IF Jodie Regan decides to write a book it’ll start like all good rock’n’roll stories should: sinking premix tinnies at Bon Scott’s grave.
It was 2004 and she was there with her friend Juliet courting a band: a bunch of six burly blokes from Fremantle called
“We sat around Bon Scott’s grave and had a chat, and decided that I would start managing them,” explains Jodie from her home in Los Angeles, where her now global management company Spinning Top is based. “They were such an amazing cult band. Their live show was fucking out of this world. There was six of them. Six huge, enormous, hairy guys playing unusually small instruments for their size.”
With all due respect to The Kill Devil Hills, they’re not the reason this proud West Australian is in LA. Around the same time Jodie started managing them, she encountered another band – a group of wild kids with a pyjama-wearing frontman – on a regular Monday night at Fremantle institution Mojos.
They were called Electric Blue Acid Dogs, and they later morphed into Mink Mussel Creek, who later splintered into Tame Impala, who were formerly called The Dee Dee Dums, whose success prompted the formation of POND, which spawned solo projects for Shiny Joe Ryan, GUM, and Nicholas Allbrook, aka the guy in the pyjamas.
"There was six of them. Six huge, enormous, hairy guys playing unusually small instruments for their size.”
“I’ve got to put together some sort of family tree,” she says. “The crossover is ridiculous really.”
The word “family” comes up a lot in the Spinning Top story, and speaking to Jodie it’s the one thing that’s held this colourful mob together – no matter how many Grammy nominations Tame Impala get or festivals POND are on.
It comes into sharp focus when I ask her about the logistics of keeping two successful bands with criss-crossing members on the road.
“With both Tame and POND it’s like three weeks on, minimum two weeks off. They don’t want to tour for longer than three weeks,” she says. “So we’ve done that this whole time. We have to have them home. They’re my best friends. I love them with all of my heart above and beyond anything career wise.”
“I’ve got to put together some sort of family tree. The crossover is ridiculous really.”
That devotion to family is part of the reason Spinning Top launched an in-house label in 2014. Managed by Jodie’s “right hand man” Garth Carwardine – who works out of LA as well – it supports the demands of Spinning Top’s unique and incestuous set-up. The label has since put out releases by Mink Mussel Creek, GUM, and Peter Bibby, a potty-mouthed and prolific Perth troubadour who Jodie first encountered during a particularly busy year in 2012.
“We basically had to make a label because some of the artists that are on our management label didn’t want to have a record label,” she explains. “They may have been touring with Tame Impala, and didn’t have time to do anything that a conventional record label might make them do.”
Here’s the story of Spinning Top over eight of the 31 records they’ve been involved with either on a label or management level. Yep, 31.
“That’s a lot of albums for just a really small team,” she says. “I feel really proud of everybody: the artists for being so prolific, and the people that work with and for me for being so fucking on it, all the time.”
Basically, I worked in a pub back in Freo, called the Norfolk Hotel. The Norfolk is a fantastic pub. I was one of the managers there. I was there, in the end, for nine years. At one point – and I’m not exactly sure when it would have been, probably around 2001 or 2002 – they gutted out their basement and made a music venue, and it was called the Norfolk Basement.
Because none of the other managers were into music, they basically said, “That’s yours. We don’t know what to do with it. Do something.” Then we’ve got another dude in, called Bill Cooker, who turned out to be one of my very very good friends – he’s gone on to make another couple of great pubs in Freo, since then…
Obviously, working in a venue in Freo, I was always there on the weekends and stuff, but I didn’t really get a whole lot of chance to go out and about. They made that record, Heathen Songs. I think they were self-managed, and they made that record.
They did a launch for it, but I think they knew that that record was really fucking good, and that they needed help. Then their lead singer Brendon [Humphries], didn’t wanna manage anymore because they knew they had something special on their hands. Luckily for me, [fiddle player] Alex Archer just said, “I really want you to manage this band.”
The guys, I think they were half not into it and half into it. I don’t know if it was because I was a girl. I think maybe there was a bit of that. I don’t really know. We set up a meeting at Bon Scott’s grave, at the cemetery in Fremantle.
Whose ideas was that?
I honestly can’t remember whose choice of location, but I feel like it could have been one of my really good friends, Juliet John, who was at that time helping me out. We had this fun idea of what we’re doing, and I’m pretty sure she suggested Bon Scott. She was like, “We should meet at Bon Scott’s grave”, and we did. I think we had cans of gin and tonic. They probably had cans of Jim Beam and cola, I would imagine, or some sort of whiskey-based item. We sat around Bon Scott’s grave and had a chat, and decided that I would start managing them.
