Steve Poltz returns to Australia for his 16th, or is it 17th, time? Here’s a Throwback Thursday to an interview from 2012:
Steve Poltz takes a coffee break to discuss his new album Noineen Noiny Noin, and relentless touring with Mary Boukouvalas.
Hi Steve. Thanks so much for taking the time out to do an interview with us. How was sound check?
Yeah everything’s good.
How did you start out in music?
By just doing it over and over. It just felt right.
What are your musical influences?
Probably a lot of soundtrack Jesus Christ Superstar & Bob Dylan.
Was the band The Rugburns your first?
What are your favourite Rugburns’ songs? And why?
There’s a song called Single life I really like. It’s kind of my first memory of writing a song where I felt I found my voice. It’s kind of funny and dark. I like that combination.
A lot of your stuff is funny and dark isn’t it?
Mmmmhmmm. It’s the first time I remember writing a song and being scared.
What was scary about it?
It was kind of like really honest and revealing.
How do you feel about revealing so much about yourself within the songs because a lot of the songs are basically about you/your life?
It’s just a subject I know well and it’s easy.
Are you able to tell the readers about the infamous Steve Poltz and Jewel drug bust story with the Mexican Federalis? Or should I just link it to YouTube?
Yeah just link it – I say it better there.
Here is the infamous Poltz/Jewel marijuana drug bust photo, and the story –best told by the man himself:
I read in your latest blog that you’re staying in a caravan?
Yeah it’s what we did in England (Glen Tilbrook tour) as well. It saves a lot of money. Now that I don’t have a promoter bringing me over here.
How many times have you been to Australia now?
Twelve times now.
Wow – I’m quite a newbie then – I’ve only seen you the last three visits.
That’s okay … it’s been fun though.
Definitely. What is the fascination?
Well, I like going anywhere that people want to hear music. It’s an expensive flight over but it’s fun. There’s lots of music lovers here.
Did you ever tour Australia with The Rugburns?
No, I never did …it’s kind of hard with a band. We toured a little bit of Mexico and a little bit of Canada but mostly the US. Man we were on the road a lot – the US is such a big country and there are so many venues and so many cities; it’s a beast of a place to tour. I’ll tour anywhere they want to hear music. I’ll tour Antarctica.
I know the saying is: “What happens on tour stays on tour” but are there any “fun” stories you could share with theAUreview from your Rugburns days?
Um …. Trying to think – we were a really drunk band. It was like at least 35 days on the road and we’d get wasted every single night. I mean it was totally fun and all that…
Burn you out?
Why did you split up?
One guy who formed it with, Rob Driscoll, well he was a teacher and he didn’t want to do it anymore. He wanted to get married; he didn’t really enjoy touring as much as I did. He was more of a homebody. And I think touring took its toll on him. And he quit. And Gregory Page quit to go solo and then we replaced him with a guy called John Castro and we were a trio for a long time and that was really fun when we were a trio. All the incarnations of The Rugburns were fun but then I think I got tired of being in a band. I don’t like making group decisions. I mean I just don’t like sharing decisions with people. I mean I can do it but whenever you do that you always have to compromise and I was always the one who wanted to work more than everyone else and be on the road more.
Were you more dedicated to it?
I don’t know if I was more dedicated to it. Everyone was dedicated. I was more dedicated to the touring side of it. I think that’s because I’ve always been a sort of restless person and touring was like running away and joining the circus and the more I did it the more I didn’t have to think about my own life. Just keep moving keep playing shows, make that my reason for living –almost to an unhealthy balance. Whereas they say you’re supposed to have balance with things and mine was and still is unhealthily balanced. But … fuck it. At least I’m not getting drunk every night.
I really enjoy playing to live audiences and if I’m home too long, I kind of get restless and I almost get a bit depressed because I feel like I almost don’t have a reason; like I almost need to get away from my own thoughts. Like I need to be on the road. I need to have a schedule. I love looking at my iCal on my phone and saying wow I’ve got 25 shows in the next 27 days and the two days I have off, I’m travelling. I love it. And the months go by and before I know it it’s been another year. I mean I’ve been on the road touring this hard since 1992. I did gigs before that but I quit a regular job to be constantly on the road so I never … it’s like years have gone by so quick.
