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Rank Your Records: Ed Kuepper Rates His Extensive Solo Catalogue

The Australian music legend has been involved on 50 albums, here he ranks 10 of them.

by Tim Scott
09 November 2016, 12:59am

In Rank Your Records, we talk to artists who have amassed substantial discographies over the years and ask them to rate their releases in order of personal preference.

As a founding member and guitarist of seminal Australian punk band The Saints, Ed Kuepper played on three of the greatest Australian records of all time; (I'm) Stranded, Eternally Yours and Prehistoric Sounds. But Ed's musical legacy digs deeper than the early Saints catalouge, and at last count he's been involved in 50 albums. 

After leaving the Saints, Kuepper founded the Laughing Clowns and in 1985 released his first solo LP, Electrical Storm followed by Rooms of the Magnificent in 1986. He has since released a further 15 studio albums under his own name. 

Kuepper is still performing and his By Request shows feature the songwriter tackling material from The Saints, The Aints and Laughing Clowns, alongside various covers versions and material from his solo career.

We asked Ed to rate a small part of his distinguished solo catalogue.

10. Smile Pacific (2000)

Noisey: This was produced by Phil Punch, who you've recorded with on many records. How important was it working with someone who knew your work so well? 
Ed Kuepper: Phil always brought a lot to the sessions that we did together. I think my contribution was to keep it more grounded and Phil would always want to go somewhere with it that wasn't exactly where I wanted it to go. I learnt so much from Phil and it was a fantastic time. 

The overall mood for Smile Pacific was a strange one though. Problems were beginning to develop with labels and the mood among the musicians wasn't that great. I don't think it's necessarily weaker, musically, than anything else but it's my recollection of making it that has a slight ambivalence about the mood of the recording. Ultimately, it still gets through but I would do it differently if I were to do it again. 

9. A King In The Kindness Room (1995)

This was your ninth solo album and it seemed to get good reviews. 
Did it? I don't recall those good reviews to be honest. I think I have a reputation for getting good reviews and I think it's overblown. It's difficult to get a really shitty reviews these days so I think what happens is you get mediocre reviews. And I got a lot of those. 

The album was a necessary shift. I'd been doing a couple of fairly acoustic albums and this shifted to this completely different area. It became electronic. Not in a cliche way, I hope. It was a pretty experimental record and in a lot of ways, a polarising album. At least polarising for people who actually bought my records.

8. Honey Steels Gold (1991)

This was a big album that received considerable radio air play in Australia. 
This is peoples favourite album, by far. I love the photo and think that it's one of the most evocative album covers that I've seen. The reason why I rank it where I do, is that it didn't start off as an album but as an EP. The year before I'd been touring Europe with Mark Dawson on the Today Wonder tour. It was going extremely well in a modest kind-of way. A Dutch label wanted to release it but do a more elaborate, commercial version. They said it would be a Euro smash. So when we got back to Australia I started work on the single which was "Everything I Got Belongs To You". We did two more songs and then suddenly the label went bankrupt. So we had these tracks done and my manager at the time, who also happened to run Hot Records said, "Well, put a few more songs together and we'll do an album because we just can't afford to put out a single." It was a purely economic decision and it made total sense. So basically, this was an album that just got patched together. 

7. Today Wonder (1990)

It was just you and Mark Dawson on the recordings. A pretty stripped back record . Was there any decisions to keep it simple? 
Yeah, the band that I had before that, a really great band called The Art Goes On Forever, were probably fed up with touring solidly for two-and-a-half years. I'd also burnt out a little so somebody suggested to do a couple of solo shows and I really didn't want to. So I worked out a way of working live that wasn't a band and wasn't just me. I wanted it to be more distinct than a guy standing in the corner playing his acoustic guitar. That's basically what Today Wonder came out of. Mark had been playing with me in The Art Goes On Forever and he was completely into the idea. The other thing that I wanted to do was start to deconstruct songs. It was an important thing to blur the line between new songs of mine and covers. I wanted them to be almost inseparable. 

6. Black Ticket Day (1992)

In the early to mid 90s you were releasing about a record per year. Your output and productivity at this time was pretty amazing. Keeping track of all the songs and recordings at this time would have been a big feat in itself? 
It's funny you mention that because we're actually trying to get an accurate chronology together at the moment. Black Ticket Day came really fast. We started work on it just as Honey Steels Gold started to hit.

In early 92 Triple J started to play "The Way I Made You Feel," and for the first time ever we experienced actual sales. Nobody was quite prepared for what to do. So we did what we would normally do and continued recording Black Ticket Day. To me this album is slightly more polished and it extrapolates some of the conceptual ideas that are on Honey Steels Gold. I like it as an album but I don't like my own performance on it particularly. It feels a bit rushed to me these days. Though the way the band sits together on Black Ticket Day was very cohesive and very appealing to me. 

