Star Scene: Hugo Race

One year down the track and a couple of projects down, Hugo Race‘s scene remains the same: “It’s a delirium, really, but I like to live like this”. Race responds: “That still holds true. Nothing is changed. In fact the delirium has got more expansive. I love what I do, I feel incredibly lucky to work on multiple projects at the same time and be able to travel and work on those things. In some ways I’m very lucky, I found a vocation which somehow allowed me to do this.” [pullquote]I think perhaps it was the end of the era writing that book. I feel like I’m in the next phase of what’s going to happen to me.[/pullquote] Race continues: “But as I outlined in road series there is a tremendous amount of things that go wrong and get lost so you really do have to prepared to sacrifice for the delirium. You don’t have to be sacrifice but you do have to let a few things go and certainly having normality in your life is one of the first things that goes in the circumstances but I feel good about it and I just keep doing what I’m doing. It was quite an experience to write road series for me personally, to go back and write down all these things and contextualise everything.”

Hugo Race has played with the Bad Seeds, The Wreckery, Dirtmusic, True Spirit, The Fatalists and more. Over a musical career of more than 35 years, he’s lived and worked in England, Germany, Italy, Brazil and the US. Race has always used songwriting to reflect on his life and times. Now, he’s turned his talents to the printed page with a memoir, Road Series, describing an extraordinary career that has taken him from St Kilda’s Crystal Ballroom to the first days of post-Wall Berlin and way beyond. Race’s journey into his past was an honest, and sometimes challenging, one. He states: “I feel the book operates on several levels at the same time and one of those levels is that it gives some emotional insight to my travels and works. I found some of the discussions I make in the book, about the downsides of touring, and how it affects family relationships, I found that a bit traumatic at times especially the further I went into it to try and explain it properly, in a real way. I came across my own culpabilities, which probably happens to a lot of people when they write honestly about their experiences. [pullquote]But other things, such as the drug scenes in the 80s, I feel nothing about that except it’s a fascinating insight into what it took for at least that generation of people to express themselves and find some kind of freedom and find a way to distinguish themselves not in the sense of being distinguished but of being visible in front of a bland background.[/pullquote] I could’ve followed a lot of tangents with those discussions but I kept everything in the book fairly brief because I want to keep the speed up.”

The pace of the book does help one’s enjoyment, though at times the reader may be mislead in thinking Race was quite ungenerous, and easily lead, for he omits the positive things about himself so that he wouldn’t ruin the flow of the narrative. Race states: “I think in life experience that’s what happens. You allow yourself to be led. I guess there is some collusion in the sense that it’s easy for us, when we go off the established path and off the beaten track, to say it was by invitation of someone else. I think that’s a little cowardly instead of saying my instincts led me to where I wanted to go. I was given many invitations for many things but some I didn’t follow up on and others I did, so I think there’s a strong element of personal choice.[pullquote] I think by owning these choices, we come to some kind of peace with ourselves. [/pullquote]When we continue to blame others for leading us in the wrong direction, we’re not accepting the fact that we really do have free will in the things we do, at least we do in our society. I don’t know if that’s true in many other places of the world. But, obviously, specifically I was born in Melbourne so my experiences and my attitudes reflect that fact. I don’t feel anyone else is at fault for anything that happened. It wasn’t really possible for me to thank all the people who were all great to me. It was sometimes quite hard to work that into the narrative. I could’ve included good deeds as well but they weren’t fitting the narrative.”


Road Series was “heavily re-drafted”. Hugo explains: “The content of the book was something I bounced off two people: my mother and my girlfriend. That was in the interesting process because they were often at odds this with each other and I was often at odds with both of them. I can say it’s not an easy process to write a book and there are a lot of interesting, intriguing debates and arguments about how it was presenting itself and what was permissible and who could be drawn into the narrative. I left a huge part out of Road Series.  Mum loves the book. She has always supported me. There are things that she found out in the course of the book that I probably would’ve preferred her not to know. But it has brought us closer together in our relationship as mother and son. My mum is a very tough woman, of long experience. She was an English teacher for a long time and we had incredibly interesting discussions about what is allowed in non-fiction and how implicates other people and what we want to reveal to the reader and what we don’t want to appeal to the reader. Mum had no issue with me putting in that content because the real contest had happened earlier when I informed her that the book was not going to be a travelogue. It was going to be a much more deeper analysis of being alive and episodes from my own life. So we kicked it out around and essentially her point of view was that it would make it great book if it discussed music, if it discussed culture and left the personal side of things out.[pullquote] But I definitely felt from the get go that to make it make it a really deep read for the reader and to communicate what I wanted to put across, I had to be a lot more honest and that includes the personal levels.[/pullquote] I wanted to really focus on a couple of episodes because they were really resonant on a couple of levels. They weren’t strictly about my life, they weren’t strictly about the location I found myself in, and they weren’t strictly about music. They were a means for me to analyse certain moments in time, and what I was doing at that point, but also what was going on around me in a more global level.” Race continues: “Those chapters that track Berlin where are great revelation to myself and they were kind of catalytic events in my own life. That’s why I zeroed in on them. I thought there was more to discuss than just my subjectivity.” [pullquote]That’s one of the reasons I did what I did and I continue now because of my fascination about how different parts of the world collide and collude and what that reveals about being alive.[/pullquote]

Road Series gives the reader a clear, promising, and at times bleak, insight into Race’s world. He states: “Certainly all the people I worked with in rock bands in the 80s where are all part of pretty intriguing culture. I don’t think that culture has gone anywhere I just think we’ve moved on. Others are in that scene now but I think circumstances have changed. Circumstances, context, is so crucial to everything, including the creative acts that we make. They’re always in a specific place or time. That’s why we make music, it keeps changing, it is interesting how the next generation has picked up stylistically things that we were doing in the 80s and use it themselves. It’s intriguing that there’s been a return to so-called post punk aesthetic in the last four or five years, particularly in Melbourne. Which I guess makes sense because Melbourne owns it. There was a particular sound they came out of Melbourne in the 80s and it did achieve success all around the world so I guess it’s something we all share.”

As for the future, Race has not thought about a second book. In fact, he states: “It’s strange as it may seem I’m not particularly nostalgic. I don’t look at the 80s or 90s as the golden years to which I must return. In fact I think the opposite. It may have been those things but I’m much more caught up with things I’m doing now and the future and things I’d like to happen. I haven’t thought about another book. I am just to continue going deeper into music and writing and film. The same things that I’ve been doing for a good couple of years now. But just continuing to expand the borders of it all and continuing to travel and to try out new things. And there’s a lot of things like that coming up in the near future.”


Hugo Race will be appearing at:

The Wheeler Centre ~ 31 March – In Conversation with Mark Mordue 

Byron Bay Writers Festival – 5-7 August

Buy Hugo Race’s Road Series here.

About Mary Boukouvalas 1644 Articles
Mary is a photographer and a writer, specialising in music. She runs where she endeavours to capture the passion of music in her photos whether it's live music photography, promotional band photos or portraits. She has photographed The Rolling Stones, KISS, Iggy Pop, AC/DC, Patti Smith, Joe Strummer, PULP, The Cult, The Damned, The Cure, Ian Brown, Interpol, MUDHONEY, The MELVINS, The Living End, Foo Fighters, Smashing Pumpkins, Rage Against The Machine, The Stone Roses –just to name a few - in Australia, USA, Europe and the Middle East. Her work has been published in Beat magazine, Rolling Stone magazine, Triple J magazine, The Age Newspaper, The Herald Sun, The Australian, Neos Kosmos,,,, She has a permanent photographic exhibition at The Corner Hotel in Richmond, Victoria Australia.