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A Conversation Between Total Control / Lower Plenty’s Al Montfort and The Clean's Robert Scott

A recorded phone conversation between a pair of greats from the Southern Hemisphere.
December 1, 2014, 3:26am

Robert Scott is a New Zealand musical legend. For over 35 years his involvement in seminal pop bands the Bats and the Clean, as well as his solo work, has established him as one of the architects of the classic New Zealand sound that is closely associated with the Flying Nun label.

Al Montfort is a Melbourne musician who plays in an exhausting list of bands that includes Dick Diver, UV Race, Straightjacket Nation,Total Control and Eastlink. It's no secret that's he a fan of the Clean. One of Monftort's acts Lower Plenty are supporting the Clean on their upcoming Australian tour, which includes an appearance at Hobart's MOFO Festival. We got Al to give Rob a call.


Noisey: Are you going to get a chance to check out Hobart's MONA museum when you are down for MOFO? Do you have any time off?
Robert Scott: No! Is it cool?

Yeah it's awesome. It goes deep underground and you get a ferry out there, which is pretty choice.

How does it work with the band now? Do you just jam when you are coming up to record something?
We usually get together and put some ideas down. It might be the case of doing that before we have time booked or it might be that we just do that instead of something else and then re-visit those ideas.

So when did the dynamic of the band change in terms of writing all together?
Pretty much we were all doing stuff together from 80-82 and then we split up and we've been apart since then and been doing it like that since then.

Do you enjoy working that way?
It would be good to all be in the same place and work more closely together. I would quite like to do that for a change.

I guess that's pretty different from how you work with the Bats?
Well with the Bats. The rest of them are in Christchurch and I'm down here [Dunedin] so it's sort of the same. I tend to write a lot of stuff, myself, for the Bats. So I send up demos and they actually learn them. Then we get together and sort of scratch it out.

Do you ever have any trouble deciding what songs are going to work well with the Bats, solo or with the Clean?
The Clean is different because we write all together but with the Bats and with solo stuff there's a bit of crossover in terms of some of the solo stuff I do could end up as Bats songs and some Bats songs I could do solo. So there is a bit of cross-pollination there.


I guess the Kiwi scene of the 80s and 90s is so romanticized over here and abroad.
Yeah and it's changed a lot since then. It's a lot more competitive for the entertainment dollar and there are a lot of other things going on so the band scene is different.

I was listening to your solo album on the inflight entertainment on my Air New Zealand flight recently. How did you hook that up?
I didn't know about that until you told me ha!

Yeah I'll have to check my royalty statement to make sure im getting paid for it.

Yeah I got half way through before my valium kicked in.
Very good.

I was listening to Mister Pop this morning to get psyched about the interview and I always wondered who sang the vocoder vocals on "Tensile"?
I think both David and I had a go at those. And it was a combination of the two of us. I quite like that song actually.

It's a ripper. What was the inspiration?
We came up with the keyboard riff and then I came up with the bass melody to give the song a bit of shake. We are all into krautrock, so there's elements of that and a bit of David Bowie's Low and Eno and stuff like that.

I was hoping you could pick your favourites between a few Australian and New Zealand classics.
Haha ok.

The Go-Betweens or Dragon?
The Go-Betweens definitely.

The Triffids or Dave Dobbyn?

Nick Cave or Hello Sailor?
Ah God! Aw Nick Cave.

Laughing Clowns or Mi-Sex?
Laughing Clowns.

You picked all the Australian indie classics ahead of the Kiwi rock gods. Now I'll go the other way. The Bilders or Cold Chisel?


Skeptics or Australian Crawl?

When was the first time you came to Australia?
It was with the Bats. The Bats used to come over quite a bit. The first time was in late 87 or 88. But then The Clean came in late 89 or 90 on the way to Europe. We did a couple of shows in Sydney and Melbourne.

Who did you play with?
We supported Ed Kuepper somewhere out in the suburbs of Sydney. We played a lot with the Go-Betweens. They were based in Melbourne so we played with them down there. And a band called X I remember them for some reason.

Do you notice the influence of the Kiwi scene on Australian bands?
Yeah. I haven't kept up too much with the Australian scene but in terms of support bands I can definitely hear an influence. A band played with us a wee while ago, Panel of Judges. They were really good. Then there's Rene Schaffer and Scale Models. Kirtsy Stegwasi, there's definitely an influence there.

Do you like the Feelies?
Yes! They were actually playing the same night as us in Amsterdam and we wanted to see them and it transpired that they turned up at the end of our set. So they got to see us and we wanted to see them. We got to play with some amazing people. Got to play with Alex Chilton in 86. Bands like that we've been fortunate to support.

Is it hard to stay positive when you've been playing this long? Do you get sick of the music industry?
You get sick of aspects of it and the physicality of actually loading amps and having sound checks. The travel sometimes can be a bit of a grind. It boils down that you've got an existing love of playing the music and performing for people. Certainly knowing that the love for it outweighs the parts. You arrive at the day when it it's the other way and that when you cant be bothered doing it anymore. But I can see myself doing it until I drop dead. I'll always be doing something whether it's a show close to home or touring abroad. As long as people are buying the records are coming to see the shows and that the work you're doing is good then you should be doing it.

Good to hear!
Well yeah when we started I certainly didn't think I'd be doing it 35 years later.

The Clean Australian tour 2015

Jan 18 – Hobart, MOFO
Jan 20 – Sydney Festival
Jan 22 – Melbourne at the Corner
Jan 23 – Perth, The Rosemount
Jan 25 – Brisbane, The Brightside