the AU interview: Phil Jamieson (Sydney) talks touring with Scott Russo (California)!

Phil Jamieson is known mainly for his role as front man for the Australian band Grinpsoon. In December this year he is teaming up with Unwritten Law front man, Scott Russo to tour Australia. In this two part series, John Goodridge chats to Phil about the tour and some of his other projects.

Hey Phil, how did the tour come about?

Scott was in town for the Hits and Pits festival in May and I’m no longer touring with Grinspoon, so I was thinking that I should tour manage Unwritten Law on that tour. So I ring Scott and ask him if he has a tour manager, and he was like “No, that would be great, you can even come and sing with us.” But then their manager didn’t think it was such a good idea, so their management said no to that. I said, “That’s okay, let’s do a show together.” So we did an acoustic show together in Sydney and Melbourne in May and they were both really well received. I guess, you know that there was a bit of a debacle about the Hits and Pits festival, so I said, “Why don’t we do a tour in December?” So he said, “Let’s do a lap.” So it’s basically a Christmas theme: spirit of giving, happiness, Santa, snowballs, reindeers, that kind of vibe. It came about because of the two shows that happened in May that were well received, kinda overwhelmingly. People got excited about them and that was flattering, so we’re doing it again.

From what I understand you’ve written some songs for Unwritten Law as well.

I co-wrote “Seein’ Red” and “How You Feel” and I co-wrote a percentage of songs off the Elva record. Also, Scott’s co-written a song called “Better Off Alone” on Grinspoon’s fourth record and he co-wrote another song on that record as well. I mean, we’ve known each other since the nineties, so a healthy form of competitive jealousy accompanies our friendship. I’ve learned a lot from Scott over the years, some things what not to do, some things to do, for example, the ability to weave an incredible pop melody against quite aggressive guitars. I always thought I had better verses and he had better choruses, but you know, chorus gets the money. So the shows that we did in Sydney and Melbourne, I start the show, do a solo set, then he does a solo set, then we play the songs that we co-wrote together and talk about those songs. It’s a lot of fun. He’s quite a dynamic, interesting, Peter Pan type of person. I guess I’m a little more grown up, if you can believe that.

I imagine working with a band like Grinspoon over the years must have given you a lot more opportunities to explore your musical ideals.

Yes and no. That’s actually quite a good question. Obviously, I’ve been very fortunate in that Grinspoon were very successful, so I guess there’s the public persona, la la la. But there’s a lot of stuff that I keep on trying to release that I send to my management and they complain that it doesn’t sound like Grinspoon. So it’s a kinda rock and a hard place thing. There’s a bunch of recordings that I’m really hankering to release, but it kinda sounds like Hall and Oates, who I like, but they don’t. I still say it’s a blessing and a curse in some ways. To be not a new artist, because you’re never new, once you’ve released your first single, you’re always something. I feel very fortunate that Grinspoon had such a long and great career, people know my name and that’s really great, but people have somewhat pre-conceived notions about what I should release as well.

So would you say that the fans almost have more control over the music that you release?

No, not at all! I think if I may speak on behalf of fans, which is quite presumptuous of me, I think they’d like the material. I’s just trying to make it make sense to the people that are going to help me release it. Grinspoon and I have had the same manager since the year 2000, since Chemical Heart, so I trust his judgment, I just wish he’d let me release. Maybe he’s right, I’ve been wrong before. But that’s a really long answer to that question of public persona.

I always find it interesting, that disconnect between what an artist likes and what the public does.

Art is very objective in any sense. My grandmother really likes Shannon Noll’s new single “WOLO” and she’s completely allowed to like that. It’s not necessary that I’m right; I just think that music is for everyone, whatever people take out of it, it could be Ken Done or Picasso, as long as you’re getting something out of it.

Can you tell us a bit about the Rock and Ride tour you did back in 2013?

