Dave Mudie Was A Drummer For Hire Until He Met Courtney Barnett

OUT of all the drummers in Melbourne’s nu-rock scene of the 2000s Dave Mudie was the most musical, the most expressive, the most effortless, and just generally the best.

Everyone wanted Dave in their band, which must’ve been pretty inconvenient for him because he couldn’t say no. Dave still keeps a list of all the artists he’s played with since the 2000s.

There’s exactly 40 featuring some names you’ve heard (Big Scary, Jessica Mauboy, Jess Ribeiro, Jade Imagine), some you’ve maybe heard (Cannon, Royston Vasie, Immigrant Union, Gumboot, The Brolga Boys), and some sadly lost in the mists of time (Goofang, Royal Saloon, Kitchen Knife Wife).

“There were some horrific ones,” he says, sitting in a pub in Collingwood in between overseas tours. “But the main ones you know.”

Top of the list quite literally is Courtney Barnett, who Dave met while playing in Immigrant Union, the country-rock collective fronted by The Dandy Warhols’ Brent DeBoer.

There are two versions of this story. Courtney recalls Dave being punched in the head by a “rabid jock”. Dave says he was bowled over by a security guard before an Immigrant Union show in the Mount Hotham snowfields.

“I was tackled trying to get into our own gig,” he says, laughing.

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THE next meeting was Courtney’s first rehearsal with Immigrant Union. She had joined the band on guitar a year before the release of I’ve Got a Friend called Emily Ferris, the first of a pair of EPs that would change her life. It’d change Dave’s, too.

“At my first Immigrant Union rehearsal, Dave had a bag of chips which he kept offering to me,” Courtney recalls. “It was his quiet way of saying, ‘Are you okay? You’re doing a great job’, and I thought, ‘This guy is kind.’”

That act of generosity sums up the Courtney Barnett band dynamic. Family is the word both Dave and Courtney use to describe the unit they’ve nurtured over several global tours with bassist Bones Sloane. If Bones was available for comment he’d probably say the same thing, too.

“We’ve all seen each other at our absolute best and absolute worst and we still love each other,” Courtney says. “Plus our family photo album is amazing.”

What else can she say about Dave?

“He’s a great chef and makes a mean cannelloni. I remember we played this three-hour residency thing in Tamworth, and a family came up to us after the show and said they had a competition between them counting how many times Dave smiled at them each throughout the show. I think the mum won with 37 smiles from Dave.”

In person, Dave is as warm and as smiley and as rosy cheeked as that anecdote implies. Over tapas plates and beers that he insisted on shouting, we talked about growing up in a musical family (his mum was a singer, his dad played in late-60s Aussie rock bands Axiom and The Groop), his solo project L.A. Mood, and what it feels like to live out your rock’n’roll dreams when most others would’ve given up.

Cannon seemed to be among that next rung of bands that were about to get swept up in the whole nu-rock frenzy. Cannon, The Casanovas, kind of on that level.

Yeah, for sure. Definitely. Well, [singer] Mitch was cousins with the JET guys, so we did the JET tour. What was another one? The Exploders?

Yeah, The Exploders were really good.

I’m not sure what happened to them.

How close do you reckon Cannon came?

To doing something? I guess we were just a bit too close to JET. Derivative of a derivative band, so it kind of got to that point. Look, I guess when we supported them [JET] and released a few things, it went pretty well.

Was there a point after Cannon went on hiatus, that you maybe weren’t interested in pursuing music still?

I went into accounts, I’ve always done accounts for years. So, I was working for a company called White Sky, who look after bands. So I did that fairly seriously but I was always doing music at the same time. Doing that, rehearsing four nights a week and playing on the weekend, and basically never sleeping. So I had to make a decision when Courtney started breaking to either do accounts or music and I’ve always wanted to do music. It was always going to come down to that, I guess. After that happened I quit White Sky. I still do it [accounting] occasionally. You can do it all online now, which is great. So occasionally in the band room before a show I’ll be doing some accounting and stuff like that. Everyone calls me a nerd.

Are you doing the band’s accounts?

Not our band. Other bands. [Laughs]

I wanted to maybe go back to the start, your family story with your dad in Axiom. Obviously, it would’ve been quite a musical household.

