Hoodoo Gurus’ Dave Faulkner Talks New Twists and Turns For ‘Chariot of the Gods’ (INTERVIEW)

Seminal Australian Rock band Hoodoo Gurus started working on new music in 2019, and the process of discovering new directions continued throughout the pandemic period leading up to their tenth studio album, also their first in 11 years. Now, they are poised to release a 13-track album on March 11th, Chariot of the Gods, and to roll out a global e-stream performance to celebrate the album on March 10th. In fact, they wrote and recorded so many new songs that an exclusive double vinyl release of the album will actually include 16 tracks in total. 

The Hoodoo Gurus rose out of the Australian Garage band scene in the mid-80s with plenty of Punk underpinnings, and have always been known for incorporating a variety of musical influences into their songs as well as featuring outspoken lyrics. Chariot of the Gods is no exception, though you may find some surprising “twists and turns” in terms of musical directions on the album just to keep fans on their toes. 

“Carry On” was released as an emotive reality-check about the lives of first responders during the pandemic, “Get Out of Dodge” is a universal tale of finding oneself an outsider in hostile waters, “Answered Prayers” plumbs some dark relationship territory, and the title track “Chariot of the Gods” has a meaningful cultural parallel underlying its sci-fi trappings. I spoke with vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter Dave Faulkner from the midst of some Australian live shows about the collaborative excitement behind of the new songs and videos and the ways in which Chariot of the Gods continues to challenge the band, lyrically and musically. 

Hannah Means-Shannon: Congratulations on putting together such a giant album for release, with so many tracks. Are you playing any of those songs at the moment, or are you keeping them under wraps for the release?

Dave Faulkner: We’re playing them. We’ve had a few songs come out as singles anyway in Australia, starting with “Answered Prayers” in 2019, which was the beginning of the whole album process. That was kind of an experiment and was such a fantastic experience. That song was quite significant for me, songwriting-wise because it showed me that there was still plenty of power to be had in just putting words and melodies together and telling a story, even if it’s sometimes an uncomfortable story. We’ve been playing a song called “I Come From The Future”, which Brad [Shepherd] wrote and sings, and also the singles. With these latest shows, we’ve been playing other songs from the album because we’re going to be doing this live broadcast just before the album is released. That will be pre-taped, but live and unadorned, so we want to be playing the songs with confidence. We’ll get the muscle-memory going so we can be in the moment. We’ve been rehearsing quite a bit anyway but we want to cement them into the subconscious. 

HMS: Was writing “Answered Prayers” the first song to be written in this collection, or do some of them go further back in time?

DF: “Answered Prayers” was the first song finished, and actually came quickly. I wrote the riff on the way home from rehearsal one night, and then quickly put it into a memo on my phone. The next day at rehearsal, we started working it up, working on the melody. The next morning, the lyrics came, and it was finished. Probably the oldest song is one called “Settle Down”, which is one that I had started writing, but I hadn’t finished the lyrics on. “Get Out of Dodge” was a bit of melody that I had put down somewhere. I accumulate things like that, a bit like a sketchbook for an artist. When I want to do an album project, I’m motivated to do things and get more pragmatic about it, so when I’ve actually committed to something, I’m forced to sit down and write the damn songs, aren’t I? 

That’s literally what happens. I always procrastinate and go out for coffee, or write e-mails, and never write music. At the same time, I’m always gathering this raw material. Then when it’s time to make an album, I have a deadline looming, so I sit down at 9AM and sit at the table for three hours and don’t get up until I’ve satisfied that three hours of songwriting time. 

After about three days of that, your subconscious takes over and you relax into working. It takes a few days to get over being a critic, being outside the process. You can get great things on the first day, but after about three days, you can really plug into. The hardest part of songwriting for me is always the lyrics because I’m fairly particular. I like songs to have a beginning, middle, and an end, rather than the end being a restatement of the first half. I like the song to develop and have a through-line.

HMS: What do you do if you’re struggling with lyrics? 

DF: I was just thinking about the song “Get Out of Dodge”, and one of my favorite lyrics is actually the non-lyric where I start singing “Dit-dit-dit-dit”. That sounds like gibberish, but the verse leading up to that says, “Most folks think that I’m living some life of crime, But I’ve done nothing, so I’ll keep singing my own sweet song. Dit-dit-dit-dit…” What it’s saying is that sometimes you can’t reach other people, because that’s what the song is about. It’s about being an outsider or a minority, and people being hostile to your views. You can’t reason with them, words won’t work, so sometimes the only thing you can do is go, “Dit-dit-dit-dit”. Sometimes what you don’t say is as important as what you do say. 

HMS: You’re making me laugh, because I can’t help but see the video for the song in my mind when you’re singing that. First of all, the song is great, as is “Answered Prayers”, but the video is its own thing, a little movie, really. There’s so much there that’s relatable without it being super-complicated. 

DF: It poses as an old Western trope of “Get out of here by sundown! You’re not welcome around here, varmint!” It’s the polarity we see where people are in an echo-chamber of opinions and they never get contrary opinions to moderate their views. That’s when no dialog is possible. Basically, it is a song about giving up, and finding a safe space for yourself, to be yourself. You can’t always be Don Quixote tilting at windmills, fighting this heroic battle. Sometimes it’s heroic to just retreat and live to fight another day. You have to protect yourself from hostile forces that may crush you if you’re not careful. 