So on that tour, we visited a half dozen Headspace centres and drove over 3,500km between Gold Coast and Adelaide. Essentially we tried to make a noise about these Headspace centers, so we went to a lot of the openings, Newcastle and Port Macquarie for example, went to some of their birthday parties, but it’s relatively new. It’s a mental health service for young people between 12 and 25. There’s a registered GP on site. Essentially it’s about early intervention and making sure that you look after your mental health as well as you look after your physical health. They’re trying to reduce the stigma attached to mental health and trying to attack it in the same way. They’re just trying to make a better life for everyone.

Since that time in 2013, because I rode with my wife from Gold Coast to Adelaide, Julie got a job with Headspace. So this year, we went from Gold Coast to Melbourne and I think there’s another exciting announcement coming up soon about our next ride. It combines two passions for me, in that I love riding motorbikes and it actually helps my mental health. There’s something about the solitude of the wind in my face that is great for me; coming from a small rural community where I grew up and not having access to resources that Headspace are now providing, and going through certain things in high school that could have been prevented, or I could have dealt with better, I think it’s a really good resource to let kids know that it’s there for them. No problem is too big or too small. So essentially, we’re trying to let people know that there’s help if you need it.

There’s been talk in the media lately about difficult it is for Australian musicians to make a living. Do you think the opportunities for young musicians are decreasing or increasing?

I think it was a lot easier back in my day, if I may say that at the ripe old age of 37. It is a real tricky slog out there. Income is a funny thing. I never joined Grinspoon for any monetary reward, but it happened and we were very grateful for that. We also worked really hard and toured a lot. You just have to change the way you approach things now. Instead of signing to a major label and signing your publishing, you can start your own label and keep your own publishing. You almost have to become a businessperson. Whereas when I started, I was anything but a businessperson. So you can still create an income, you just have to be a bit savvier with every nook and cranny of the music industry. But also, obviously you have to be good.

I think there’s a really good case of Violent Soho slogged it out for ten years and are doing incredible things. I was just watching the mosh-cam at Manning Bar this morning and I was getting goose bumps watching that performance. So I don’t know whether they’re rolling in dough, but it’s a good case to say after ten years of really working hard, they’ve come out with a really good album and people have really responded to it. That’s a nice story. It doesn’t always happen to the good guys, but I think they’re one of the good guys.

I guess I’m thinking back on the 2009 White Album tour with Chris Cheney, Tim Rogers and Josh Pyke, I mean that’s what I was thinking about with the opportunities that you have now to work with talented musicians.

Yeah, well Tim and Chris and I have been close friends for a number of years, and yeah, that was a great opportunity, which probably wouldn’t have been presented to me if I didn’t have my pre-mentioned public profile. But also, I probably wouldn’t have done it if Josh and Chris and Tim weren’t doing it. They were the kind of perfect fit for that gig. If it were other people, maybe it wouldn’t have worked.

What else do you have on your plate at the moment?

Well I just bought two kilograms of ribs. I’m defrosting them. I’m gonna make sticky BBQ sauce and broccoli for the kids tonight. I’m rehearsing tonight with a group I put together for a children’s festival called Dress Up Attack, which is happening in Sydney. We’re gonna be performing “If You’re Happy and You Know It, Pick Your Nose”, so yeah I’m doing that as well. I’ve got Brisbane Festival next week, but I think I’m just kind of floating and enjoying myself. Quite honestly, it’s been a very busy year, which is weird, because I haven’t been in a band. At the end of it in December, we get to do this thing with Scott, which is gonna be a hell of a lot of fun and probably will end me up in hospital.


December 13 – The Brightside, Brisbane *Scott Russo solo
December 17 – The Gov, Adelaide
December 18 – Republic Bar, Hobart
December 19 – The Corner, Melbourne
December 20 – Oxford Art Factory, Sydney
December 22 – Entrance Leagues, Bateau Bay
December 23 – Towradgi Beach Hotel, Towradgi

Photo: Daniel Boud