It was, yeah. My sister got taught guitar really young and I always wanted to play guitar. And because she was doing that, it was this brother-sister rivalry. So I was like, “Oh, I’ll play drums.” And my dad bought me a little mini kit when I was five and then he taught me how to play. We kind of mucked around at home. We’re always singing over dinner and being idiots. We had a bit of a family band. I played with my sister for a while when we were in high school. That was cool. She’s a great singer, so is my mum … Dad played guitar [in Axiom] and then he switched to bass, I think, at some point. He played in a band called The Groop before that. They won Hoadley’s Battle of the Sounds, which was a Molly Meldrum competition back in the ‘60s and ‘70s. They went to England. Brian Cadd was in that band and out of the ashes of that is how Axiom was formed.

And your dad wrote ‘Little Ray Of Sunshine’ as well?

Yeah, he wrote that and ‘Arkansas Grass’, which had a bit of a backlash because everyone thought it was very American. But they were very much influenced by The Band and that scene at the time.

That must’ve been a real influence on your taste growing up.

Definitely. Although Dad was always trying to shove The Band down my throat. It took a long time for me to get into that. It was just a bit too soft and country for me at the time.

I guess as a teenager that grew up with grunge?

Yeah, totally. And he hated all the grunge stuff. It was just too heavy for him. I think we met in the middle somewhere along the way.

What were the big bands growing up for you?

I started with the ‘60s. Hendrix and The Beatles. That killed me. That’s basically who I emulated. on drums and stuff like that. And yeah, he just gave me so much music from the ’60s it’s amazing. My mum, too. She’s a singer as well.

Was she in bands?

Yeah, she sang with [The Groop frontman] Ronnie Charles. They did a lot of advertising in the ’80s. If you go through some ads that are on TV still from the ’80s, my parents probably wrote those. Like Peter Jackson.

They wrote that jingle?

They wrote that.

Woah, that’s iconic.

They did a lot of stuff for Aussie footy and stuff like that in the ’80s. They also did Christian Television Association ads. Some absolute amazing bangers.

So your parents careers was making jingles?

Yeah, they went that way in the ’80s. But my dad is an accountant as well, so that’s how I got into that. He was a studio musician for a lot of bands in the ’70s. He played bass and guitar on, what’s that Russel Morris song? ‘The Real Thing’.

Did he tour much when you were a kid?
He stopped touring when my sister was born. So, that was his plan. And then he got asked to join The Little River Band and he said no because they were having a baby.

And you were the baby?
My sister. [Laughs]

Was ‘Little Ray Of Sunshine’ about her?
She likes to think so, yeah. [Laughs]

I read a story recently about why it’s so common for athletes to follow in their parents footsteps. Is it innate, some genetic predisposition to playing sport well? Or is it just seeing your parents being successful and it that makes you think it’s not a pipe dream, that you can make it a reality?
I guess that made it a bit more of a reality, for sure. I mean, I don’t know. It’s just all encompassing for my family and me. Music always was. You can’t sleep at night, got a song in your head. Just everything. Basically my whole life has been about music.

With Courtney, you met her through Immigrant Union?

I met Courtney through Immigrant Union, which has Bob Harrow and Brent DeBoer from Dandy Warhols). And Bob is on both of my EPs now. He sings a lot of the stuff. She was just at a rehearsal one night with Bones. I met them both and they were both very quiet and very cute. Then I ended up moving in with Courtney to a house in Thornbury behind the Croxton Park Hotel. And so I was living there for a while and then she needed a drummer for her solo stuff. I think, due to the fact that I had a bedroom across the hall, I got the job quite luckily. We just did a Tote launch and it went really well. That year we went to CMJ – I was there with Royston Vasie. We’ve done a few shows around Australia but yeah, I think that’s around the start of it and that’s when she broke.

What was it like living with Courtney at that time?

Awesome. She was always in her room just working. Doing art, doing music, or running the label. That’s when she started Milk! So we did a lot of mail outs, a lot of folding of paper, and all that kind of stuff with her. It was really good. It was a pretty creative house. It was awesome.

[Courtney on living with Dave: It was a blast, we had vinyl parties and big cook-ups and board game nights. We listened to a lot of Hendrix. He’d always be up for a supermarket trip or an afternoon cup of tea in the backyard or a Wayne’s World marathon. Always up for a game of “try to throw a rotten apple through the pipe on the roof that goes nowhere”. One of our favourite and most difficult games.]

