you call change
Junker Drum Media, April 1990
live in a farm house, next door to the pigs and cows, near the fields,
and it's very enjoyable. I've been spending a lot of time
behind tractors. I've always only lived in capital cities,
so I'm finding quite German country life very, very exciting."
you find the idea of Robert Forster, gentleman farmer, somewhat
incongruous, you're not alone. As one of the central pillars
of the Go-Betweens, Robert Forster was many things to many people:
the intense, slightly awkward figure who on stage would occasionally
allow quick glimpses of a ironic sense of humour to break the silence;
the old-fashioned gent who was always impeccably elegant, be it
in a tailored suit or a long floral dress; the passionate, eloquent
writer of some of the most searingly beautiful songs written in
Australian social history. But country bumpkin? No, not our Robert.
fairness, it should be pointed out that Robert is not actually involved
in the farming. But he is definitely ensconced in the rural life-style
somewhere in the heart of Bavaria, that part of Germany which most
closely corresponds to the role that Queensland plays in Australia.
And he's loving it.
next town, Regensburg, is 20 minutes away, and Munich is one hour
away. It's all there. I can get in to any sort of depth I want
to, and then pull back. And I can play music all hours of the night,
and that's a great thing, to be able to think 'Oh, I'd
like to hear a record now' at two o'clock in the morning
and play it as loud as you want. It's fantastic."
move to Bavaria is only one of the changes in Robert's life
that influenced his new album, Danger In The Past. The songs on
the album deal primarily with relationships and with the process
of moving away from the past. Quite simply, the album is chronicle
of the events of Robert's recent past.
album is very much about the last eighteen months before I made
the record. So much happened. In a period of six months, the Go-Betweens
broke up, I left Australia for Bavaria, I got married, and I made
an album, which is pretty fast going. There's a lot of those
changes, of moving away from something and going somewhere else
on the album. It's not there in black and white, but it's
weaving the whole way through it, in the mood of the songs and everything."
four of nine songs were written while Robert was still in the Go-Betweens.
enough, the songs that everyone thinks were written about the Go-Betweens,
Is This What You Call Change, Danger In The Past, and Leave Here
Satisfied were written while I was still in the band," says
Robert, smiling gently.
11 years of writing and recording music, this is the first album
Robert has written entirely by himself. The in-name-only songwriting
partnership between Robert and Grant McLennan meant that each contributed
only half of the songs on each album. That unsatisfactory arrangement
was one of the reasons the Go-Betweens broke up, according to Robert.
know both Grant and I were finding it very frustrating that we could
only write half an album. It's like writing half a book, and
then having to give it to someone else. Admittedly, there was always
a unity there because Grant and I were going through the same things
all the time with our career, where we lived, things like
that. I think we started to write off each other to a frustrating
degree: I knew what Grant was doing and I'd write around that,
and he'd know what I was doing, and would write around that."
was also the pressure of expectation. Almost everyone who listened
to a Go-Betweens album divided it into Grant's songs and Robert's
songs, with differing expectations of each: Robert's songs
were more imagistic and Impressionistic, more quirky than Grant's
more accessible, lilting narratives. Each album found a balance
between the two sorts of songs, but that only served to confine
Grant and Robert's writing within their respective styles.
their post-band incarnations, both Grant and Robert have been experimenting
within the broader boundaries of songwriting. In Robert's case,
that means a less elliptical, more straightforward narrative approach
and a more consistent melodic approach. The change was a conscious
effort on Robert's part to experiment with different styles.
Grant went away, then I found this other territory that I wanted
to cover which I had never been able to and the same with
Grant. To be songwriting for ten years, twelve years, and not having
that other area was becoming too frustrating.
also wanted to simplify the melodies to find a really nice
melody and repeat it, and then relax and know that the tune's
not going to jump here and there. Because when the tunes jump, go
into a middle eight or whatever, I always tend to change the storyline,
I change whatever I'm feeling. So I found a new way of writing,
very much straight down the line, and I like it."
from the stronger narratives and melodies, Danger In The Past also
has a fuller sound than the Go-Betweens recordings, which manage
to make even the most full-on orchestral arrangements sound sparse
and parched. The melancholy, exposed bareness of the Go-Betweens
records is replaced by a warmer, richer sound. It comes as no surprise,
once you've listened to the record, to find that Robert's
old mate Mick Harvey was twiddling the controls: although the pairing
sent shivers of dread down the spines of some record company employees.
thought Robert Forster and Mick Harvey's recordings in Berlin
must result in a pretty avant-garde record, but I always knew that
Mick had a pop sensibility, though it was probably a little bit
liked the Bad Seeds for many things, and Mick liked the Go-Betweens
for a number of reasons, some of them to do with me. So there was
this cross-current of interest anyway but we did it almost
for the perverseness of it."
choice of Mick for producer was also influenced by the way he worked
in the recording studio. Robert wanted to get away from the standard
'modern' method of producing, with the band in the studio
and one person on the other side of the glass controlling the whole
thing, and move closer to the idea of recording, as a form of performance,
a concept which is very much within Mick Harvey's philosophy
way I like to record, the Go-Betweens couldn't do, they didn't
want to do, and I found that very depressing I was just insistent
that we could make an album in two weeks. I wanted to go in this
direction with this album and obviously with 16 Lovers Lane and
Streets Of Your Town there was a sense that we were going in another
direction, a far more commercial, straightlaced pop group thing,
which I didn't want to do and didn't feel comfortable
with. So I get Mick Harvey and I go to Berlin."
of course used to be something of a musical Mecca, inspiring legendary
works by artists such as David Bowie, Lou Reed and the chief Bad
Seed himself. Now with the Wall down and Germany reunified, Berlin
seems to have lost the sense of isolation, the perpetual threat
that, ironically, made it such an exciting place to be.
doing one Australian show to promote his new album, with Grant McLennan
at the Rose, Shamrock and Thistle on Friday night. Apart from the
fact that it will be an acoustic show not much has been organised,
but Robert is enthusiastic nonetheless.
be great, it'll be fantastic, God knows what we're going
to do. Grant and I are going to Brisbane tomorrow so he and I will
be knocking around there together for the first time in ten years.
There'll be surprises. I'll be singing some of his songs,
he'll be singing some of mine. I'm glad we're doing
it together, because me with a guitar by myself is boring. You'd
be asleep after twenty minutes, honestly."
European tour is planned for the New Year, but this time with a
band, a group of musicians Robert met in Hamburg. The sound will
still be mellow, however: no electric guitars, no amplifiers, just
acoustic guitars backed by bass, honky tonk piano. a bit of organ,
and a jazzy drummer.
far as philosophies of existence go, Robert Forster has one of the
nicest I've come across. simple, honest and direct. Just like
the man and his music.