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Fusing musical elements from the past to their ideas of how they might sound in the future makes this Australian composing couple unique. Brad Green listens in to the unpredictable Dave Graney and Clare Moore, who used a variety of ingredients in their score for the crime comedy Bad Eggs.

“I find emotional things most of the time really boring…”

Come again? Have I struck a crossed line, or interview gold? Songwriters simply aren’t supposed to say that kind of thing. But yes, that’s Dave Graney’s throaty drawl still coming down the wire.

“People sing about their problems. Who cares? Everybody’s got problems. Somebody trod on their foot. Whoopdy whoop. Somebody’s sad. So what. We’re all just hanging around waiting to die. There are just a few people like us entrusted with the job of entertaining everybody in the waiting room.”

No wonder the critics tend to call his sound “lounge music”!

"the Artist’s role in an existential universe"

I’m chatting to Graney, along with his wife and collaborator Clare Moore, about their recently completed score for Tony Martin’s crime comedy, Bad Eggs - although, it seems we may be about to drift off into contemplation of the Artist’s role in an existential universe. Were it anyone but Graney and I’d be suspecting that I’d stumbled across not merely a mine of quotable quotes, but a bursting seam of creative ego. With Graney, however, a little perspective is essential. After all, this is a guy who accepted an ARIA award togged-up in a pink, crushed velvet suit. 

Non-conformist, prickly satirist and living proof of the unlikely proposition that punk roots and sartorial foppery can coexist within a single biography, he defies glib labelling like he defies commercial convention, careening smoothly between cynical observer, narcissistic rocker, self-parodist and inscrutable jester. Moore, on the other hand, wears her smile in her voice, laughing easily at the wide-angled approach to music she also shares. 

“Dave and I have been working together for about 25 years, so we’ve had a lot of the same influences. We were around in the punk rock days in Adelaide, where we formed The Moodists, and I’ve played drums in all the bands since, from The Coral Snakes through The Dave Graney Show.”

In 1998, the creative couple set up their own working pad, “The Ponderosa”, and settled down to the business of defying the taste-makers, in the comfort of their own studio. Nevertheless, upon first landing the Bad Eggs gig they were inclined to play it safe. “This was our first soundtrack so we were kind of careful in the beginning,” says Moore.

“Actually, we were confused,” says Graney. “There’s a fashionable opinion that ‘soundtracks are good if you don’t notice them’, whereas we love all the memorable ones like John Barry’s Bond music.” 

"a license to kill any sense of restraint"

Aware that a conservative approach was precisely not the reason he had hired the Ponderosa pair, Martin soon gave them a license to kill any sense of restraint; thus letting loose a quite literal genie. “We grew up with all the television shows of the sixties and seventies,” says Moore. “I Dream of Jeannie…”

“Doo-da-doo-da-dee-doo-da,” Graney pipes in with a sample.

“F-Troop was great…”

“The end of the Civil War was near,” intones Graney. 

“And I love the Lost In Space theme. There’s a fantastic trumpet part, and the title theme here [in Bad Eggs] is a bit of a nod to that.”

Notable silence from Graney this time: doubtless shrewd enough to assess F-Troop as more suitable to his vocal style. However we do hear his baritone on one score track, I’m Gonna Release Your Soul, which funks up a Velvet Underground-style groove and dovetails it to wall-to-wall reverb. 

“Reverb’s one of those effects where all of a sudden it’s not fashionable anymore,” says Graney. “That song is from 1994 but we still love reverb. It’s like with our music. It gets tagged as ironic just because of the fashion of the day. I learned a while back that everything in popular music had already been done by poor black American farm workers 80 years ago, so when people react only to accepted norms it’s just crude. We take a lot from R&B music in a way that is knowing and self-conscious but that doesn’t mean it isn’t authentic.” 

Moore too finds it frustrating that the mass market’s only source of propulsion seems to be the latest week’s pop charts. 

"some very narrow perceptions"

“Sometimes people think our work is camp because elements of it might sound like something they heard at their parent’s parties in the sixties,” she laments. “Even in the music industry there are some very narrow perceptions. In some ways it was liberating to work on a soundtrack. For instance, I was able to use tuned percussion, which I’ve tried to do in the past and people just can’t believe it. With this project I even got to try out all the weirder synth sounds. I got to use Bank F! You never use Bank F!”

In sync with their outlook, Graney and Moore still prefer to approach the compositional process separately.

“I tend to write the slivery guitar grooves, while Clare handles the keyboards and percussion, creating all the ominous superstructures,” says Graney. “But sometimes I’ll start something and then take it to Clare because I feel she can add to it. I do also play keyboards on a couple of tracks. I could only play guitar until somebody gave me some pot cookie at a gig one time, and I went downstairs and suddenly I could play keys and I constructed a song.”

Sounds like a less painful route to virtuosity than the piano teacher with the ruler.

“Yeah, I thoroughly recommend it: instantly master any instrument. But you know I really like playing with odd sounds. I remember Buck Rogers in the 25th Century when he wakes up and there are all these people dressed like Elizabethan dandies playing harpsichords and he says: ‘do you guys know any rock ‘n’ roll’. We love imagining the weirdness of what might be played in the 25th century.”

"refuse to bin the past"

So, Graney and Moore not only refuse to bin the past, they like envisioning how it might be reinvented in the future. That gets the thumbs up from me. Don’t know how long I’m going to be around in the waiting room, but I’d probably seek a premature exit if the only lounge music was the stifling effluvium of today’s high-rotation radio. 

Published July 17, 2003

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