How old would you have been at that time? Early-30s?

Yep.

At that point in your life, did you still think that all of the musical dreams that you maybe had as a kid would materialise?

Yeah, I’d question it all the time. But I’m a Capricorn so I’m stubborn as shit. [Laughs] So I just constantly kept going. It’s ruined relationships for me because I’m so fucking stubborn. But I’m always playing with so many bands and doing so many things, and I guess it still was fun. So I was just going to continually do it. I was always hoping that something would break.

"Dave is an amazing songwriter which makes him a tasty drummer because he plays exactly what the song needs." - Courtney Barnett

And did you ever think it would be that project?

You just don’t know. You have no idea and you can’t really plan for it. I think she just timed it perfectly and she’s obviously a prolific and an amazing writer and she’s very different to what was coming out at the time. I couldn’t really see into the future or anything like that, but I was hoping she would do really well.

Did you get a sense there was something special about her talent?

I did when Courtney, myself and Bones first rehearsed. That was when it was like, “Oh, okay. This is amazing.”

Had you played with Bones before?

Just Immigrant Union. I’d see them around town and I’d see him at The Tote because he used to work there as a manager with his brother who is in Batpiss. They’re both in Batpiss now. But, yeah, something just worked when we’d play together.

Had you experienced that sort of chemistry in the other 39 bands you’ve been in?

Cannon had a little bit of that at the start, I think. I think there’s something about a three-piece that really agrees with me and my playing style. You can kind of do what you want. It’s just a lot more open to jamming and creating that way.

[Courtney on her band’s chemistry: Bones and Dave play what’s in my head but they make it sound 1000 times better. The chemistry is electric. I love them.]

At what point did you feel like you were living your dream? Was there was one of those surreal moments where you’re like, “Shit, this is happening”?

There’s a lot of moments with Courtney where we’re just like, “What the hell is going on?” The first time we did Jimmy Fallon was very much that kind of vibe. I remember sitting on a rooftop with Bones and Court after we did that. I think we were having a beer and it was pretty awesome. We were very quiet. It was sinking in. And then we got all the messages from Australia the next day when we’re over there.

I think that was an important moment in Australian music because in the past, you had You Am I or Powderfinger going over the States and having to change album covers and song titles to be less Australian. I think the amazing thing about Courtney was she was just embraced for who she was, which was just such a turning point for Australian artists.

That’s very true, yeah.

What are some of the other surreal moments from that time?

It all kind of happened really quickly after CMJ. We went to CMJ in 2013. Courtney was just gonna do solo shows and I was over there with Royston. So we got Brad, the bass player from Royston, and made a band just for that. As soon as we played one show, they just started packing out. It was just one of those things. It was a really good vibe going on about it. I was just amazed by that. I thought, “This is really, really something.” It just took off like a freight train from there. But, yeah, going back to the Jimmy Fallon thing, that was the first big pressure thing that we did. I remember being so shit scared when we went into do it. We all were.

I was gonna ask because that thing about you is you play drums so effortlessly, almost like you’re breathing.

That was one of the most awkward experiences of all time.

Really?

Yeah. I jumped on the drum kit and my pants got caught on the stool. On the little nut on the stool. So for the first half of the song, I was stuck on my seat. If you look at it really closely you can see I had to jump halfway through the first verse to get off it. And you’re just shaking as you’re playing. There’s no warmup for TV. You just go out there and you have to be playing really well.

And Fallon is live or pre-recorded?
It’s recorded during the day but if you fuck up you cop so much shit. The Roots are sitting right next to you, just sitting there with their arms crossed. Bones is right next to the bass player, who was really cool. He’s just like, “Go for it man.” And Questlove is awesome. We got to meet him. And Steven Tyler was there that day, too. We were in our dressing room and we see this guy run passed, hair everywhere and scarves. And I’m like, “Is that Steven Tyler?” And then he came back and he’d obviously been to the props department. He was riding a fake horse. And I was like, “That was Steven Tyler.” It was amazing. [Laughs]

I’m sure that’s happened a lot to you over the past five years.
We met Neil Young as well and that was amazing. He was going out with Daryl Hannah. He came up, we’re talking to him, and she comes up and goes, “Oh, hi. I’m Daryl.” I had no words at all. It was amazing. So, there’s moments like that. Gig wise, we did a show at Ally Pally [Alexandra Palace] in the UK with Metronomy. It’s 10,000 seats inside. It’s a palace. And that was an amazing experience. Lots of brilliant stuff like that.

