Midnight Oil

[Powderworks] Capricornia Dreaming

pete mellor pete_mellor@hotmail.com
Mon, 20 Jan 2003 18:41:01 +0000

Found this on the web somewhere (australian musician magazine?) apologies if 
this has appeared before. I was searching for something about what guitars 
the boys generally play. All I seem to be able to find is that Jim plays a 
Gretsch. Does anyone know which Gretsch in particular? Also while we are on 
the subject does anyone know what type of acoustic Jim plays Diesel and Dust 
era and on MTV unplugged... a small acoustic with a Fender style head? Any 
sharp eyed guitar techies out there could really help me out.


PS Hope everyone down in Oz is safe from those fires in Canberra.

Capricornia Dreaming

When Midnight Oil played a handful of shows at the Sydney Metro and the 
Melbourne Forum in mid-February, two things were clear. The audience, once 
mostly sweaty males with one hand wrapped around a beer can and the other 
clenched fisted in the air as they’d yell "Oiyls! Oiyls! Oiyls!", had more 

Secondly, without losing their anger or passion, the Oils have streamlined 
as a more melodic force. This is obvious on songs from the new "Capricornia" 
album, like the "Golden Age" single, "Too Much Sunshine" and the poignant 
"Luritja Way". Possibly it’s the realisation of how the older melodic 
numbers like "Short Memory" and "Dead Heart" have become more powerful 
through the years. Whatever it is, this comes at a time when the Oils go 
through another golden period.

Last year, they returned to America after seven years to find that the 
college audience — whose elder brothers and sisters in 1987 put "Beds Are 
Burning" in the US Top 20 — was still awaiting them. For much of this year, 
the Oils will be playing in the northern hemisphere. They’ve got a new US 
record deal there, Liquid8, run by former Sony executive Nathan Munoz who 
helped them set up that famous street gig outside the Exxon Corporation 
offices in New York for their oil spill in North America.

Without meaning to be, "Capricornia" has the same spirit as the classic 
"Diesel And Dust" album (1987). That came on the heels of the "Blackfellas 
Whitefellas" tour with the Warumpi Band. Many of the songs came from sitting 
around the campfire, and being exposed to the ups (the spirituality and 
strength of the people) and downs (glue sniffing, unbelievable poverty) of 
the outback.

Before work began on "Capricornia", the Oils made a three-day trek back to 
the small Aboriginal community of Papunya in the central desert. Sammy 
Butcher, guitarist with the Warumpi Band, was running the community and the 
tribal elders were happy to allow these whitefellas to camp there.

It was July 2000. It was just the Oils and their manager, going out to work 
out some issues without distractions. One of these was whether to accept the 
invitation to play the closing ceremony of the Olympics a few months later. 
It was here that the decision was made to wear clothes covered with SORRY. 
(Rob Hirst laughs loudly when he recalls that right until a few minutes 
before they went on, some members were still wondering if what they were 
doing was a good idea!)

They loaded the 4-wheel with beef, emu and buffalo steak, jammed on 
acoustics ("songs by anyone called Neil...Murray, Finn, Young...") and set 
up on the red dirt floor of the schoolhouse to play for the locals. 
Guitarist Jim Moginie suggested the CD title from Xavier Herbert’s 1938 
novel about white settlement of the Top End, and their clashes with the 
First Australians. It was a school text book with vivid writing and 
marvellous characters. Here the essence of "Luritja Way" (the Luritjas are 
one of the three major tribes in the region) and "Capricornia" took shape, 
while Moginie’s earlier written "Under The Overpass" fitted into the mood.

"It was a remarkable three days and nights," says Hirst. "Martin (Rotsey) 
and I had been to Utopia, northeast of Alice, doing workshops with the kids 
some months before. But it had been 15 years since the Oils did it together, 
camping next to the McDonald Ranges."

Q: Would you agree ‘Capricornia’ is the most informal of the Oils albums?