5. Character Assassination (1994)

I'm curious about the title. Was it having a dig at something or was it just a good name for an album? 
I think it is a good name for an album and it links in with the cover art. I think it was also a bit of a dig. I had a feeling that the local music scene in those days was particularly snipey and it wasn't supportive of other artists. Apart from that, that album is like a direct follow up to Serene Machine. Character Assassination has a few of my favourite recordings on it but on the whole there's a couple of things that I don't like about it. One, is that it's too long and possibly, one of the more popular songs on the album "If I Had A Ticket", wasn't recorded as part of the album and it doesn't sound like it should be on there. That was put on by the request of the record label who thought that we needed a single which, it didn't have. Ironically though, the song that got the most airplay was never released as a single which, was "La De Doh". So once again the record label got it wrong. 

4. Frontierland (1996)

The album subtitle was 'The Adventures Of Captain Shark'. What does that mean? 
I don't know if you want to have all of this stuff demystified, really. This was a funny album for me. It was an attempt to make more of a cohesive and more of a pop record. And by pop I mean psychedelic pop record. To put it into cliched and easy to understand terms, if A King In The Kindness Room was Their Satanic Majesties Request then Frontierland was supposed to be Sgt. Peppers. It was funny for me because I'd lost my working band because of a disagreement. So Frontierland largely became another solo record. I'd brought in people that I hadn't worked with before to play the parts that I could play. It was a strange record and probably ended up being the most expensive solo record that i've ever done. It also took an enormously long time to mix. I think Phil Punch did a brilliant job mixing it and I think it sounds absolutely fantastic.  

3. Serene Machine (1993)

This won an ARIA as Best Independent Release. Like many of your records, the cover is very evocative. The rusted fence feels very Australian.
It was actually taken of our back fence in Newtown. The thing that I liked most about Serene Machine was that it basically continued the approach I'd been using on Today Wonder and Honey Steels Gold. It reigned everything in and it condensed everything down to a three minute song. It had a nice sort-of old fashioned flow to it. Sometimes I do long, involved pieces and Serene Machine went against that. Ironically enough, it was the first solo album that I did that wasn't released on vinyl. To me, the songs were as cohesive as anything I'd ever done. It was also more concise I think. 

2. Jean Lee And The Yellow Dog (2007)

A concept album about the last woman hung in Australia was also your first solo album in seven years. Was there something about this story that drove you to want to release it as a record? 
I had the idea for years before we got around to completing it. I came across a book and it had the headline 'The Last Woman Hanged In Australia'. It was a really shocking and depressing story and I thought that nobody else would know about this. My first thought was to turn it into something quite expansive. I spoke to a number of people to work with me but most of them found the story too daunting. I don't usually do this but I made a few attempts to get some Arts Council funding for it but I couldn't get that either so it got put aside. 

One day I was sitting around talking with my wife about it. She writes a bit of poetry so I said, "Why don't you have a go and if it doesn't work then we don't have to continue with it." So Jude started to write some lyrics for it and I thought they were fantastic. They captured aspects in a way that I would never have been able to do. There were things that we changed as we went along but as work started on it, it came together quite easily. The actual recording of it was an absolute nightmare but putting it together wasn't that hard. Our intention was then to use the album to show people to turn it into in opera or a play but nobody was really interested in that either. Maybe it's a bit jinxed but as a record I think it works quite nicely. I could easily put this as my least favourite record because of the circumstances around the recording. In a lot of ways, these albums are interchangeable from worst to best. 

1. Lost Cities (2015)

This is your most recent solo album. 
I have to put in here. In some ways, to say that my latest record is my best record, people are going to immediately say, "What a dick that guy is,". It's absolutely ruthless self-promotion and in a way that's kind of true. It is my latest record and I am being a dick for promoting it. I actually think that it's a really good album and as good as anything that I've done. It probably has as many flaws as anything that I've ever done. And it is a completely solo record. I play all of the instruments so there's a different mood. It's also the 50th album, depending on how you count them, that I've done. I think in a way it signifies the end of an era. Don't ask me what the new era is going to be, there might not even be one. 

But as an album, it's been a very important one for me. If for instance, it got the sort-of airplay that Honey Steels Gold got, then people would love this record just as much. 

Catch Ed Kuepper at these shows: 
Dec 22 - Sydney at Camelot Lounge
Dec 23 - Sydney at Camelot Lounge
Jan 13 - Adelaide at The Gov
Jan 14 - Melbourne at Howler
Jan 15 - Melbourne at Satellite Club
Jan 20 - Fremantle at Mojo's
Jan 21 - Perth at Rosemount
Feb 3 - Gold Coast at the Nightquarter

The Saints
Ed Kuepper
The Aints