For someone that’s slogged it out for 10 years or probably more, playing in small venues, what’s the transition like going from that to something like Coachella? Did you feel like you belonged?
It was weird at the start. It definitely took a lot to fill venues and make the sound go the whole way out in big theatres, so there was a bit of adapting to get to that. But the last few tours have been 2000 to 25,000-seater venues and theatres throughout the States. Now we’ve got good production and good sound, so it’s kind of working really well. But it did take a while to get to that place. You feel very exposed. Like, “Oh, I’m making a tiny little sound up here.”

Is there any point where you’ve felt jaded? Like, the things aren’t as exciting as they were five years ago?
I feel really, really lucky. There’s obviously times where you over tour, like we did a lot at the start. We’d have four-month long tours where you’re going hard and partying every night. It eventually just chills out a bit. But it gets better and better. There’s obviously parts where you just get sick of waiting in an airport or on the bus. You miss your family and relationships and all that kind of stuff. But it’s the best job in the world. I get really bored when I go home. After a couple of weeks, I’m just like sitting around feeling like a lazy bastard. I can’t wait to tour again.

That’s the musician’s curse in a way. There’s all this waiting around on tour, but when you get home it’s even more boring.

Yeah, and obviously everyone’s doing their thing with their life back here. They’re at work during the week and you’re not. And you’re like, “What am I doing? What am I doing with my life?” I guess you learn little hacks – you just gotta keep yourself busy. Play in other bands, produce, and all that kind of stuff.

A lot of your friends back here were in bands, and I guess, now a lot of them would be suburban dads and mums, or whatever.

Yeah, yeah. It all kind of moves along.

Do you ever think about your life like that? Or was this the life you imagined for yourself?

I guess this was the life, but it’s funny because I was always like, “I’m never gonna be like my dad.” And then I ended up exactly the same as him. An accountant-musician. I think he was about 30 when he had kids. I’m 10 years too late on that. But, yeah. That’s what I want to do. Buy a house, have some kids, move to the country eventually. But I’d like to tour for as long as I possibly can.

So now you’re back on they road for two-and-a-half months?

For this tour, yeah. Touring up until October [2019] and then that’s the end of Courtney’s Tell Me How You Really Feel album cycle. Maybe next year or the year after we’ll go and do another record.

That’s a long cycle.

Yeah. A year-and-a-half. It was kind of weird because with the first one [Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit], the EPs went straight into the album. So there was no break in between. We recorded it in a 10-day period for the first record and we’re on tour the whole time around it for the first two EPs. It was a five year period of touring and it was crazy.

Are you still enjoying playing material from the new record?

Yeah, I love it. It’s a lot darker, but it’s also heavier live. It’s great.

What’s your role in a studio in that setting?

Well, the way that that band works, Courtney writes everything. I guess for this record [Tell Me How You Really Feel], we rehearsed maybe three times, ran through the songs that she had. Did some pre-production. I’ll record it, just so we have references. And then we’ll just work on those songs, arrangements and that kind of stuff. Do a bit of pre production. We did some with Burke [Reid] and Dan [Luscombe] at Soundpark [in Melbourne] in the rehearsal room … We just went in and did the record in the studio over 10 days again, I think. Court had most of it down but was still writing lyrics in the process. But if we’ve got ideas, we’ll just go in and try them, especially with keys and anything over the top: percussions, harmonies, stuff like that.

Describe the dynamic between you, Courtney and Bones. Who fits what role and has it evolved over time?

It’s a family. We’re best friends, basically. All I’ve done is hang out with those two the whole time we’ve been back [from tour]. It’s pretty awesome. We’ll sometimes fight like brothers and sisters, but not very often.

[Courtney on the band’s dynamic: Bones and Dave play what’s in my head but they make it sound 1000 times better The chemistry is electric. I love them.]