That was just quite bizarre. The weird thing is, I had no idea what I was doing, or what to do. You know, you start sending the album around. You send it around to radio stations, you send it around to different people. The reaction was just so great, and they had also already done a bit of touring. They had a real groundswell…
The Kill Devil Hills were so important, not only because it was just the first time I had dealt with any of this, and because you’ve gotta have something to work with, and people’s reactions were really amazing. But it basically took me to meet all the people who would go on to become POND and Tame, and whoever. Because of the fact that I was Kill Devil Hills’ manager, they were interested in me managing them in the end.
It all sort of happened on a Monday night. There were some people over from Sydney. We had some drinks at this awesome Freo bar called Mojo’s. It’s an amazing venue, that everyone plays at. It was an open mic night, and there was this crazy kid. I think he was in pyjamas, or something. He would’ve only been 17. It was Nick [Allbrook, singer]. They were a band called the Electric Blue Acid Dogs. One of our friends went inside to get a beer, and came out and said, “Seriously guys, you gotta come in and see this.”
We all went in and watched these crazy, young – I mean, they were kids. They were so young. We were just like, “Woah, they’re amazing.” Then that night, I went back to Mojo’s a few months later, and this band called Mink Mussel Creek came out, and that was the same band, but they had changed their name, changed around a little bit. They were mind-blowing.
I started talking to them. Then I put them on a show with the Kill Devil Hills, down in the basement, in my basement. They played down there a couple of times, and then people started really taking notice of them. I asked them if I could manage them, and they said yes…
Was Kevin [Parker] in the band?
Kevin was definitely in the band, but how he got to be in the band is a really funny story as well. Because he wasn’t initially in the band. Joe – Shiny Joe Ryan, who’s in POND and he does all the visuals for Tame and stuff – he had to go back to Ireland. He’s from Ireland. They finished high school, and he went back to Ireland, spent some time to see family, so they got their friend Kevin, to come and replace him on guitar. That’s the first time I met Kevin. I didn’t know him, but we’re still talking 2006 here. I started working with them in June 2006…
Kevin would have joined by the end of that year. He had his own band, a side project. It was his own band, called The Dee Dee Dums. Kevin was in The Dee Dee Dums, but Kevin was also in Mink Mussel Creek. We loved Kevin in the band so much, that when Joe came back, we kept him in the band. It was a six-piece band. We had Kevin and Joe. Then the drummer ended up leaving, so we put Kevin on drums, and that’s when I realised he was just – he’s still my favourite live drummer. He’s absolutely insane.
Mink were just one of those bands. With Kev on drums, that was the all-star Mink lineup really. Shiny Joe, Nick, Ringham [Richard Ingham], then another friend, Steve Summerlin, on bass. Kev still had The Dee Dee Dums, and he found this really young kid called Jay Watson. He was drumming in a band called The Novocaines at the time, from Northam, in the country. He got him to join The Dee Dee Dums, and changed the name to Tame Impala, at the same time. It was then that things really started to take off for Tame.
Were they reluctant to kind of let you into that little insular world that they’d created?
They welcomed me with open arms. I think I was just crazy enough to join in. We all just got along like a house on fire, from the get-go. I dunno, I think that they loved the idea that loved their bands, and wanted to work with them. I think that they thought that was cool.
They were young. They were so young. Plus I didn’t treat them that way. I was in so much awe of their music, and them as people. They’re really special people. I’m pretty open. I would just invite them over to my house, and we would sit around and have lots of cheese, wine, and crackers. We’d talk about what we wanted to do, and how we wanted to do it…
It’s really interesting hearing this as someone who’s lived in Melbourne pretty much his whole life, how this little world was being created that was quite separate to all the scenes going on in other cities. Do you feel like you were just kind of creating your own rules?
Absolutely. 100 percent. I’ve said this to people a lot, and I continue to believe it. The isolation of Perth, it’s a real blessing in some ways … You know you’re not gonna be playing a gig, and there’s gonna be no label people, or record/music industry, or journalists. People are not gonna be talked about. So you can do literally whatever the hell you want, until you work out what it is that you are gonna do. You could try things out, and they played all the time. People just played all the time. They jammed all the time…
It was really very organic. I know that that word is thrown around a lot, when it comes to all those guys, but it really was organic, and it still is, to this day. They all still play together, record together, hang out together. It really hasn’t changed very much from those early days.
Innerspeaker came out in 2010, and it was the first time having a label [Modular], and having all this time to record, and having a budget, and having people helping. Things like that. It was bizarre, and what’s so beautiful about that is the label really wanted Kevin to have a producer…
Kevin was just so staunch about recording himself. That’s what I love so much about that record. Because so many other managers and different people said to me, “You’re making a mistake. You should really take advantage of what’s going on with them. You’ve gotta get one of these mega-producers.”
