Hell hath no fury like the Hard-Ons. Though the epochal Aussie punks had a rough start to the year – what with touring off the cards, a long‑gestating doco axed right after it bagged funding, and their perennial frontman ousted after misconduct allegations surfaced – the band trotted on, chins held high and guitars clutched tightly. And now, the Hard‑Ons are arguably in the best shape they’ve ever been – and not just because shredder Peter ‘Blackie’ Black is a personal trainer by trade.
Rejuvenated with new vocalist Tim Rogers – who you may also know from his 30-odd years leading You Am I, or his show-stopping solo work – the Hard-Ons are at their fiercest and fieriest right now. They’re also at their poppiest, making full use of Rogers’ melodically strong vocal chops, and his knack for cranking out danceable bangers like Cadbury churns out Crunchie bars. And it’s important to note, this isn’t “the Hard‑Ons featuring Tim Rogers” – this is the Hard‑Ons, cut and dry, in their most authentic form yet.
Don’t believe us? Chuck on the band’s newly minted 13th album, I’m Sorry Sir, That Riff’s Been Taken, and prepare to eat your words. Speaking of words, Blackie and Rogers lent us a good few of them shortly before the LP hit shelves. Here’s just a tiny chunk of our king‑sized chat – because to fit the full thing in, we’d need at least an extra 30 pages…
It stood out to me that this record is being presented as a straight-up Hard-Ons album, and not “Hard-Ons featuring Tim Rogers”. Was that an important distinction you wanted to make?
Rogers: One of the first things that Ray [Ahn, bass] said when he called me was, he said “Look, we’re not going to do any of that shit. It’s the band.” And it’s a such an honour because I think the band’s dynamic is a really beautiful thing. I mean, that’s the best thing about bands, and why they work or they don’t work. I find it really beautiful – it’s a good test of how people can get on with one another, because you see each other your best, and your very worst as well.
Blackie: It’s definitely a Hard-Ons record, and Tim slotted in beautifully – I would actually say perfectly – and elevated what we’ve done before with his vocal abilities. To me, it’s almost like ‘Hard-Ons Plus’ now. Tim was a little bit wary at first, like, “F***, these three guys have been playing together for ages! Where do I fit in?" But now we’re foursies!
Tim, was there anything that you wanted to bring to fold creatively, or were you keen to just live out that ultimate fanboy dream?
Rogers: Oh, it’s the fanboy’s dream. There’s nothing I could bring apart from enthusiasm.
Blackie: I’m gonna I’m gonna have to butt in here, because you can say something like that, but... Like, you can sing a song, and then you can sing a song. There was a shitload of vocal flourishes that were added to these songs that took them from, ten to 11.
Rogers: When Ray first brought up the idea of me joining, I said, “Why me?” He knew I was a big fan, and Ray mentioned a couple of singers from these ‘60s R&B groups. And it kind of made sense. Because apart from everything else, Ray, Pete and Murray are massive musical minds, y’know? So I thought, “Well, if they asked me, they must be right.” And it’s amazing what people can do when you give them a little bit of confidence. When you let people know that they’ve got an ability, it just takes a little bit of confidence or a little bit of wherewithal to do the job properly.
Blackie: You can also point out to them something that might have been, y’know? Something that’s right in front of your nose, where you can’t really see it if you’re the one doing it – but someone will go, “See what you just did? How shit hot is that?” And it’s like, “Oh f***, yeah, I did it!” But about what you were just saying about ‘60s R&B bands, I think that’s something the average layperson doesn’t always understand. Y’know, they might just go, “Ah, the Hard-Ons, they’re a punk band,” but we’re all musical geeks.
It’s funny because people would think we must just be into the Sex Pistols and the Saints, and it’s like… Well, yeah, but y’know, we’re into those bands just as much as we are into Small Faces and the Sonics, and f***ing Motown. It’s weird for me when people can’t see that sort of shit in the Hard-Ons. But I guess, y’know, everyone hears music differently. It’s so subjective. They hear it in their own different way, and sometimes preconceived ideas really hold fast.
Rogers: I remember a night I spent in Dusseldorf with Tex Perkins – the drugs had run out, so we were just listening to records, and we had this big chat about Elton John. And I kind of knew the hits, but I didn’t know very many records of Elton’s, and Tex... This house we were staying at had all of these early ‘70s Elton and Bernie Taupin records, and Tex just took me through them all, played the albums back to front, and I thought, “This is kind of odd, but it really makes sense.” Because people see him and go, “Oh, yeah, Tex Perkins is Tex Perkins.” But if he didn’t have that musical lust and knowledge, he wouldn’t be as great as he is.
Blackie, what did you play on this record?
Blackie: Man, when it comes to guitars and amps and pedals and shit like that, I’m a huge one trick pony. Like, I get guitar players coming up to me and rattling off all their gear, and at first I think they’re talking about motorbikes. It’s like, look mate, I’ve got this and I’ve got that, and that’s enough for me. So I’ve still got my JCM800 220 Elite Series, and I’ve still got my SG – which I think was a 1980 model, but a 1960s reissue – and that’s about it.
It’s just such a fucking classic sound. A lot of people think I bought the SG because of Angus Young, but for me, Angus is way out of reach. Mine was more because Brian James from The Damned and Ed Kuepper from The Saints both used it. They were my two initial guitar heroes. They were two of the first punk-rock bands that I heard where I really sort of delved into what they were doing and tried to decipher their... Well, everything – their sound, their lead breaks, y’know, the way they wrote songs and shit… And I was like, “Yep, I need to get an SG, because that’s obviously part of the magic.”
Rogers: There was a point in recording when I turned to Blackie and I went, “Oh f***, that’s an Ed Kuepper chord!” And I don’t think Ed, on those Saints records, played anything different – but it was something about the combination of that SG and... Maybe it was just the way that his middle finger pulled the G string a little tighter on a barre chord, or something. But I said, “That’s exactly that! That’s the most Ed Kuepper moment you’ve ever had!”
But I reckon with that combination [of gear]… I don’t know whether the years do things to the recordings, but y’know, between the guitar sound on Dickcheese to Peel Me Like A Egg, then to So I Could Have Them Destroyed – those records, to me as a fan, they’re not the same guitar sound, y’know? It’s an interesting thing, whether it’s the evolution of Peter’s writing or the evolution of the band... Or maybe my dementia...