The flip side to the black-hearted noise terrorism of Nick Cave's early band the Birthday Party, '80s Aussie pub punks the Cosmic Psychos brought meathead irreverence to their fuzz-driven anthems about driving tractors, running over kangaroos, and getting hammered down at the pub. Anchored by the overdriven bass and growling vocals of leader Ross Knight, the Psychos' raw distillation of the Ramones, the Stooges, and Motörhead earned the band such champions Mudhoney's Mark Arm and Steve Turner.
The trio made inroads to the States after Sub Pop reissued their second album Go the Hack in 1990. Subsequently signed to Amphetamine Reptile, the band membrs soon found themselves pounding prodigious quantities of beer with producer Butch Vig (fresh from helming the sessions for Nirvana's Nevermind) as they recorded arguably their greatest effort, Blokes You Can Trust.
While the Psychos toured the States doggedly through the '90s, nearly two decades have passed since the band's last proper jaunt through the U.S. Ross stands as the group's sole original member after financial irregularities led to drummer Bill Walsh's departure in 2005 and longtime guitarist Robbie "Rocket" Watts died of a heart attack at the age of 47 the following year. That drama is just part of the story told by the new documentary about the group, Cosmic Psychos: Blokes You Can Trust.
Covering the band's raucous three decades of pounding beers and raising hell, the film spotlights the unpretentious charm of farmer-turned-rocker Knight amid testimonials praising the Psychos from Melvins mainstay Buzz Osborne, Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder, and others. Knight was unsurprisingly hilarious and self-deprecating when he recently spoke to All Shook Down by phone from his farm in rural Victoria, discussing the band's influences and history ahead of a screening of the film and performance by the Cosmic Psychos at Brick and Mortar Music Hall this Saturday, Sept 14.
The prominence of your bass in the mix seems like a key part of the band's sound. Were there influences besides Motörhead and the Ramones that led you to that bass-heavy approach?
Not really. I stumbled across that sound because I thought I wanted to be a guitar player, but I'm just not smart enough for six strings and fumble fingers. I couldn't do it. I came across that sound when I was in high school. I just plugged a bass guitar into a fuzz box and I thought 'Well, that sounds a bit like a guitar' and stuck with it. I seemed to be able to hold a note and it just appealed to me.
I was mucking about with that sound I suppose from the Ramones. I was listening to them a lot. Before that, I was a huge Kiss fan. I liked Slade and Sweet and all that kind of stuff. I actually didn't get into Motörhead until probably another year after I started playing. It was amazing when I did hear them. It was like waking up and going to heaven when you hear that kind of racket. It was fantastic.
My access to music was so limited living in the country. There were no record stores. I had to rely on music that was recorded on cassettes. A friend of mine had an older sister who was going to art school in Sydney. She'd bring them down to Victoria once or twice a year. That was my lifeline into different music. But it was very limited.
There was a lot of Australian stuff happening at the same time. Bands like the Saints and some really heavy bands like Rose Tattoo, Buffalo and Lobby Lloyd, and the Coloured Balls. All these bands that came out of this huge Melbourne pub rock scene that was happening. It was loud and it was heavy. And that's just the way things happened. You just sort of follow that sound.
A lot of the history of Australian rock bands from the '70s outside of AC/DC, Rose Tattoo and maybe the Saints was pretty unknown to the world at large before the internet age. Were there other important Australian influences to the Cosmic Psychos besides Buffalo and Lobby Lloyd that people might not know about?
Yeah, there was another bloke. There was this band Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs in the '70s. They were huge. They really hit the ground running. There were a couple of big festivals in the very early '70s and they were one of the only bands who could walk out of a pub and get out on a big stage in front of 20,000 or 30,000 people and just absolutely nail it.
Billy Thorpe was just amazing. He was incredible; just loud and heavy. There's a great story about Billy Thorpe. He played in a pub in Sydney one time and there was this giant fish tank when you walked in the front door in the reception area. Billy Thorpe started up and he played so loud that he killed the fish! A classic line: "Billy's killed the fish. You're going to have to turn down, mate." All the fish just went bottoms up and floated to the top. He was amazing. He only died a few years ago. It's a shame.
I remember we were in Spain -- in Madrid, a huge rock 'n' roll town -- and we were playing Rose Tattoo in our van in the early '90s and people would come up and say "Who the fuck is that?" It's amazing how so many people hadn't heard of Rose Tattoo until well and truly after their sort of demise. I mean, they still play now, but they'd never heard of them.
They're definitely one of my favorite bands to come up in the late '70s. I know Angry Anderson [founding member and singer for Rose Tattoo] and the current group still plays festivals in Europe and around Australia, but I keep hoping they'll come to the States. I know touring the U.S. isn't always the most lucrative venture a band can go on ...
It's a hard road in the States. I was reasonably good mates with [late Rose Tattoo guitarist] Pete Wells. I used to see him at the pub and we'd have a couple of beers together. They'd do festivals in Europe and do it pretty comfortably. Just like we do it; we do it reasonably comfortably in Europe.
But you get to the States, and you're playing for half a dozen warm beers and a couple hundred dollars and you probably spent more over the bar than what you're going to get paid for the night. Having said that, I probably had more fun in the States too; sleeping on floors and whatnot was totally fine by me.
You guys are pretty frank in the movie about the issues that led to the split with Bill Walsh. Did talking about it for the film change or improve relations between parties? Is it the kind of thing where maybe you deal with him strictly on a business level? I would think that he has some stake in the upcoming reissues of the early Cosmic Psychos albums...
Well, I will never, ever, EVER have any kind of business relationship with Bill [laughs]. I didn't really speak to him for a couple of years, but I caught up with him a few years ago. We were playing this big pub festival with three stages going and a lot of people there. Bill was playing in another band and everyone was going "Bill's in the room! Bill's in the room!" It was like kids building up to a schoolyard fight.
And in the end, I just went "Well, fuck this!" And people were saying "He's in the car park! He's in the car park!" So I go "Right. Well, I'm going to go and fucking see Bill Walsh." It wasn't the fact that Bill was there; it was the way everyone else was reacting to it. So I went strolling down to the car park followed by about 30 people. As I said, it was like I was fighting the bully in the schoolyard. And all I did was go up to him, hand him a beer and say "How you doing?"
So we've been casually ringing each other up about something, or if I bump into him, I usually make him buy me a beer, 'cause I think he still owes me a few. I'm not losing any sleep over Bill. The whole thing is, at the end of the day fighting over something like this, something as useless as the Cosmic Psychos, it's just like two bald men fighting over a comb. What's the fucking point? As far as I'm concerned, he's missed out on another 30 years of fun. And that's his fucking fault. He's stupid for doing that. But anyway it's no sweat off my nose. It's only a band. There are more important things in life to worry about.