I was like, “Absolutely not. Kevin has been recording since he was a small child. Like, he wants to do this. This is his record.”
So we just hired this big beach house, down south. Kevin and Dominic [Simper, guitar] lived there for eight weeks. Jay and I went up and back. Trying to go to sleep downstairs while they’re recording balls-out all the time above me, and I can hear every single thing. Then there was these big storms. ‘Jeremys Storm’ actually, he’s got all this storm stuff going on in that.
So it was leaking, there was water leaking through the roof. Then the very last song, ‘Runway, Houses, City, Clouds’ – that’s what our life was. Runway, houses, city, clouds. We were on planes, we were flying away. That song means so much to me, and that whole album does. It was just exactly what was going on at the time.
With Lonerism, he [Kevin] went and lived in France. He had a French girlfriend. He lived in France for a couple years, and I think a lot of it was also to just get away from the whole idea that people were waiting for his second record.
You know, go somewhere where no one knows who he is. He doesn’t understand what they’re saying, and he doesn’t have to hear anyone asking about anything. So he lives in this fantasy land and made that second record with a song like ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’ on it, which I think was really indicative of just where he was heading.
Because people had this idea about them as this retro rock band. As much as there was a bunch of that on Innerspeaker, there was a lot less of it on Lonerism. That was so indicative of where he was heading, to where he got with on Currents.
And each album too was bigger than the last. For me as a manager – and a best friend of Kevin, too – it took us to a new place. It took us to new heights that we had never experienced before. That’s the reason that I listed all three of Tame Impala’s albums. Because all three of them took me somewhere I’d never been, took Kevin somewhere he’d never been, and the band.
With band management, or even label and stuff, you just don’t know what you’re doing, until you do it. There’s no way you can sort of teach it or anything, so that’s why each of those records is so precious to me. Because it took me somewhere I’d never been before. Hopefully, that’ll happen on the next one.
I think they’re one of those rare bands where the next Tame Impala record is your favourite Tame Impala record.
[Laughs] Yeah, exactly though.
Obviously, you first encountered Kevin as the incredible drummer in this pretty wild band. When did you first get the sense that he was an amazing songwriter and producer, as well?
To be very very honest, Mink Mussel Creek was my real focus, and Kevin who I adored on drums. His side project Dee Dee Dums, I loved it, but it wasn’t my focus at that time because I was still managing Kill Devil Hills. I didn’t have the space because I was still learning what I was doing. I didn’t have the space to think about his other band so much … Then he started talking to me about it a bit more. I think when he got GUM, Jay, on board.
So I went to a management workshop, the John Butler one that [triple j ground music director] Richard Kingsmill was going to be at. I was making a sampler of all of our bands, and I asked him to give me a few songs.
It took him so bloody long, and he gave it to me after I’d already made the sampler. Isn’t that hilarious? I could have been giving Richard Kingsmill ‘Half Full Glass Of Wine’ before they were signed to Modular … It just got left off because he just didn’t get it to me in time. I mean, not much has really changed, to be honest, with Kevin and his deadlines. [Laughs]
What was the turning point for Tame? Can you pinpoint a moment where you thought, “This is gonna be huge?”
Modular Records at the time was so “hot right now”. They had The Presets and Wolfmother and Cut Copy, and all these bands. It was so great having someone just open up a bit of that world to you and help. I never had any help before on anything I’d done – I’d been trying to get help. Then the very first time I saw them play to a crowd that was outside of Western Australia, I knew. I just knew. I watch the crowd all the time…
Is there something that people continually misunderstand about Kevin?
Yes, all the time. They think that Tame Impala is a band, but it’s not. Tame Impala is a person … He writes everything, he records everything, he engineers everything, he produces everything. He just gets his pals to come and play on stage. That’s what people don’t really know, and don’t really understand.
And I get it, because it’s a large message to get to people who just– maybe some people aren’t even interested? They don’t care, they just love his music … that’s fine. Because the band is what people see when they go and see live stuff, and the band is brilliant.
Obviously making records for him is quite an insular thing. Is he letting you into that process at all, or are you getting things really fully-formed?
With Currents, I reckon I heard probably four or five songs that weren’t even quite finished, so it was quite a process getting extra songs. It was great, but I still don’t drop by and see how it’s going. I sort of leave him to himself, and so does everyone. He works a lot with [Glen Goetze] from Modular. They became really close. They worked together quite a bit, back and forth-ing on opinions and this and that. Then it’ll get to me.
I hate to ask, but have you heard any new music?
