Seven albums, 13 ARIA nominations, over half a million records sold and a back catalogue etched into Aussie music history. They’re one of our most durable and, undoubtedly, best-loved rock bands – Grinspoon.
When it comes to the music biz longevity is an elusive beast. Put simply, Grinspoon are the premier rock band in the country. After playing 400+ live shows, seeing six consecutive albums debut in the Top 10, with multi-platinum sales across 18 years, it’s fair to say they’ve earned a break. And so Grinspoon are taking a sabbatical – just a break, not a break-up – the band’s founding members (Phil Jamieson, Pat Davern, Joe Hansen and Kristian Hopes) going on hiatus to pursue their individual projects, be dads and keep busy. Make no mistake: Grinspoon will be back.
“We’ve always gotten the joke – and the joke is that it’s really a privilege to be able to do this,” frontman Phil Jamieson once admitted of Grinspoon’s two-decade history, both as a band and as tight-knit friends. “It’s not a God given right.”
Let’s go back. When the 17-year-old singer from Wauchope, NSW, relocated with his drummer pal (Hopes) to Lismore in 1995 for uni, the pair met bassist Hansen and guitarist Davern, who were whiling away in a cover band, “Bored out of their brains,” Jamieson joked. Pinching their moniker from a medical marijuana touting Harvard professor, the snotty adrenaline-charged four-piece Grinspoon was born.
Three weeks in, they cut a two-song demo in three hours. Grinspoon’s thundering approach immediately struck a chord: they entered debut single “Sickfest” in triple j’s first national Unearthed competition, and won. For seven weeks running it was the J’s most requested track. Grinspoon released a self-titled EP the same year, including a track that remains a live favourite to this day: “More Than You Are”. A brand new festival called Homebake invited them to open the show.
Grinspoon signed to major label Universal Music Australia and released EP Licker Bottle Cozy, before delivering a king hit with their debut album in September 1997, Guide to Better Living. The double platinum disc hit #11 on the national ARIA Albums charts, spawning meaty grunt classics like “DC×3”, “Just Ace”, and “Champion”.
In March 1998 the band relocated to Los Angeles, touring the USA and Canada and opening for Anthrax, plus scoring a spot on the Vans Warped tour alongside bands like Suicidal Tendencies and Pennywise. Recorded with Jonathan Burnside (Nirvana, Depeche Mode), second album Easy (September 1999) was another hit, debuting at #4 and quickly going double platinum. “Ready 1”, “Black Friday” and “Secrets” became snarling beasts live, Grinspoon one of Oz’s hardest working outfits, constantly criss-crossing the nation on countless sold-out headline tours and festival slots.
June 2002’s New Detention, recorded with Phil McKellar, who’d helmed discs for Silverchair and Spiderbait, marked a new direction, the LP opening with Grinspoon’s first ‘ballad’ in the now-legendary “Chemical Heart” (#2 on triple j’s Hottest 100 in 2003). With tracks like “Lost Control”, “No Reason” and “1000 Miles”, the album earned four more ARIA nominations, yet another double platinum hit.
Buoyed by the growth in their songwriting partnership, after another trip Stateside to work with producer Howard Benson (Crystal Method, Motorhead), September 2004 brought fourth effort Thrills, Kills & Sunday Pills. The record set another benchmark, winning Best Rock Album at the 2005 ARIAs and selling over 100,00 copies off the back of killer tracks like “Better Off Alone” and “Hard Act To Follow”.
You’d be hard pressed to name a festival that Grinspoon haven’t played at, and multiple times: Big Day Out, Homebake, Splendour, Pyramid Rock, plus countless trips to the US, UK and further afield. They even performed at the 2006 Commonwealth Games Closing Ceremony in Melbourne – in typical understated Grinspoon style, with a stunt guitarist on a flying fox.
After a tumultuous 15 months of writing, Grinspoon delivered yet another gold-selling LP in July 2007’s Alibis & Other Lies. This time they chose to record at home, re-teaming with producer Ramesh Sathiah, who had recorded their very first EP. That album delivered fans singles like “Black Tattoo” and “What You Got”.
After taking their first proper extended break – after all, rock’n’roll will take its toll – Grinspoon reconvened in Byron Bay’s Studios 301 with US producer Rick Will (No Doubt, Gillian Welch), who encouraged them to record as much possible live in capturing September 2009’s aggressive Six to Midnight. It was released on the band’s brand new imprint, Chk Chk Boom Records (distributed by Universal). With a sneakily-titled lead single in “Comeback”, the album proved yet another hit, peaking at #6.
Meanwhile the band’s compilation Grinspoon: Best In Show had also gone platinum, while two DVDs, 23 Hours Of Waiting Around and 66.6, have also reached gold.
Which brings us up to date and album seven – 2012’s Black Rabbits, their best work yet. Featuring guest musicians such as Chris Cheney (The Living End) and Tim Rogers (You Am I), the 12 track disc is the result of Jamieson and Davern wanting to write “lighter, more melodic” material – big choruses and melodies.” Songs like first taste “Passerby” were laid down in LA with producer Dave Schiffman (Weezer, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Bronx).
Despite the up and documented downs, Grinspoon’s line-up has never wavered. Offstage, in late 2013 Jamieson has new solo material in the works, Hansen’s studying horticulture, Hopes runs his own business in Brisbane while Davern co-owns The Music Farm studios in Byron Bay. These days they might be family men, but Grinspoon’s exuberance and energy for their music and their fans hasn’t slowed down an inch.
“In a lot of ways,” says Jamieson, “everything’s the same as what it was when we were back in Lismore. We’re the same people. None of us have done a lot of growing up, to be honest with you, I’m serious. We’re pretty much Peter Pans.”