Few bands have put out as many consistently interesting and entertaining albums as Australia’s Hoodoo Gurus. From their 1984 debut, Stoneage Romeos, up through 2010’s Purity of Essence and a slew of more recent recordings, including 2021’s World of Pain, the band have cranked out perfect power-pop songs matched only by the “strum and drang” [sic] of their rave-up live shows.
Along the way, they’ve been inducted into the Australian Recording Industry Association Hall of Fame. The group’s lineup has been mostly stable – with a few changes to the rhythm section over the years – but singer/guitarist Dave Faulkner and guitarist Brad Shepherd have been mainstays.
As a songwriter, Faulkner delights in intricate and clever wordplay with subject matter that veers from the comic to the cosmic to heartfelt meditations on relationships gone sour. On 2020’s Get Out of Dodge, Faulkner explores calcified thinking and the limits of tolerance with guest vocals supplied by old touring partner Vicki Peterson of the Bangles along with her husband John Cowsill of the Cowsills.
On every recording, Shepherd’s tastefully melodic riffs, fills and solos are a master class on how to avoid overplaying while still providing plenty of color to every tune.
GW spoke with Faulkner and Shepherd about the band’s history, guitar and amp preferences – and what keeps them going after 40 years in the biz. Hoodoo Gurus’ music encompasses many influences, from '60s garage punk to psychedelia to hard rock.
Is that a reflection of a diverse listening appetite while you were growing up?
DAVE FAULKNER: “Totally. You know, all of us had a foot in the '60s as kids, and that music really saturated us. And, of course, we learned more about that music subsequently.
“As you get older, you trace back the influences of the things that are more mainstream and you find the more obscure things. For us, that was glam rock and all that stuff and even heavy rock like Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin, but also T. Rex, Slade, Suzi Quatro, Alice Cooper.
“All that stuff was our teenage music, and then punk rock came along in our late teens. I was 17 or something when punk hit, and that was kind of like the crucible that shaped a lot of my attitude about music.”
Brad, how did you end up getting together with Dave?
BRAD SHEPHERD: “I joined the band very early, although the template for the band had been set before I joined, but it spoke to me. I saw the very early incarnation of the band. I was playing in another group. I really appreciated the fact that there were no rules.
“In Sydney in 1981, there was a fairly strict regime of what was cool and what was not, and I loved the fact that when I would go and see the Hoodoo Gurus before I joined that they embraced things that were inherently uncool to everyone else at the time, like glam rock or '50s rock.”
Brad, you’ve played a number of different guitars in your time with the group, such as a Gretsch Country Gentleman in the early '80s, Les Pauls and SGs. What attracts you to a particular guitar?
SHEPHERD: “It may’ve taken me 40 years to actually realize what I’m looking for out of a particular instrument. I like the warmth of Gibsons, generally. I have found within the context of the Gurus, because Dave often plays Telecaster that I try to steer away from that.
“I’ve found that if I''m playing a Gretsch or a Gibson, there’s a tonal diversity there that allows everyone to speak clearly within the context of the band’s unified voice. In a live context, it’s almost always something with a loud articulation and some unique warm tone somewhere in the lower-mids, and that allows those upper-mids for Dave’s Tele.”
FAULKNER: “Yeah, I play Telecaster for that principal reason – just to stay out of Dave’s way, because it’s a little bit more sonically compact. We always have to finesse our sounds to make sure there is room for each other, and that’s part of why I play the Tele, but also because I love that sound.
“I’ve been playing a Les Paul Junior more often lately, on recordings like on 2020’s Answered Prayers. So again, that's a sort of smaller guitar; it’s not quite as fat a sound, so it leaves room for Brad to do more of the heavy lifting.”
Brad, one of the most appealing things about your playing is that it’s versatile yet economical. How do you develop your riffs and fills?
SHEPHERD: “That’s what the band’s about, making some kind of value contribution. Sometimes the valid contribution is just plowing through a handful of Ramones chords if that’s exactly what’s required. But I try to hear what’s going on in the rest of the song. What Dave’s singing. What his melody is and if there’s room somewhere else where I might be able to make a contribution where it becomes a kind of tapestry.
