As a founding member of The Scientists, guitarist in Beasts of Bourbon, as a solo singer songwriter fronting The Surrealists and STM and later as a duo with Ron Peno in Darling Downs, Kim Salmon has had an enormous impact on music both in Australia and around the world. A pioneer of the Perth punk scene, it was The Scientists that brought his art to the forefront and the band have been credited as having a definite influence on the emergence of the grunge movement that rose to prominence in Seattle in the early ’90s. From Perth, to Sydney, to London, The Scientists continually evolved and crossed musical genres from post – punk, power pop to swampy blues and beyond. I spoke to Kim as he prepares to embark on an Australian tour with the classic Scientists 1985 lineup of Kim, Boris Sujdovic, Tony Thewlis and Leanne Chock.
Being geographically fluid throughout the band’s heyday, Salmon says the places they were based had an influence on their sound rather than the physicality of the geography.
“Both Perth and Sydney are considered to be places with outdoor cultures and I don’t really think of The Scientists as being part of that outdoor culture. We had more of a moon tan than a suntan. I think it was ‘in spite of’ with The Scientists at all times. Maybe that’s something to do with my name Salmon and I go against the stream! That seems to be something I’ve always done without being able to help myself and I’ve led The Scientists that way unfortunately for them!”
“The lineup of the band that’s touring, it really took off in Sydney and there seems to have been something about not just the geography but the time framework. Sydney in the early ’80s seemed to have all of the things that would work for us. I don’t know what they were, I couldn’t really tell you but it seemed to work. We’d already attempted in Perth and failed and then disbanded so there was a regrouping really when we went to Sydney. And a different lineup too because by that time James Baker had left and had gone to join the Hoodoo Gurus which got Brett Rixon in which was in a way a really good thing. The strange dynamic we had before with James in that he was the lyricist of the band and the drummer and he was a fairly rudimentary drummer – he was more into the style of things. What James was writing was quite different to what I ended up writing.”
When thinking of his favourite period of The Scientists, Salmon says that period of the ’80s is definitely up there.
“I’ve liked them all. We always did something that was a bit different to what everybody else was doing at the time. From 1982 onwards until the end really but there were actually a couple of different stages in there too. Leanne replaced Brett Rixon and she sort of does what he did because Brett’s no longer around but she replaced him back in the day as well eventually. Then there was another lineup after that, we did an album called ‘The Human Jukebox’ and that was probably the most extreme version of the band. We’ve returned to all of the lineups in someway or another but I think the most enduring one is this version that we’re about to tour.”
The constant in all of the various incarnations of The Scientists has been Salmon’s presence, which has almost been like the coagulant within the fluidity. His songwriting and guitar playing has not only been distinctive to the sound as it has evolved but he has remained a driving force.
“I guess it’s turned out that way! But it’s only because it’s very different to other bands that I’ve done which I have driven as well. It’s a little bit like Kim Salmon and the Surrealists but Kim Salmon and the Surrealists is more about musical chops and there’s more sort of ‘playing’ you know?”
Big solos you mean?
“I tried not to do too much but yeah it’s more like that than this band. You’d scarcely get a solo in this band; you get a lot of noise on the guitars but not exactly what you’d call a ‘solo’. In fact I’m pretty sure Tony Thewlis would refuse to play one!”
I mentioned to Kim that I’d heard The Scientists described as the ‘Sonic Youth of Australia’ in terms of their experimental guitar sounds and their use of guitars as a base of feedback and melody that wasn’t being heard with other people and asked if he identified with that description.
“I guess I would identify with it. I have often though well yeah we were doing something similar to them – even a little bit before them – but I would say they were even more guitary than us! I think there is a certain similarity and those bands aren’t really, it’s the same thing – we’re not about musical chops, it’s not about trying to be Frank Zappa or something, it’s trying to create a musical landscape. It’s not even a musical landscape it’s just with sound that happens to be music – I think we’ve got that in common with Sonic Youth for sure. It’s guitars because we’re a rock’n’roll band so I guess we understand guitars but it could easily have been other things – it just happens to be guitars.”
So what’s your scene Kim?
“My whole musical career has been a Gap Year”, laughs Salmon. “I was studying fine arts and I thought ‘this band thing seems pretty good!’ I decided I wanted to go and do punk rock in Perth; it was ’76 so I dropped out. The last couple of years I’ve been painting a lot and drawing a lot and it seems to be what I’m doing. That seems to be my scene – painting and drawing. I’m trying to finish off what I started then because I didn’t know what my scene was in painting really. I knew I could paint and I loved to paint and now I’m actually doing that. I don’t know what I’m going to do with all these paintings; I’m going to have to try to exhibit them and try and flog ’em! It’s okay to be an old codger and doing paintings.”
Salmon has come full circle in his art. He’s still been making art but it has just been in a different format; a detour into a different sort of art.
“I always knew I was doing art with music – that’s how I’ve looked at it. Sometimes I thought that was a really pretentious idea too but I couldn’t really help myself. It’s always been, it’s just the way I approached it, I teach music for a living now.”
Creativity influences creativity.
“It’s different because The Scientists are a band yet it’s a vehicle for my concepts and writing but it’s a band. If you spoke to another person in the band they’d tell you something completely different but it worked for me. They might have driven it around to do other things but I drove it around for art content. I could think of songs that really were like paintings to me like Rev Head. I definitely wanted to create a soundscape of a particular kind that suggests things. There’s a whole lot of songs that do that for me, they were more kind of conceptual art rather than songs with middle 8s and A verses and B verses. I never thought about them that way.”
Maybe for other members of The Scientists, The Scientists is their fine art course – they’ve gone off and done other things as a Gap Year and now they’re coming back to The Scientists?
“Yeah That’s right! They’ve gone off and had real jobs!” Kim laughs.
It’s all a real job though as any musician or artist knows, it’s society that often thinks otherwise. Kim acquiesces and agrees that it is a real job and he’s always seen it that way. As for the upcoming Scientists shows, Kim says, “Wear some ear plugs! We’re a scary band too so maybe wear one of those sleeping masks. We’re frightening, absolutely frightening!” As for what Scientist song is Kim’s favourite to play live he nominates ‘Murderess in a Purple Dress’ and ‘Atom Bomb Baby’, both from the 1985 release ‘You Get What You Deserve!’.
“Those two I like and I’m really looking forward to playing. I’m looking forward to all of them but those ones, if I think of it, those two come to mind.”
THE SCIENTISTS AUSTRALIAN TOUR 2017
Friday, 27th October 2017
Rosemount Hotel, Perth WA
with Painkillers, Thee Loose Hounds
Ticket Info Here
Saturday, 28th October 2017
Corner Hotel, Melbourne VIC
with The Cairo Gang (US), No Sister
Ticket Info Here
Sunday 29th October 2017
Barwon Club, Geelong VIC
with The Electric Guitars, Shanty Tramp
Ticket Info Here
Saturday 4th November 2017
The Triffid, Brisbane QLD
with Forevr, Some Jerks
Ticket Info Here
Saturday 18th November 2017
Factory Theatre, Sydney NSW
with Spike Vincent, Holy Soul
Ticket Info Here and Ticketek