No. There isn’t any. I mean he’s gonna make another record, but for now he’s been having a really fun time, working with other people. I think he’s just learning more, working with
Currents was a real process for him. I think mixing it nearly pushed him over the edge. Because he had [
He still did everything, but then he co-mixed it with Dave Fridmann in upstate New York. Currents was the first one he mixed entirely himself, and the only other person who did anything was the guy who mastered it. He just said it really took it out of him. He was definitely not in any hurry to do it again. I absolutely believe he would have a zillion ideas floating around in his head, and he might be trying to sort of form them a little more, but there isn’t any new music. At least not yet.
"I don’t think Nick [Allbrook’s] moment in the sun is here yet, to be honest. It’s getting there but it’s not here yet."
Is there a sense of competition between Kevin and Nick at all?
There’s this really beautiful competition where they want to obviously be proud of each other, and love their tunes. I’ve always said that. That’s why I think it’s really important that Kevin had these geniuses on stage with him. Because if he just had some session guys, who just played session music and were like robotic session guys, they wouldn’t have that push of these other geniuses. He’s not the only genius on that stage. You know what I mean?
2012 must have been a massive year for you, having Beard, Wives, Denim coming out and Lonerism just a few months later.
It was. What a fun year … POND is really interesting because Tame Impala got so serious so quickly. Suddenly we were outside of our family. There were labels, and there were agents, the touring, and there were publicists. There were people telling you to do things, and it was like, “What the fuck’s going on?”
POND sort of started with Joe, Nick and Jay as a sort of response to the seriousness of that. I mean the first album is called
The third album, Frond, had a couple of crackers. I think they all started realising that they were really good together, and they had a fantastic dynamic.
Nick and Jay were both in Tame at the time, and they were touring their asses off. POND was just such an amazing relief for them, and a release for them. I think it just started getting better. They started taking it a bit more seriously. They started writing actual songs. They started wanting to record better. Then they went out into the country, and Kevin went with them, and some other friends, and they made Beard, Wives, Denim. I mean I’ve got goosebumps even saying that…
Anyway, we also had a break in touring from Tame Impala, so for the very first time we could take them on the road. So we’ve had them go to South By Southwest and we did a US tour … The day we arrived at South by Southwest, NME gave the album a nine out of ten review. And of course everyone from NME and every other publication from around the world was at South By that year.
So from the minute we got there, there was so much press at our shows and so many people at our shows. People were writing articles and people were going crazy. NME wrote an article saying they’re best band in the world right, best band in Europe right now, blah, blah, blah. It was easy game.
That year was really the first time that people had interest in the band, so we could explain who they were; that it’s not a Tame Impala side project or a Tame Impala spin off. These boys actually write these songs. They don’t write Kevin’s songs. It was a time when we could develop their identity for the first time. I think that’s a lot of reasons that I pick a lot of these records is the strong identity involved in each one…
It was a really fantastic time for them. I think they had a lot of fun. I mean we were still broke as hell. [Laughs] That’s the bummer with POND and all the guys touring with them. They never had a chance to keep going at it enough to make any decent money. But that was 2012, bloody hell, nearly six years ago now. And another four albums or something later, they’ve got new music. They’ve got a whole other album in the can. You are the third person to hear that.
It must have been so great for you to see Nick having finally have his moment in the sun after watching him since those early days.
Yeah, yeah. But I don’t think Nick’s moment in the sun is here yet, to be honest. It’s getting there but it’s not here yet. I don’t think the world has seen Nick yet. They will, 100 percent. To me he’s David Bowie…
He’s a writer and a poet and a performance artist. You know what I mean? Nick’s a whole different thing. And I think he’s just got so much more growth. POND is of course an amazing way of getting him in front of people, but that’s only one aspect of what he can deliver and of his talent.
He has so much more. Like he has this little children’s book [The Vine] that he did with our friend Amber [Fresh] … He’s also very political. Because he grew up in an aboriginal community in the north of Western Australia. I think he’s getting more and more involved on that sense. There’s just still so much more of a future for Nick.
You’ve got a real collection of characters on your roster – from Peter to Joe and Nick.