“I do tend to compose solos before we go in to record. Often, I can hear what my contribution should be, and then I work out the notes. I don’t honestly know what I’m playing. Really, I’m just learning the shapes.
“There are certain positions that I’m familiar with up and down the neck, but more often than not, I don’t really know what I’m doing. I’ve got an idea in my head of what should happen at that point in the song, and I try to find the notes.”
I’ve mostly seen you playing with Fender amps behind you.
SHEPHERD: “I love Fender amps. I’ve been playing the Bruce Zinky Tone Masters since they were available. I actually have the first one that landed in Australia that I still use to this day. They have never disappointed me, they’ve never let me down onstage, and I’ve played them almost every show.
“On the odd occasion if we have to fly to a gig and we have some kind of rented backline, I might just grab a couple of AC30s because I found them to be fairly reliable. But nine times out of 10, I’ve used the Tone Masters onstage. I think I got mine in ’94. I’ve got a couple of them, but they've never given me any trouble. That’s my thing. I like a Gibson or a Gretsch into a Fender. It’s very Neil Young.”
Dave, I think you use Matchless?
FAULKNER: “Yeah, Matchless pretty much exclusively. I don’t know how long I’ve had them for but probably a similar timeframe to Brad. I’ve tried other things. I started off with a Fender. I had one when I was in my punk band, but unfortunately, it got destroyed, and that was a Vibrasonic.
“I’ve been through Mesa/Boogie and others, but the Matchless was a marriage made in heaven for me. I love the creaminess of it and the warmth, and it just seems very adaptable. Brad has a huge pedalboard, and a lot of his sounds can be replicated through the board being what it is. I don’t; I only have a wah-wah and a tremolo, that’s it. I’m very simple. It’s all in the amp.”
Brad, what are some of the go-to pedals you have on your board?
SHEPHERD: “Well, a lot of my overdrive sounds are the Crowther Hot Cake. I’ve got three of them on my board that are set at various gain stages. There are some modulation things going on and some different colors and the fuzz pedal, but by and large, it’s just the sound of my guitar into the amp.
“I’ve got giant tubs full of stompboxes in our storage facility. But the one fuzz pedal that I’ve used for 25 years is actually something that was handmade by a tech in Sydney, where he cloned the circuit out of a Roland BeeBaa.“
You worked with producer Ed Stasium on '90s albums Kinky and Crank and 2010’s Purity of Essence, where he was involved in the mixing. Did you work with him on the songs you recorded in 2021?
FAULKNER: “We’re really excited about the songs. We worked with Wayne Connolly, an engineer/producer. We always kind of produce ourselves, too. I do a lot of the heavy lifting on that side.
“But it’s good to have someone there as a referee and an objective voice to say, 'Try it this way.' Ed Stasium mixed the tracks, and he mixed our 2020 singles like Get Out of Dodge. We found it a bit strange with COVID. When we did Purity of Essence, I was able to fly over to where Ed was in Colorado. It was a bit harder this time, because we had to do it all by email and phone.“
How do you keep your sound so fresh after 40 years?
FAULKNER: “It really comes down to quite a simple thing, which is it doesn’t matter what influence we’re drawing from. It sounds like us when we get it together, and the determining factor is, if it sounds real and exciting, we're good to go.
“The closest we've ever come to really having some kind of ethos from album to album is this sort of sine wave between two polarities with one side the more hard kind of brutal punk rock and the other the more pop side, and certainly I could see on every album it oscillates.
“If we feel like a little bit of a palate cleanser after 12 months of just bashing this stuff out, we do some beautiful pop music, and then we say, 'Let’s get hardcore again.' It’s just us having a mood, but it takes about 12 months to happen. We’ve always thought the Hoodoo Gurus were their own universe.
“There were people who thought we were from California, because we toured there so much and we were on U.S. college radio. But our world is self-contained; we absorb the zeitgeist, and it’s all grist for our mill, but there’s only one mill. There aren’t 20 Hoodoo Gurus around the planet; there’s only one.”
- Get Out of Dodge (opens in new tab) is out now.