Cosmic Psychos: "When you read the farming manual, there's a bit at the back that says you've gotta play in a punk band"

Cosmic Psychos
(Image credit: Cosmic Psychos)

From a dressing room in Idaho, Cosmic Psychos’ bassist and vocalist Ross Knight, AKA ‘Knighty’, reflects on his band reaching their remarkable 40th anniversary in 2023. “They forgot about that bit in the farming manual”, he explains, with his trademark dry irreverence. “There’s a bit at the back that says you gotta play in a punk band.” 

While still working as a farmer in central Victoria, Knighty’s parallel career as a frequently-touring punk rock larrikin continues to be the integral force behind the eleven studio albums, three live albums, two EPs and one compilation released by the Cosmic Psychos between 1985 and 2021. Best known for their unapologetic drinking anthem ‘Nice Day To Go To The Pub’, other fuzzy Psychos live standards include ‘Lost Cause’, ‘Pub’, and ‘Custom Credit’, which thunder along menacingly with their descriptions of wild women, alcoholism and lyrics mentioning southbound trams, pubs, meat pies, spiders, and more pubs. 

While occasionally confounding foreign listeners, the Melbourne-born trio’s uniquely Australian angle has won over many appreciative converts during the last 40 years, including Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, (the) Melvins’ Buzz Osborne, and Garbage drummer/Nirvana producer Butch Vig. Vig produced the Psychos’ third album Blokes You Can Trust in 1991, shortly before the release of Nevermind. The album would become the namesake of the band’s 2013 documentary, which chronicled the unlikely rise of the band from beer-loving underground heroes to beer-loving cult sensations - a key influence on modern bogan punk stalwarts like The Chats and Amyl & The Sniffers. Since 2006, the two other longtime members in the Psychos have been drummer Dean Muller and guitarist John ‘Mad Macka’ McKeering. Macka’s laidback Queenslander personality helped to make for a delightful interview, which even included two brief cameos from Knighty and Dean. 

Do you feel like the Psychos have influenced other rowdy, beer-loving punk bands, like your friends The Chats?

MM: I don’t know. I’m sure we’ve influenced some things but a lot of things influence a lot of things.

I read that you’ve been in the Psychos for 17 years, but what are your thoughts on helping to lead the band into its 40th anniversary?

MM: It’s good. It’s 40 years, and that’s really good. It should be a lot of fun. If it wasn’t fun, I wouldn’t do it.

How long have you been playing guitar for, now?

MM: I started playing in September 1989. When I told the girl I was going out with that I was gonna be in a band, she wasn’t impressed. 

How did the Psychos first hear about you in the ‘90s? 

MM: Well, [my previous band] The Onyas, through [Melbourne music scene figure] Bruce Milne, talked to the drummer [Bill Walsh] at the time, and we ended up going on tour with ‘em in Europe for about twelve gigs in 1996. From there, we had a connection, one thing led to another, and I ended up playing in the band [after former guitarist Robbie ‘Rocket’ Watts passed away from a sudden heart attack in 2006]. [Before I joined] we also did a Melvins/Cosmic Psychos/Onyas tour in Australia, so there were several different things that happened.

When you’re touring these days, what guitars do you mainly use on stage?

MM: At the moment I’m using a Fender Strat from around 1979 as a backup, and I’m using a Gretsch Malcolm Young signature model with only one pickup. It’s a TV Jones pickup and it bloody goes really well. They’re really good because [Young] pulled the pickups out of it, so it’s got this resonance through the body of the guitar.

How do you get your tone, onstage? Do you use distortion, or overdrive?

MM: I’ve got a Big Muff. It all depends on what guitar you’re gonna use. When you’re playing with Humbuckers, it’s a bit different. The Gretsch has Humbuckers, but the Strat is a single coil. I don’t really know how I get the tone. I turn the amp up halfway and sort it out from there.

What’s your beer of choice when you’re Down Under? 

MM: Probably Coopers Red. I also like coffee in the morning and I try to drink water the rest of the time. 

So in 2015, for the Cum The Raw Prawn album, you made your mark as a vocalist by singing ‘Fuckwit City’. What, in your mind, was the city in question? 

MM: It could be anywhere, and that’s about where it sits. It depends on where the fuckwits are. Stay positive and it’ll diminish. 

Cosmic Psychos have pulled some legendary pranks in the past. I saw on the Blokes You Can Trust documentary that, in the ‘90s, Knighty once swapped the signs between the bathroom and the dressing room for Helmet. So Helmet walked into the bathroom thinking it was their dressing room.

MM: My synopsis of that situation was they were a bit confused.

Ross Knight AKA Knighty: That was a pretty funny one. We still do the odd prank every now and again. We just fly very much under the radar now. No one suspects these old men to do anything naughty. We don’t do anything bad. We just do the occasional naughty one. The thing is you just never hang around for the prank if you can help it. We just go slow and steady nowadays. It’s almost always gonna be a long night, and there’s another day tomorrow. You’ve gotta pace yourself.

Congrats on the 40th anniversary as well, that’s big stuff. 

K: Yeah, it’s unreal.

For a farmer to be touring the world in a punk band? 

K: Well we have done for 40 years. When you read the farming manual, there’s a bit of the back that says you’ve gotta play in a punk band. 

As I heard you sing in some lyrics on 2020’s Loudmouth Soup, you drive your ute with a can in your hand - that’s what farmers do when they play in a punk band. 

K: Absolutely. It’s my favourite thing to do in life mate, drive around the farm in my ute in low ratio four wheel drive with an esky beside me, and look at the world as I see it. 

Have you guys been playing any new stuff off 2021’s Mountain Of Piss, or Loudmouth Soup, at your recent shows? 

Dean Muller: We’ve just been doing the ‘greatest hits catalogue’. All the usual suspects sort of thing. We’ll probably work some [more recent] ones in soon.

In late 2017, ABC News uploaded a short doco about the guitar school you were running at your home in Brisbane. How is that going? 

MM: Yeah, it still goes. It’s been slow lately, but it goes. Send me a message and we’ll sort it out.

Have you guys been talking about making a follow-up to Mountain Of Piss

MM: Yeah, we’re getting there. Don’t rush us, but we’ll get there.

Cosmic Psychos’ 40th anniversary shows hit the Theatre Royal in Melbourne on Dec 1, 2 and 3. Supports include The Chats and Boondall Boys. Details at cosmicpsychos.com.au .

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Editor-at-large - Australian Guitar

Corin Shearston is editor-at-large for Australian Guitar magazine. He has contributed to Happy Mag, Hot Metal and The Sydney Sentinel, while also working as a rock drummer for over sixteen years. Corin has additional experience as a radio presenter and small business owner.