"We were in our dressing room and we see this guy run passed, hair everywhere and scarves. And I'm like, "Is that Steven Tyler?"

What’s the genesis of the L.A. Mood project?

Basically, I’ve been demoing for years. I used to live in Brighton [in Melbourne] and I had a studio in my house … I used to record all night. It wasn’t properly soundproofed but it was on a train line so you could basically do what you want. I had a bunch of demos from that, and then we were touring around a few years ago and I was in Portland. I took Royston Vasie there to record their album with Colin Hegna from Brian Jonestown Massacre. I got put in touch with him and he’s an amazing guy. Incredible musician and the studio is just killer. I had demos taken into Colin. We redid the drums and maybe the bass and the guitar parts just on top of my demos and build the songs up. We did that for the first EP. We did it really quickly. We still had the tracks here and then I’d record guest spots over here. So the first one had Bob, Courtney and James Fleming who’s on keys for a lot of it. Same vibe for this one as well.

It seems much more collaborative, this one.

Totally, and it’s fun. You get different ideas. It’s amazing writing with other people. It’s something I want to do a lot more of now.

Do you think you work better that way?

I think so. It’s just bouncing ideas off people. You can get stuck and develop this space where you come up with something straight away. Especially the song with Ambrose [Kenny-Smith from King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard and Murlocs]. I was really stuck on a melody and lyrics for that song so I sent him the track … Ten minutes later, he wrote back with all the lyrics. He originally sang on that. I had a bit of a problem because it sounded very Murlocs-y, so I re-recorded the vocals on that. [Laughs]

Did you play, I assume, way more than just drums on this EP?

Yeah, I did basically everything. But there’s guest spots on guitar and bass and that kind of stuff. So, Collin is on it. Paul Dillon, who is from Mercury Rev and a few other bands. Jess Ribeiro is singing at the end of one track. Gus Rigby does some crazy sax on it. James Fleming is all over it again. Fabian Hunter, who is in Baby Blue. He’s an amazing guitarist from New Zealand. And Bones is all over it, too.

I guess that’s probably reflective of the community you’ve built around your bands.

Totally. Yeah. And then everyone’s keen to do it and that’s what they do. So, yeah. It just works out.

And you’re singing on the record? All the songs?

I sing on everything, just with guests as well … It’s something I’ve been working on. I sing a lot of harms [harmonies] with Court now. She’s basically just taught me how to be a singer.

How much have you evolved as a musician now that it’s full-time?

I think it’s imperative that people just play together. A gig is like 10 rehearsals anyway, and when you’re doing them every single night for years, it’s amazing how tight you get. It’s just intuitive with the people you play with.

That was probably unexpected, right? To be able to learn new tricks.

For sure. And I guess if you’re just doing it … it’s the same with anything. Just practise it everyday it just gets better and better. But I’m actually getting comfortable singing now. I was very uncomfortable for a while. Especially outside of the drum kit.

How’s Courtney nurtured that?

She’s been amazing. She didn’t force us to but she’s like, “I want harms on all this stuff.” And Bones has got an amazing voice. It felt great just to sit and harmonise with. We do it before every show anyway. But it’s just gotten better and better….

How do you think you’ve evolved as a drummer?

Just before I joined Courtney, I was getting the gist of just playing for the song. You start out being a fancy pants, and that’s just ridiculous. Then you get less and less drums … I like to keep it as minimal as possible. Also I tend to try and accent the vocals. That’s my thing.

[Courtney on Dave’s drumming: Dave is the best damn drummer, he can play anything and everything but he doesn’t. Dave is an amazing songwriter which makes him a tasty drummer because he plays exactly what the song needs. He is supportive musically and emotionally and is always living in the moment on stage.]

You probably got a good handle on your style but can you articulate what it is?

That’s a good question. I don’t know. I guess I’m influenced by jazz drummers in the ’60s and ‘50s as well. But the ‘90s had a huge influence on my drumming … I don’t know. I’m pretty much a swing-based drummer.

Not a hard hitter though?

My snare is pretty hard. And people that sit next to the ride seem to hate me.

Economical as well. I’d never describe you as a flailing drummer. You always seem very in control.

A bit more tech Ringo. [Laughs]

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Click here to listen to the new L.A. Mood single ‘Backyard’.

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