Well, I’m really looking forward to you coming back to Melbourne.
Yeah me too. I was just saying to somebody today that Melbourne was one of the cities that I would have on my list that I’d be happy living in.
How do you think your music fits into the world of politics?
I like to be more of a reporter. I don’t like to preach. There’s some people that do it and that’s fine but I don’t like to. That’s the cool thing with music. There are no rules. If it vibrates with people, people who are meant to hear it will find it. Some people want really political music and others want to laugh. So many different types of music. Whatever you want to hear you can hear. We’re pretty lucky. It’s pretty cool. We’re lucky we have so much choice. That’s what I love about music. I don’t like to get too political you know … I’ve been that way at times and you’re not going to change people’s minds; you’re only going to be singing to the people who believe what you’re saying and the people who don’t believe what you’re saying are going to hate your guts for it. You know like what’s the point. Like I like to say what I believe but who fucken knows if I’m right. I’m not a political expert. You know what I mean. I think I am but I’m really not.
I don’t like arguing politics. It gets me too upset. I’ve done it a couple of times. You know I had these neighbours back home and I thought they were really cool and kind of hippyish and then I found out the guy’s wife was hardcore right wing and all the shit she was saying one night when I was talking to her it made me start hating her and I don’t want to hate people for that and it started an argument, what a waste, I shouldn’t have taken the bait, like wow so that’s what you believe, cool. Who fucken cares? It’s dead. I started sparring with her. Nobody won.
[Steve’s coffee arrives.]
Alright … I only like coffee in Australia. I just think it tastes too bitter over there (U.S). I don’t know what the fuck they’re doing wrong. In Australia it is so smooth. I like flat whites. Oh my god, it’s just so tasty.
I’m a tea drinker. You can’t get a proper cup of tea in America unless you go to Starbucks – they’re the only ones who’ll make it hot enough for you. I don’t like to get fancy with my tea. What I like is English Breakfast tea … some herbal … peppermint before I go to bed. I’m an anti-rockstar now.
Anything but anti with all your incessant touring. How many shows would you average per year?
Probably a couple of hundred I’d say. Easily a couple of hundred per year.
That’s a lot. What’s the hardest thing about being on tour for so long?
It’s not that hard for me because I’m so used to it. I guess the hardest thing is if you’ve got a lot of travel, it can eat you up but if you can go to yoga on the road you’re a lot better off for it. Like I’ve been for the last four days to Bikram Yoga and I’m feeling really good and like I said, I don’t drink at all, or take any drugs. I’m totally sober. So all that really helps with the travel because you’re fucked if you pull an all-nighter and then you’re having to get on a plane and show up to a show slightly hung over and you need to keep drinking to help you come down from the hangover and take whatever drugs you can take and do it all over again the next night. It’s like an endless cycle.
Don’t get me wrong, it was fun but maybe only a few regrets but its super dooper fun but it takes its toll on your liver and eventually causes depression.
And that’s the reason you stopped?
Yeah because it was causing depression and I was drinking way too much and I was going to die. Yeah … I was going to die.
How many times have you performed the National Anthem at a Padres game?
Eight times now.
Wow that’s great. Is that the most exciting place you have performed?
It’s going to sound really dumb to say but I kind of like every show. I still get excited about every show so I still have that fire in my belly. Like I’m excited to play tonight. It’s a little venue at the Dowse Bar, called The Round, it’s a tiny venue that fits about 50 people and I love that kind of a room. I’m a small room type of performer, like I can play the larger rooms but I prefer playing to 70 – 90 people.
I think a lot of times we have our priorities out of whack, we think bigger means better and that’s how we equate success. But I’m really successful because I can play a small room really well and I can play to 80 people and move that room. And after all what are we alive for if not to have an experience with other people and share experiences and make people feel, smile and cry and remember; and if you can do that, you’re the most successful person in the world.
That is beautiful.
And I truly believe that.
I know you’re being sincere.