A: "It’s approached similar to ‘Diesel’, another campfire album. It was made 
with the same producer. Warne (Livesy) always gets myself, Bones (Hillman) 
and Jim to sing a lot. He likes harmonies, he likes the arrangements neat, 
and songs to be melodic. We took a few detours in the past — ‘Breathe’ 
(1996) was more atmospheric, recorded in Sydney and New Orleans, and 
‘Redneck Wonderland’ (1998) in Melbourne but very much inspired by One 
Nation madness — to get back to what the band sounds like when we get in a 
room and play. You get Jim playing his Gretsch Rickenbacker in the right 
speaker, Martin playing a Tele on the left, Bones and I barrelling through 
the middle, and Pete right in the centre."

Q: Is it a case of all if you playing together and at the same time?

A: "Absolutely. ‘Mosquito March’ and ‘Under The Overpass’ were first takes, 
and the others three or four takes. Not since ‘Diesel’ had the Oils prepared 
an album so well. Last year we played for seven weeks through North America 
and did some pubs around Melbourne and Sydney, so by the time we went into 
Festival Studios, we knew the songs inside out. Festival Studios was a great 
place where you could record a band looking at each other and playing, but 
that’s gone, of course, like so many great studios. There are only a few 
studios today where you get a room large enough for a band to play together 
and eyeball each other."

Q: People forget that while the Oils are a loud "rawk" band, they were one 
of the first Australian bands to use samplers and sequencers on "10, 9, 

A: "Some of us had to be dragged kicking and screaming but you can use 
combination of technology and really old valve amps and mics. This album 
used valves and old desks, but Pro-Tools for arrangements."

Q: Do you spend any of your spare time reading magazines about instruments 
or manuals about engineering?

A: "Absolutely not! I’d be the worst person to ask technical questions, with 
the possible exception of Pete! I’ve remained remarkably dumb in the studio. 
I prefer the instinctive approach, which is good or I’d be looking over the 
shoulder of the producer and getting on his nerves. I get cabin fever in the 
studio, so I prefer to go off on a fishing boat or have a surf."

Q: Having admitted to not being technical minded, this is the time to bring 
out the questions about your gear.

A: Sure! (laughs gleefully).

Q: Let’s talk about the drum kit you played with on your recent Oz shows.

A: "It’s bunch of old junk, it really is! (louder laughs). I’ve been playing 
with the (Sydney blues band) Backsliders for the last 18 months since they 
lost their drummer. They don’t have a bassplayer, so I had to create a drum 
kit that was quite different to a Midnight Oil drum kit. I had to get a 
pretty big bass drum, a Downbeat 24" you use in military bands, and which 
used to belong to a 1950s band called the Metro Gnomes, it had their name on 

"I’ve been collecting a potpourri of junk pieces from antique shops. But 
nice sounding junk. I loved the kit so much that it’s morphised into my 
Midnight Oil kit. Including the cast iron water tank behind me which I found 
in the desert on the ‘Blackfellas Whitefellas’ tour and which has been 
around the world a few times."

"I don’t recommend young drummers rush out to a shop and buy something off 
the shelf. You don’t have to spend a lot of money. Go to makes like 
Slingerland, Ludgwig, Premier or Gretsch and put something together. My 
snare is either a ‘90s Piccolo Premier or a cocktail kit for the acoustic 
set, which has a Leedeys 1940s wooden Piccolo. The toms are a Boosey & 
Hawkes military drum which I converted and which sound huge. The cymbals are 
an assortment from the ‘60s, as well as garbage tins and springs from a 
Peugeot 504 because they’re good to hit. They’re given a good whacking and 
seldom last more than one tour. The sticks are made by Ozbeat, modelled on 
the Premier 7A. They’re quite thin, not big ones, because it’s not how hard 
you hit the drums, it’s when you start pulling up the stroke."

Q: Onstage where do you position the mics?

A: "On the boom on the left."

Q: Any other instruments?

A: "A Martin Triple O-18, and a Gibson J50 guitar which has the most 
beautiful sound. Also lots of cheesy keyboards and amps that I get at junk 

Q: It’s a strange time for "Capricornia" to come out isn’t it, within 12 
months we’ve gone from the euphoric nationalism of the Olympics to kicking 
people in water-logged boats back into the sea.

A: "It’s a different temperament of the time, and I know what I’d prefer. I 
got right into the Olympics, I loved the spirit of Sydney, and the way 
Australia was represented internationally. I hate the way Australians are 
now viewed as mean spirited because of decisions that are coming out of 

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