HMS: That video really escalates in a gradual way and then begins to feel quite scary! I got a little frightened when the kids start running out of the Western town. It gets real. 

DF: We shot that on the outskirts of Sidney where these people just have a passion for collecting. It’s not a prop. It’s a bunch of colonial buildings that this couple moved to their property. It’s marvelous. It’s a historical park, in a sense. One of the houses is haunted! The house where you see the two little girls and the grandmother. It’s very malevolent there. 

HMS: I guess that’s even more fitting for the creepy happenings in the video! Did the band members enjoy playing their cameo roles? Is it cathartic to play the villain?

DF: That was excellent not to have to look too attractive for the camera, but to be as ugly and confronting as possible. It was freeing! Although I pretend to be a villain in the video for “Get Out of Dodge”, the protagonist in the song “Answered Prayers” is a truly despicable person. An emotionally abusive person who can be heard belittling his partner, who is the “you” he is addressing, that is, the listener. Lyrics such as, “I don’t want you” and “Razor wire? I don’t need it, you’re under self-control” show how controlling and horrible this person is. It’s a very dark song and I was a bit taken aback at the awful power of the lyrics when I wrote them. I am definitely NOT that person who is singing but it’s a story and situation I am intimately familiar with and has affected me deeply. 

HMS: I feel like there are elements of story in a lot of these songs, whether it’s a detailed narrative, or a general idea arc. 

DF: Yes, a lot people don’t pick up on the story that’s behind the title track, “Chariot of the Gods”. That’s actually a pure parable.

HMS: I was interested by the song and the title of the album, because I recognized that it was the title of a book that made some waves back in the day, by Erich Von Daniken, speculating that aliens were responsible for major technological advances in ancient history. 

DF: That’s more about playing with pop culture for us, which we love doing. Our first album, Stone Age Romeos, was named after a Three Stooges short. There was nothing particularly stone age or romantic about the album, though maybe we were a little bit primitive! We’re kids of the 70s, and we love the humor of this idea behind Von Daniken’s way-out theory which some people believed, and strangely, some still do. 

But actually, I was using the story of the song, which is, lyrically, about an alien invasion, as a metaphor for colonization. In particular, it relates to the Aboriginal experience and decimation that occurred after the Europeans invaded Australia. I make a specific reference in the lyrics to “guns, germs, and steel”, because there’s a book about that. I give a clue about that, and there’s an Aboriginal instrument used on the track as well, the digeridoo. The guys created a synthetic instrument that’s tunable, but it’s the same sound. You do hear it au naturale in the center of the song when the sound drops down to almost nothing. 

I wanted to write a song about how it would feel to be completely obliterated by a technologically advanced civilization. Basically, your way of life would be destroyed with no way of changing that. For a lot of modern people, they can’t imagine themselves in that situation. People can understand a sci-fi story now, and empathize with that feeling. They may not realize that’s what the song’s about at first, but hopefully they will put it together. 

HMS: There is a tremendous feeling of helplessness in the song. You really bring that across.

DF: It’s unfortunate, and this has happened in many locations with indigenous cultures, but particularly in Australia, that the prevailing culture is reluctant to even acknowledge the pain and the continued carnage occurs with the psyche of these people. They say, “Get modern and be like us!” But there’s all kinds of oppression that plays into it that goes back hundreds of years in cycles that still need to be broken. So this is a way of bringing all that forward, and hopefully getting people to empathize in a way that they haven’t before. Many Australians still won’t own up to what has happened, and acknowledgement is so important. Books like Buried My Heart at Wounded Knee need to be written about Australia.

HMS: What’s the situation when it comes to literature documenting the Aboriginal experience?

DF: There hasn’t been much. The thing about Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee is that the US Army mediation was recorded, including the words of the Native American people. You can hear the broken promises and shoddy dealing that was going on. In Australia that never happened. The Maori people had a treaty, but there was never a treaty in Australia, so it was an undeclared war. It’s a litany of things that go unacknowledged until this day.

HMS: When people are insulating themselves against feeling responsible for the events of the past, as happens a lot in Western culture, stories and songs can often break through that by presenting things in a surprising way and flying under the radar.

DF: Exactly, that’s what I was thinking. That’s why the song is not exactly fun. It’s a little bit horrific because I want people to actually feel something. Maybe they will make that connection to other peoples’ experiences in other times. 

HMS: It’s a brave song for a number of reasons, but it’s also quite long!

DF: [Laughs] That’s a fun thing for us, musically, bringing in new elements that we haven’t used before with each album. We think there are still stories that we can tell, musically, as well as lyrically, and we’re finding things out as well. There were quite a few things on the album like that. Like with “Get Out of Dodge”, we’ve never had a song that was so overtly Power Pop before, with such a Beach Boys style. So that’s part of what excites us about making albums, not just coming up with stories that we can tell lyrically, but developing the musical story of the Hoodoo Gurus that continues with new twists and turns for people.

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