They’re all amazing. I’m so lucky, really just so ridiculously lucky. Because like I said, they’re all my best friends as well. But Peter Bibby was someone that Nick recommended to me because I was away so much with touring with Tame and having to meet all these people that I had to work with all around the world. Nick said to me, “You have to see Peter Bibby. You’re gonna love Peter Bibby.” It took ages before I managed to get to a show…
And I was so blown away. I hadn’t been that blown away by someone on stage probably since I saw the Electric Blue Acid Dogs on a Monday night at Mojo’s. I was just like, “Fuck. This is punk!” Because there’s a punk side of me. I mean, I think all my artists are punk in their own special way. But this was just so fun. He’s such a wordsmith. His stories are just so brilliant. And what a guy…
Anyway that was the first time I saw him. I guess it was 2012 because we were just about to release Lonerism, and I knew I didn’t have time to take on another artist … So I went off, did what I did with Tame. I came back, maybe a year later, and he’d moved to Melbourne. I saw him at The Tote and I was like, I can’t not do this anymore … We had tequila shots at the bar and I was like, “Come on man. Let’s do it.” And he was like, “Fuck yeah.”
That album [Butcher/Hairstylist/Beautician] is really special to me because I really felt like people were calling me the queen of psychedelic rock, you know what I mean? It’s like apparently everything I was working with was very psychedelic, and it’s just not really true. I love that Peter’s album represented this whole other side of this sort of music that I love. Because I do. I’m all about that sort of shit…
But I find people are a bit frightened of Peter ’cause he has songs called ‘Cunt’, and things like that. It’s a little bit like labels are not willing to invest that much because they can’t see any radio space happening with songs that have fuck and cunt in them … Somehow all of the F-bombs are fine when they’re in hip-hop but they just sound a lot more harsh when you’re just telling a story…
Going back to your point about Spinning Top being kind of pigeonholed as a psych-rock company. Is there something that defines a Spinning Top artist or sound?
We all have just an edge. Nothing is straightforward. Nothing is straight up. We love being on the edge, I think. I think it could be any type of music. Anything at all as long as it was a little bit challenging. I think it has to be a bit challenging for the listener … It challenges you to a point where you either like it or you don’t. And if you don’t, you go away. But if you do, you stay forever. That’s sort of how I feel about it.
This is special to me because Jay was a tiny baby when he came and joined our gang. He wasn’t part of the initial sort of gang, you know? He was a kid. He was 16 years old. His parents moved to Townsville. He was sleeping on the couch at Troy Terrace, which is where Kevin and Joe lived. And Nick was in the garden shed out the back.
He was just sleeping on the couch as a 16-year-old child, eating dry ramen, but he was also this ridiculous musician, absolutely ridiculous. Which is something that Kevin saw in him immediately, you know?
So I feel like it was maybe potentially harder for him to start doing stuff on his own, he probably knew he had to to get his own identity. And so I feel like with his first record, Delorean Highway, he was a little tentative. He didn’t fully commit.
But this one he just took charge. He had his look for the album cover, he had his head shot – he was just the most pro artist that we’ve ever worked with … And he had the songs too. I mean, even the album’s title, Glamorous Damage, is quite brilliant.
He also did a Divinyls cover, which is just one of my favourite Divinyls songs ever. But I really felt like GUM in that moment had grown into who GUM was. I feel like it was the first album where he made a statement about himself and went out on the edge a little bit, you know.
When you were talking about Kevin being an incredible drummer, the first thing that struck me about Tame when I first saw them [in 2008] was Jay’s drumming. And it’s so sad he doesn’t really do that anymore.
He doesn’t and it’s so shit because … If I was going to say my favourite drummer in the world was Kevin Parker, my second favourite drummer in the world is Jay Watson and my third favourite drummer in the world is Julien Barbagallo, who drums for Tame. They all are unbelievable as drummers. Watching Jay drum, he’s like a little octopus. He’s so elastic.
What was your reaction when Jay moved to keyboards?
The thing is that when Kevin knew he wanted to add yet again to his band, Jay is a classically trained pianist. There’s no one better on keyboard than Jay, and Kevin knew he needed a fucking gun keyboard player. So he was just like, “I know. All I’ve got to do is put Jay on keyboard.” And Jay is just seriously brilliant. He’s probably, musician wise, better than all of us as far as playing anything goes…
So Kevin had just happened to meet Julien in France when he was living there. Julien came up to him in a pub and was just like, “I’m a fan. I’m a drummer.” They started jamming together and Kevin was like, “Oh my god. You’re a great drummer, maybe you can join the band and I can put GUM on keyboard, and then everyone’s happy.” And that’s what happened.
There seems to be a lot of strategic decision happening within your bands.
[Laughs] It’s pretty funny.There’s a lot of crossover. But the fact that everyone still loves each other and we’re still a very, very close family is testament to everybody’s sense of who they are and what they want, and what we’re all about.
We all love and appreciate each other and, and what we get to do for a living, for fun. That other people care enough to want to listen to things that we do, we all feel very appreciative and lucky.
"Each album too was bigger than the last. For me as a manager – and a best friend of Kevin, too – it took us to a new place."