In all my years of touring that’s what I’ve learnt.
Well with this recent tour, you’re promoting the release of your latest album: Noineen Noiny Noin. How did that come about and how did you happen to make it in Australia, working with a few Australians?
Well, Malcolm Clark from Sleepy Jackson produced it. And it was so fun making a record in Perth. It was an accident to make. I didn’t plan on it. I just happened to be there and started recording songs. And next thing I knew I had a record.
Did that start with your tour with Bob Evans?
Yeah. And that’s the way life is. If you’re open to new experiences, shit is going to happen. A lot of times we think we’re in control but, you know what, we’re not and every time you try to force shit to happen it’s not but if you’re open, the universe and what the universe and the world have to offer you something will happen that will be way more beautiful than you ever expected but you have to be open for it which means taking a chance. I said yes to that tour and happened to bump into Malcolm as he was walking out of the bathroom at the Tivoli and he said I really loved the set you just played and we started talking.
Yeah he was walking out of the loo and I was walking in and I was all sweaty from coming off the stage and he was getting ready to go on stage and so he said he lived in Perth and we kept in touch and so when I went to Perth afterwards, I called him and ended up making a record there. I mean I didn’t mean to make one but we started recording. Got a whole bunch of musicians together. Kind of weird how shit like that happens.
It’s great when it’s so unexpected and falls into place. It’s meant to be.
Yeah I think so.
And how did you happen to name your latest release Noineen Noiny Noin? (Note: I tried to do my best Aussie accent but I failed!)
Oh, I asked a promoter when was the first time I toured here and he said I reckon it was Noineen Noiny Noin (Steve did a much better Aussie accent than me!) and I thought that’d be a good way to name my record. So I did.
As well as the tender moments in your shows, where you at times bring the audience to tears, you also include fun quirky songs and a lot of interaction. Last time I saw you, you had the audience singing along to the Dick’s Automotive chorus and acting out a Hand Job on a Church Bus, and this was interspersed with some nipple rubbing and arse bumping action. Is that planned?
No, I don’t plan stuff. It’s weird that it happened. I don’t plan shit. I need it to be organic.
What inspires you?
The love of a chase and the constant pursuit of another new song.
What are some of your favourite lyrics?
The lyrics to Moon River. I love those lyrics. They’re sentimental.
What’s your favourite two word challenge song?
Oh it’s not two words, it’s whatever they come up with. When I’m in Australia, it’s Butter & Jacket because it names so many Australian towns.
You are a fan of Australian singer-songwriter Paul Kelly. What was it like meeting him?
It was great. He was so down to earth. Beautiful soul.
Any chance of a collaboration?
Well I would never say never to anything.
Last question – because I really think you need to write a book, so is there any chance we’ll see a Steve Poltz lyric/story style novel with accompanying cd?
That would be fun. Yes, I need to.
Great. We’ll all look forward to it. Thanks so much for your time.
Okay. Good talking to you. Thank you.
First published in aureview.com in 2012
Catch Steve Poltz down under:
March 3- Canberra ACT- The Famous Spiegeltent
Mar 5 and 6- Nannup West Australia – Nannup Music Festival
Mar 7- Fremantle West Australia – Mojo’s
Mar 8- Perth West Australia- Four 5 Nine Bar
Mar 11, 12 &13- Port Fairy Victoria- Port Fairy Folk Festival
Mar 15- Melbourne Victoria- Caravan Club
Mar 18, 19 & 20- Katoomba NSW- Blue Mountains Music Festival
Mar 23- Nowra NSW- Players Theater
Mar 24 Candelo NSW- Candelo Arts Center
Mar 27, 27 & 28- Canberra ACT- National Folk Festival
Mar 31- Sydney (Newtown) NSW- The Vanguard
Apr 1- Sydney (Newtown) NSW- The Vanguard
Apr 2- Peterborough South Australia- The Railway Hotel
Apr 3- Adelaide South Australia- The Gov
Apr 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 & 10!!!-
Melbourne Vic- The Athenaeum Theatre- Melbourne Comedy Festival
See for more details.