just more “I need time off” and “I need serious time off”, you know? Like, “I don’t want to see you for a year” [laughs].

But, after taking that time I got a little bit of a spark back, and definitely enjoyed making the last record more than any of the others – even though looking back it probably wasn’t our best. I don’t think I would have been able to make it if I hadn’t had that time off. I think we all kind of realised though, before the last record, that it was going to be our last, so everyone was pretty mentally prepared for that whole thing, and we sort of ended on reasonable terms.

There’s been a lot of speculation that the lukewarm reception, shall we say, to Animal was the catalyst for the break up, but you guys were already at that point before then?

Oh yeah, we’d already decided that was it, before we released it. I mean, the last song is called “No Place To Go” – that’s no accident [laughs]. That’s kind of how we felt, I think. Not everyone probably felt as passionately that we were done, but it was definitely a fairly mutual conclusion. And I don’t know, in some ways it was a good thing, because I think we mentally prepared everyone over a long period of time that we’d just cruise on out. Having said that, if it had been a huge success [laughs] we may have felt differently about that again.

Well you did take a lot more risks and explored some different sounds with that record – was that part of it? Was it just like, fuck it, this is going to be the last one anyway so let’s just do what we want to do?

Yeah, it was. I think we felt like we’d lost any guarantee of support from Triple J at that time. So we were like, well, fuck it, let’s just do what we want – well that was probably more me [laughs] saying I want to do what I want. But, for me, it was just more about exploring new ways to make music. We did the whole thing ourselves rather than going into a traditional studio to do it. I started getting more interested in doing more soundtrack stuff for film and TV then too. I think I also did a short film during the recording of that album as well. So, I was sort of heading in that more soundscape-y direction and yeah, that’s kind of where that all came from.

So do you have any regrets?

Ummm [hesitates] not really. I mean, I don’t have regrets that keep me up at night or that I spend any time really thinking about. But, I guess if you had to pinpoint something, I think I definitely regret not enjoying it more; and definitely regret being too all-consumed by our success or failure and all that stuff. I think it’s sort of a natural thing when you’re that age anyway, and you’re always aware in the music industry that you’re lucky to get three albums, but also to feel like if you don’t have success quickly it’s going to be all over. So there was a lot of that – sort of – pressure. It wasn’t just internal pressure, I think people were kind of saying that to us as well, people in the industry, so we felt the pressure from a lot of angles. So, it’s understandable why you’d feel that way, but yeah, I think looking back I should have just tried to be more relaxed about it. Which is easy to say now [laughs].

Hindsight is 20/20.

Yeah, exactly!

So tell me a bit about Nighthawk.

Oh yeah, Nighthawk. It’s good! It’s very hard to fit in amongst everything else that’s going on in everyone’s lives. But, I’m definitely loving making the music and rocking out with the guys. Damo from Motor Ace is obviously in Nighthawk as well, and it’s extremely hard to fit into his schedule – he’s a very very busy man. But, the album is actually written, and 60-70% done, we just have to finish recording the last three or four tracks with some guitars and some vocals and then it’s ready. So, we’ll hopefully get it out… [laughs] I don’t know. Hopefully get it out before the Motor Ace tour starts.

So was working with Damien again sort of a trigger for the 20th Anniversary reunion? I mean, towards the end there it seemed to be there was a little bit of… well, not animosity, but more of a “I’m sick of your face, don’t look at me,” thing going on.

With Damo and the other guys? Yeah… I don’t know whether it was… I mean I guess we were… Yeah, I guess when you put it that way, we were a little bit sick of each other.

I mean, it’s pretty hard being in a band – being in a band with people is almost like being in a family in a lot of ways. Well, I know with my family that we can all shout and scream at each other, and then an hour later be completely normal with each other. It’s kind of a rare dynamic to have, and it’s not too often you have that with your friends – with friends you can piss them off and not speak to them for months on end – but in a band you’re stuck together. So, you have that weird familial relationship where you can have intense times and intense arguments but you’re bound together by being in a band. So, it’s like being stuck with your family 24/7 for six or seven years, and it’s a nightmare [laughs], but we didn’t end badly. Some probably wanted to continue more than others, but I think we ended things on reasonably amicable terms, and any issues Damo and I had we’ve well and truly sorted out, we’re incredibly close and have been for a number of years.

And obviously creatively again now as well.

Yeah, creatively as well. I think time heals all wounds and whatnot, so I think we’re pretty good.

How are you feeling about getting back on the road and back on stage with all of the guys?

Yeah good. I wouldn’t want to be doing six-gigs-a -week tours [laughs]. But this is one or two shows a week for three or four weeks, so that’s definitely doable. We did do a few of those tours, and they’re always the most fun. It’s very relaxing as far as touring goes. Just playing the glory shows in major cities certainly beats going all over the place and playing to no one, so it’ll be good. I think it’ll be fun.

I think the dynamic has changed a lot since you guys were on the tour circuit as well. It’s just not feasible to play six nights a week any more, most people just seem to do the weekends now.

Oh, okay – I didn’t even know that! [Laughs] But that makes a lot of sense. I mean the shows that don’t make any money are pretty pointless.

Yeah, I think it was Pete Murray who told me it’s cheaper to send everyone home for Monday through Wednesday then bring them back out for Thursday through Sunday working days.

Yeah… yeah, yeah, yeah, that makes sense. Yeah, that’s what we’ll be doing.

So we’ll see how everything goes, hey? Both with the Motor Ace tour and the new Nighthawk album.

Yeah! It’s the first time I’ve ever been in two bands at the same time [laughs] so it should be interesting to say the least!

Tickets to Motor Ace’s 20th Anniversary – A Five Star Reunion tour are on sale now. 

Mar 29th: The Gov – Adelaide, SA
Tickets available from OzTix

Mar 30th: Capitol – Perth, WA
Tickets available from OzTix

Apr 5th: Factory Theatre – Sydney, NSW
Tickets available from Official Site

Apr 6th: The Triffid – Brisbane, QLD
Tickets available from OzTix

Apr 12th:  170 Russell – Melbourne, VIC
Tickets available from MoshTix

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