Interview with The Guru: 10 questions with Dave Faulkner

Dave Faulkner is the singer/guitarist of legendary Australian band Hoodoo Gurus. He currently writes about music for The Saturday Paper. He chooses to write about alternative and relatively unheard of artists, introducing them to a broader audience. Two of his recent articles feature Melbourne post-punk act Gold Class and Newcastle producer Szymon. I had the pleasure of interviewing Dave this month and learned a thing or two about both the music and journalism industries. By ANDREW READ

Hoodoo Guru Dave Faulkner. Photo: Facebook
Hoodoo Guru Dave Faulkner. Photo: Facebook

How did you get into journalism? Was The Saturday Paper your first journalism job?

Initially the role of music critic for The Saturday Paper was offered to Tim Freedman. Tim expressed misgivings about the demands of the job and he recommended that I help share the workload. I had never done anything like it before but Tim had enjoyed reading my acerbic comments about music in emails when we were both serving as judges for the Australian Music Prize (the AMP), a role that I still perform today. After contributing one review to The Saturday Paper, Tim decided to step aside for a while to concentrate on a stage show he was devising about Harry Nilsson and I have continued doing it in his stead ever since. I’m not sure why Tim hasn’t contributed any more articles since his first one but he was very complimentary about my writing when a rang me after my second review was published, something I very much appreciated at the time. As you can see, I pretty much “fell” into the role. If The Saturday Paper’s editor had approached me alone I probably would have declined the offer.

Are there any specific journalists or articles that made you want to get into writing?

To be honest, no. I’ve enjoyed reading a lot of music journalism, in particular Lester Bangs and Richard Meltzer but, as a musician myself, I’ve often felt I’ve been misunderstood or treated shabbily by “hacks”. There is a great deal of suspicion, if not enmity, between musicians and the critics who are appointed to sit in judgement upon them. 

Your artist choice is always great — often not mainstream, but still appealing to a broad audience. What’s your usual process of deciding a topic/artist to review?

I just write about the albums and artists I enjoy. They may be artists that are familiar to me or ones I’m discovering for the first time. I discuss my choices with my editor but we have an implicit understanding that I will only review albums that I really like. I would find it too difficult to do anything else. I’ve always had a very broad taste in music, something that would probably surprise people given my long, single-minded career spent writing for my band, Hoodoo Gurus. Being able to “turn on” the readers to a wide variety of music has been one of the pleasures of this (part-time) job. I have no rules about age, era or genre, and I will happily talk about an interesting reissue from a long-established artist one week and a debut album from a neophyte the next. The only thing i won’t do is review an album simply because the rest of the music industry (or a vocal part of it) deems “important”. A lot of contemporary music, whether mainstream or “indie” (a term I hate), feels like a rehash to me and I steer clear of it. That said, I do feel an obligation to keep pushing our readers towards new music and I search high and low to find records that inspire me amongst the deluge of new releases. I strongly believe that great music can be discovered in any genre or era, including the current 

Did you used to write back in the early days of Hoodoo Gurus? Ever written an interview with yourself to get published for band promotion?

No, the only prose I’ve written since leaving high school has been the liner notes for a couple of our albums, oh, and a lot of Facebook posts on the Hoodoo Gurus page.

How is the current state of the music scene in Sydney? What’s the difference between here and Melbourne?

Music is always in a state of crisis, particularly since the advent of wholesale theft of artist’s work online. That Pandora’s Box will remain open, unfortunately, and for most artists their survival depends entirely on their ability to make money through performing live. Melbourne appears to have a healthier live scene than Sydney but Sydney’s is certainly vibrant and nothing to sneeze at. A flourishing community of musicians can lead to interesting collaborations but it can also lead to a self-congratulatory “groupthink” (everyone says so-and-so is good so they must be). Most of the interesting artists and art throughout history has been created outside the mainstream by mavericks and pioneers who ignored prevailing wisdom and sidestepped obstacles they found in their way. To be blunt, I’ve heard a lot of boring music coming out of Melbourne from people celebrated by their peers and the Melbourne “music mafia”. Unlike viticulture, geographical origin is no guarantee of quality.

Journalists and police ministers saying Sydney’s ‘live music industry is dead’ is a big hindrance to the success of the city’s live music scene. What are the differences between the industry now and in the 70’s and 80’s in Sydney/Australia? Any ideas on what would improve Sydney’s music culture to help it thrive?

This is too big a subject to answer in a couple of sentences. Here’s a link to a keynote address I gave on the subject two years ago at Sydney Town Hall as part of the City Conversations series presented by the Sydney City Council.

Hoodoo-Gurus-roof-top_t620

Of all the songs you’ve written, which is your favourite? And what makes that one stand out in your mind?

I don’t have any favourites, but I always use ‘What’s My Scene?’ as a textbook example of what I consider my strengths as a songwriter: a strong melody matched with economical, comprehensible lyrics (conversational in style). Lots of energy and momentum in every department.

What is a great piece of writing you have read recently?

I’m frequently amazed by the journalism I find in The Saturday Paper. I know that sounds glib but it’s true. In particular, the recent series of articles focusing on the inhuman conditions people have experienced in our government’s offshore refugee detention centres have been remarkable.

There are so many clickbait style ‘news’ sites out there now. Are there any bad journo techniques or styles that frustrate you, or any things that future journalists should avoid doing?

Superficiality is a curse. Lightness of touch is a gift. If you can balance those two opposing forces you’re doing well. I have no advice to offer on journalistic ethics than to be scrupulously honest with yourself first and foremost, the rest will follow naturally from there. The question for anyone is always, does it pass the sniff test?

Any advice for journalists wanting to get a job in the industry?

I have no journalism-specific career advice other than what I would give anyone embarking on any career: don’t do it simply because you can, do it because you just can’t stop yourself. A couple of quick clichés to finish: 1. The ends don’t justify the means, but the means should justify the ends. 2. Starting a career is easy, sustaining one is the challenge.

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